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Comedian Louis C.K. has this great bit on white privilege. He has some rough language, so I’ll paraphrase, but it goes something like this – “You would find out very quickly about white privilege if you gave whites and blacks a time machine. Whites could go to any time they wanted and find a table at a restaurant. Blacks would never travel farther back than 1980. If you don’t think white privilege exists, you’re an a-hole.”

Of course, he’s right. White privilege is real. My own children are ¼ black but they look as white as I do, and the world I have to prepare them for is much different than for minority children. For two evocative accounts of this sort of reality see:

http://www.rogerebert.com/mzs/what-white-privilege-really-means-an-anecdote

And

http://www.thevillagechurch.net/the-village-blog/more-on-ferguson-and-white-privilege/

I lived in Lake Tahoe for 5 years, and Reno for 13, and every instance of racism that I experienced that stands out in my mind happened in the 15 years that I lived in Sacramento.

When I was growing up, a white neighbor once rebuked me for performing “ni*#er music” (I used to rap).

I was called a “wannabe” by a girl I had a crush on because my best friend was black, and I rapped with him and hung out at his house all the time.

At a black friend’s house, his little sister once called me a cow, because, her mom said all white people were cows. Her aunt once told me that she was surprised I was so cool because “white people are dumb.”

I’m married to a woman who is half black, and in 13+ years together the only racism we have experienced as a couple was walking through Arden Mall in Sacramento when three black men called me a “punk,” because I had “stolen” one of their “black queens.”

That’s it. Although these are all moments of racism, and each is imbedded into my mind for life, compared to what many go through they are insignificant. I will never be paid less because of my race. My kids will never be profiled while walking through a liquor store solely based on their race. I’ll never have to worry that my kids will be shot by cops when unarmed.

The events in Ferguson in recent weeks have highlighted the nature of the problem like no other event in the past 20 years. Many things have become apparent through these events, among them is the reality that there is a sharper racial divide in America than many thought still existed, and that many people see this divide quite differently. Few are taking the time to realize why that is. Everyone believes a certain narrative about these events, and few are taking the time to see why narratives other than their own still exist. I urge everyone to consider 10 things:

1) Not all regions of the country exhibit the same racial realities. I grew up in South Sacramento, and as I said, each of the instances of racism I remember in my own life happened there, but Sacramento is widely regarded as one of the most racially integrated cities in America. In fact, 12 years ago Time Magazine did a feature on just how racially diverse and successfully integrated the city really is:

http://content.time.com/time/nation/article/0,8599,340694,00.html

I agree with the reality painted in this article. The vast majority of my friends, including my two closest friends, were minorities (a black man and a Hispanic girl). I’ll always think of these two like family. Growing up, race was seldom discussed among my friend groups, even as we got older and more aware of how violent and troubled our city was at times. When race did come up, it was usually because there were violent clashes between black and Hispanic gangs – whites were seldom involved – and they only happened in very distinct parts of the city (including one I spent quite a bit of time in, and as a white person, never felt tension). Sacramento had its own sets of problems, and racism existed, but it was more subtle and nuanced than many other places in the country.

Then I moved to Reno, where I quickly met my wife. In our 13 years together there, as a biracial couple, we never once felt discriminated against. We lived in city where racism existed, and even in large measure to some degree, but it never boiled over, never created large scale conflict. White cops never shot unarmed black men.

After living in these places all my life, it was easy to see why I, and many of my friends, often regarded America as moving successfully towards a “post-racist” society. This was our reality. It is the reality for many other people in various parts of the country. When many Americans “don’t get it,” try to understand, they really do get it. They just get their reality in their part of the country. You don’t understand their experiences any more than they understand yours. This was helpful for me:

http://www.upworthy.com/the-best-explanation-ive-ever-heard-of-why-black-people-and-white-people-see-cops-differently?g=2

2) Of course, recent events have highlighted that America is as not as “post-racist” as some of our experiences suggest. Racism is alive, and destructive, and it’s time that all of us – black, white, Asian, Hispanic, and others – stand up and speak out about our experiences. Once again, it is Louis C.K. who recently reminded us that slavery and segregation weren’t long ago at all:

http://www.upworthy.com/sometimes-it-takes-a-white-dude-to-get-real-about-racism

It makes perfect sense that many black people in America will not at all see these events the same way that we privileged white people will.

