The Cosmic Cathedral

Understanding God in the Word and the World


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Holy Week: The Stations of the Cross

The Isenheim Altarpiece Matthias Grünewald

Last year, the Cosmic Cathedral wrote about the fourteen Stations of the Cross. We encourage you again, during this Holy Week, to use these posts to help you reflect, observe, and participate in the passion of the crucified Messiah. We advise you not to read them all in one sitting. Perhaps read three each day. May you be blessed this week as you observe this most Holy Week.

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1.  Jesus in Agony in the Garden of Gethsemane
2.  Jesus Betrayed by Judas and Arrested
3.  Jesus Condemned by the Sanhedrin

Rembrandt- Peter denies Jesus
4.  Peter Denies Jesus
5.  Jesus Judged by Pilate
6.  Jesus Scourged and Crowned with Thorns
7.  Jesus Carries the Cross

Simon the cyrene Vecellio di Gregorio
8.  Simon of Cyrene Helps Jesus to Carry the Cross
9.  Jesus Meets the Women of Jerusalem
10. Jesus is Crucified
11. Jesus Promises the Kingdom to the Penitent Thief

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12. Jesus Speaks to His Mother and Friend
13. Jesus Dies on the Cross
14. Jesus Laid in the Tomb


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Pseudepigraphical Darkness: The Apocalypse of the Cross: Part 14

Apocaylpse of the Cross

Essay Posts

In the last few post I have examined the way the Old Testament stands behind Matthew’s crucifixion narrative and gives a contextual lens through which to understand the use of darkness within the Gospel. The Old Testament stands as the primary source outside of the Gospel from which the Evangelist drew, most notably Exodus and Amos. Yet there is a gulf of time and interpretive distance that lies between the writer of Matthew and the Old Testament texts from which he drew. It is important then to examine those texts which served as closer contemporaries to Matthew’s gospel — texts from the Old Testament Pseudepigrapha and from Roman histories.

In this post I am going to focus on the Old Testament Pseudepigrapha, a loose collection of Jewish texts written between roughly 200 B.C.E. and 200 C.E.. While these texts span a wide range of subjects, genres, and theologies, they help us to understand the way in which the Old Testament functioned in the thought-world of Second Temple Judaism. It is important to see how the same imagery which is used in Matthew was used within the broader Jewish writings of the time. In examining these texts we will see how they draw on the Old Testament text while shaping its imagery in unique ways. Important to this investigation is noting the way in which the Pseudepigraphal texts develop the Old Testament imagery in ways similar to that of Matthew’s Gospel. These texts will give us important insight into seeing the hermeneutical possibilities of Matthew’s darkness.

Pseudepigraphic Allusions

Pseudepigraphic texts frequently feature darkness in relation to divine judgment,[1] as in the case of the Sibylline Oracles where:

There will be dark night in the mid-hour of day;
the stars and the circles of the moon will disappear from heaven;
The earth, shaken by the turmoil of a great earthquake.[2]

Even more commonly, darkness occurs within the context of eschatological judgment. Since there is a wide range of texts, I will only survey some of the most common ones, acknowledging that they all draw from a similar pool of Old Testament imagery which was widely in use during this period. Most notable is T. Moses:

and the earth will tremble, even to its ends shall it be shaken…
The sun will not give light
And in darkness the horns of the moon will flee.
Yea, the will be broken in pieces.[3]

and the passage in 4 Ezra:

and the sun shall suddenly shine forth at night,
and the moon during the day.[4]

Similar expressions can be found in Sib. Orc. III, 801-802; V, 344-50; T. Levi 4.1; 2 Bar. 10.12; 18.2; 46.2; 77.14; 2 En. 34.3.[5] In all these instances darkness and cosmic upheaval accompanies a time of distress and tribulation within an eschatological context.

