“This is my body, commodified and mass-produced for you”: On Communion and Campbell’s Soup

“This is my body, commodified and mass-produced for you”: On Communion and Campbell’s Soup

When Andy Warhol unveiled his Campbell’s Soup Cans art exhibit in 1962, reactions were closer to befuddlement than praise.

Was this art? Where was the beauty, drama, grandeur, sacredness, or seduction that had previously marked great paintings? And who would pay the exorbitant sticker price of $100 for something that could be purchased at the grocery for ten cents?

Of course, Warhol’s cans now fetch massive sums. One reason was that they offered an ironic critique of modern life. For good and ill, we are now drowning in cheap, mass-produced, pre-packaged, disposable, easily accessible, low quality but quickly replaceable “stuff.” (I originally opted for a different word to end that sentence.)

It’s Campbell’s soup—brought to us by Chinese sweatshops and two-day shipping.

I’ve thought about those Warhol paintings several times of late as I have received Holy Communion.

Out of noble health concerns starting with the COVID-19 pandemic, many churches moved away from traditional Communion methods in favor of individually packaged, disposable, mass-produced, plastic “blister packs” (actual description) like the one seen here.

I agreed with this move and gave thanks for it.

The tiny packages encase a single crumb of bread on one side, and—when you flip them over to remove another “blister” coating—approximately the same amount of liquid as contained within a single teardrop.

In evangelical congregations, I am used to Communion being spoken of as a mere symbol that helps us remember Christ’s sacrifice. “It’s not about the elements,” the pastor may be heard to say. So instead of the Gospel line, “This is my body”—many a minister feels compelled to amend the text to avoid misunderstanding: “This bread represents my body,” etc., etc. “This wine—I mean grape juice…—represents my blood.” I’ve grown accustomed to these things. And truth be told, I am not a believer in something like Catholic transubstantiation.

But I’ve also tired of Communion “blister packs.”

Despite understandable concerns for germs (with which I sympathize), I’ve begun to wonder what the “Oscar Mayer lunchable” approach to the Eucharist says about the modern church—not just on the Lord’s Supper, but on how we value symbols, sacraments, and physicality.

At the risk of overreaction, it sometimes feels as if we have set out to take the most beautiful and sensory-laden sacrament and turn it into something that has the aesthetic value of a roll of bubble wrap.

Even if it doesn’t burst like a juice box in my kid’s backpack, one looks around the sanctuary to see some churchgoers struggling with their teeth and fingernails—like racoons trying to unlock iPhones. By the end of the process, the elements usually find their way into digestive tracts—but something is lost from the meal that Jesus gave us. It has been commodified, sanitized, mass-produced, and individually packaged—like much of modern life.

What, then, is the solution?

My goal is not to add one more curmudgeonly complaint to the endless pile that pastors face. (It has not been easy to lead anything these past few years.) Nor is it to shame one or two churches to switch back to more traditional Communion practices. That too might be a malady of modern ecclesiology: (1) Someone complained. (2) So we stopped.

Instead, what we need is a more holistic way of noticing how unexamined modern values of convenience and commodification have caused us to do strange things in the realm of the sacred.

The French philosopher and theologian, Jacques Ellul, is helpful here. Ellul’s most important work, published back in 1964, is called The Technological Society. He sets forth two key concepts for diagnosing the side-effects that come with mind-blowing technology, inexpensive factory production, frazzled busyness, and consumer competition. He calls them (1) technique and (2) efficiency.

For Ellul, technique is “the totality of methods rationally arrived at and having absolute efficiency in every field of human activity.” Technique aids efficiency; and as we know, being more efficient can save time and money.

To be fair, we can all name aspects of our businesses and bureaucracies that badly need to be streamlined. The trouble, Ellul argues, is that the values of technique and efficiency easily move out of their rightful domains, and they begin to corrupt and commodify the way we relate to people, food, art—and God.

How do you find a mate? Swipe right.
How do I form a nuanced view of Shakespeare’s Othello? ChatGPT.
How do I eat, given that I’m frazzled and rushed? McDonalds.
How do I check “Communion” off my to-do list? Blister packs.

In all these areas, there are costs to maximally efficient solutions.