It is true that black people in America have largely been MUCH quicker to condemn white cops in these situations. When black people are arrested, they want to be presumed innocent until proven guilty (and should be) , but they do not want to afford many white people this same right when they perceive racism is involved. And while I think this is a bit unhealthy (more on that below), my wife said something to me that goes a long way in explaining why. I asked, “Why do you think black people don’t want to wait for the facts before assuming criminal activity in cases like this?” She responded, “Because white people don’t have a great track record in America for seeking justice and equality for black people in these instances. Black people react quickly and demand their rights and assume things and stick up for themselves because, to be honest, no one else will stick up for them, and justice becomes illusive. Whites are just as quick to assume the innocence of the police as blacks are to assume their guilt.” Damn. Think about it. She’s right.

3) Justice is always better served by waiting for facts than by jumping to conclusions – and this goes for all sides. The people that sign petitions in support of Darren Wilson will look really stupid if it becomes clear that he exhibited unnecessary force and is tried for manslaughter or second degree murder. Those who condemned him will look really stupid if it can be demonstrated that he was acting in reasonable self-defense (although, at this point, this seems unlikely; I still don’t see how Mike Brown needed to die in this instance). I know it’s hard, but we are better served by waiting for facts before jumping to conclusions in this one instance.

4) Regardless of the specifics of this one instance, the overall culture of systemic racism in America that is being highlighted and exposed by this instance is pervasive, and it needs to be challenged STRONGLY. We cannot hide from this, we cannot be silent. We’ve come a long way. Things are much better than they were even 30 years ago. But systemic racism is real, and it takes everyone to speak up to see it go away.

5) Calling out white people for their relative silence is helpful; blaming them is not. It’s true that we are too silent, but it’s also true that many conflicts in America are blamed on white racism where no racism exists, and white people retreat from these things because they are tired of being blamed for things they are not always culpable for.

For example, Thabiti Anyabwile, a man I respect and trust very much, recently wrote about Ferguson, racism, and white privilege. He talked about fearing that his son is more likely to be killed in America than a white kid. This is true, but he failed to mention that 90% of black men killed in America are killed by other black men, and in predominately black neighborhoods. His piece confused the issues and made it sound like black kids must be fearful of white guns when, in large part, this isn’t the case. White privilege does mean whites are less likely to be killed by gun fire (statistically, MUCH less likely), but racism is not always the reason for this.

Many whites are also tired of seeing Al Sharpton lead protests when racism against black people is an issue; while ignoring the dozens of murders of black men in Chicago; and instances when white men are murdered by black men in clear cases of racism.

6) Having said that, it must be admitted by white people that systemic racism does at least need to bear part of the blame even for black on black crime, and I don’t hear whites recognizing this. Again, my wife was insightful. I asked her why whites get blamed even though most black people are killed by other black people. Her response, “Because black kids are raised being told that this is a white man’s world, and their only hope is to get money. They will have nothing handed to them, nothing will come easy.  So they go get it.  They’re all trying to get ahead because the world they live in does not favor them.” This isn’t true of all homes. Many black parents tell their children to persevere, to love others and work hard. And this isn’t to make excuses for crime. There are no excuses. But white people need to do more to bring an overall state of equality to minorities so that the culture can experience a drastic change. When black people commit crimes, usually, they stand to gain a few hundred dollars, they risk losing their lives, and the country fears them. When many white people commit crimes, they are often in favored positions, so they are in a place to make millions in high end white collar jobs (although not all, of course). They are not worried about being gunned down, and the society doesn’t fear them (and sometimes bails them out). Even in crime, and our reaction to it, white privilege is pervasive. Everyone needs to humble themselves. Whites need to be humble enough to admit there is a problem and, as a majority, that we can do the most to fix it. Black people to humble themselves, despite their plight, and recognize that many white people love them and want change, and just need to learn what that looks like.