In somewhat different usage, Davies and Allison mention both Liv. Pro. Hab. 14 and 4 Ezra 7:50 in reference to a connection between the darkness at the creation paralleling the darkness of close of the eschaton. As stated previously, some connection existed between the darkness of the end of the age and that of creation, as seen here in Liv. Pro. Hab. “they will illuminate those who are being pursued by the serpent in the darkness as from the beginning.”[6] and 4 Ezra where at the end:

…the world shall be turned back to primeval silence for seven days, as it was at the beginnings; so that no one shall be left

Also worth comment is Allison’s mention that “the sun and moon were darkened, and there was thick darkness for seven days”[7] upon the death of Adam recorded in T. Adam, a 4th or 6th century CE text of Christian redaction. Interestingly though, the tradition appears also within Adam and Eve, an earlier text of the first century CE which is free from Christian influence.[8] Only moderately related, darkness also accompanies the ascent of Enoch to the highest heavens in 2 Enoch 67.[9]

These mentions of darkness serve to illuminate the wide usage of cosmic upheaval, in particular darkening of the sun and moon, within texts at the time of Matthew’s composition. This pervasive use of darkness throughout eschatological texts, many featuring the type of eschatological tribulation previously discussed, strengthens the eschatological context for the darkness at the cross. While there is no dependence of Matthew’s Gospel on these texts, it shows that the darkness, in an eschatological sense, was a common theme within the writings of this period.


[1] Keener, Matthew. 685.

[2] Sib. Or. 4.56-58 OTP

[3] T. Mos. 10.4-5

[4] 4 Ezra 5.4-5

[5] Allison Jr., End. 29.

[6] Liv. Pro. Hab. 14

[7] T. Adam 3.6

[8] Ibid. 28.

[9] Ibid. 28.


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Ash Wednesday- Healing Our Anti-Love

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Church YearToday is Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent.  Lent is a period of 40 days (six weeks) where, through prayer, fasting, repentance, and self-denial, believers around the world prepare themselves for Holy Week and the death and resurrection of Jesus.  It is during this time that, in our lives, thoughts, and prayers, we embody the disciple’s call of “let us go with Him, that we may die with Him” (Luke 11:16).  But Lent isn’t merely about sin, brokenness, and the separation of death; rather, it is about healing, forgiveness, and restoration.  With that said, there can be no forgiveness without repentance, no healing without acknowledging we are fractured, and no restoration without a felt separation.  The prodigal son can never come home if he refuses to see that he no longer dwells there.

Today I am reflecting on the question, “What is sin?”  Throughout my life I have been told that sin is the chasm that separates God and humanity.  Though this is true, I do not think such statements go far enough.  One of the most significant verses on humanities plight is Romans 3:23, “All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.”   This glory is something God intends to share with His creatures (cf. John 17:22; Rom 8:18-21; 1 Cor 2:17).  The “glory” is not simply an abstract moral ideal but, as taught in the Christian tradition, is found in the unending and transformative love of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit (cf. John 17:5).  In fact, when God created corporate humanity, He did so “in His image” as sharers in the transforming love of His glory (Gen 1:26-27; cf. Psalm 8).  The glory of God, then, is deeply relational and intrinsic to our essential makeup.

garden_of_edenWhen humanity fell short of God’s glory, it did not simply separate God from humanity, but fractured every relationship they had.  Rather than harmonizing companionships and tasks, Adam was set at odds with his wife, his vocation, the soil under his feet, and, most poignantly, the very life given to him would culminate in death (Gen 3:17-19).  Eve too would destroy the very familial relationships she was created to assist (Gen 3:16).  The core of sin is anti-love.  Rather than serving the other, it lusts after power and stoops conquer.  Rather than giving, it steals; rather than bearing the truth, it lies; rather than fidelity, it forsakes.  When sin has its way, humanity is divided, manipulative, and seething with anger.  Rather than reflecting the eternal self-sacrifice of the Triune God, a sinful humanity selfishly and compulsively demands its own way, sacrificing others along the way.  Sin keeps our lives from being good gifts to others around us.