Moving back to Communion, note how our modern ways of approaching the Eucharist make it difficult to “feel” and “see” what Paul alludes to when he writes to the Corinthians:

“Is not the cup of thanksgiving for which we give thanks a participation in the blood of Christ? And is not the bread that we break a participation in the body of Christ? Because there is one loaf, we, who are many, are one body, for we all share the one loaf.”

1 Corinthians 10:16-17

In the end, I remain grateful for a necessary safety measure in a time of emergency. What’s more, we should probably keep some “blister packs” on hand to love and serve our brothers and sisters who have health concerns.

And as usual, my attempts to be pointed or humorous run the risk of oversimplifying—and overreacting. That too is a byproduct of the marriage of technology and efficiency: What are blog posts if not a maximally efficient form of publishing.

Enjoy your soup. I slaved for minutes over it.

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Christmas Anyway: Why Incarnation matters for How Jesus Saves

Christmas Anyway: Why Incarnation matters for How Jesus Saves

I’m excited to say that my next book now has its own page on Amazon, and is available for pre-order (see here).

Unlike my last two projects, this one isn’t academic. It’s accessible for all audiences (not just theologians). And as the title suggests, it aims to unpack How Jesus Saves: Atonement for Ordinary People.

We’ve shot video curriculum to go with it for small groups or individuals, and it includes discussion questions at the end of every chapter.

Essentially, it’s like Long Story Short, but for the doctrine of atonement.

I’d love it if you’d consider pre-ordering it since that can help a lot in the run-up to our release date in early March.

In the meantime, here is a blog post that has just been released today over at my publisher’s website: Seedbed.com.

Christmas Anyway: Why Incarnation matters for the Doctrine of Atonement.”

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Two quick stories:

Last week I began reading a new book from a scholar I have long admired. We’ve only met in passing and I’m almost certain he would not remember me. Nonetheless, I’ve appreciated his work for years and learned much from it. So in a brief fit of thoughtfulness, I took approximately twenty seconds to drop him an email:

Dear X,

We don’t know each other, but I wanted to let you know how much I appreciate your work.

I just grabbed your new volume on [x] and began working through it this morning.

I learn things each time I read your stuff and I just wanted to pass along a word of thanks!

All the best, Josh

Now, scholars are busy, and as a species we’re not known for always being “prompt” with email correspondence. But I was surprised to see that—despite being on completely different continents—he responded to say how much my note meant.

Story two: A few days ago, after worship in our university chapel, I overheard our campus pastor telling a student how grateful she was for this student’s ministry through music and in other ways. The student is truly gifted, and I know she has overcome real challenges—as many of our students have—to finish her degree.

The comment from our pastor jogged my memory that I had meant to drop this student a note of thanks a few weeks back just as I had done for this senior scholar. But of course, I had forgotten. Like I said: We’re not known for always being “prompt” with email correspondence.

In any case, I remembered then. I told her specifically what I had appreciated about her leadership. In response, she started crying and said—much like the senior scholar—how much it meant.

I pass along these two stories not because I am the walking spiritual embodiment of a Hallmark Card. (I’m not. And on the same day as these two stories, I also sent a rather grumpy email to my superiors on something that had irked me.) I note these two occurrences only because I was struck by how little time and effort was required to tell someone a simple, and sincere word of “thanks.”

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public library preaching

public library preaching

This past week, I preached – and I spent chunk of my Sunday sermon prep time in our local public library. One motive was mercenary: It’s summertime, the kids are home, and Teddy had been asking to go there.

Normally, I’d be doing that work in my university office, surrounded by commentaries and a trove of books I own and draw from regularly. I’m comfortable there, and the university library has even more commentaries just a few steps from my office.

But increasingly, I’ve wondered if that routine isn’t hurting my preaching.

One danger for speakers is that our illustrations start to come from all same places, over and over, for years on end, until we die or stop talking—which is basically the same thing. I’m guilty of that as much as anyone.

But last week, sitting there near the kids area during library story time, I sensed several benefits of what one might call “public library sermon prep.”