7) Many black people have been calling for whites to speak up in the past two weeks, but when many whites have, they’ve been condemned as ignorant or racist for not holding to the exact same narrative as many black people. Not all perspectives are equal, this is true, but if we want change we need to listen to each other, speak with love and patience, and appeal to one another through an effort of understanding. Many white people are ignorant of the plight of minorities in many parts of the country. The following article illustrates this.  I don’t agree with everything in this article. For example, it says white people are not profiled for their clothes, despite the fact that I was once stopped by a cop who admitted that it was because of my clothing; and this article has many other problems; but it is insightful in some ways:

http://mic.com/articles/96144/11-things-white-people-should-stop-saying-to-black-people-immediately

But to ask white people to speak only to condemn their words (unless those words are inherently racist, which some are) is not helping. If a blind man has yet to find the river, it’s better to lead him to it patiently than to beat him over the head with a rock. Also, I think minorities need to consider that their narrative is just as likely to be affected by their own bias and presuppositions as whites, and that whites may be saying some things that you don’t want to hear, that doesn’t agree with your narrative or experience, but may still be true. Do minorities only want to be heard, and to find equality, or do they want to achieve these things while also pursuing truth. Being white does not disqualify a person from an opinion, or from having a better perspective in certain aspects of racial conflict, but the current narrative is that white people must listen and stop having their own opinions; all while being told that they need to speak up more. I understand that minorities are sick and tired of their disadvantage, and that Ferguson is bringing this to the surface. They should be. But if we don’t pursue truth and equality together, in understanding and validation of one another, it won’t happen. I guarantee it.

8) If you have recently posted to social media asking why Ferguson is such a big deal, and why we don’t care more about abortion or ISIS or any other tragedy, then I’m sorry, but you’re missing the point. Ferguson is not just about Mike Brown, it’s about a very old problem in America that is effecting the lives of millions of people, and deserves even more attention than it’s getting; not less.

9) If you do not recognize that police are MUCH more likely to shoot an unarmed black man than to shoot an unarmed white man, and that racism is often the reason, then you’re not paying attention. Writing things like this is not helpful AT ALL:

http://buzzpo.com/7-tips-to-keep-from-being-shot-by-a-cop/

Although I have to admit this one is funny:

10) If you are a Christian, white, black, or any other race, you need to lead. You need to speak for change. The Scriptures demand class and racial reconciliation. Read the beatitudes in Matthew 5:2-12. Read the entire book of Luke, who actually changed the words of many of the narratives of Jesus’ life so as to highlight the plight of the poor and disadvantaged of his day. Read Romans 14:1-15:7, where Paul tells “the strong” (gentile Christians) to give up their liberties so as to minister to the weak (Jewish Christians). He uses Christ as the model, showing how he gave up his own liberties to love and appeal to others. Read Galatians and Romans 4, both of which appeal not to the inheritance of Israel, but to the inheritance of the whole earth as the kingdom of God so as to include gentiles in the plans of God along with Jews. Paul constantly spoke of the “mystery” of the gospel, which in almost every context this term is found it is discussing the way the gospel of Jesus unites Jews and gentiles under one head, who is Christ.

And I appeal to white people most of all, don’t be silent. Don’t make excuses. Don’t hide from this. Don’t blame black people for the very real existence of white privilege (this is honestly happening). Read the hundreds of blogs written by black people over the past two weeks (honestly, I’ve read at least 2-3 every day in the past two weeks, and it’s opened my eyes to so much), and seek to understand their perspective. We need to pursue justice.

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After two months of prayer and discussion, Brennen and I have decided to stay in the UK and continue my education.

However, although I was admitted to 5 schools for PhD studies, none of them offered me funding.  A PhD is a near impossible endeavor without both funding and private support.  

Because of this, we have decided to stay in Edinburgh for another year at minimum and work towards a second masters degree.  This would be a research degree, which means that rather than class work I will strictly be continuing my work in languages and writing essays, and another dissertation.  The purpose would be to strengthen my resume for scholarship committees for the following year.

For 2015, I already have acceptance to Edinburgh for a PhD and I can defer my Aberdeen offer to that year as well, which I plan to do.  The other schools do not have deferral, so I will have to turn them down and reapply if I want to consider them.

However, as it stands, our current plan for the next four years is to stay in Edinburgh the entire time.  We would be here another 4 years, if all goes well.  Again, this is contingent on funding.  If it doesn’t come through here but does in another school, we would leave and study somewhere else.  If no one offers us funding we will be coming home after next year.  I’m being told by people “in the know” that with a second masters and advanced languages I’m a near shoe in for scholarships next year, as long as I do well.

Another masters year, however, is pricey, and our private funding has decreased in the past few months.  We are asking our friends and family to consider monthly support or a donation, as we are not only in school but are serving regularly in our church here.  I am preaching and teaching classes and Brennen is singing and teaching in kids ministry.  Anything helps.   

