Psychology Cultural Identities and Values Assignment

Psychology Cultural Identities and Values Assignment

Please see attached instructions and required reading

Chatraw, J. D., & Prior, K. S. (2019). Cultural Engagement. HarperCollins Christian. https://mbsdirect.vitalsource.com/books/9780310534587 

Read: Superiority of group counseling to individual coaching for parents of children with learning disabilities Links to an external site. 

HSCO 509

Page 1 of 2


OVERVIEW Valuing cultural diversity and honoring the cultural stories of the people we come into contact with begins with self-awareness and thoughtfulness. The purpose of this assignment is to encourage you to think about, define, and articulate your own cultural story and worldview, with the goal of identifying strengths and areas for growth. Understanding your own cultural beliefs and values can help to make you aware of potential bias and limitations. Culture is race and ethnicity, and also nationality, language, gender, religion and spirituality, sexual orientation, socioeconomic status, disability or ability, and size, to name just a few identities. Belonging to a cultural group influences every aspect of one’s life, including beliefs, values, attitudes, and worldviews. When we understand our own cultural backgrounds, we can better understand how these identities affect others. INSTRUCTIONS

Write a 4–5-page paper (not counting the title page and reference page) describing your culture and worldview. You do not need to write an abstract. Follow current APA professional style standards. Cite and reference our textbook, Cultural Engagement, by Chatraw and Prior (2019), as a source used for support in each main section of your paper. This is the only source required for this paper. You may use Scripture as well. Because you are writing about your personal culture and worldview, it is appropriate to use first person pronouns (I, me, my, for example) for this assignment. Begin your paper with a brief introduction (do not use a heading for the introduction). This is typically one paragraph that explains what the paper covers. Define what is meant by culture in the first main section, Defining Culture. Explain how culture is defined in our text, and then define and explain your own cultural identities in this context. There should be multiple citations for Cultural Engagement in this section. The next section of your paper should address Faith and Culture. This section is for you to articulate your faith beliefs and practices that you identify with. How important is your faith to you? It is important to know what you believe and be able to clearly state this. The third main section, Contemporary Issues, contains your exploration of your personal culture and worldview beliefs regarding contemporary issues (examples from our reading include sexuality, gender roles, abortion, reproductive technology, immigration, race, climate change, animal welfare, politics, work, arts, war, weapons, capital punishment). Do not use subheadings for this section; use paragraphs to separate main ideas. As you define your culture and worldview, focus on topics that are of the greatest significance to you personally (in our course reading, this concept is referred to as cultural salience). This is an important concept from our reading, that individuals place different priorities on aspects of their culture, and it is up to each person where this significance is placed. Explore at least three contemporary issues from our reading in this section. You must cite Cultural Engagement in this section multiple times to show how you are interacting with the text. End with a Conclusion where you summarize what the paper covered and include closing thoughts. Discuss how this paper helped you and what you learned from the experience.

HSCO 509

Page 2 of 2

Note: Your assignment will be checked for originality via the Turnitin plagiarism tool.


Superiority of group counseling to individual coaching for parents of children with learning disabilities


1Nizan -The Israeli Association for Learning Disabilities & 2Faculty of Education, University of Haifa, Mount Carmel,

Haifa, Israel

(Received 24 October 2011; revised 3 May 2012; accepted 7 May 2012)

Abstract Two interventions for parents of children with learning disabilities (LD)*individual coaching and group counseling*were compared. Participants were 169 parents, non-randomly assigned to three experimental conditions: coaching (n�45), group counseling (n�93) and control (n�31). Variables included outcomes (parental stress and parental coping), personal (perceived social support) and process (bonding with therapist/group). Findings indicated more favorable outcomes for parents in both treatment conditions compared to control, more favorable outcomes on the stress index for parents treated in groups compared to individual coaching, and bonding was the most consistent predictor of outcomes. The discussion focuses on the power of group counseling for parents of children with LD.

Keywords: parents; treatment; learning disabilities


The study focuses on treatment for parents of

children with learning disabilities (LD). Some of

these children constitute a daily challenge for their

parents, due to academic, social, emotional and

behavioral difficulties (McPhail & Stone, 1995;

Morrison & Cosden, 1997; Turnbull, Hart, &

Lapkin, 2003). Parents of these children are under

great stress (Adelizzi & Goss, 2001; Al-Yagon, 2007;

Brannan, Heflinger, & Bickman, 1997), often feel

helpless and depressed (Bandura, Barbaranelli,

Caprara, & Pastorelli, 1996; Turnbull & Turnbull,

1986) and, as a result, their parental functioning is

less effective (Barkley, Fischer, Edelbrock, &

Smallish, 1991; Stone, 1997). Assisting these

parents is important for the parents’ sake as well as

for the child. Indeed, research supports interventions

to improve parents’ coping skills; however, less

attention is given to their feelings and well-being.

This raises the question: What constitutes an

effective intervention for parents? In the current

study we compare group counseling and individual

coaching*two formats of treatment within a similar

theoretical model (expressive supportive)*in respect

of outcomes, and attempt to explain these outcomes

in terms of individual and process variables.

Literature review

Learning disabilities are neurological dysfunctions

that affect cognitive and affective aspects of human

beings. As a result, some learning functions, cogni-

tive information processing, and interpersonal skills

may be affected (Turnbull et al., 2003). Indeed,

children with LD, particularly those who have

ADHD symptoms, were found to have lower aca-

demic self-concept and achievements than children

without LD (Leichtentritt & Shechtman, 2009).