First, the folks seated around me came from a wider range of demographics than I would encounter in my usual prep spaces. And writing my sermon in their presence was a reminder to include them as my intended audience: the elderly couple reading the morning paper, the ESL group learning English, the kids and moms at story time, the homeless man by the magazines, a group of firemen and city employees meeting in the conference room, the grad student huddled over the DSM 5, and even the suspicious teenager googling “how to build a pipe bomb” on the library computer. If the bane of many sermons is that we speak to only one or two types of people, maybe crafting messages in such a diverse setting could help that. (On a related point, see here.)

Second, the library has a trove of magazines and periodicals that speak to our cultural moment—even if I wouldn’t want (and couldn’t afford) to subscribe to them myself. What’s more, these sources come from a variety of perspectives and biases—so you’re less prone to fall into the echo chamber of your choice. This is particularly important in a day and age in which it quickly becomes apparent which “silo” into which your preacher has algorithmically fallen.

Third, walking through the stacks filled with different genres and perspectives made me feel more creative—and it gave me ideas I wouldn’t have had before. Of course, there’s nothing wrong with a steady diet of C. S. Lewis and N. T. Wright (two of my favorites), but this week I also ended up with quotes or stories from Molly Shannon (yep, that Molly Shannon), Atul Gawande, and Paul Kalanthi.

All that to say, I’ve decided to take a big step in my vocation as a longtime academic / preacher: I’m getting a public library card. Teddy says I can’t use his anymore.

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psychic numbness

psychic numbness

This summer I slogged through the 25th anniversary edition of Richard Rhodes’ Pulitzer Prize winning book, The Making of the Atomic Bomb.

The work was recommended by my brother-in-law, and was made more relevant by renewed concern over nuclear war after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. It’s easy to see why Rhodes won accolades, though the 800+ pages contained more scientific minutia than this theologian could digest.

One of the more thought-provoking passages includes an observation on how civilized and ostensibly Christian allied powers got to the point of indiscriminately fire-bombing enemy cities—and eventually dropping atomic bombs on civilians.

After harrowing first-person accounts of the Feuersturm in Hamburg, where at least 45,000 people (mostly old people, women, and children) were killed in a single night, Rhodes writes:

“Civilians had the misfortune to be the only victims left available. […] No great philosophical effort was required to discover acceptable rationales. War begot psychic numbing in combatants and civilians alike; psychic numbing prepared the way for increasing escalation” (475; emphasis added).

Summation: War begets numbness. Numbness abets escalation.

My point here is not to say anything about the bombing campaigns of WW2. I’m well aware of the complexities that surrounded those decisions—and of the calculus of possible lives saved by avoiding invasion of the Japanese home islands. None of that is my direct concern.

Instead, Rhodes’ claim strikes me as insightful insofar as it may apply to other “escalations”— beyond firestorms, incendiary bombs, and even nuclear war.

His point is that cultures don’t transgress certain self-imposed / ethical “red lines” because smart people devise sufficient rational arguments. To the extent that such arguments exist they are more likely post facto rationalizations. In times of “war” (read: trauma, fear, and intense conflict), drivers of human behavior are more concussive than cerebral. And in this way, they are exacerbated by “psychic numbing.”

In both Old and New Testaments, the language of no longer having “ears to hear” and “hands to feel” sounds a bit like anesthetic state described by Rhodes. Thus, when Walter Brueggemann describes the function of prophetic witness, he often sets it in contrast not merely with error or idolatry, but with a kind of apathetic numbness.

In this sense, prophetic speech is not primarily concerned with making people feel badly—but with helping people feel rightly—in the midst of a culture that has numbed them to that which should strike them as unhealthy and destructive. “Worldliness,” in the words of my old professor, David Wells, “is anything that makes sin seem normal and righteousness seem strange.”

If that’s true, then one of the chief goals of preaching is not simply to point people to Jesus or to make valid observations about Scripture; it is also to break through “psychic numbness.”

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On ditching Facebook and reinvesting in this blog

On ditching Facebook and reinvesting in this blog

Uvalde did it.

I’ve felt for awhile that I’d be wise to step away from social media. But of course, I have excuses. For instance:

I write books. And publishers care about your online following. Will they still grant me contracts if I ditch socials?

What about my friends who live far away? How will I keep up with them?

And most germanely, what if I miss the world’s greatest meme?