At this point, we continue to move forward and trust in God for all things.  To his glory.  

 

In the 1960’s Swedish film director Ingmar Bergman was being interviewed about his masterpiece of cinema, “The Magician.”  In discussing the film’s interpretation he told a Chinese parable that resonates with me deeply, and is the one message for 2014 I hope to take most deeply to heart.  It is also the message I hope my friends and family will consider as we approach a new year.

The parable, retold in my own words:

In ancient china there was a word worker who was skilled but not well known.  Surprisingly the Emperor chose him to make a new bell stand for the temple bells.  This was a very honored assignment.

The wood worker worked diligently, thinking of the reputation he would earn by creating a bell stand worth admiration.  This piece would make him famous in all of China.  Except that when he was finished, he had failed.  The bell stand was a mess, and he would have to start over.

As he began a second time, he was excited to consider all of the money that would come with being the successful maker of a bell stand commissioned by the Emperor.  He thought of the riches and the way his life would change.  However, there was a problem.  When the bell stand was finished, he had failed.  It was another mess.  

The third time, he was lost in hopes of becoming a legend.  His name would always be remembered as the carver of the great bell stand of the temple.  However, once again, he failed.  The bell stand came out quite poorly.

The wood worker grew angry, and knew he needed to get this right.  However, this time he simply set out to craft a bell stand worthy of the bells.  In so doing, he succeeded in crafting a masterpiece, and earned a reputation, riches, and became a legend in China.

Interpretation:

To see this parable as teaching that if we do not desire riches and fame we will eventually receive it would be to miss the point terribly.  The parable is about our hearts and motivations.  This year, I hope to serve Christ, not to the recognition of my own name, but the glory of his.  I hope to be a good husband, not so that my wife will sing my praises, but because she deserves my best.  I hope to continue to grow as a father, not because I’m trying to win praise as a good one, but because my kids are worthy of my love, guidance, care, and adoration.  I hope to be a good friend, because of all people I know that they’re hard to come by.  I pray we all live this year with this in mind.   

Christmas is about the incarnation of Jesus.  It is about God taking on human form and literally adding a human nature to his own.  This idea that God would, in one member of his Trinitarian make-up, set aside his glory and empty himself out into humanity (Philippians 2:1-11), is what we celebrate at Christmas.  This is a paradox that is not supposed to be possible – God becomes human; a human is God.

It’s completely absurd.

Think about this for a moment.  Humans spend their lives rebelling against God.  They do not have access to God because of their treasonous behavior.  As all kings do, God has sentenced them to death, and exiled them from his Kingdom and presence until the sentence is fully carried out.  In other words, they live now as though they were already dead, and are so spiritually, even if they do not know it yet.

On top of that, God’s people Israel are bound to subjection under Roman rule, and cry out for liberation.  They are awaiting a savior Messiah, a triumphant King to free them from the yoke of a foreign empire.

How does God choose to solve the problem of mankind being propelled towards eternal death?  How does he decide to solve the Roman problem for his people Israel?  He has a tween peasant girl give birth to a baby in a backwater town lived in by only a few hundred people that no one really cares about.

Great plan.

Then the baby she delivers has limits, he has to eat and sleep and grow and learn, but he’s also God.

That makes no sense.

And yet it’s still SO beautiful.

Christians are slaves to modernity.  We are always trying to justify what we believe, always trying to prove it and validate it.  We so badly want Christianity to be reasonable.  As Soren Keirkegaard went to great lengths to show (and I think he was right), Christianity is not reasonable in some of it’s most important points.  It’s completely absurd.  Abraham tried to kill his own kid to prove he was a good child to God.  Jeremiah proved the goodness of God by living a miserable life.  Hosea was forced to marry a prostitute to demonstrate faithfulness.  The Bible was written by God and man simultaneously.  And above them all, God conquered evil by becoming a helpless baby who couldn’t hurt a fly, so that he could live the life you couldn’t, usher in the next phase of the Kingdom of God in the process, and then die as helplessly as he lived to take the penalty of your own treason so you wouldn’t have to.

Christianity is not reasonable.  At least not at it’s most vital points.  Paul went to great lengths to demonstrate this in the first 2 chapters of 1 Corinthians, and we have been ignoring him for the last hundred years.