They were also found to have higher levels of

loneliness and depression (McPhail & Stone, 1995)

and more frequent interpersonal conflicts and de-

linquency (Barkley, 1997).

Parent-child relationships directly affect the level

of problems that children demonstrate (Barkley,

1997). The more parents are attuned to their

children’s needs, and the more supportive and

warm they are, the fewer the child’s emotional

and social difficulties (Morrison & Cosden, 1997;

Spekman, Goldberg, & Herman, 1992). In contrast,

the more parents are authoritarian and punitive, the

greater the child’s adjustment symptoms (Eisenberg,

Fabes, & Murphy, 1996; Stone, 1997).

Parents of children with LD have adjustment

problems as well. Compared to parents of non-LD

Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Zippi Shechtman, University of Haifa, Faculty of Education, Mount

Carmel, Haifa 31905, Israel. Email: [email protected]

Psychotherapy Research, September 2012; 22(5): 592�603

ISSN 1050-3307 print/ISSN 1468-4381 online # 2012 Society for Psychotherapy Research


children, they are under higher stress, tend to blame

themselves more often, express less satisfaction with

their parental role (Smith, Majeski, & McClenny,

1996), demonstrate a lower level of self-efficacy and

a sense of helplessness (Bandura et al., 1996), and

feel more anxious and depressed (Al-Yagon, 2007;

Veisson, 1999). Consequently, they tend to be less

supportive of their children and more punitive

(Barkley et al., 1991). Assistance for these parents

is not very common, as most attention is directed to

the children, primarily their academic difficulties.

Nonetheless, there are parental interventions re-

ported in the literature. These are mainly educa-

tional, aimed at training parents to cope with their

children with LD. Reported outcomes of these

interventions have been positive. Educational in-

terventions with parents of autistic children, for

example, showed a decrease in parental stress

(Baker-Ericzen, Brookman-Frazee, & Stahmer, 2005;

Feldman & Werner, 2002; Koegel, Bimbela, &

Schreibman, 1996). Another cognitive group inter-

vention with parents of children who are intellec-

tually challenging (Nixon & Singer, 1993) indicated

a decrease in parental self-blame, negative thoughts,

and depression symptoms. Barkley and colleagues

(1992) compared three types of treatments for

parents of children with ADHD: behavioral manage-

ment treatment, training in problem solving and

communication, and family therapy. All three were

effective in reducing negative communication, con-

flict, anger, and mother’s level of depression, as well

as in improving the adjustment of the children.

Webster-Stratton (1984, 1985) used video presenta-

tions to train parents of children with conduct

disorder. Results pointed to improved parental cop-

ing skills and enhanced problem solving skills among

the children. Finally, Shechtman and Gilat (2005)

conducted expressive-supportive groups with

mothers of children with LD. The mothers showed

a reduction in stress, an improved perception of the

child, and higher parental sense of control. In the

current study we use this same type of group, but go

a step further by comparing outcomes to individual

treatment of a similar orientation. This is the first

paper to compare outcomes of individual and group

treatment of the same orientation for the target

population. Considering the emotional needs of

parents of children with LD and the high demand

for services of this population, it is important to

know which intervention is the most helpful as well

as the most cost-effective.

Past comparisons of individual and group treat-

ments have shown similar outcomes for both types

of treatment (Fuhriman & Burlingame, 1994;

McRoberts, Burlingame, & Hoag, 1998; Shecht-

man, 2004). Conclusions in the literature suggest

that, at least in terms of cost effectiveness, groups are

preferable to individual treatment, but group and

individual treatment formats for parents of LD

children have not previously been compared.

Research also points to different processes in

these types of treatments. Holmes and Kivlighan

(2000) indicated that climate and interpersonal

learning are more frequent in groups, whereas self-

awareness, identification, and problem solving are

more frequent in individual treatment. Fuhriman

and Burlingame (1990) also stipulated that

different therapeutic factors operate in each type of


The therapist-client relationship seems to be an

important factor in both treatments. In individual

treatment, it is so highly appreciated that it is

referred to as the ‘‘common factor’’ (Greenberg &

Pinsof, 1987; Horvath, 2005). In groups, too,

relationships are critical, but in this case it is the

bond with both the group members and the therapist

that enhances outcomes (Johnson, Burlingame,

Olsen, Davies, & Gleave, 2005; Burlingame et al.,

2007; Piper, Ogrodniczuk, Lamarche, Hilscher, &

Joyce, 2005).

The therapist-client relationship is considered a

process variable, but there are also individual differ-

ences among clients, such as perceived social sup-

port (Boutin, 2007; Cheung & Sun, 2001;

Lieberman &Golant, 2002). Perceived social sup-

port is an important factor: the greater it is, the

better the outcome (Hanks, Rapport, & Vangel,

2007). In the current study, the focus of treatment

is on support; therefore, it could be expected

that increased support will have an impact on

the outcomes.

Based on this literature, we expected: (a) Positive

outcomes in both treatment types compared to non-

treatment/control. Specifically, we expected a reduc-

tion in parental stress and improvement in parental

coping, in the two treatment groups. (b) Based on

the inconsistent results in the literature regarding the

superiority of group treatment over individual treat-

ment, we hypothesized that no difference in out-

comes between the two treatments would be found.