But in the wake of so much political and cultural bickering, I’ve finally reached a tipping point—at least for the foreseeable future.

In the inimitable words of Alan Jacobs:

“I left Twitter because I watched people who spent a lot of time on there get stupider and stupider, and it finally occurred to me that I was probably getting stupider too. So after some reflection, I decided that I couldn’t afford to get any stupider.”

Same—but Facebook.

The danger in that comment is it may sound self-righteous—as if everyone doing the thing I stopped doing five seconds ago is foolish and immoral. I don’t feel that way. And this post isn’t a legalistic humble brag.

As I said, the digital aftermath of Uvalde (and a dozen other issues) pushed me to a breaking point. As a dad with four small kids in public school, my nation’s bi-monthly mass casualty events hit differently. It feels sometimes like it’s just a matter of time before I get a text—like the one I received a few years back—that reads: “Active shooter on campus. Shelter in place; this is not a drill!” Thankfully, that potential gunman was arrested before he made it to the school where I work. But the security alert remains as a reminder.


If the real-life tragedies are not enough, there are the invariable (and entirely predictable) “encores” on social media: laments, followed by outrage, followed by hot takes, followed by arguments, followed by memes. Repeat that process over a thousand contentious topics and you can sell a lot of ad revenue, mine a lot of data, and change nothing but your anxiety level.


That’s why Uvalde did it.

If it were five years ago, I would have (1) thought about it for a day or two, (2) crafted a blog post, (3) had Brianna read it to ensure I wouldn’t get fired, and then (4) shared the post on social media. If my writing happened to be punchy or provocative enough, dozens of people would share it, a few thousand might read it, and if everything went just right I might have the privilege of adding to the very social media firestorm I’ve come to loathe.

When that happens—and it’s happened a few times for me—you realize what Kurt Cobain must have felt like to stand inside an elevator and hear an instrumental version of Smells like Teen Spirit wafting through the tiny speakers–played by Kenny G. It’s the sense that your work has been co-opted to contribute to the very thing it tried to demolish.

Hence, if you haven’t noticed, I don’t do that much anymore.


I’ve been wondering, in fact, if I should shut down the blog. Or perhaps just write on topics that are less combustible—like books that only a tiny fraction of society will care about. But recently, I’ve considered another possibility:

What if I dedicated a year to rebuilding the blog and simply got off Facebook?

Because I like writing. I just hate “the encore” on social media.

(I won’t pretend that this approach is perfect. Maybe it’s no different from Cobain selling songs to Kenny G and then refusing to ride elevators.)

In any case, I’ve been off Facebook for about a month and I feel better.

There are a few hundred of you out there who subscribe to these posts and receive them via email. I appreciate that little group, and I wonder if I could develop it apart from the digital hellscape that is Zuckerberg’s outrage-boosting algorithm.

At some level, I need to write—for the simple reason that I need to think.

On that point, I relate to Saint Augustine who remarked later in life that people would never understand how much he changed his mind by writing. Composition doesn’t just convey one’s thoughts, it crystalizes and confounds them. Something emerges in the process. Writing is thinking. And thinking is sorely needed in an age that has become—in the words of Jonathan Haidt—uniquely stupid.

So here’s what I’m thinking:
• I’m ditching Facebook for the foreseeable future.
• I’m going to try to invest regularly in this blog.
• My posts will likely be shorter and less polished (not that they were ever particularly long and shiny), partly because I have two books in the works—and they take precedence.
• If you enjoy these posts, I invite you to subscribe by way of that green button on the homepage.
• They’re all free, and worth every penny.

Peace, ~Josh

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The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self: A Review (pt. 1)

The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self: A Review (pt. 1)

How’d we get here?

That’s the question Carl Trueman tries to answer in his new book, The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self: Cultural Amnesia, Expressive Individualism, and the Road to Sexual Revolution (Crossway, 2020).

The project’s origins involve Trueman’s curiosity over a now-common phrase which he claims would have baffled people like his late grandfather: “I am a woman trapped in a man’s body.” How did we arrive at a point where this statement now seems not only common but–in some settings–impervious to criticism at the risk of punishment?