The road of anti-love leads to the alienation of individuals.  It is an orphaned and isolated existence that has burned the bridges that led to those that used to be called our family.  It presumptuously labels and refuses to trust even those who prove to be trustworthy.  After all attempts to dominate and subjugate those closest, the lonely existence, which has destroyed and distorted every relationship it has known, eventually ends in death… which stands as the climax of separation and non-relationality of humanity.  Death is the logical end of lives fractured by anti-love and anti-relationships.  In death, you no longer have companions but are forced into the great and mysterious outer darkness… alone.  God, the Trinitarian embodiment of love, life, and beauty, hates sin not because He is a prude, but because sin ends in the systematic breakdown of the very connections we were made for; our connection with the beautiful God and with the human family He has made beautiful.  Created in God’s image, sin strips us of what intrinsically makes us human, namely, the capacity for love, the ability to recognize beauty, and the undreamt hope of life.

lamentLent calls us to face the sin of our shared humanity; the sin that mars God’s image within us.  It bids us to assess our thoughts, our actions, our beliefs, and our relationships.  Within the Greek Orthodox tradition, the Sunday service before Lent is called “Forgiveness Sunday.”  On this day, members of the congregation go to other members and ask for mercy for the sin that they have committed throughout the year.  The members grant forgiveness to them and, in turn, ask for mercy also for themselves.  Forgiveness Sunday, as practiced by the Orthodox tradition, portrays sin not so much as arbitrary offenses that erect a wall between God and man, but as the anti-love that sabotages our human faculties by robbing us of the ability for companionship, fidelity, or trust (whether with God or one another).

In the past when I have observed Lent, I focused primarily on how my sins have separated me from God.  This year, I am focusing more on the actions, inaction, beliefs, and unbelief that have negatively affected me and those around me; the misdeeds that have impaired my ability to love and blinded my eyes to the beauty found in God and His good world.  I invite you also to join me as we journey together in this season of Lent.  May our shared hatred of sin and everything that mars God’s beauty render our lives as good gifts to a dying world.

Righteous God,
in humility and repentance
we bring our failures in caring, helping, and loving,
we bring the pain we have caused others,
we bring the injustice in society of which we are a part,
to the transforming power of your grace.
Grant us the courage to accept the healing you offer
and to turn again toward the sunrise of your reign,
that we may walk with you in the promise of peace
you have willed for all the children of the earth,
and have made known to us in Christ Jesus. Amen.


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Feminist Fridays: Silence and Submission? Pt 2: The Heretical Women of 1 Timothy

Feminist Friday Graphic

Last time we talked about the main reason Paul wrote 1 Timothy, namely, because of the deceptive false teachers.  These teachers were reaking havoc in Ephesus and Paul needed Timothy to put an end to it.  I also demonstrated how Paul’s correction of various women in Ephesus was very similar to his assessment of the false teachers.  Before we jump into the “learning in silence and submission” text, the question needs to be asked, what role (if any) did women in Ephesus play in terms of teaching this false gospel?

In 1 Timothy 5:13, Paul addresses widows that are classified as “gossips (φλὐαροι) and busybodies, saying what they should not say.”  According to Fee, however, “there is no known instance in Greek where the word φλὐαροι means ‘gossip.’”[1]  Rather, the word carries connotations of “silly talk, nonsense, and foolery.”  More, this word is commonly used to classify beliefs that are destructive to the truth.  In 4 Macc 5:11, Antiochus bids Eleazar to give up his Jewishness, saying – “awaken from your foolish (φλὐαρου) philosophy, and dispel your futile reasoning” (cf. Josephus “Life” 150, Ag. Ap. 2.22).  Payne suggests that that the young widows were doing far more than gossiping.  Rather, they were spreading around the horrid philosophy that was so damaging to the church.

Pat Robertson strikes again!

Pat Robertson strikes again!

If φλὐαροι means more than merely “gossipy,” Paul’s surrounding condemnations make much more sense.  He classifies the young widow’s foolishness as “saying what they should not say” (5:13), just as he classified false teachers in another pastoral letter, saying, “teaching for sordid gain what they should not teach” (Titus 1:11).  The similar indictments suggest that the women were foolishly spreading heresy.  Perhaps this is why Paul says the false teachers were successful in enlisting women (2 Tim 3:6).  In light of this, Mounce sees the “straying after Satan” in 5:15 as a euphemism for receiving the heresy, which found its genesis in deceiving spirits (4:1).[2]

I don’t, however, think women were the founders of the heresy.  Both 1 and 2 Timothy name Alexander (1 Tim 1:19; 2 Tim 4:14-15) and Hymenaeus (1 Tim 1:19; 2 Tim 2:17), both male names, as the false teachers Paul has in mind.  The false teaching, as outlined in both epistles, apparently claimed the resurrection had already happened (2 Tim 2:18).  Since they assumed the resurrection had happened, Jesus’ words about “not marrying” in the resurrection (Matt 22:30) became a staple command.  Paul claimed they “forbid marriage” (1 Tim 4:3).  In light of this, it makes total sense that Paul commanded the younger widows to marry (1 Tim 5:14).