(c) Based on the literature suggesting that process

and individual variables affect outcomes, and con-

sidering the different type of treatment, we hypothe-

sized that different process and individual variables

will predict the outcomes in each treatment type; and

(d) based on the literature, we expected different

therapeutic factors in the two treatment types:

emotional awareness-insight, self-disclosure, and

problem definition-change will be more frequent in

individual coaching, while relationships-climate and

other- versus self-focus will be more frequent in

group counseling.

Treatment of parents 593



Participants included 169 parents of children with

LD: 93 in group counseling, 45 in individual coaching

and 31 parents on a waiting list. Of these, 70% were

mothers. Children’s ages ranged between 6 and 18,

and 70% of them were boys. All came from middle-

class families residing in cities in central Israel. No

differences were found in demographic characteristics

between parents in the three conditions.

In addition, there were 42 therapists (ages 31�55):

30 coaches and 12 group therapists. All were

professionals with an educational background in

psychology, social work, school counseling, and

learning disabilities. In addition, they were trained

in the same institute in either group counseling (the

expressive-supportive model) or coaching (same

model), at least for one academic year (56 hours),

and were supervised by experts in group counseling

or coaching every two weeks, throughout the


The Interventions

The interventions in both formats followed the

expressive-supportive modality (Shechtman, 2007).

This modality focuses on emotional expressiveness

in a highly supportive climate. In terms of group

counseling they may be characterized as ‘‘affective-

support’’ groups (see Kivlighan & Holmes, 2004, for

the categorization), which is similar to expressive

supportive modality. The counseling groups were

process-oriented, but semi-structured. All groups

followed a structured manual, to permit universality

among group therapists. In each session, a specific

topic was introduced and participants shared their

experiences. Topics included: The meaning of being

a parent of a child with LD; the difficulties of the

child with LD; the dialogue between parent and

child; day-to-day dilemmas within the family; the

parent’s vision of the child’s future; confrontation

with the educational system; the parent as a case

manager; and parents’ advocacy. Individual coaching

followed the same expressive therapy principles. A

strong focus was placed on the exploration of

parents’ emotions regarding their child with LD.

Similar topics came up, but the intervention was

tailored to the specific difficulties of the parent or

child, and more attention was given to analyzing

behavior patterns and guiding parents toward

change. No formal supervision of study therapists

took place; however, we believe that therapists were

adherent to the treatment manual because they were

supervised in a group format in weekly sessions

during the intervention.


Parental stress in parent-child interactions was

measured by the Parenting Stress Index (PSI)�short

form (Abidin, 1995).The short form includes 36

items, such as ‘‘I find myself giving up more of my

life to meet my children’s needs than I ever ex-

pected.’’ Responses are given on a 5-point scale

(strongly agree, agree, not sure, disagree, strongly

disagree), with a high score indicating higher levels

of parental stress. Test-retest reliability over a 1-year

interval ranged from .55 to .70, and reported internal

consistency ranged from a� .80 to a�.87 (Abidin,

1995). Validity of the short form was based on a

comparison with the full scale (r ranged from .73 to

.92) (Moran, Pederson, Pettit, &Krupka, 1992).The

scale has been used in Hebrew (e.g., Shechtman &

Gilat, 2005) with reported good internal consistency


Parental coping was measured by the Coping with

Children’s Negative Emotions Scale (CCNES)

(Fabes, Eisenberg, & Bernzweig, 1990), which

measures parents’ responses to 12 difficult situations

that their child may face (such as being teased by

peers or embarrassing oneself in public). The scale

contains three negative responses (distress, punitive,

minimization; for example: ‘‘I tell my child that if he/

she starts crying, he/she will have to go to his/her

room right away’’), and three positive responses

(encouraging, emotion-focused, and problem fo-

cused, for example: ‘‘I comfort my child and try to

make him/her feel better’’). For each situation,

mothers were asked to rate on a 7-point scale how

likely they would react with a negative or positive


Construct validity has been demonstrated in

several studies: Eisenberg and Fabes (1994) found

associations between parental reactions and chil-

dren’s social competence. Shechtman and

Birani-Nasaraladin (2006) found correlations be-

tween children’s reduced aggression and change in

mothers’ responses (e.g. r�.60 with encourage-

ment). Test-retest reliability ranged from .56

to .83, and internal consistency ranged from

a� .60 to a�.90 (Fabes et al., 1990).

Perceived social support was measured by the

Social Provisions Scale (SPS; Cutrona & Russell,

1987), which examines six components of perceived

support. It consists of 24 items, with four items per

subscale: attachment (emotional support), reassur-

ance of worth (esteem support), social integration

(membership in a group of people with similar

interests and concerns), guidance (information sup-

port), reliable alliance (tangible support), and the

opportunity to provide nurturance (giving support

to others). Examples of items include, "There are

594 M. Danino and Z. Shechtman

people I can depend on to help me if I really need it.’’

‘‘There are people who depend on me for help.’’

Reliability for the total scale is .91 and subscale

reliabilities range from .66 to .76 (Cutrona &

Russell, 1987). The SPS correlates significantly

with measures of social network size, satisfaction

with social network, and attitudes toward support. It

correlates negatively with loneliness and depression

across a range of populations. A Hebrew version of

this scale has been used (Harel, Shechtman, &

Cutrona, 2011) with an internal consistency of

a� .90 for the total score, which was used in the

current study.