We shouldn’t ignore him.  If you think the incarnation is reasonable, you’re crazy.  It is an offense to human reason.  It is precisely that Christianity is so full of absurd paradoxes that makes it so beautiful, and Christmas celebrates maybe the most absurd and beautiful paradox of them all.  Keirkegaard once said that it took something as absurd as God becoming something so normal, a human, to get our attention.  This Christmas, thank God for absurdity.

There is a scene in the television show “New Girl” where Nick, one of the main characters, is discussing his secrets with his new girlfriend.  One of these secrets reveals that Nick doesn’t believe in dinosaurs, as he says it, “I’ve seen the science, and I don’t believe it.”  This is a hyperbolic attempt, I think, to illustrate a profound truth about humans – We see what we want to.

I’ve come to believe more than ever before that looking for God in objective, external, mediatory forces is impossible.  When it comes to finding information, collecting it, processing it, presenting it, and interpreting it, none of us is objective.  None of us is unbiased.  Every one of us presents and interprets everything we experience in subjective ways, tainted by our presuppositions.

I do believe that there are varying degrees to which we can wade through these presuppositions, some people will of course be more skilled at doing so than others.  However, if we believe that anything can be known about subjective realities through objective means, I think we’re doomed to drift forever in the space between truth and madness, between freedom and obscurity.

Theists and atheists are both making the same mistakes in the pursuit of God (or pursuit to place his lack of existence on display).  It is not the requirements of either religion or the natural world that we only know God or nature through evidence and external means, but because of the reverberations of modernism, we have become convinced that this is so.

For my own sake, I’ve come to realize that often my attempts to present God through external apologetic arguments was as much to convince myself as it was to convince others.  I was just as guilty as the rest of the world of looking to other men to teach and guide me, and looking to the external world to validate my faith and understanding of God.  Although the Scriptures affirm that we can experience God in external things to some degree (such as Romans 1), I have become more convinced than ever that external realities place nothing more than a shadow across our path at which to marvel and wonder.  I, like many others, was trying to know God fully and truly through misguided struggles with self-preservation, and was guilty of idolizing my own mind in my ability to comprehend God and wrestle knowledge and experience of him to the ground, not in the depths of my soul but with my hands and feet and whatever other physical and external forces I could find.

But God cannot be known this way, not truly, because he chooses not to be.  For whatever reason, God moves beyond the objective realities he himself has created to reach us at a much fuller, deeper, and more worthwhile place.

When many people read the Bible with different conclusions as to its truth and beauty, and many people come to opposite conclusions about the same empirical data, it is because we are all guided by presuppositions and forced to submit to the mastery of our cultural and familial conditioning.  The only way to know God is for him, of his own will, to reach beyond all of that and hit us in a pure, undefiled, and subjective way, to lead us to experience him in ways that are absurd and uncertain and entirely unexplainable, to leave us transformed and illuminated and befuddled, and altogether at peace.  This is my very inadequate attempt to describe faith, a faith that surpasses all understanding because it cannot be attained by any understanding but that which God provides.

I value history, reason, logic, and my five senses, all gifts from God to pursue him in different ways.  But God has been working on me in a more profound sense in the past five months than ever before, and I’ve come to see that the only real way to genuine knowledge of God is faith, without which we are all simply grasping at whatever sounds best in the moment, and we are sinking in a world where the proficiency of our flawed minds is our best hope to understand reality.  It is here and here alone, in the realm of faith, where we can most truly place education, classism, cultural bias and racism, elitism, and other external concerns aside and find a truly balanced and beautiful path to knowing God.  It is here where we can look at God’s revelation of himself in the purest ways.

I used to look to history, external forces, and other humans to be my greatest guides.  I still hope to humbly submit to what they have to offer, but in the last few months, maybe truly for the first time, God has become my truest teacher, in a subjective and beautiful way, digging out from my soul all that stood in his way, and for this I am grateful.

Last week Tullian Tchividjian, a pastor from Florida and frequent contributor to The Gospel Coalition and other publications wrote a piece in the Washington Post declaring that the missing message in the American Church is a grace without constraints and an understanding of the one sided love of God.  He has been championing this message in various forms in many blogs as well as his last few books, and there is much about it that rings true and is helpful.  I commented on his WaPo piece however to say that I disagreed that this was the “missing” message in the church as I believe that the idea of free grace and the one sided love of God has become the predominant message in a very large number of Evangelical churches over the past few years, thanks largely to “Gospel-centered” and “Christ-centered” movements in various corners of the Evangelical tradition.  I made mention that the pendulum has swung in favor of that message, and ethics is now in the homiletical back seat and that we need balance where both messages, grace and obedience, are taken up in the church side by side.  (He seems to have grossly misunderstood what I, and potentially many others have meant by balance because of what some have meant by balance, and therefore responded to something I never said.)  

