Canonical Hermeneutics and Systemic Injustices

I watched the #PhilandoCastile dash cam video about an hour ago and am still horrified. This case appears to me to be a miscarriage of justice on every level, from the 50ish stops in 14 years to which Castile was subjected, to the actions of the officer, to the acquittal of the officer by the jury.

What is also puzzling to me is the continued insistence by some that Christians ought to concern themselves only with preaching the gospel and not with issues of systemic injustice in our societies. There are various reasons why I think some deny either that policing is a systemic issue to be addressed or that, more broadly, Christians should be engaged in confronting systemic injustice. Here I only want to briefly suggest that one of the reasons for this is a truncated canon.

My training is in biblical theology, and specifically in canonical criticism. I have been taught and have subsequently tried to teach others to read the Bible as a whole, as one book. And yet, evangelicalism continues to be what I would consider a mostly Pauline stream of Christianity. There is, of course, nothing wrong with Paul – I love Paul! I love the five solas of the Reformation, I love the explanation of the gospel of Christ followed by the ethical exhortations (indicative –> imperative), I love the rich imagery that Paul uses for God’s salvation of his people. Paul’s writings are just as inerrant and inspired as the rest of Scripture, and therefore just as important. But when we shrink our Bibles down to Paul, and specifically down to Romans and Galatians, we miss out on a lot of what the Bible has to say about justice.

The Mosaic Law, Israel’s prophets, and the wisdom literature all address justice in ancient Israel. And that material repeatedly connects justice with social issues, and particularly with the treatment of the poor, oppressed, and marginalized. Often (though, of course, not always), the marginalized are in that position for some ethnic reason, whether it is Israel being mistreated by a foreign nation or Israel mistreating foreigners and strangers in their midst.

When we come to the Gospels, Jesus also repeatedly speaks about how his followers ought to treat the same groups of people: the poor, the oppressed, and marginalized. And again, we see that “marginalized” has ethnic overtones. The same concern for the social implications of the gospel are found in Paul, albeit more so in Philemon than in Romans or Galatians. Still, his commands about husbands and wives, parents and children, masters and slaves, and other such social relationships would have been radical compared to societal norms in his day. James is concerned that Christians treat the poor, orphans, and widows with the love they are due as God’s image bearers. And the book most avoided by expository preachers, Revelation, stands at the end of the canon with a hard word for the church. If Christians participate in or support the unjust systems of this world, they ride the Beast along with the Harlot.

The Bible shows that God confronts systemic injustice through his Word. Of course, the necessary caveat here is that what the Bible says is just for society is not always what society believes is just. With this caveat in mind, though, the point still stands: God cares about justice, and about the systemic injustices that occur in our societies. Perhaps if we moved beyond our (selective) Pauline canon within a canon we would see this a bit more clearly.

A Poetic Reflection on Endō’s “Silence”



In the silence

I hear

The cacophony of

the groans of my brothers

and sisters

the groans of my mother

and father.


But from Christ

I hear

“If you love me,

Deny your brothers

and sisters

and deny your mother and father

And come after me.”


In the silence

I hear

The cacophony of

the calls of Black Friday

and Friends,

the calls of Nietzsche

and Wal-Mart.


But from Christ

I hear

“If you love me,

Obey my commandments

and my Word;

Abide in me and

deny yourself.”


In the silence

I hear

The cacophony of

the cry of my flesh

to protect it,

to preserve it,

to satisfy it.


But from Christ

I hear

“I have been crucified

with Christ and

it is no longer I who live

But Christ

who dwells within me.”


Whose voice do I heed?

Or rather,

Which silence is

More deafening?

The still silence

That comes from peace

with God?


Whose voice do I heed?

Or rather,

Which silence is

more deafening?

The maddening silence

That comes from the absence

of God?


Wisdom cries

Aloud in the street:

“The fear of the Lord

is the beginning

of wisdom.”

But Folly tells me

“Curse God

and die.”


How many of us

have not trampled

Christ’s face,

his blood,

with our sinful feet?

Who among us

is not Judas?


Who among us

has not denied Christ

three times

before the cock crows?

Have not

we all

Trampled the fumie?