Therapeutic bonding was measured by the Work-

ing Alliance Inventory (WAI; Horvath & Greenberg,

1989) which consists of 36 items in three categories:

task, goal, and bonding, with 12 items per category.

Internal consistency ranged from a� .87 to a�.93.

In line with aims of the present study, we used

only the bonding scale, with the therapist and

group members. Sample items include: ‘‘I believe

the therapist cares about my health’’ and ‘‘I don’t

feel comfortable with group members.’’The scale

has been used in a Hebrew version (Toren &

Shechtman, 2011) with an internal consistency of

a�.89 and a�.91 for the therapist and group

members, respectively. Responses were given on a

7-point scale, with higher scores representing higher


The Critical Incident Questionnaire (CIQ; Yalom

& Leszcz, 2005) was used to identify the most

important events and meaningful processes for

participants in each type of treatment. The question

is open-ended and reads as follows:

Of the events which occurred in the sessions,

which one do you feel was the most important for

you personally? Describe the event, what actually

took place, the group members involved, and your

own reaction. Why was it important for you? How

was it helpful?

The content has been analyzed with the Group

Counseling Helping Impact Scale (GCHIS)

(Kivlighan, Multon, & Brossart, 1996) in order to

capture the therapeutic factors in the therapy pro-

cess. The original scale is composed of 28 items in

four components: emotional awareness-insight;

relationships-climate; other- versus self-focus; and

problem definition-change. A fifth component* self-disclosure*was added in the present study.

Each critical incident was assigned by two indepen-

dent raters, to one or more of the five categories. Full

inter-rater agreement (for all five components) was

achieved for 77% of the cases; in the other cases they

agreed on four of these five.


‘‘Nizan’’ is a national institute for children with LD.

In 2008 a decision was made by the staff to provide

help to parents as well. Two groups of professional

workers received a year of training to assist parents in

small groups or in individual coaching. There was no

cross-over of therapists and intervention conditions.

In the second year parents were offered12 weekly

sessions in one of the methods of assistance.

Individual coaching was 1 hour long and group

sessions were 2 hours long. All sessions were

administered in the evenings. Parents were recruited

through published flyers in the schools and in various

agencies of ‘‘Nizan.’’ Parents who felt a need for

assistance were admitted with no special criteria.

Parents were referred to group intervention when a

group was available in their geographical area. All the

others were referred to individual coaching. Only a

few parents (three) preferred individual coaching

over group; in such case they were referred to the

coaching conditions. In both types of treatment

parents were encouraged to attend as couples;

however, in most cases, only one parent attended

(70% of participants in both treatments; this in-

cludes 10% of single mothers). Attendance rates

were very high, which we attribute to their high need

for assistance and the cost of treatment.

The outcome questionnaires (parental stress and

coping) were administered at three different points

of time: before treatment (following the intake

interview in Nizan), immediately after treatment

(following termination) and 6 months later (when

the participant met again with the group or indivi-

dual coach). Parents on the waiting list completed

the questionnaires at two times only*pre and post.

The process questionnaires (perceived social sup-

port, and therapeutic bonding) were administered

twice (at the third session and at termination) and

the CIQ (therapeutic factors) was administered

once, at termination. All questionnaires were com-

pleted anonymously, but with an identification

symbol (identification number) to permit a compar-

ison between time measurements. Table I presents

the number of participants in the three research

conditions, and return rates of questionnaires.

Table I. Participants in the research conditions and return rates of



Full pre and

post data



n n (%) n (%)

Group counseling 125 93 (74%) 55 (44%)

Coaching 50 45 (90%) 32 (64%)

Waiting list 94 31 (33%) �

Treatment of parents 595

Data Analysis

The first two hypotheses were examined with re-

peated measures MANCOVAs for parental stress

and coping by treatment condition (group counsel-

ing, coaching, control) and time (pre-post) (3�2),

controlling for parent’s gender and child’s age. Due

to some pre-test group differences these hypotheses

were re-examined with MANCOVAs for the ad-

justed gains scores (change score controlling for the

pre test scores) using Scheffe post hoc tests. For the

purpose of testing differences in the process vari-

ables, repeated measures MANCOVAs were used

similarly (3�2). The third hypothesis was examined

with multiple hierarchical regressions in which out-

comes were the post scores of parental stress and

coping. Predictors were entered in three steps:

treatment condition, parent’s gender and child’s

age at the first step, the pre-test score of each

outcome at the second step (respectively), the

process variables at the third step. Differences

between post-test and follow-up scores were

examined for the two treatment conditions with

repeated measures MANCOVAs for parental stress

and coping by treatment condition and time (2�2).

Finally, the fifth hypothesis was examined by calcu-

lating the frequency of the therapeutic factors

(derived from the Critical Incident Questionnaire),

and examining condition differences with Mann-

Whitney U tests (Z).


Initial Tests of Data and Possible Confounding


First, in order to establish the reliability of the

instruments with the current population, Cronbach’s

alpha was measured for each scale: a�.93 for

parental stress, .88�.83 for parental coping positive

and negative, .90 for perceived social support, and

.84�.87 for bonding with the therapist and the


Second, in order to minimize the number of sub-

scales used in the parental coping instrument the

intercorrelations among them were measured. They

ranged from r�.58 to r�.75 for positive responses

and from r�.39 to r�.62 for negative ones. The

intercorrelation between positive and negative

scales ranged from r�.34 to r�.01. A factor analysis

(rotated varimax) indicated two factors: positive

(46% of explained variance, eigenvalue �2.76)

and negative (26% of explained variance, eigen-

value �1.56). Therefore, these two factors were

used for further analyses.