Pastor Tullian then wrote a follow up piece for the Gospel Coalition, quoting my comment in the opening lines, and then very seriously taking me out of context and attributing thoughts to me that cannot be found in my original comment to him, nor anywhere in my thinking.  In doing so he then wrote an article unrelated to anything I said, defending his view of grace, which also has some serious problems.   He seems to have grossly misunderstood what I, and potentially many others have meant by balance because of what some have meant by balance, and therefore responded to something I never said.  I wrote a charitable, thoughtful response, but was blocked by The Gospel Coalition.  I wrote the site to ask for clarity, and was not given a response, so I decided to leave my response here in the blog as many friends of mine have contacted me about being quoted and subsequently called “simple” minded and a legalist, the first of which I may be, the second most certainly not.  

The characterizations of me based on my comment are not a concern.  It honestly doesn’t bother me what others think of me.  There are, however, serious issues with some of what Pastor Tullian has written about grace, so I am posting my response to illustrate what I believe those are.  First, the links to the two pieces he wrote:

http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/on-faith/wp/2013/10/17/the-missing-message-in-todays-churches/

http://thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/tullian/2013/10/21/church-we-have-a-problem/

Dear Tullian,

Two separate friends emailed after noticing that you quoted my comment from your WaPo piece. Normally, if you had responded to what I was trying to get across and simply disagreed, I would not feel the need to post again as disagreements are normal and I’m sure few care what I think, however, I thought I should clarify as, one, I seem to have not made my concern clear in what I wrote previously, and 2, this current post still posits a position of some concern, which I tried to address and of which attempt you have quoted here.  

It seems that my comment was construed as another “Too much grace leads to licentiousness” post. This in no way was what I was saying, and the second quote in your first paragraph here isn’t even mine but you seem to be attributing it to my thinking, or people like me. This couldn’t be farther from what I was trying to say and isn’t to be found in my post in either words or content, although I could see how you might think I was going there if my language was similar to those who have licentiousness as their concern. I was a pastor for 8 years before recently coming to the University of Edinburgh for post-grad work, and it was the driving force of my preaching, that popular mantra of the gospel-centered movement that “Preaching that doesn’t center on the free grace of God isn’t really preaching.” In no way would I ever put, for even a second, “brakes” on grace. My concern is not that we need to put brakes on grace and “balance” it with law, my concern is that we misunderstand grace by juxtaposing it with law too much.

Remember, my post had nothing to do with a fear of licentiousness, it was simply to disagree with your assertion that the “missing” element in churches was the completely free gift of grace. It seems the dominant trend in churches today to state explicitly that Christianity is not about rules or obedience, but about the finished work of Jesus.  I constantly hear the mantra “Christianity is not do, it is done” in preaching across the land, which is great when put in context, but untrue as a blanket statement.  The “pendulum swing” I was referring to was not to pull back on the reigns of grace and reassert law, it was to say that either side, preaching the gospel as grace apart from works or in a way that wrongly minimizes works, and the side of moralism, are both misplaced. The “balance” is not a little of both, it’s a complete and full picture of both, without applying “brakes” to either side.  It seems from much of your writing that you believe that the brakes must be applied to either grace or obedience, so you’ve chosen one to the detriment of the other.  This is unnecessary. 

A few clarifying issues: There are some category problems here.

1) We often make the mistake that because Paul juxtaposed grace and law in a certain way, that he juxtaposed them in every way. This is not the case, as we will see.

2) We often make the category mistake that law and obedience are the same thing. In Scripture, this clearly isn’t the case.

3) We often make the category mistake that law and Kingdom ethics are the same thing. They are not, in a strict sense, although they are clearly related.  In your post you use terms like “law” and “ethics” interchangeably, and this creates a problem.