But not out of love

for our brothers and sisters.

Not out of pain

and suffering

on Christ’s behalf.

But for childish


#StarWars #TheForceAwakens in Canonical Perspective



Second, for those who don’t know me, I teach Bible and Hermeneutics at Oklahoma Baptist University. One of my overarching emphases in all my classes is reading the Bible canonically. This means paying attention to the order and shape of the material, textual links between books, and following the arc of the story. As I watched and have continued to think about TFA, these principles seem to help understand exactly what Abrams is doing with Episode VII. (Which is not, contra Ross Douthat, just an homage piece with no originality.)

I’ll start with the similarities between TFA and the original trilogy, and these are (almost) legion.

TFA starts almost identically to A New Hope. The movie opens over a desert planet, Jakku, and the leader of the First Order is searching for Republic plans. Instead of plans to the rebel base, it’s a map to Luke Skywalker, but still, same. These plans are hidden in a droid, which is found by an inhabitant of said desert planet. It’s Rey, not Luke, but she’s a great pilot and skilled mechanically. She escapes the planet with the plans with Han and Chewie and heads to the Republic to hand them over. Once there, a super weapon destroys the planet on which the Republic government is settled. The first half of the movie, then, is definitely ANH rehashed, although I don’t think that’s a negative.

The reason I think this is intentional and not just lazy homage is because of what Abrams does next. Instead of continuing an ANH reboot with new characters, he jumps into Episode V in the next part of the film. While Rey’s character was portrayed as a new Luke in the first half, both Rey and Ren are portrayed as new Lukes in the second half. Rey reenacts Dagobah’s cave in Maz’ basement, while Ren reenacts the climax of Empire on the bridge with his father. But it’s Empire reversed. In V, Luke is confronted by his father on a long bridge, with no chance of escape, and given an ultimatum to turn to the dark side or die. Luke refuses, sealing his fate as a Jedi, not a Sith. Ren is the exact opposite. He is confronted by his father on a long bridge, with every reason and ability to walk away, and asked by his father to turn back to the light. Ren refuses, kills his father, sealing his fate as a Sith, not a Jedi. This is the climax of VII, and a reverse of V.

But there’s more. Abrams doesn’t stop with IV and a reverse V; he ends with VI recapitulated instead of returning to IV rehashed. As in Return of the Jedi, Han and Chewie plant charges in order to destroy base defenses so that the Republic can destroy the super weapon. And the scene where the weapon is destroyed is almost identical to the same scene in VI – the Millennium Falcon is the first out, followed by X-wings, and then the blast comes right behind. Go watch VI and then VII again and you’ll see.

In other words, Abrams has recapitulated the original trilogy in one film.

(Incidentally, I think this mitigates against the criticism that some of the film, especially character development, is rushed – yes it is, but for a reason.)

When you read the Bible and you see stories repeated over and over, you notice not only the similarities but also the differences. And I think this is where we really start to see where this new trilogy is going.

  1. This film doesn’t end like VI. There is no celebration, and Rey finds Skywalker. This latter bit is unprecedented, really. This should tell us quite a bit about what is going to happen in the next two films.
  2. Rey and Ren take up Luke’s mantle. Rey is light recapitulated, Ren dark. (This is why I think they’re twins, not cousins.) Before you say Luke has always been with the light, go back and watch VI again. Luke doesn’t go to the dark side, but he’s certainly not unambiguously light throughout, especially in his climactic battle with the Emperor and Darth Vader. Luke gives in to his anger and aggression but always ultimately pulls back from the brink each time. It’s still there, though. I think this is why Ren goes bad – Luke tries to train it out of him, but he’s not pure enough himself to do it. And whatever Ren subsequently did, it was bad enough that Luke never wanted to be seen again. (I think Joe Rigney’s comment on my earlier post are largely correct; go check it out.)
  3. Finn is Force adept. He awakens during the battle on Jakku, but doesn’t yet realize it. That’s why he’s the only non-compliant Storm Trooper, EVER, and why he can wield a light saber long enough to at least not get killed. I’d imagine we will see more people wake up to the Force as the series continues, and go to Luke (or Leia?) for training.
  4. Snoke, as many have pointed out, is probably Darth Pelagius, finally come back from the dead. He has to be destroyed, along with Ren, to balance the Force.