Why would the false teachers recruit women?  Lack of women’s education could be postulated as one of the answers.  He used words like “gullible” to describe the Ephesian women (2 Tim 3:6).  The lack of education among women could also play into Paul’s command to Timothy to “let a woman learn” (1 Tim 2:11).  This education could assist the women to not be led astray like Eve was by the serpent (2:14).  It also appears that some women had wealth (1 Tim 2:9).  Like Alexander and Hymenaeus shipwrecked in heresy, Paul claimed that “some have wandered away from the faith” from a desire to be wealthy (1 Tim 6:10).  If the women were gullible, perhaps the women were targeted by the teachers for their wealth.

Whatever the case, it seems to me that certain women in Ephesus took part in spreading the heresy.  This has to be understood if we are going to understand Paul’s command for women in 1 Timothy 2.  Taking one verse out of its historical or grammatical context can do severe damage and places our bad ideas upon an untouchable pillar that we’ve called “God’s word.”  Next time we will actually dig into 1 Timothy 2 and the verses on silence and submission.  Stay tuned!


[1] Gordon Fee, “Great Watershed” 37

[2] William Mounce, “Pastoral Epistles” Word vol 46, pg 295


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Feminist Fridays: Silence and Submission? Pt 1: 1st Timothy in Context

Feminist Friday Graphic

roseall1I previously had promised to get these posts out a number of months ago.  However, after doing some initial reading on the subject, I realized that these verses need adequate care and honest reflection that, at the time, I simply couldn’t give to it.  That is not to say that previous Feminist Friday posts could afford to be written haphazardly.  But 1st Timothy 2:9ff, along with its subsequent silencing of women, stands as the foundational justification for much patriarchal praxis found in many conservative congregations today.  If deconstructing these verses is going to be done, then it ought to be done right.  Thus, we are going to wade into 1 Timothy slow and easy, so that we can come to the right conclusions.

In order to interpret the epistolary genre correctly, the historical context must be taken into account with all seriousness.  Though this absolutely includes the broad historical context (e.g. first century, Gentile colony, under Roman rule, lack of women’s education), it is the localized historical context that will occupy most of our time.  What was happening within the church that prompted Paul to write this letter?  If we fail to answer this question, then we may confuse local prescription with timeless instruction.  Radiation therapy may be the best option for one diagnosed with cancer, but making it a general rule for everyone- healthy and unhealthy- would be disastrous.

Feminism_7a7d13_3416091The following sentence (indicating the central reason Paul has written this letter) is meant to be read aloud from your computer screen.  PAUL IS WRITING TO STOP THE FALSE TEACHERS.  That’s it.  The overriding concern for Paul is the havoc created by those teaching a different gospel.  The urgency is clear seeing that Paul doesn’t give a prayerful thanks for Timothy (which is customarily included in his greetings).  Without time for formalities, Paul writes straight away:  “I urged you… to remain in Ephesus so that you may charge certain persons not to teach any different doctrine, nor to devote themselves to myths and endless genealogies… Certain persons have wandered away into senseless babble, wishing to be teachers of the law even though they do not understand either what they are saying or concerning what things they are so dogmatically asserting” (1:3-7).

Of these false teachers, Paul says, some have “made shipwreck of their faith” and had to be “handed over to Satan” (1:19-20).  Later on, he says these ones “will follow deceiving spirits of things taught by demons” and that they are “hypocritical liars whose consciences have been seared as with a hot iron” (4:1-2).  Again, at the end of his letter, Paul sums up his entire point to his spiritual son:  “O Timothy!  Guard the deposit entrusted to you.  Avoid the irreverent babble and contradictions of what is falsely called ‘knowledge,’ for by professing it some have swerved from the faith” (6:20-21).  As you can see, Paul’s concern for Timothy was the malicious teachers that were a cancerously spreading in his church.