With these category issues in view, here is what I would propose and what my real concerns are:

1) Grace is not to be seen as one side, and obedience as another, rather obedience is apart of a fuller and more fruitful presentation of grace. Grace is a free gift, not to be earned, and everything you said in your article here about legalism is true and has nothing to do with my earlier concern. However, my concern is that we are now presenting a gospel of grace that tries to strip obedience down as something other than that which extends from and is apart of the story of grace. In other words, a presentation that discusses grace as one thing, and obedience as another, is not biblical grace. Grace is free, is motivated the cross and displays God’s glory, we can’t earn it and need to tear down legalism in all forms as you suggest, but grace also enables and motivates obedience. The old dominant message of the American church was obedience by “bahaviorism” and legalism, the new message is grace as the key and obedience as fairly important but not to be confused with grace (which you think is missing, and my original contention is that it’s not, it’s the new dominant message in a large number of churches). I’m saying both are off, and the fullest message is grace that is free, grace that saves and justifies, grace that lifts up and glorifies Jesus, AND grace that enables and motivates us to obey.

One of the friends that emailed to tell me you quoted my post even said it before I could. His comment was “Tullian seems to think that all preaching about ethics is equated with legalism.” That’s how I feel when I read your work. There is a faithful, fruitful, and fuller way to preach ethics as a PART of the fuller message of grace. The two in balance in this way is what I was getting at.

2) You are right, we can NEVER put the brakes on grace. We don’t have to. But we ARE putting the brakes on the ethics of the Kingdom, and we shouldn’t do that either. Earlier you referred to thinking similar to what you thought I was implying as “simple”. I think the truest simple thinking is trying to box grace and obedience apart from each other rather than seeing the latter as extending from and being apart of the story of the former. Yes, it’s true you often affirm that works matter, but it’s always with an immediate “but” as is the case in this article. Soon it seems they’ll run together, “Obedience is goo…butt!!!!”. It’s akin to telling the story of my life but downplaying the role of my third child so as not to displace the significance of the other two, as if one may threaten the beauty of the others. But then, you have a small version of me because all three kids matter a great deal. Discussions of grace juxtaposed from obedience is a smaller picture of grace than the biblical one.

A few brief Scripture observations.

1) Contrary to what you said, I’ve considered Genesis 3 a great deal. I’ve considered in a full context to the book of Genesis, the rest of the OT, and the NT as well. In Genesis, God illustrates our need through Cain, the Flood, and other stories. Of course, as you state, he gives the law to show us our need and point to Christ, and he also gives the law for many other reasons. The Psalmists knew the grace of God, called for it often, and also rejoiced in the law and in the joy that comes with obedience, seeing God’s grace as a motivator to obey not as moralism, or to earn something, or out of fear (although this would be a reasonable response), they rejoiced in the law because it’s very giving was an act of grace and they obeyed in joy and gratitude. Psalm 119 is of course a great example.

2) When Jesus preached the gospel, it wasn’t the truncated gospel of justification alone (although that was centrally important), it was jubilee (Luke 4:16-30), it was setting what has been made wrong and making it right through the fullness of of the extent of sins not just for justification, but for the whole of renewal of people and creation. This includes ethics and obedience. We need to wonder, why was it so often that, as in the case of Matthew 4:23, Jesus followed up mentions of the gospel by immediately discussing ethics (the sermon on the mount begins just two verses later). I think it’s because Jesus was concerned that ethics and responsibilities in his Kingdom be seen as apart of his work of grace.

3) Of course, Paul’s passage in Ephesians 2 is a beautiful declaration of his grace, and illustrates this in two ways. His explanation of grace is famously concluded in 2:10 with a reminder to works, extending from and apart of the story of grace, but the whole book of Ephesians illustrates this as well. As is well known, the first three chapters of Ephesians display the glory and work of God, highlighting his grace, but 4:1 starts the second half by “Therefore…walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called.”

It’s not that God does one, and we do the other, it’s that God does one through grace (choosing, saving, sealing, etc.) AND God does the other through grace as well (enabling and motivating us to obey, through grace and as apart of the fullest form of the message of grace). Paul nowhere in Ephesians distinguishes one as “The real thing we need” and the other as “The thing that’s important but may lead to legalism if we’re not careful.” Nor does he say one is greater than the other. The entire book is a full picture, and none of it can be minimized, we can’t apply the brakes to any of it.

4) You said that preaching obedience never changes anyone or helps them obey. This isn’t true. Preaching obedience apart from grace will never do those things, but preaching ethics and obedience as a part of the picture of grace gives legs to the story in the lives of believers, not to make believers the point of the story (to the point of another good caution in your article) but to do justice to Jesus who is the point of the story.