So again, Episode VII is fantastic. What makes Star Wars great is its simplicity. At its heart it explores the themes of good v. evil, redemption, temptation, and zero-to-hero through the lens of one family, the Skywalkers. This trilogy is going to give us the end of that story. Finally. And I can’t wait to see how it does it.

Some Thoughts on #StarWars #TheForceAwakens

  1.  **SPOILER ALERT** – If you haven’t seen it, don’t read any further.
  2. I loved it. As many have mentioned, JJ brought the magic back through set design, realistic (non-CGI) aliens and fight sequences, and taking this story where it needs to go.
  3. The major criticism I keep hearing is that TFA is just a rehash of Episode IV. A few things there:
    1. This makes sense, since both previous trilogies are interlocking ring sets. (See In other words, they all repeat one another, and the trilogies are structured similarly, and there are inclusios everywhere. And further, therefore, this isn’t actually a criticism. It’s how Star Wars works.
    2. Again, it makes sense because what made the original trilogy great was its simplicity. Farm boy to hero. Love story. Good v. evil. A chance at redemption. Temptation. Father and Son. These elements were overshadowed in the prequels. They’re back, front and center, in Ep VII.
    3. More particularly, I want to mention a few things about this being a repeat of Episode IV (and therefore also of Ep I). Certainly in many, many ways this is true. Particularly in its beginning and end – desert outpost, Millennium Falcon escape, learning about the Force on MF, finding one spot of weakness on the enemy’s apocalyptic weapon, new force adept hero traveling to find lone Jedi to train them – TFA is definitely framed by Episode IV. But if you stop there you’ve missed the most important way that Episode VII is connected to both the prequels and the original trilogy.
    4. Episode VII is also in perhaps the most important ways drawing off of Ep V (and therefore also of Ep II). The penultimate climactic scene of Ep VII is a reverse of the same sequence in Ep V. Whereas Luke resists his father in Ep V, and in virtually the same visual manner (THE BRIDGE) as in TFA, Ren does not. Luke seems to seal his fate to the light (although temptation is still to come) in that climactic scene by resisting but losing to his father; Ren seems to seal his fate to the dark side in Ep VII by resisting and defeating his father. Notice also that Rey experiences the same type of Force training as Luke does in Ep IV and V, but especially V as typified in the hallucinogenic cave scene on Dagobah. The same occurs for Rey in the basement of Maz’ bar.
    5. In other words, TFA isn’t just a 30 years later reboot of ANH; it’s TESB reversed and ensconced within an ANH reboot. The main point is Kylo Ren’s continued march down the path of the Dark Side, in contradistinction to Luke’s continued march towards the light in TESB.
    6. I think Abrams structured this movie this way for a reason. This movie is Ep V in reverse via Kylo/his dad because *this trilogy won’t be the same as the first two.* It’s going to end with the Force actually being balanced, something that apparently didn’t happen even at the end of VI, presumably because Snoke was out there somewhere unbeknownst to Luke etc. So this movie starts by rehashing V, VIII will rehash III/VI, and IX will be something we’ve never seen before. I think.
  4. Some other criticisms addressed:
    1. Finn’s character shifts in personality so quickly after his defection because he’s awakened to the Force, too, just not as quickly as Rey. Kylo doesn’t just notice he’s not shooting anyone in the skirmish on Jakku; he notices that Finn’s awakened to the Force in that opening sequence. That explains his truncated abilities with the light saber twice later in the movie. We’ll see him become more fully and consciously Force adept in the next film, I’m guessing.
    2. Rey is not another Luke. She’s more powerful than him and anyone else so far, apparently. Which I think is awesome. Also, it explains her almost immediate success throughout.
    3. Again, therefore, this is not just a rehash. Kylo *isn’t* Darth Vader. He hasn’t finished his training, he’s erratic, he’s overcome with emotion and not just using it in battle. He clearly has different, and maybe better, abilities than DV. He’s not DV. Rey isn’t Luke (see #4.2); Finn isn’t just a new Han (see #4.1).
    4. Finally, and maybe most importantly, I think 4.2 and 4.3 explain who Rey is. She’s Ren’s sister (twin?). These two will balance the Force through being polar opposites. Again, think about it. Rey follows Luke’s path in IV and V, while Ren does exactly the opposite of Luke in V.
  5. One final thought – it occurred to me as the credits were rolling that this is the first Star Wars film I’ve seen in theaters where I didn’t know what was going to happen. RotJ came out when I was a newborn, and we always knew where the prequels were headed, even if it we didn’t know exactly how they’d take us there. I’m in brand new territory here.