Since I just finished Trueman’s book, I thought I’d craft a quick review of it, noting both what I appreciated and where I might differ. (See guys, I do still have a blog! All it took was me catching COVID to write a new post!) This first installment is merely an overview of Trueman’s work. If you want my “hot takes” you’ll have to wait till part two.


The key claim of Rise and Triumph is that one cannot understand the modern revolution regarding sexuality without going deeper—to talk about the transformation of the modern view of “selfhood.”

While sex used to be something one did, it is now considered constitutive of identity in a way that is novel throughout human history. It is about who you are at your most primal level. Thus, the evolution of selfhood, not sexuality, is at the heart of Trueman’s historical survey.

Helpfully, Trueman simplifies his entire historical narrative with a three-step progression.

“The self must first be psychologized; psychology must then be sexualized; and sex must [finally] be politicized” (221).

The first move is traced through Rousseau and the Romantic poets. The second involves Freud with an assist from the authority of scientific verbiage after Darwin. And the third involves a look at Nietzsche, Marx, and their (post)modern inheritors.

I’m obviously skipping rather quickly past several hundred pages, but before I turn to my own takeaways (part two), a bit more context is in order.


Trueman credits three philosophers for helping him to diagnose the pathologies inherent in the modern view of selfhood: Philip Rieff, Charles Taylor, and Alasdair MacIntyre. The contributions of these thinkers are too complex to summarize in a brief post, but others are certainly correct to note that one of Trueman’s accomplishments is to distil and simplify key facets from these thinkers for an audience that may not have read them.

One of his central takeaways involves the triumph of the therapeutic impulse. This includes the mentality that inner psychological well-being (i.e., how a person feels) is every bit as important as damage done to a person’s physical body or property. Thus, Trueman:

“While earlier generations might have seen damage to body or property as the most serious categories of crime, a highly psychologized era will accord increasing importance to words as a means of oppression. And this represents a serious challenge to one of the foundations of liberal democracy: freedom of speech.”

“Once harm and oppression are regarded as being primarily psychological categories, freedom of speech then becomes part of the problem, not the solution, because words become potential weapons.”

This is just one insight that Trueman draws from his three philosophical helpers.


Lastly, Trueman seeks to root his history of ideas in some contemporary case studies that include the world of art (surrealism), the Supreme Court, pornography, pop music, and the addition of the “T” into the fragile alliance between feminism the LGBT+ movement. All this serves to keep the book from becoming too focused on key thinkers without any “bridges” (Trueman’s word) to popular culture.


It’s all too much to summarize here, but one last point now bears repeating: Trueman’s stated aim (regardless of whether he actually achieves it) is that the book be neither a lament nor a polemic—though it is abundantly clear that he has much to criticize. As he writes in the Introduction,

” … giving an accurate account of one’s opponents’ views, however obnoxious one may consider them to be, is vital, and never more so than in our age of cheap Twitter insults and casual slanders” (31).

His goal and tone are therefore somewhat different from the many popular level treatments of these subjects from so-called evangelical thought-leaders. (Most of those texts have some version of the word “woke” in the title.) As Trueman notes, a necessary precursor to engaging in these increasingly-polarized discussions is to understand a bit about the question that began this post:

How’d we get here?

(In part two I’ll share my own thoughts on the strengths and weaknesses of Trueman’s history.)

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“Go, little book…!”

“Go, little book…!”

It’s a weird feeling to launch a book.

On the one hand, you’re afraid no one will read it. On the other, you’re afraid they will.

Unlike my prior books, which have focused exclusively on either Bible or theology, this one crosses boundaries. It is academic–but not heavily. It marries fiction with theology and cultural critique. It even lodges a qualified endorsement of a term that functions as a shame word in the academy: “speculation”–or what I call “faith seeking imagination.”

It is starkly critical of many currents within American evangelicalism; yet it also stubbornly refuses to defect from historic Christianity because of sheer embarrassment.

In other words, some will like it; others won’t.

That is as it should be. I hope it finds the audience that needs it. And specifically, I hope it finds those exhausted and disillusioned souls (like the “Eliza” character within the book) whose faith is hanging by a thread.