5) In the Great Commission of Matthew 28:18-20, Jesus explicitly commands his followers to teach people to obey his commandments.  This seems that, as Jesus was delivering his final charge, obedience was of great concern. 

Finally, I hesitate with this one but feel it worth mentioning. In regards to historical Jesus studies Donald Hagner recently said that it was more of a “Quest for the hypothetical Jesus.” He said this because modern portraits of Jesus are mostly attempts to see him though the lens of our own stories, sufferings, and experiences of abuse in the church. I wonder if your view of grace has something very much to do not with biblical portraits of obedience and ethics, but with the ways you experienced abuse in the church as these things are concerned? Forgive me if this last point is out of line.

Again, my point was never licentiousness, lawlessness, or legalism.  My concern is that we not preach a small view of grace. It’s a small view of grace that saves but leaves transformation and ethics as a “sub-topic.” This is the real way we put “brakes” on grace.  

I don’t really own a cell phone.  I sort of do.  I have a little $10 flip phone that I carry so my wife or mom can get a hold of me; it’s what you could call a “dumb” phone.  It only makes calls, and doesn’t do that very well.  If I forget the phone at home, I’m not heart broken.

I’ve been lamenting the ever pressing reality that to live without a smart phone in the civilized world is becoming increasingly problematic; almost impossible.  

About two years ago I went to a function with my church.  We were off site, so when we checked our kids into their program were were asked to give our cell phone numbers to a lady at a check in counter.  This was so they could call parents if their children were losing their minds and needed to be tased.  The lady asked me for my cell number:

“You aren’t going to ask me if I have a cell phone?” I asked.

“Um, what?” came the reply.

“A cell phone, you asked for my number.  I don’t have a cell phone number.”

She was dumbfounded.  “And you have kids?  How do you survive?”

“Food and water mostly.” came my reply.

Apparently, even in a church of nearly 2,000 people, we had put zero thought into the possibility that a single one of the parents didn’t have a cell phone.  There was no plan for this in place.  Thankfully she was good on the fly and my children survived for me to tell the tale.

I have a Barnes and Noble membership.  I have to pay $25 per year for this honor, and the benefits are more than worth it for a guy who reads as much as I do.  I receive email coupons that save me quite a bit of money over the course of a year.  At one point I went to purchase a new book, and wanted to use my coupon.  The problem – I didn’t have a printer at the time either.  When I approached the counter to tell the helpful sales associate of my dilemma, that I wanted to use the coupon I was sent but didn’t have a physical copy on me, her reply made me cringe:

“Oh no problem just pull it up on your smart phone and I’ll scan it.”

“What smart phone?” I said.

“What do you mean?” came her reply.

“Which smart phone are you referring to?”

“Um, yours.”

“You sound sure I have one, maybe you can help me locate it.  I wasn’t aware it existed.”

She was puzzled.  By the time I cleared it up, and she got over the extreme shock that she had met her first human that didn’t own a smart phone and gave up on the idea that I had actually traveled here from the turn of the 20th century, she said she would have to consult her manager on how to let me use my coupon.  They had never had this problem before.

Obviously this is all my fault.  I’m archaic.  I’m holding out as long as I can.

A friend of mine sent a picture on “Instagram” (whatever that is) of a date he was on with his wife.  In the picture, she was playing with her phone and completely ignoring him.  The caption read “I must be an interesting date.”  

I was in the restroom at the Red Robin when a guy came in.  He stood at the urinal checking something on his phone the entire time.  We can’t use the bathroom without checking facebook???  I secretly hoped he would drop the phone into the urinal.

Sarah Jessica Parker actually made news for not owning a cell phone.  She said her reason was so that she didn’t have to make up excuses for not returning anyone’s calls.  She could be found on email.  This was news???

I resonate with a friend of mine who owns a phone but almost never gives out the number.  When an acquaintance called him on it, his response was that he owned a cell phone for his own convenience, not theirs.  In other words, my phone is here when I need it, not when you need me.  I don’t pay this stupidly high bill every month so that I can be tracked down by everyone I know at the worst possible times, and then made to feel guilty when I don’t answer your call.  

Let’s not even go into details about the fact that cell phones are killing off the worlds bee population.  It’s true.  Look it up.

Can anyone think of any other time in history when the whole of a population was so linked and dependent to a single thing like we are to cell phones?

I’m sure my day is coming.