John Behr on the History of Easter and John’s Prologue

This episode is a conversation with Fr. John Behr of the University of Aberdeen. We discuss his transition from St. Vladimir’s Seminary to the University of Aberdeen (2:35), how to read John’s Gospel (4:00), the authorship of John’s Gospel (9:13), John as “the high priest of Pascha” (16:22), the relationship between the Gospel accounts of the Lord’s Supper (27:00), the fuller meaning of “it is finished” (28:44), and recovering the ancient Easter (52:45). Buy John’s books.

Church Grammar is presented by B&H Academic and the Christian Standard Bible. Intro music: Purple Dinosaur by nobigdyl. Episode sponsor: Lexham Press. Producer: Katie Larson.

Brandon D. Smith is Assistant Professor of Theology & New Testament at Cedarville University, Editorial Director for the Center for Baptist Renewal, and writes things. Speaking of Cedarville, you should check out our Master of Divinity and Master of Ministry programs.

*** This podcast is designed to discuss all sorts of topics from various points of view. Therefore, guests’ views do not always reflect the views of the host, his church, or his institution.


A New Commandment

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John 13:1-17

Human cultures have always crafted symbols of power. In the past, we might think of crowns, regalia, or royal scepters. Today, power is often vested in official titles, political influence, financial portfolios, material possessions, technological gadgets, or social media followers. But in the kingdom of Christ, we find a very different symbol that represents a very different kind of ethical accounting: a towel and a water basin.

On the night that he was to be betrayed, the King of kings did not demand that he be served with the adoration that he most assuredly deserves. Instead, he took off his outer garments, girded himself with a towel, and washed his followers’ filthy feet in a basin of water. Here, we see on dramatic display the ethics of the kingdom. The first will be last and the last first (Matt 20:16). The one who would be first must be last of all and servant of all (Mark 9:35).

Peter is at first resistant. He seems to recognize the absurdity of this upside-down ritual: “Lord, do you wash my feet?” It’s not the first time that Peter (as a kind of stand-in for all of us) didn’t understand the radical reversal of the kingdom of Christ. He couldn’t understand how the Christ, the son of the living God, could undergo the disgrace of the cross (Matt 16:21-23). And here at the end, Peter still hasn’t fully arrived; he hasn’t become fully converted to the power dynamics of the kingdom. But Jesus assures him, “If I do not wash you, you have no share with me.” To be a Christian is to have the humility to receive. It is to recognize our filthiness and to submit to the Savior’s cleansing condescension. A refusal to receive has the appearance of humility. Shouldn’t we, after all, be washing Jesus’ feet? But in reality it amounts to a thinly veiled mask of pride. We imagine that the Christian life is what we do for Jesus, when all along it was the Son of Man who came “not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45).

This day in Holy Week is referred to as Maundy Thursday. Its name is taken from the phrase mandatum novum (“a new commandment”) from the Latin version of John 13:34: “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.” The good news of the kingdom is first a gift and then a calling. We come to Jesus for cleansing: not just the once for all cleansing of our body in conversion (solemnized in our baptism) but the repeated washing of our feet through the ongoing, ordinary means of grace: the Word of God, prayer, and the Lord’s Supper. And then we are commissioned to imitate Christ’s humble service: “If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet” (John 13:14).

The symbolism of the towel and water basin stands in stark contrast to the symbols on display in the halls of worldly power. But now more than ever, the world desperately needs the counter-cultural message of the gospel. It needs Christians willing to risk absurdity, to risk the loss of political and social capital, to surrender life and limb and likability to serve the needs of others. “If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them” (John 13:17).

This post originally appeared in a Holy Week devotional produced by the faculty of Anderson University.

Thomas McCall on Analytic Theology, Sin, and the Cry of Dereliction

This episode is a conversation with Dr. Thomas McCall of Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. We discuss the Cowboys-Steelers rivalry (1:29), the definition and benefits of analytic theology (4:23), the doctrine of sin (9:23), and Jesus’s cry of dereliction and the Trinity (30:09). Buy Tom’ s books.

Church Grammar is presented by B&H Academic and the Christian Standard Bible. Intro music: Purple Dinosaur by nobigdyl. Producer: Katie Larson.