So, I think TFA is brilliant. I want to see it as many times as possible in theaters.

Thank you, JJ.

Race, Ethnicity, Class, and Social Injustice Are Gospel Issues

I continue to hear and read comments like “race isn’t a gospel issue.” This could not be further from the truth.

Race is a gospel issue because our world, though one in Adam, is divided by ethnicity, nationality, tribal distinctions, and social classes. We are one people in our common parentage, but we are not one in the way we treat each other. We are not one when we plunder one another, fight one another, oppress one another, and destroy one another. Someone might say at this point, “yes but this is a matter of simply recognizing the image of God in each other. That’s not a gospel issue.” What gives you the eyes to see and ears to hear the image of God in your fellow man clearly and truly *other than* the gospel? Christ is the new and better Adam, and only by seeing his life can we see and understand true life and all the lives around us. Common grace is given by God, to be sure, but until our eyes are opened by the power of the Holy Spirit and the light of the gospel we only see one another through a glass darkly. Sin clouds our minds and our thoughts about one another. Race is a gospel issue because only by the light of the gospel can we truly understand our diversity and unity in Adam and, for those who are believers, in Christ.

Race is a gospel issue because the Old Testament says it is. God *makes a race* out of Abraham and Israel, his chosen people. Israel does not exist as an ethnic group or nationality *until God makes them*! God has chosen to redeem the world through one particular ethnicity, indeed through one man from that particular ethnicity, and through that one man to bless the nations. God, through one race, draws all races to himself. Every tribe, tongue, and nation. The good news of the gospel is through one race and for all races, so that at the coming of our Lord Jesus every knee from every race should bow and every tongue from every ethnicity should confess that Christ is King.

Race is a gospel issue because the New Testament says it is. Jesus sends his disciples out to proclaim the good news of his death and resurrection to *all nations,* to the *ends of the earth.* The gospel is for all people, which in the New Testament would be read as saying it is for all kinds of people, that is, all races, ethnicities, classes, etc. The book of Acts narrates this in dramatic form, with the gospel going first to the Jew and then to the Gentile. Romans, Galatians, and Ephesians all explain the gospel *so that their readers will understand how both Jew and Gentile can be part of the one people of God.* Paul’s majestic explanation of the heighth and breadth and length and depth of Christ’s atoning work is set in the context of racial unity in the church! Galatians tells us that male, female, barbarian, Scythian, slave, and free are one in Christ – these are socio-economic and racial distinctions. The gospel of Jesus Christ speaks to the unity of a once disparate group of people. Ephesians 2:15 tells us the same – we are one new man in Christ Jesus. That’s one new man made from different racial groups. The gospel speaks to race. In fact, if race wasn’t affected by the gospel, most of us [Gentiles] would still be without God and without hope in the world (Eph. 2:12). Philemon’s uniqueness in the canon is, in part, the fact that it applies the gospel specifically to social and perhaps racial divides between believers. 1 Peter 2:9-10, again speaking to us Gentiles, tells us that we who were once not a people are now his people. Why? Because the gospel transcends and subverts racial divides.

Race is a gospel issue.

More Reflections on #EricGarner

Last night and this morning I have been mostly encouraged by the reactions I’ve seen to the Eric Garner case, and specifically by those from friends who are not people of color. I am especially grateful for the responses by leaders in my own denomination, including Russ Moore, Danny Akin, and Al Mohler, as well as by other evangelicals. I am perplexed and discouraged, though, by those who still want to argue that there’s “nothing to see here.” I have heard and seen people argue, for instance, that Garner had broken the law and was resisting arrest (and therefore police were justified in their actions), that the officers did nothing wrong in their handling of the situation, and/or that race wasn’t a factor.