What does this have to do with women?  Well, according to I. Howard Marshall, there are “strong indications that women were involved in the heresy (and therefore teaching falsely).”[1]  Payne points out that the same language used to describe the false teachers are used to describe women’s activities within the church.[2]  Younger widows have “turned aside after Satan,” giving the adversary an “occasion to slander” (5:14-15).  In the same way, Hymenaeus and Alexander were “delivered to Satan so that they might not blaspheme” (1:20).  Again, younger widows “turned aside (ἐξετράπησαν) after Satan” just as the false teachers had “turned aside (ἐξετράπησαν) after meaningless talk” (1:6).  The false teachers “promote controversy” (1:4) while the some women tend to be “malicious talkers” (3:11).  Again, some women “talk nonsense, saying things they ought not” (5:13), and some teachers simply “do not know what they are talking about or what they dogmatically affirm” (1:7).In fact, out of 113 verses, 21 are dedicated specifically to problems regarding women (1 Tim 2:9-15; 4:7; 5:3-7, 9-16).

In conclusion, two things should be generally clear.  First, Paul had significant problems with false teachers and is writing to Timothy to stop the nonsense.  Second, Paul had similar problems with women within the church; these problems were also to be addressed by Timothy. But how do these two groups connect or overlap?  Are the women the false teachers?  And what’s the deal with the “silence and submission?”  We will talk about all of these questions in the coming posts!


[1] Marshall, Pastoral Epistles, 466

[2] The following are examples found in: Payne, Man and Woman: One in Christ, 229


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Darkness in the Old Testament: The Apocalypse of the Cross: Part 13

Apocaylpse of the Cross

Essay Posts

In my previous two post, I discussed the Old Testament allusions present within Matthew’s crucifixion narrative as it relates to the darkness at the cross. I have looked at the Exodus account and Amos 9:1 as the primary Old Testament passages being alluded to in Matthew’s crucifixion narrative. I concluded that due to its linguistic and textual parallels, Amos 9:1 is the most convincing Old Testament allusion for the Gospel writer to be drawing upon. Having examined those texts it is still important to look at those other Old Testament passages that many have given shape to the imagery of darkness in Jewish apocalyptic thought.

Intertext 1 Old Testament

There is a wide spectrum of secondary Old Testament texts which give further context to the darkness at the cross. I will here only look at those which are most pertinent or which will not receive treatment elsewhere, since a variety of these will be looked at within the context of innertextual parallels and they lack a linguistic relation as strong as Amos 8:9-10.

Deuteronomy 28.29, “you shall be groping about at μεσημβρίας (mesēmbrias, midday) as a blind person would grope in τῷ σκότει (tō̧ skotei, the darkness),” is significant as it may stand behind the Amos passage, as well as being in the context of Deuteronomic curses.[1] Less credible is the connection to the LXX of Zech 14.6-7, even though Zech 14.5 forms the basis of 27.51-3.[2] Similar prophetic texts of darkness in the context of judgment include Jer 13.16, 15.9, where “the sun set for her while it was yet midday;” Zeph 1:15, “a day of darkness and gloom;” Amos 5.18, 20, where the Day of YHWH is “darkness, not light;” and, as will be looked at in a different context, Joel 2.2, 10; 4.15 (LXX); and Isa 13.9-16.[3]

Requiring only brief mention is the reference in Davies and Allison to Genesis 1.2, “σκότος (skotos, darkness) was over the abyss,” and the connection they make between creation and eschatology,[4] a theme which will be noted again briefly in the discussion of pseudepigraphic texts. While this theme is not pertinent to this study here, it is significant to note that Judaism saw the eschatological deliverance in terms of a new beginning or new creation, and as such the allusion to creation in an eschatological context would not be out of place.[5]

Having looked at the Old Testament sources Matthew’s author may have been drawing upon, I will now be able to turn to those texts that made up the world of second temple Judaism, Jewish Apocalyptic Literature, and see how their use of darkness functions and makes up the world in which Matthew was writing.