Third, to overcome multicollinearity the correla-

tion between bonding with the therapist and the

group was measured. The high correlations between

the two measures (.93) justified the use of a single

alliance variable.

Fourth, in order to capture the impact of back-

ground variables, the relationship between parent’s

gender and child’s age and gender and between

parental stress and coping were examined. Parental

stress tended to be higher for mothers than for

fathers (t(176)�.70 to t(176) �2.99, pB.01).

Other differences by parent and child’s gender were

non-significant. Several correlations of child’s age

with stress and coping were significant (r��.16,

pB.05 to r�.31, pB.001). Differences in stress and

coping by parents’ place of living, place of birth, and

occupation were non-significant. Thus, the study

hypotheses were examined while controlling for

parent’s gender and child’s age.

Fifth, in order to test for differences between

treatment conditions pre-test differences in parental

stress and coping were examined. Significant differ-

ences were found for parental stress (up to

F(2,164) �14.50, p B.001, h2�.15), being lower

in the group counseling condition. No differences

were found for parental coping. Thus, study hypoth-

eses 1 and 2 were examined with both repeated

measures analyses of variance and analyses con-

ducted on the adjusted gain scores.

Sixth, to be able to rely on the follow-up measure-

ment, differences between participants with and

without follow-up data (follow up data�treatment

condition�time) were tested. No difference was


Finally, groups are often studied in a nested way

due to the assumed dependency of scores within a

group. Because this research included a comparison

of data for participants in group and in individual

treatment, such analyses were not possible. There-

fore, differences between the nine small groups were

measured. No differences were found between the

nine small groups (small group�time).

Power analyses indicated that for the given sample

size (n�169), power was .96 to detect differences in

change scores among the three conditions (expecting

an effect size, partial h2, of .16). For the given

sample size (n�87), the post-follow-up comparison

of the two conditions had a power of .84 (expecting

an effect size of .16). (The analysis of the pre-post

data between the group and coaching conditions,

under the hypothesis of no differences, was con-

ducted exploratorily, as there was not sufficient

power to test for no differences.)

Outcome variables (parental stress and coping) were

rather normally distributed: skewness ranging from

�1.10 (SE�.26) to 1.25 (SE�.19), and kurtosis

ranging from �.95 (SE�.51) to 4.05 (SE�.37).

No outliers were found. Intercorrelations among

596 M. Danino and Z. Shechtman

them at the three times ranged between r��.32

(p B.001) and r �.15 (ns.), and thus do not point at


Outcomes: Parental Stress and Coping

The first hypothesis suggested that outcomes (stress

and coping) would be more favorable for parents in

both types of treatment than for those in the control

group. The second hypothesis suggested that no

difference in outcomes would be found for parents in

the two experimental/treatment conditions.

Table II presents means and SD for parental stress

and coping in the three conditions. For purposes of

clarity, outcomes for parental stress are described

first, and outcomes for parental coping follow.

Parental stress decreased only for parents in group

counseling and actually increased for those in the

control condition. Statistical analysis (Repeated

ANCOVA 3�2 for condition and time, respectively,

with control over parental gender and child’s age),

focusing on the time by condition interaction,

confirmed more favorable outcomes for parents

treated in groups. Analysis of change within each

group revealed a pre-post significant decrease of

parental stress in group counseling and an increase in

the control group (see Table II). (Observed power

for group counseling is .63, control group 1.00).

Due to initial differences on scores for parental

stress, adjusted gains were computed for the three

conditions. Results indicated that parental stress in

group counseling decreased more than in coaching,

and that it decreased more in both treatment

conditions than in the control condition

(F(2,164) �33.89, p B.001, h2�.29).

Finally, a comparison of post-scores and follow-up

on stress (see Table III) in group counseling and

coaching indicated a significant condition difference,

F(3,79) �9.06, p B.001, showing a significant dif-

ference between group counseling and coaching:

F(1,81) �18.53, p B.001, h2�.18 (observed

power�.99). No time F(3,79) �2.45, p�ns, and

no condition-by-time change, F(3,79)�.73, p�ns,

were found. These results clarify that outcomes were

stable 6 months later, and remained more favorable

for parents in the group counseling condition than

for parents in the coaching condition.

With respect to parental coping, gains are dis-

cernible in both treatment conditions compared to

control (Table II). A MANCOVA with Repeated

measures (3�2), with control over parental gender

and child’s age, indicated a condition-by-time inter-

action on both positive and negative responses. Post

hoc analyses within conditions indicated progress in

both treatment conditions, but no change in control

(see Table II) (for positive responses: observed

power in group counseling is .97, in coaching .66;

for negative responses: observed power in group

counseling is .99, in coaching .86). A test of adjusted

gains confirmed that both treatments were more

effective than no treatment, with no difference

between treatments (for positive responses:

F(2,164) �3.07, pB.05, h2�.04, for negative

responses: F(2,164) �3.38, pB.05, h2�.04).