This is troubling to me for a number of reasons. First, in watching the video (if you haven’t watched it we have nothing to talk about until you do), two things are readily apparent. In the first place, if we all have the right facts, Mr. Garner is being questioned about selling loose cigarettes illegally. If this is true, why are there at least 7 armed police officers at the scene, a scene which involves an unarmed man and a crime that has more to do with retailers smuggling thousands upon thousands of illegal cigarettes into the state than it does with a man selling a few loose sticks on the street? Granted, if Garner was selling cigarettes illegally, then there are consequences. But we need to ask ourselves whether or not one man selling a few loose cigarettes warrants the presence of 7 armed police officers. More importantly, in the video it is apparent that Mr. Garner is pleading for the officers to let him go his own way. Again, if there was evidence at the scene that Garner was selling cigarettes illegally, then he theoretically should be arrested. But I would ask you this: how many of you have, when caught for speeding or (if you’re going really fast) reckless driving, haven’t plead with an officer to let you go? How many of you, in requesting that the officer let you go, haven’t done so with gusto or emotion or even anger? Maybe you’re angry or sad or emotional because “everyone else gets way with it,” or maybe it’s because you know the ticket you’ll receive will break your family’s bank, or maybe it’s because you genuinely felt you weren’t doing anything wrong. Whatever the reason, calling that “resisting arrest”, as I’ve seen some people do in Garner’s case, is, in my mind, unfathomable. Garner was talking. Garner was pleading. Whether he did anything illegal or not, it’s highly questionable to me to call his pleading “resisting arrest.” And when the officer comes from behind, seemingly unbeknownst to Mr. Garner, it’s unprovoked and without warning. What is clear from the video, then, is that there appears to be an excessive amount of police presence (which would get anyone amped up) and that Mr. Garner was in pleading, not “resisting arrest.”

A second reason I am troubled by some reactions I’ve seen is because they assume that, in this instance, the police officers are completely justified in the way they handled the situation. This relates to the previous point, but there is more to it. Not only was Garner not resisting arrest or threatening the officers at hand, he was subdued using an illegal take down, one that has been outlawed since 1993 in NYC. We cannot with any certainty judge Officer Pantaleo’s motives, but by the video it appears we can say that his take down method was illegal and has been illegal for over 20 years. Furthermore, the coroner ruled it a homicide. Why, then, is there no grand jury indictment?

This brings me to the final issue, which is probably the largest in most people’s minds. I’ve thankfully heard many call for more conversation on race and social injustice in our country, but I have also seen and heard some say that race isn’t an issue in this case (or in Ferguson, Trayvon Martin, etc.). There are two problems for me here. The first specifically concerns Eric Garner, and it is that Officer Pantaleo, an eight-year veteran of the NYPD, had previously been sued on two separate occasions for racially motivated actions while on duty. To say that race wasn’t an issue ignores Officer Pantaleo’s past and also the presence of 7 armed officers in the face of a minor crime by an unarmed man. (It also ignores the fact that a militarized police force showed up at peaceful protests in Ferguson.)

A second problem with the argument that denies the race element is that, whatever you think about specific cases, our African-American brothers and sisters, who bear the image of God and, if they are believers, are united with us by the Holy Spirit in Christ, are telling us that there is something wrong. How can we possibly ignore their cries of oppression and injustice? This is exactly what God calls us to do as the church – help the poor and oppressed as we seek to share Christ with the nations! This does not mean we have to buy into every narrative that the media or populist leaders give us, but it does mean, especially in the context of the body of Christ, that we need to *listen*. The gospel calls us “one new man in Christ Jesus” (Eph. 2:15), and this applies not only to Jews and Gentiles but to black and white, Hispanic and Asian, etc. We who have not had the same experiences in our upbringing should not be so ready to dismiss the cries of our brothers and sisters who have a (many times radically) different life experience than ours, and we should also not ignore the fact that the gospel speaks to issues of race and ethnicity.