[1] Stuart, Hosea. 385.

[2] Davies and Allison Jr., Matthew XIX-XXVIII. 622.

[3] Allison Jr., End. 28.

[4] Davies and Allison Jr., Matthew XIX-XXVIII. 621.

[5] W. D. Davies and Dale C Allison Jr., A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Gospel According to Saint Matthew Vol. 1, Introduction and Commentary on Matthew I-VII (Edinburgh: Clark, 1988). 153.


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Babel, Pentecost, and the House of Prayer: My Time at IHOP-KC

the tower of babel

Click view all "Conversational"Just over two years ago this month, I turned in my staff badge at the International House of Prayer (IHOP-KC).  I didn’t know who I was anymore.  It seemed that my identity had been stripped from me.  Why did I come here in the first place?  What exactly happened to me?  Who am I?  I didn’t know how to pray.  More, I didn’t know if I wanted to pray.  I was leaving my church, community, job, and, most importantly, the relationships that were so dear to me.  But I knew I had to leave no matter how disorganized my thoughts were.  After two years, I am ready to discuss what I experienced during my time at IHOP-KC.

For reasons that will become clear later on, my first two years at IHOPU (their bible school) were relatively uneventful.  I was enamored by the teaching that I heard day-in and day-out.  The teachers and leaders would give emotionally charged messages on loving God, the importance of prayer, and the ending of abortion in America.  I would generally cry.  Though I did not know them personally, I began looking at Mike Bickel, Allen Hood, and Stuart Greaves as though they were a part of my own family; as though they deserved my utmost trust.  I mostly never questioned what they said.  How could I?  They almost unanimously claimed to have experiences with God that outweighed anything I’d ever stumbled upon in my prayer closet.

This all changed for me around my third year of school.  I wanted to know more about the bible than the messages I heard at IHOP (where messages are often recycled).  So I took it upon myself to learn Greek.  I also started reading various theologians.  I fell in love with NT Wright, Jürgen Moltmann, Greg Boyd, and Clark Pinnock.  I poured through their books and talked about them with my friends.  I began questioning various Christian doctrines that I didn’t find in the bible.  Penal Substitutionary Atonement theory vs. Christus Victor, Open Theism vs. Calvinism, Soul Sleep vs. going to heaven upon death, eternal conscious torment vs. annihilationism, infant vs. believer’s baptism, transubstantiation vs. memorial view, nothing escaped my questioning.  I felt alive, engaged, and I loved it.  But not everybody at IHOP loved it.

publishnewworshiptime0819

IHOP-KC sets an emotionally charged grand vision before their students that they are unique from every other generation and that God will use them for great end-time exploits

You see, IHOPU is different from most every other bible college.  Other colleges often initially ask the prospective students what they wish to get out of their institution and, within reason, do everything they can to assist them to their goals.  Not so with IHOPU.  Rather than asking this from students, IHOPU tends to give the students a vision to pursue and then continually urges them toward that vision by any means possible.  “Students don’t know what they want,” Stuart Greaves told my friend Kendall.  “We tell them what they want.”  The vision seemed attractive.  We were to be used by God when His end-times plan began to unfold.  Until then, we were preparing for that time.  But what happens when you begin doing or saying things that the leaders deem outside the vision?

If you hadn’t guessed by now, my theological and intellectual pursuits were not elements of IHOP’s prescribed vision.   In a class that was designed to teach students how to argue for IHOP’s futurist eschatology, we were to write a paper defending why Matthew 24 was a future event.  Unsure of the conclusion I was asked to write, I raised my hand and began questioning some key verses within the text.  The teacher and I went back and forth on the issue.  Finally, he said, “Gary, I am fighting on the Lord’s side here.  Which side are you fighting on?”  I was stunned and sat down.  I was also deeply embarrassed and ashamed since this was done in front of my peers.  I wrote the paper and explained my position more fully (that there are large questions that need to be answered before we can dogmatically say Matthew 24 is about the future).  I footnoted many authors and spent large amounts of time on it.  I got a C on the paper.  He wrote that my conclusions were riddled with presuppositions and that I was making things more complicated than they were.