Brandon D. Smith is Assistant Professor of Theology & New Testament at Cedarville University, Editorial Director for the Center for Baptist Renewal, and writes things. Speaking of Cedarville, you should check out our Master of Divinity and Master of Ministry programs.

*** This podcast is designed to discuss all sorts of topics from various points of view. Therefore, guests’ views do not always reflect the views of the host, his church, or his institution.


Love in the Pandemic

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During the lockdown, I’ve been reading Walker Percy’s The Thanatos Syndrome, his 1987 novel, set in Louisiana, about a psychiatrist who slowly discovers a mysterious, chemically-induced syndrome that gives people superior intellect but appears to be driving them mad. This diatribe from the part-paranoid, part-prophetic Father Smith seemed appropriate to share during this time:

You are a member of the first generation of doctors in the history of medicine to turn their backs on the oath of Hippocrates and kill millions of old useless people, unborn children, born malformed children, for the good of mankind—and to do so without a single murmur from one of you. Not a single letter of protest in the august New England Journal of Medicine…

If you are a lover of Mankind in the abstract like Walt Whitman, who wished the best for Mankind, you will probably do no harm and might even write good poetry and give pleasure, right?…

If you are a theorist of Mankind like Rousseau or Skinner, who believes he understands man’s brain and in the solitariness of his study or laboratory writes books on the subject, you are also probably harmless and might even contribute to human knowledge, right?…

But if you put the two together, a lover of Mankind and a theorist of Mankind, what you’ve got now is Robespierre or Stalin or Hitler and the Terror, and millions dead for the good of Mankind. Right?

This pandemic has been an illuminating unveiling of people’s operational ethic–on the left and the right and everywhere in between. Christians everywhere should take care that we don’t lose even more credibility on the paramount issue of the dignity of all human life, from womb to tomb. And not just in the abstract, but in the concrete particulars of our lives and relationships.

How to Talk about Eternal Generation

We’re continuing our short talks on theology. Today, Brandon talks about another question raised around Easter time: how do we talk about the historic doctrine of eternal generation?

Church Grammar is presented by B&H Academic and the Christian Standard Bible. Intro music: Purple Dinosaur by nobigdyl. Episode sponsor: Lexham Press. Producer: Katie Larson.

Brandon D. Smith is Assistant Professor of Theology & New Testament at Cedarville University, Editorial Director for the Center for Baptist Renewal, and writes things. Speaking of Cedarville, you should check out our Master of Divinity and Master of Ministry programs.

*** This podcast is designed to discuss all sorts of topics from various points of view. Therefore, guests’ views do not always reflect the views of the host, his church, or his institution.

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Don’t Waste Your Lockdown

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Source: Nature.com

Almost twenty years ago, pastor John Piper delivered a sermon that “swept over a generation.” Indeed, it was my generation. I matriculated at Auburn University the autumn after Piper preached his famous “seashells” message at Passion’s One Day conference in Memphis, Tennessee, on May 20, 2000. My classmates who had attended the conference were still buzzing about that one sermon. Piper’s message to the 40,000 college students gathered that day was simple but explosive: Don’t waste your life. Don’t buy the American dream of a nice career and a nice retirement, collecting seashells. Instead, give your life away for one thing: boasting only the cross of Jesus Christ that all the nations might glorify him. “Don’t waste your life; don’t waste it.”

It ended up being an earth-shattering—and career-changing, vocation-defining—message for many of us. Such a pithy but profound imperative: don’t waste your life. None of us older Millennials and younger Gen-Xers could have predicted the challenges that would attend the next 20 years of our lives: 9/11, the global war on terrorism, and the Great Recession, not to mention our own personal tragedies and professional challenges as we emerged into adulthood and eventually to midlife. But the singularity of the focus that we fostered, not only through Piper’s sermons and writings but also through the world of serious-minded, warm-hearted theology that it opened up to us (Piper, Packer, Stott, and Sproul eventually led us to Edwards, Owen, Calvin, and Augustine), helped to sustain our faith through these challenges.