May God give us the grace to be quick listen and slow to speak, so that when we do speak we speak with love, truth, and grace.


Some Gut Reactions to #EricGarner

It’s easy for me, given my background, to dismiss talk of systemic racism or social injustice. Frankly, I didn’t see it much growing up and I haven’t seen it much since (at least not in person). And yet that is most likely not the experience of many Americans, and especially Americans of color. I am nauseated and heartbroken by the ‪#‎EricGarner‬ video, and yet I am even more distraught over the fact that abuses like this, whether from police, business owners, educators, etc., happen every day. This isn’t a statement that every police officer, every white person, etc. is a racist or an oppressor. Of course I’m not saying that. But I am saying that I, as a white middle class male, have NO IDEA what it means to be “black in America.” My ancestors weren’t forcibly removed from their homes and treated like cattle. My great-great grandfather wasn’t treated as a slave even after slavery was outlawed through oppressive economic practices. My grandfather and grandmother weren’t attacked by dogs or broken against walls by fire hydrants in Birmingham, nor were they chased down, beaten, and killed by the Ku Klux Klan. They didn’t have to worry about the Dragon Master who was also the Mayor, or the racist Governor who wouldn’t let them attend the state university. My parents weren’t arrested, beaten, turned away from a business, etc. because of their skin color. And I have never experienced a sideways glance at a traffic stop or in a store because I’m white. And yet this is the family history and personal experience of many black men and women in America.

What is the answer? Of course it’s not riots, and of course it’s not more violence. It’s also not always suspecting the police or assuming every other white person is racist. (To be clear: I’m grateful for our law enforcement officers, and I know everyone isn’t a racist. Ok last time I need to say that.)

But for me and my house, the first step is to pray that the Holy Spirit would give me ears to hear and eyes to see the oppression of my fellow men and women and my fellow brothers and sisters. To grasp the deep justice that Jesus has already wrought for his creation through his death and resurrection and that will sweep over the cosmos like a flood at his return. And to pray to the Father that his name would be hallowed throughout the earth so that his will would be done *on earth* as it is in heaven. THEN after prayer to the Triune God to bring justice, it is the church’s job to model justice as they gather and work for it as they scatter.

I pray that God would give us grace to love him and love others.


Creedal Discrimination

Yesterday Christianity Today published an article by Tish Warren, an InterVarsity employee whose experience at Vanderbilt University may be a proleptic look at where our current culture is headed unless someone puts on the brakes. Warren relates how her college ministry was forced to either allow anyone, regardless of faith commitment, to run for office in their InterVarsity chapter or face expulsion from campus by Vanderbilt. Warren and InterVarsity ultimately chose to leave instead of abiding by the administration’s policy.

One chilling quote comes from Vanderbilt’s vice chancellor:

Creedal discrimination is still discrimination.

In other words, religious groups cannot have requirements for leadership or membership that include any sort of faith commitments. My hunch is that these administrators are attempting to beat down the big bad wolf of American Christianity, but I wonder if they realize the implications of their actions for other religious groups. A Muslim group must allow a Jewish member to run for office, and a Jewish group must allow a Hindu member to stump for the presidency. A Sikh student organization cannot require members to abide by Sikh practices, nor can they bar a Bahai person from trying to get elected as treasurer or secretary.

Let’s move beyond student groups to organizations. Religious universities, whatever their faith, could not require faculty or staff to abide by their tradition’s or religion’s faith statement in order to teach or work there if discrimination is broadened to include “creedal discrimination.” Now we are talking not just about student groups but educational institutions, begun explicitly to train students through the lens of a particular faith, being required to hire anyone regardless of belief. Now it is not just a Catholic student group, but a Catholic university who theoretically must hire a Muslim educator if s/he is the most qualified. A Jewish seminary must hire a Bahai religious studies Ph.D. if they are the most qualified. Etc. etc. etc.

Do lawmakers in D.C. and administrators in secular educational institutions realize the implications of their disdain for Christianity? Do they understand the point of faith based institutions, no matter the faith? Do they understand the first amendment? There’s not much evidence these days that the answer to any of these questions is yes.