I wish I could say that this was one isolated event.  Later that semester, a friend of mine questioned another teacher and was shouted down (again, in front of the class).  I remember remarking how the teachers face turned bright red when he was questioned.  When I brought up my doubts about penal substitutionary atonement, I was notified that only a “false prophet” would preach the gospel without it.  I was told Jürgen Moltmann was an “exegetical nightmare” and was warned against reading NT Wright.  “Allen Hood’s ‘Excellency’s of Christ’ is really all you need to read to learn Christology,” they said.  Another friend was compared to a heretic and labeled as “bad fruit.”  I was told that I needed to “break off the spirit of intellectualism” and that learning Greek and Hebrew served little purpose for my future other than producing pride.  “That’s Western intellectual hogwash!” a teacher shouted in response to another question.   I’ve been accused of believing that I am better than others and that I love “head knowledge over heart knowledge.”  Upon another question of mine, a teacher responded, saying, “The angel appeared to Mike [Bickel] and not to you.  Who do you think we are going to listen to?”  All these accounts placed a significant amount of shame on the ones receiving these corrections.  We thought we were being good students and yet we were treated like an enemy and made to be an example for others.

At the Awakening one evening, I was singing the Psalms out of the Book of Common Prayer.  A few days prior, Wes Hall, a former Anglican, discussed his concerns about the prayer book with me.  That evening as he walked past me on his way to the stage, he saw my prayer book and nodded towards me as a gesture of greeting.  The next thing I know, Wes Hall was on the microphone shouting to the 600+ in attendance, “If you think you are going to find God in the Book of Common Prayer, you are wrong!  He isn’t there!”  Again, I instantly felt shame, placed my book in my bag, and left the meeting early.

As I said earlier, IHOP leaders urged the students on to the grand vision by any means possible; and that includes shame.[1]  In the instances I have outlined above, shame was used as the motivator for us to stop what we were doing (theology, biblical languages) and comply with their vision.  “Become like us or we will shame and ignore you,” was the message.  But I was never going to fit the IHOP mold.  No matter how much I tried to convince myself otherwise, I simply didn’t want to be a street preacher or missionary.  I didn’t want to be a forerunner or a prophetic singer.  I wanted to be an academic and a theologian.  But that wasn’t a possibility within the grand vision of IHOP, and so my friends and I were shamed by the ones that were supposed to help us.

babelIHOP leaders generally used the story of Babel to symbolize humanities urge to resist God and climb to heaven by their own intellect and ingenuity.  Though this may be a fair reading of the story, I believe there is more to consider.[2]  Genesis 11 begins with the nations as they gather to create a tower (a symbol of political, religious, and economic strength).  Following most modern commentators, this story was foreshadowing Babylon’s empire.  More, Babel – with it’s obvious linguistic parallels to Babylon – attempted to explain why the Babylonian empire functioned as it did and, while in exile, was formative for Israel’s defense against Babylonian culture.  Babylon subjugated her enemies so that they might be integrated into her pagan society, worshiping her gods and taking part in her economics.  More specifically, the imperial agenda of Babylon relied heavily on assimilating conquered nations so that these nations would become extensions of themselves.

As the story in Genesis goes, the people of the earth gathered in one location, with one language, for one purpose, to build a tower (11:6).  However, one should not imagine that this tower was merely to get to heaven for some mystical experience.  No, the tower would be built to rule the land of Shinar and enact God-like authority over the people.  But the unity of Babel was an oppressive unity.  They banded together because they feared insignificance (11:4), and those that fear their own insignificance will trample on those who do not fit into their magnificent vision.  “Imperial architects,” says Volf, “seek to unify by suppressing differences that do not fit into a single grand scheme… erasing the names of simple people and small nations.”  God scattered the unified humanity across the land and confused their speech because of the oppression wrought by denying humanity’s irreducible differences.