And now we face a new challenge in coronavirus. And we face it shoulder-to-shoulder with every generation, remembering especially the elderly who are most at risk. We are tempted to be anxious. How could we not be? There is no time-stamp on this virus. We don’t know what the next day or week or month or year will bring. How long will we be in social isolation? Will more places begin enforcing the lockdown? How many more will get sick? How many more will die? Will the healthcare system hold up under the strain? Will the world descend into another Great Depression? How long can we stay cooped up? What strains will the lockdown place on our mental and spiritual health?

It is this last question that I want to address in this post (and to invite others in to offer their own reflections). My counsel for us during this time deliberately echoes Piper’s sermon: don’t waste your lockdown.

The very same big vision of God that has sustained us through the last twenty years can be our fortress during this time as well. A time of crisis can serve as an opportunity to renew our commitment to God’s mysterious and horrible (Latin, horribilis, “making one shudder or tremble”) but wise and benevolent sovereign control over everything, “whatsoever comes to pass” (Westminster Confession). “Our God is in the heavens; he does whatever he pleases” (Psalm 115:3). God “works all things according to the counsel of his will” (Eph. 1:11). “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose” (Rom. 8:28). None of these passages mean that we will be spared calamity or even death: “I form light and create darkness; I make well-being and create calamity; I am the LORD, who does all these things” (Isaiah 45:7). But we know that nothing in all creation—not even a virus or a financial collapse— “will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom. 8:39).

So what can we do to leverage our lockdown for maximal spiritual benefit? Here are some things to consider.

  1. Reset your personal and family devotional life. The virus is forcing us all into a kind of monastic lifestyle. Use it well. Try reading the daily and weekly Scripture lessons from the Revised Common Lectionary. Pray the daily offices from the Book of Common Prayer. Commemorate the saints. Regardless of your plan: read Scripture, pray, be silent.
  2. Read good books. Don’t feel guilty about watching movies or starting a new show on Netflix, but don’t miss the opportunity to read either. Try reading theology, poetry, and fiction every day.
  3. Learn to love again. For many families, one or both parents will have to adjust to being home with the kids all day long. After just a week at home, I have a renewed respect for my wife, who stays home with our children all the time! Work through the inevitable tensions and conflicts of cloistered life at home. Make the adjustment as quickly as possible and be gracious to each other.
  4. Find a proper balance between work and rest, structure and flexibility. Some will be tempted to be lazy and unproductive during an extended time without structure. Others will be tempted to force a rigid schedule on themselves and their families. Try to strike the right balance.
  5. Stay connected and engaged with your local church. It is perhaps not an accident that during this Lenten season, we are all being forced into a kind of “fast” or abstinence from the benefits of corporate worship. Many churches are finding industrious ways to stay connected through recorded or streaming services or through teleconferencing. But even if you just pick up the phone to call or text your fellow church members, you can continue to fulfill your covenantal commitments to the local body of Christ. This time away should make us long to renew our bonds of embodied, corporate worship through Word and Sacrament.
  6. Serve your neighbors. Find an appropriate circle of influence, based on the recommended guidelines (even if it’s one neighboring family) and find ways to love and serve them.
  7. Be selective in what news you read and how much. If you are like me, you may be tempted to stay glued to the news through Twitter, news websites, cable news, etc. But not all information is equally reliable, responsible, and quite frankly good for your mental health. So be selective both in content and in time spent scouring the news.
  8. Get outside. Go for a walk. Sit on the porch or patio. Lie in the grass. Listen to the birds. Slowing our frenetic pace and our daily commutes may just open our eyes to the glory around us, to the “love smiling through all things.”
  9. Develop healthy habits. Related to the last point, use this time to refocus on healthy habits. Eat well, sleep well, and do some kind of physical activity every day. The gyms are likely closed. So try a bodyweight routine or just a walk through the neighborhood. Think about your health in comprehensive terms: “a sound mind in a sound body and a spirit that is not afraid.”
  10. Give yourself grace. In all likelihood, you will waste this lockdown to one degree or another. So, focus on moving in the right direction, not merely arriving at the right destination. Focus on process, not goals.