Q&A with biblioblogger and FSU fan Chad Chambers about National Championship Game and Theology

Chad Chambers and I decided to celebrate the National Championship Game between Florida State and Auburn University (of which we are fans respectively) by answering a few questions about the game itself and the connections between football and theology. You can find my answers to his questions on his blog – Cataclysmic.

1. Given FSU’s recent success coupled with starting an unknown redshirt freshman at quarterback, what were you expectations for FSU coming into this season?

My expectations for FSU this season were they would have a good, not great, season. I thought a 10-2 record was most likely, with us losing to either Clemson or Florida and one game we shouldn’t.

Although 11 players were drafted from last year’s team, my optimism came from the simple fact we have better players than just about every team we face (Clemson and Florida being the possible exceptions). I thought even if Winston struggled at times, like most first year starters, the talent surrounding him would be enough to win most games.

2. At what point during the season did you begin to think, “This team could be really good?” And then, “This team could play for a National Championship?” Why?

I will highlight four things:

A. Winston’s performance in the 1st game of the season against Pittsburgh was extraordinary (25-27, 356 yards, 4 TDs/0 Ints). After the game, many FSU fans, myself included, thought if this a true picture of what kind of QB he would be then this team would be really, really good.

B. After the Boston College game the defense made several changes, most importantly moving Christian Jones from LB to DE. Up to that point, the defense had been good but not great especially against the run. After the personnel changes, the defense became dominant. The one concern was meeting a big, physical power running team because the defense is built to stop spread offenses. That concern was highly diminished as Florida’s season crumbled (and perhaps after Auburn beat Alabama see prediction below).

C. In the first quarter of the Clemson game, it became obvious this team should finish the regular season undefeated. It was no guarantee, but it was assumed FSU would be a double-digit favorite in the rest of their games (and some have them as double-digit favorites against Auburn).

D. It has been the cumulative effect of winning big every week. This team never let down, never played down to competition or had an off week. Basically, it had one off quarter all year against Boston College and trailed by 14 points, but it responded with a 35-3 run in 2nd and 3rd quarters. The ability to focus on every game and not just win but win big reminded me off the great FSU teams of the 80’s and 90’s.

3. As a Southerner, I am very familiar with the way sports, especially football, and religion are intertwined. As Christians and football fans, how should we respond to those who integrate religion with sports? Does this mindset open doors for honest discussion or make discussion more difficult?

The saying “Football is religion” is burnt into my head from my upbringing. I can remember playing games on Friday nights and even as an arrogant and stupid teenager thinking this is crazy! Don’t get me wrong I lived for Friday nights and reveled in the attention but I still knew something was wrong.

To fully answer this question the way football and religion are intertwined would take way too much space (this is a blog post not a book!) because there are so many different layers to it. I want to discuss only one side, the sense of belonging or participating that comes from following football or sports in general. Being a fan involves a collective emotion as you witness your team’s fortunes rise and fall during a game or season. It sparks conversations, relationships as you share in ecstatic moments of joy and despair but more than that it involves a loss of one’s self in a ‘higher’ purpose. The me becomes we, and it is not just us fans banding together in support of a team; we as fans we feel like we become part of the team.

It is this experience of becoming a part of something bigger than ourselves that in part drives us to talk about sports like they are religion. Religion is meant to offer meaning and hope to the whole of life, but all to often Christianity has become me and Jesus and it loses the communal, the me becoming we. So sports are often used to fill the void. They are used as a way to find a sense of belonging, a sense of meaning, a purpose, and a hope. All religious language. All longings that cannot be filled by sports, even if your team wins the National Championship.

Therefore, how should we respond as Christians? More of our churches need to move out of the simple come to Jesus and go to heaven mentality. We need to become places that reach the whole of life by being places of belonging, meaning, purpose and hope centered around the life, death, burial, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus Christ. Our places of worship must mold us in a community of living witnesses to the transformative power of the gospel. And we should foster active communities who seek to understand scripture more fully and witness to it more clearly.  

4. What do you think about the current move to pay college athletes? Is this a case of systematic injustice or is the system fair? Is this a moral issue the church should be discussing?