Finally, results on the post-followup measurement

(see Table III) indicated no difference for condition,

F(6,77)�.68, time, F(6,77)�.57, or condition-

by-time interaction, F(6,77)�.92, p�ns for all.

These results suggest that gains remained stable for

both treatment conditions after 6 months.

Table II. Means, standard deviations and F values of outcome variables by condition and time (n �169)




coaching Control Time�condition Interaction:

(n �93) (n �45) (n �31)

Pre Post Pre Post Pre Post Control





M M M M M M F(1,164) F(1,164) F(1,164) F(2,164)

(SD) (SD) (SD) (SD) (SD) (SD) (h2) (h2) (h2) (h2)

Parenting Stress Index

Total score 2.60 2.45 2.98 3.06 2.98 3.54 16.04*** 5.36* .37 27.82***

(.51) (.55) (.56) (.55) (.77) (.47) (.16) (.03) (.002) (.15)

Parental Coping with Child’s Negative Emotions

Positive responses 5.22 5.47 5.42 5.63 5.44 5.43 3.12* 15.43*** 5.70* .14

(.85) (.81) (.90) (.77) (.84) (.82) (.04) (.09) (.04) (.001)

Negative responses 2.97 2.65 3.08 2.65 2.89 2.92 3.11* 14.76*** 9.32** .27

(.90) (.71) (.95) (.87) (.67) (.98) (.04) (.09) (.06) (.002)

*p B.05, *p B.01, ***p B.001.

Note. MANOVA for parental coping:

time: F(2,161) �1.26, ns, h2�.02; condition: F(4,320) �1.50, ns, h2�.02; time by condition: F(4,320) �3.31, p B.05, h2�.04.

Treatment of parents 597

In sum, the first hypothesis was fully supported* outcomes were more favorable for the two types of

treatments compared to no treatment. The second

hypothesis was partly rejected, as differences in

outcomes were observed between the two types of

treatment on the Parental Stress Index, with more

positive outcomes for parents in group counseling.

These gains were stable at 6 months follow-up. Some

values of the observed power are moderate and thus

interpretation of the results should be cautious.

Prediction of Outcomes

The third hypothesis suggested that process and

individual variables would be associated with out-

comes and would affect outcomes differentially by

type of treatment. To test this hypothesis, first, pre-

post differences were measured. A significant condi-

tion difference was found on therapeutic bonding in

favor of parents attending group counseling

(F(1,197) �16.18, p B.001, h2�.16, observed

power�1.00). For perceived social support, there

was only a time difference, suggesting that all

participants gained on this scale (F(1,164) �8.15,

p B.01, h2�.05, observed power�.81); however, a

look at the mean scores obtained suggests

no difference for parents in the control group

(Table IV).

This was followed by regression analyses in which

the outcomes were the post score of the measure of

parental stress and the two measures of

parental coping (positive and negative responses)

(see Table V). Predictors were treatment condition,

parent’s gender, child’s age (step 1), pre-test score

(step 2); pre-post means of the process variables:

perceived social support and therapeutic bonding

(step 3). Results suggest that condition was a

significant predictor of reduced parental stress.

Child’s age was predictive of parental stress, so that

the higher the age, the greater the stress. The pre-

score was the best predictor of parental stress and

coping: the higher it was, the higher the scores

following treatment. Beyond treatment condition,

parent’s gender, child’s age and pre-test score,

Table III. Means and standard deviations of outcome variables by

time (post-test and follow up) by condition (n�87)

Group counseling





Post Follow up Post Follow up


(SD) (SD) (SD) (SD)

Parenting Stress Index

Total score 2.50 2.82 3.07 3.24

(.55) (.80) (.54) (.65)

Parental Coping with Child’s Negative Emotions

Positive responses 5.54 5.29 5.71 5.68

(.80) (1.08) (.73) (.91)

Negative responses 2.66 2.77 2.65 2.76

(.75) (.93) (.94) (.89)

Table IV. Means and standard deviations of the process variables

by condition and time (n �169)









Pre Post Pre Post Pre Post


(SD) (SD) (SD) (SD) (SD) (SD)

Perceived social


3.39 3.49 3.44 3.56 3.45 3.47

(.41) (.42) (.38) (.35) (.36) (.33)



5.83 5.95 6.43 6.53 � � (.81) (.71) (.52) (.45)

Note. ANOVA for perceived social support:

time: F(1,164) �8.15, p B .01, h2�.05; condition: F(2,164)�.47,

ns, h2�.01, time by condition: F(2,164)�.42, ns, h2�.01.

ANOVA for therapeutic bonding:

time: F(1,197) �1.40, ns, h2�.01, condition: F(1,197) �16.18,

p B.001, h2�.16, time by condition: F(1,197)�.02, ns, h2�.001.

Table V. Multiple regressions predicting outcomes (parental stress and coping) by individual and process variables (n �128)

Parenting Stress Index Parental Coping with Child’s Negative Emotions

Total score Positive responses Negative responses

B SE b B SE b B SE b

Treatment condition �.23 .05 �.37*** .05 .07 .06 �.05 .06 �.06

Parent’s gender �.03 .08 �.02 �.01 .12 �.01 .01 .12 .01

Child’s age .04 .01 .21**. .01 .02 .02 �.01 .02 �.06

Pre-test score .51 .07 .46*** .43 .07 .48*** .45 .06 .52***

Social support �.07 .11 �.04 .11 .17 .05 �.49 .16 �.23**

Therapeutic bonding �.19 .06 �.21** .28 .10 .24** .21 .09 �.18*

R2�.60, R2�.36, R2�.40,

F(6,121) �29.19*** F(6,121) �11.44*** F(6,121) �13.27***

*p B.05, **p B .01, ***p B.001.