One of the things that was so striking about Piper’s call not to waste your life was just how sober-minded it was. For many of us in college at the time, it was like a punch in the gut, a wakeup call. This was no kitschy, sentimental youth group rally. It was a blood-earnest, prophetic plea to think and act in light of eternity, life and death, heaven and hell. This virus affords us another opportunity for sober thinking. The point of these reflections on how to leverage the lockdown for maximal spiritual benefit is not to belittle the crisis by turning it into just another opportunity for self-help and self-improvement. People are dying. It’s not just about us. The point is to order our lives as if they will end. Because they will. If not during this pandemic, then soon enough. Sooner than we realize. So, don’t waste your lockdown. Don’t waste it.

Did God Die on the Cross?

This episode is a little different than usual. We’re trying something new over the coming weeks with a few short talks on theology. Today, Brandon talks about a question raised around Easter time: if Jesus is fully God, did God die on the cross?

Church Grammar is presented by B&H Academic and the Christian Standard Bible. Intro music: Purple Dinosaur by nobigdyl. Episode sponsor: Lexham Press. Producer: Katie Larson.

Brandon D. Smith is Assistant Professor of Theology & New Testament at Cedarville University, Editorial Director for the Center for Baptist Renewal, and writes things. Speaking of Cedarville, you should check out our Master of Divinity and Master of Ministry programs.

*** This podcast is designed to discuss all sorts of topics from various points of view. Therefore, guests’ views do not always reflect the views of the host, his church, or his institution.


Ched Spellman on Canon-Consciousness, Biblical Theology, and Puns as Pedagogy

This episode is a conversation with Dr. Ched Spellman of Cedarville University. We discuss reading the Bible canonically (3:00), biblical authors’ compositional strategy and intention (12:58), Revelation as a canonical bookend (23:00), canon-covenant-Christology as biblical theology (32:30), puns and memes (45:00), and more. Buy Ched’s books. Also, checkout his world-famous YouTube channel.

Church Grammar is presented by B&H Academic and the Christian Standard Bible. Intro music: Purple Dinosaur by nobigdyl. Producer: Katie Larson.

Brandon D. Smith is Assistant Professor of Theology & New Testament at Cedarville University, Editorial Director for the Center for Baptist Renewal, and writes things. Speaking of Cedarville, you should check out our Master of Divinity and Master of Ministry programs.

*** This podcast is designed to discuss all sorts of topics from various points of view. Therefore, guests’ views do not always reflect the views of the host, his church, or his institution.


Daniel Treier on Evangelical Theology, Christian Formation, and Sports Heroes

This episode is a conversation with Dr. Daniel Treier of Wheaton College. We discuss sports heroes (3:29), defining evangelical theology (6:16), the Nicene Creed and theological method (9:10); the Ten Commandments as moral formation (12:00), the Lord’s Prayer as spiritual formation (14:16), the Trinitarian shape of theology (19:00), and more. Buy Dan’s books.

Church Grammar is presented by B&H Academic and the Christian Standard Bible. Intro music: Purple Dinosaur by nobigdyl. Episode sponsor: Speak for the Unborn. Producer: Katie Larson.

Brandon D. Smith is Assistant Professor of Theology & New Testament at Cedarville University, Editorial Director for the Center for Baptist Renewal, and writes things. Speaking of Cedarville, you should check out our Master of Divinity and Master of Ministry programs.

*** This podcast is designed to discuss all sorts of topics from various points of view. Therefore, guests’ views do not always reflect the views of the host, his church, or his institution.


Thomas Kidd on the Great Awakening, the Founding Fathers, and Defining Evangelicalism

This episode is a conversation with Dr. Thomas Kidd of Baylor University. We discuss becoming a scholar (2:50), the Great Awakening (9:50), the faith(?) of America’s founding fathers (14:40), how to define “evangelical” (27:17), and more. Buy Tommy’s books.

Church Grammar is presented by B&H Academic and the Christian Standard Bible. Intro music: Purple Dinosaur by nobigdyl. Episode sponsor: Speak for the Unborn. Producer: Katie Larson.

Brandon D. Smith is Assistant Professor of Theology & New Testament at Cedarville University, Editorial Director for the Center for Baptist Renewal, and writes things. Speaking of Cedarville, you should check out our Master of Divinity and Master of Ministry programs.

*** This podcast is designed to discuss all sorts of topics from various points of view. Therefore, guests’ views do not always reflect the views of the host, his church, or his institution.