As someone who was ‘paid to play’ baseball in college, I have thought about the question a lot because I get asked about it quite often. But to be honest, I do not have an answer. The world of college athletics is different now and the money is so much more, I can’t relate to the experience of today’s athletes. Furthermore, the difference between being a player at a big-time football (even some basketball) program is a world away from playing in a non-revenue sport. I will say, if it becomes a situation where universities are required to pay every athlete in every sport it may very well be the end of college athletics as we know them.

As to the last part of the question, yes the church should be involved in discussing these issues because it should be interested in discussing all moral issues.

5. There has been an intensifying discussion recently concerning the physicality of football and the relationship to Christian ethics. Do you consider football inherently “violent”? What is your definition of violence? Does the Bible address this issue, and, if so, can a Christian faithfully participate in football as a player or fan?

Answered by Mike Skinner (contributor at Cataclysmic who writes a lot about violence. And as you can see also a football fan).

I confess I would have to answer this question with an asterisk: I am a football fan.  So upfront, I fully own up to a bit of cognitive dissonance when it comes to my nonviolent christological commitment and my love of football.  My ad-hoc definition of violence would be: “an intentional action against another in which permanent (or lethal) physical, spiritual, and psychological damage is a real possibility.”  I do, however, think there is a tension between the physicality (/violence) of football and the call to Christian living embodied by Jesus and encouraged by the Scriptures.

I think the tension is found in three places: 1) football has the tendency to glorify violence (who doesn’t get a little satisfaction out of a BIG hit), 2) it has a tendency to promote a hyper-violent/angry/competitive vision of masculinity, and 3) it is a sport that often dehumanizes the athletes at the expense of entertainment (long-term damage to bodies/minds, etc).  [I think there is a spectrum here – with sports like UFC being on one end and sports like basketball being on the other end – in terms of violence].  I think questions of intentionality (are the players really “trying” to hurt each other?  are we really “attempting” glorify violence, etc?) and inherency (does it have to do these things?  Is it inherent to the sport itself or simply inherent to individual/corporate nature of humans?) are legitimate responses to my above analysis, however.

Ultimately, I think the Bible does call us to an awareness of how our lives are shaping our own moral character and affecting those around us.  The things that we watch, pay money to attend, cheer for, and spend time doing are always forming us as virtuous creatures (whether we want it to or not).  Indeed, out of all the popular sports in America, football has a very distinct liturgical shape to it.  Thus, it shapes our own character, our society, and has long-term effects for certain men who are “sacrificed” for our entertainment.  All of that might seem a tad “much” for the average Christian – and I again want to acknowledge that I enjoy being a fan of football.  There are many good things that football does as well (particularly in shaping discipline, teamwork, critical thinking, community among fans, etc).  And on a list of what is wrong with the world, I would consider it towards the bottom (if indeed it is a problem).  As a nonviolent Christian, I’ll worry about the violence of football when we can stop things like unjust drone strikes.  Until then, I’ll be praying that the Texans draft Johnny Manziel.

6. What are the keys for FSU to be successful against Auburn in the National Championship game? What is your prediction for the game (winner and score)?

The key for FSU is slowing the run. I know this is obvious, but that does not make it less true. Auburn’s game plan seems to be simply to outscore the other team and it has worked because Auburn’s running game, especially in the last half of the season, has been unstoppable. I am still not sure whether to call it a power running game since it relies more on zone blocking schemes rather than power blocking, but regardless it works. Yet, I do not think FSU has to stop Auburn because they should be able to score on Auburn’s defense, but they do need to slow them down.

I can see the game going three ways:

          A. FSU slows Auburn early and jumps out to double-digit lead. From         there the two teams trade scores with the FSU winning something         like 42-28.

          B. Neither team is able to consistently slow the other and we get a   good-ole Western (Pac-10 football since in California) shootout. In         this case, I think FSU has the better defense and will make the one       stop needed to make a difference. Prediction in this scenario, FSU    wins 45-42.

          C. Very similar to the last version except both teams come out tight,          rusty after 30 days off and so the score ends up being in the 20’s    rather than the 40’s.

Since you asked for my prediction not predictions, I think the first option is more likely, so I will go with FSU 42 and Auburn 28.