As I put it in the Introduction:

“The importance of what I define as ‘faith seeking imagination’ increases in a cultural moment when the church is torn by two unsavory extremes: the force of crippling secular doubt and the zealotry of partisan religious dogmatism. Rekindling a gracious theological imagination—rooted in orthodoxy, Scripture, tradition, community, and great works of art—is essential to confront the ‘resounding gong[s]’ (1 Cor 13:1) of our day with something better than pervasive skepticism or abrasive certainty. In this blank space between unchecked doubt and dogmatism, Christians must relearn how to say ‘perhaps’.”

I’ll blog a bit more about the book in weeks to come, but for now I’ll end with the words of Robert Southey,

Go, little Book! From this my solitude
I cast thee on the Waters,–go thy ways:
And if, as I believe, thy vein be good,
The World will find thee after many days.
Be it with thee according to thy worth:
Go, little Book; in faith I send thee forth.

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Or see here for the audio version (*not read by me…).

To learn more, here’s an old blog post that became the basis for Perhaps, several years ago.

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Raised for our justification

Raised for our justification

The cross stands near the center of Christian treatments of atonement—and rightly so.

Paul famously proclaims that he resolved to know nothing when he came preaching to the Corinthians except Christ, “and him crucified” (1 Cor 2:2).

But the cross is hardly the only aspect of God’s saving work; thus Paul writes in Romans 4:25 that Jesus was

delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification.

Romans 4:25 NIV

In this short post, I want to focus on the last part of the verse.


By definition, justification involves the declaration that one has been officially granted the status of “righteous” with regard to God’s covenant. In lay terms, it’s a bit like the pronouncement of “Not guilty!” handed down in court.

Unfortunately, while evangelicals often have some answer for how the cross connects to justification (usually involving some notion of penalty-bearing on our behalf), many accounts of how the resurrection fits in are either unsatisfying or missing altogether.

For this reason, N. T. Wright claims that

There seems to be something about the joining together of resurrection and justification which some of our Western traditions have failed to grasp.

Justification: God’s Plan and Paul’s Vision, 219

It’s not that evangelicals think the resurrection is unnecessary. We hear each Easter how if Christ had not been raised, we would still be stuck in our sins and to-be pitied for our misspent faith (1 Cor 15:17-18). It’s just that we rarely get around to addressing what exactly it means to say that Christ was raised “for our justification.”


Instead of answering that question, accounts of the resurrection tend to run as follows:

Christ’s resurrection guarantees our own future resurrection.

True enough (1 Cor 15:20). But this doesn’t offer any explanation of how Jesus rising from the dead is connected to the declaration of us being righteous in the eyes of God.

Christ’s resurrection must be true, or our faith is based on a lie.

Also true. But if your only understanding of justification is that “Jesus paid it all,” then it isn’t clear why his resurrection is required.

After all, if someone paid my student loan debt by writing me into their will, it wouldn’t follow that their resurrection was also needed for my bill to be paid. In this scenario, a death is necessary, but resurrection isn’t.

So too in some evangelical treatments of atonement.

Christ’s resurrection is the vindication (or proof) that he is who he claimed to be, and that his work on the cross was effective.

Yep. But this point confuses the corroboration of atonement with the idea that the resurrection itself is necessary for our justification.

To use an imperfect analogy, that’s like assuming that the corroborating answers in the back of a math textbook are required for 2+2 to equal 4, or for your work in the front of the book to be accurate. (To be clear, I did need those answers—which is why I’m a theologian and not an engineer.)

If Paul had meant merely to highlight that resurrection vindicates Christ’s prior justifying work on our behalf, then he should have written Romans 4:25 differently.

In summary, each one of these answers is true. But each one also fails to explain how Christ was “raised for our justification.”

What is a better answer?


In a word, it has to do with “union” or “participation.”

For Paul, Christians have been raised up with Christ, and seated with him in heavenly realms (Eph 2:6) because we have been united with him in his death (Gal 2:20; Rom 6:5). Salvation therefore comes about by being “in Christ” by virtue of faith, as symbolized by baptism, and as brought about the uniting work of the Holy Spirit.

The New Testament highlights this saving union through a variety of metaphors—one of which is marriage. In this legal bond, the two become “one flesh” (Gen 2:24) so that what’s mine is yours, and what’s yours is mine. “But I am talking,” Paul says to the Ephesians, “about Christ and the church” (5:32). Insofar as we have been bound-together by faith with Christ’s broken body, his death is our own death to sin (Rom 8:3; Gal 2:20), and his resurrection is itself our justification. The logic here, however foreign to modern individualists (see here), is that of union.