598 M. Danino and Z. Shechtman

therapeutic bonding was a consistent predictor of

lower parental stress at post-test, as well as of higher

positive and lower negative parental coping. Higher

perceived social support was associated with lower

negative parental coping. Interestingly, the addition

of the interaction between treatment condition and

the process variables was not significant for any

outcome measure.

In sum, the third hypothesis was partly supported.

The regressions indicate that the individual variable

of perceived social support and the process variable

of therapeutic bonding predict some of the depen-

dent variables beyond initial and background vari-

ables. Bonding was the most consistent predictor:

the higher the scores of participants on bonding with

the therapist (coaching) or with the therapist and

group members (group counseling), the more favor-

able the outcomes on parental stress and coping.

The third hypothesis was not supported as differ-

ential predictions by treatment condition were not


Critical Incidents

To understand the meaningful processes for partici-

pants in each type of treatment, their verbal response

to the question ‘‘What was meaningful to you in

treatment?’’ was assigned to one or more of the four

categories suggested by Holmes and Kivlighan

(2000) and/or to a fifth category of self-disclosure.

It was hypothesized that emotional awareness-

insight, self-disclosure, and problem definition-

change would be more frequent in individual

coaching, while relationships-climate and other-

versus self-focus would present more in group

counseling. Results indicated similar frequencies of

emotional awareness-insight and self-disclosure in

both types of treatment, higher scores in relation-

ships-climate and other- versus self-focus in group

counseling, and more frequent problem definition-

change in individual coaching (Figure 1). Thus, the

hypothesis was supported to a considerable extent.


The study compared outcome and process variables

in the treatment of parents of children with LD, in

three experimental conditions: group counseling,

individual coaching, and non-treatment (waiting

list). Results indicated more favorable outcomes in

terms of reduced parental stress for participants in

group counseling. In contrast, no change in stress

was apparent for parents receiving individual coach-

ing, while scores for the control parents actually

increased with time. With regard to parental coping,

there were positive outcomes in both treatments, and

no change in the control group.

Of the individual and process variables, therapeu-

tic bonding increased with time only for parents who

attended group counseling, whereas perceived social

support increased in both treatment conditions.

Bonding appears to be the most frequent predictor

of outcomes, associated with reduced scores on

stress, as well as gains on positive and negative

parental coping. Social support predicted a reduc-

tion in parental stress and in negative responses

(coping). Finally, differences between the two treat-

ments were found in the therapeutic factors gleaned

from parents’ descriptions of critical incidents.

Figure 1. Distribution of the therapeutic factors by treatment condition (n �120). *p B.05, **p B .01, ***p B.001.

Treatment of parents 599


We expected positive outcomes following both

group counseling and individual coaching, based

on literature which suggests that any treatment is

better than no treatment at all (Flannery-Schroeder

& Kendall, 2000; Shechtman, 2004), as well as

research that has supported both types of treatment

(Boutin, 2007; Elksnin & Elksnin, 2000; Flaherty,

1999; Greenberg, Korman, & Paivio, 2001; Johnson

et al., 2005; Shechtman & Gilat, 2005). Differences

between treatments were not expected, based on

studies that compared individual and group inter-

ventions and found, overall, no difference between

them (Fuhriman & Burlingame, 1994; Hoag &

Burlingame, 1997; McRoberts et al., 1998;

Shechtman, 2004).

However, the results clearly indicate better out-

comes on parental stress reduction in group counsel-

ing. This is surprising, since each parent/couple

in individual coaching had a full hour for themselves

with experienced therapists, whereas in groups

they shared their therapy time with several other


We tend to attribute these results to the unique

population investigated in the current study and to

the group processes in the counseling sessions. All

participants were under high stress, dissatisfied with

their own functioning, and reacting impulsively to

their children’s difficulties. In individual coaching,

they took the role of the client who has problems and

needs guidance. In contrast, in group counseling,

they met people with similar difficulties. This sense

of universality in itself helps to reduce frustration

and sense of failure (Yalom & Leszcz, 2005). In the

group, they could identify with others, imitate

others’ behavior, and learn from the interpersonal

interaction (Burlingame, Fuhriman, & Johnson,

2004; Solomon, Pistrang, & Barker, 2001; Spiegel

& Classen, 2000). They could also compare their

difficulties with others, sometimes discovering their

own situation to be less extreme. But most important

might have been the interpersonal interaction in the

group, which naturally leads to altruistic behavior

and a sense that they could be helpful to others.

Indeed, the analysis of critical incidents indicates

that the therapeutic factors of relationships and

other- versus self-focus were more frequent in group

counseling than in individual therapy, supporting

our attribution of outcomes to the group processes.

Interestingly, although parents who received in-

dividual coaching had more time to self-disclose and

develop insight, the amount of self-disclosure and of

emotional awareness-insight was similar in the two

treatments. Thus, even though therapist time was

shared with others in group counseling, there were

nonetheless opportunities for self-exploration, and

the group processes may have encouraged the

development of insight. In short, it seems that in

group therapy there are processes that compensate

for the time factor. Based on these results, and

considering cost effectiveness, groups are highly

recommended to help parents of children with LD.