That IHOP denied the student’s irreducible differences in order to create this “oppressive unity” became clear to me during my last semester.  During a meeting with an IHOPU leader concerning our weekly chapel, I expressed my desire, as IHOPU’s Vice President of Student Government, to see the diversity of the student body highlighted.  I voiced my concern that only those students that fit the “IHOP mold” or the grand vision were allowed to speak from the platform.    I specifically remember saying, “IHOPU has many different children but within our chapel services we only tell one child that we love them.  How are the others to feel?”  I feared the students that did not fit into this stringent category were being conditioned to change their behavior and identities so that they too might be rewarded in the same way.  My suggestion was to find a way to include a more diverse group of students to represent our student body.

 “The problem with that Gary,” the IHOPU leader responded, “is that Paul said we are supposed to ‘cover the dishonorable parts of the body.’  I do not think bringing them on stage is doing a good job of covering them up.”

I remember being really angry at that response.  The leader rebutted to my request to recognize and honor the entirety of our student body by quoting Paul in 1 Corinthians 12.  However, this verse in Corinthians isn’t about “covering up” a dishonorable part of the body, but covering them in love and showing them greater honor, exactly what I was arguing for.  But, as I said previously, giving honor to the “weaker members” could compromise the grand scheme of IHOPU and they couldn’t afford that.  The magnificent vision IHOPU touted was of supreme importance and if it required sacrificing those that wouldn’t assimilate, then so be it.

pentecost-icon

“Each one heard their own language being spoken” – Acts 2:6

But there is an answer for Babel.  Pentecost has long been seen as the undoing of Babel.  Rather than people-of-one-speech ascending into the heavens for God-like authority, the Spirit descended in Jerusalem with “power from on high” (Acts 1:8) so that Jews “from every nation under heaven” could understand (2:3-7).  But Pentecost didn’t merely bring humanity back to a pre-Babel state.  Rather than conflating all languages into one, like the oppressive unity of Babel, Pentecost allows for everyone to hear the gospel in their own language (2:8).  The manipulation and assimilation of Babylon is confronted by the Spirit’s harmony of cultural diversity.  The love that marked the early church was not an embrace that suppressed the identity of the other, converting the other into a redundant extension of the self.  Rather, those that practiced the self-giving love of the Messiah welcomed the other (as the other) and readjusted their identities to make space for the other.

As I have attempted to express above, this celebration of diversity was sorely lacking.  And it wasn’t just those that loved theology.  I know a girl that wanted to become an architect that was told that, if she pursued it, she was giving up on God’s call for her life.  Another young lady that loved American literature was told her reading was fruitless and would be burned up on the Day of Judgment.  More, the shameful voices didn’t begin and end with the teachers and leaders of IHOPU.  The social pressure surrounding IHOP-KC trickled down from above.  When I notified my peers that I was starting college, I was met with disagreement.  “Why do you want to be smarter than everyone else?”  One asked me.  “School is your Ishmael,” another said.  “You are like Abraham trying to make God’s promises come forth in your own strength.”  “Do you think a piece of paper on your wall (referring to a degree) is going to help you in the long run?”  These comments were shameful and, though not formally coming from the leadership, had definitely been learned by mirroring their behavior.

Two years ago, I turned in my staff badge.  As I left, I felt like a member of post-judgment Babel, both confused and scattered.  As I said above, I didn’t know who I was anymore.  My identity had been shamed and my boundaries had been crossed.  Why did I leave?  Many people assumed it was because of the many theological differences I have with IHOP.  But that is not why I left.  I left because of the shame that was displayed when I voiced my differences.  I left because I could no longer force myself to be a redundant extension of IHOP leaders.  That sort of manipulation is only perpetuates self-hatred and identity confusion.   I left because I believed that humanity in all its diversity, no matter how insignificant they may seem, are far more important than any ministry’s agenda or grand vision.  I left because the harmony of diversity that the Spirit brought at Pentecost was not present in my time there.  But most of all, I left  because, at IHOP-KC, I never heard the gospel in my own language.


[1] I am indebted to both Dr. Tom Mills and Richard Liantonio, two teachers that worked directly with me at IHOPU.  Neither ever exhibited the public or private shaming that I have described.

[2] My retelling of Babel and Pentecost largely depends on reflections written by Volf:

Volf, Miroslav. Exclusion and Embrace: A Theological Exploration of Identity, Otherness, and Reconciliation. Nashville: Abingdon, 1996. Pg. 225-232

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