Sadly, if all we understand about atonement is a sort of penalty-exchange, then we will never know what to do with Romans 4:25, and we will never understand the importance of the resurrection.

(To be clear, I spent just shy of a hundred pages in The Mosaic of Atonement arguing for a particular version of the idea that Christ justly bears the penalty for human sin on our behalf. So I can’t be accused of rejecting that biblical reality.)

But thankfully, there is more to Jesus’ saving work than penalty-bearing.

In the view of Michael Bird, Christ’s resurrection is his “justification”—not because Christ was a sinner in need of saving—but because it is the official declaration that he is, in fact, righteous.

Likewise, Constantine Campbell is right to say that

Believers share in the vindication of Christ’s resurrection by dying and rising with him; they are declared righteous by virtue of their participation in these events.

The Hope of Glory, 338

Union with Christ provides the foundation on which the language of justification and penalty-bearing make sense.

And it explains why Paul can say that Christ was not only “delivered over to death for our sins,” but also “raised to life for our justification.”

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New book alert!

New book alert!

Big news!

I haven’t written about this on the blog yet, but my next book now has its own page, and its first endorsement on the IVP website (here).

I was honored to receive these words from Matthew Bates:

“Perhaps a meadow exists between dogmatism and skepticism, a fruitful space for cultivating beautiful truth. Perhaps Origen, Augustine, and Edwards can converse there with Flannery O’Connor and Cormac McCarthy. Perhaps instead of rehearsing or debunking information, we can foster theological imagination. Perhaps Joshua McNall’s wit and wisdom has pointed the church toward a better future. Perhaps we should listen.”

Matthew W. Bates, author of Gospel Allegiance and associate professor of theology at Quincy University

Matt’s endorsement captures well the spirit my project.

In so many ways, our culture feels held hostage by the fringes: the shrillest voices on the Left and Right. And as we turn to questions of faith, that same polarization leaves many driven toward one of two extremes: On one side stands a yawning chasm of secular doubt, and on the other sits an increasingly angry religious dogmatism.

I’m not the first person to note this trend, but I hope my book sparks something of a renewed (and more gracious) theological imagination between pervasive skepticism and abrasive certainty. That’s what Perhaps is about.

It’s a strange book, because its fuses disciplines that are normally kept safely separate: It’s part fiction, part theology, part apologetics, and part cultural analysis.

Still, the big idea is summed up in this line from N. T. Wright:

To believe in providence often means saying “perhaps.”

N. T. Wright, Paul and the Faithfulness of God

Here’s a brief snapshot from my Introduction:

The importance of what I define as “faith seeking imagination” increases in a cultural moment when the church is torn by two unsavory extremes: the force of crippling secular doubt and the zealotry of partisan religious dogmatism.

Rekindling a gracious theological imagination—rooted in orthodoxy, Scripture, tradition, community, and great works of art—is essential to confront the “resounding gong[s]” (1 Cor 13:1) of our day with something better than pervasive skepticism or abrasive certainty. In this blank space between unchecked doubt and dogmatism, Christians must relearn how to say “perhaps.”

From the Preface

I’ll have much more to say about the book in weeks to come, but if you’re interested, here’s a few things you can do to help as I approach the September launch date:

  • Pre-order. You can pre-order the book on Amazon (here), or on the InterVarsity Press site (here).
  • Join my newsletter (here): Full disclosure… I’ve been terrible at keeping up this newsletter, so if you signed up and wondered if something went wrong, it did: I got too busy. That said… I’ll be offering some special perks through that email list to interested readers. Thanks!
  • Pray. Pray that this book blesses the church and is used by God to speak not only to academics (it is lightly academic) but to college students and churchgoers who feel spiritually homeless.

Oh, and one more thing: The unsung hero of Perhaps is a seven-hundred-pound Galápagos tortoise, named Wilbur. He’s important for the plot, but he’s also dedicated to my 3 yr old son, Teddy Brian.

How’s that for a teaser?

Grace and peace.

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