Process Variables and the Association with


Bonding appears the most frequent predictor in both

individual and group therapy. This is not surprising

considering the wealth of literature on its importance

(Bordin, 1980; Burlingame et al., 2004; Greenberg

& Paivio, 1997; Orth-Gomèr, 2009; Sherman et al.,

2004; Yalom & Leszcz, 2005), considering it ‘‘the

common factor’’ in therapy (Greenberg & Pinsof,

1987; Horvath, 2005). Interestingly, in group coun-

seling, the correlation between bonding with the

therapist and with group members is very high (over

.70), making it one factor. This raises the question as

to why participants do not differentiate between the

two. Do they consider the group as a whole? Does

their attitude to the therapist affect their feelings for

others in the group? These questions remain open,

but the importance of relationships stands out and

should be considered in training and supervising

therapists, as well as in their work.

Perceived social support increased with time and

was associated with reduced stress and reduced

negative coping responses. The increase of social

support may be a result of support provided by the

therapist in individual therapy and the therapist and

group members in group therapy. This in itself is an

important outcome, considering that social support

is a pretty stable construct, difficult to change. A

sense of social support is crucial to human beings in

many areas (Antonucci, Lansford, & Ajrouch, 2007;

Heiman, 2002; Hogan, Linden, & Najarian, 2002),

and knowing that it can be enhanced in therapy is

important. It is not surprising, then, that it reduced

stress. Being less stressed helps parents to respond

more positively to their children (Hanks et al., 2007;

Valentine, 1993).

Limitations and Contributions

The research has a number of limitations. First,

generalization of the results to other populations,

problems, or places is limited. Second, completely

random assignment of the population to the two

treatment conditions was impossible. It would be

clinically wrong to force clients to treatment condi-

tions that they resist, yet, we are aware that it is

possible that non-random assignment to conditions

600 M. Danino and Z. Shechtman

may have contributed to observed differences in

conditions. Third, the control group was relatively

small; while we could have waited longer and had

more parents on the waiting list, ethically we felt it

would be wrong not to address their needs as soon as

possible. Additionally, there was a low response of

parents in this group, because they don’t see any

benefits in completing the questionnaires; however,

this could potentially affect the results. Fourth,

parents in the control condition could not provide

feedback at follow-up because they were eager to

receive treatment, preventing them from receiving

treatment for another 6 more months was unethical.

Fifth, we did not study the impact of the intervention

on the children; such a line of investigation would

add validity to the results. Finally, research on

groups is usually performed in a nested analysis

due to the dependency of measures on the group.

However, because we compared treatment in groups

with individual treatment, such dependency could

not have been studied. Nevertheless, we did inves-

tigate only the group population in a nested way

which showed similar results.

Notwithstanding these limitations, the study is

important in several ways. First, it deals with a

population in need (parents of children with LD)

whose problems are rarely addressed. Second, the

treatment offered deviates from the common educa-

tional guidance or training programs. It focuses on

the parent’s emotions, encourages the release of

stress, and takes the focus away from the child as

the ‘‘identified patient,’’ directing it at the parent.

Instead of teaching skills, we help parents to develop

insight into their own behavior and as a result change

their interaction with their child. Third, the study

compared two types of treatment. Our finding that

group counseling is more effective than individual

coaching on reducing parental stress has a practical

consideration of considering the more effective

treatment. In addition, group counseling appears

more effective in terms of cost effectiveness. More

studies are needed to explore the full spectrum of

assistance available to parents who are in great need

for help.


Abidin, R.R. (1995). The Parenting Stress Index*Short Form.

Charlottesville, VA: Pediatric Psychology Press.

Adelizzi, J.U., & Goss, D.B. (2001). Parenting children with learning

disabilities. Westport, CT & London: Bergin & Garvey.

Al-Yagon, M. (2007). Socio-emotional and behavioral adjustment

among school-age children with learning disabilities: The

moderating role of maternal personal resources. Journal of

Special Education, 40, 205�218.

Antonucci, T.C., Lansford, J.E., & Ajrouch, K.J. (2007). Social

support. In G. Fink, B. McEwen, E.R.D. Kloet, R. Rubin,

G. Chrousos, A. Steptoe, et al. (Eds.), Encyclopedia of stress

(pp. 539�542). Amsterdam: Elsevier.

Baker-Ericzen, M.J., Brookman-Frazee, L., & Stahmer, A.

(2005). Stress levels and adaptability in parents of toddlers

with and without Autism Spectrum Disorders. Research &

Practice for Persons with Severe Disabilities, 30(4), 194�204.

Bandura, A., Barbaranelli, C., Caprara, G.V., & Pastorelli, C.

(1996). Multifaceted impact of self-efficacy beliefs on academic

functioning. Child Development, 67, 1206�1222.

Barkley, R.A. (1997). ADHD and the nature of self-control.

New York: Guilford.

Barkley, R.A., Fischer, M., Edelbrock, C., & Smallish, L. (1991).

The adolescent outcome of hyperactive children diagnosed by

research criteria: 3. Mother-child interactions, family conflicts

and maternal psychopathology. Journal of Child Psychology and

Psychiatry and Allied Disciplines, 32, 233�255.

Barkley, R.A., Guevremont, D.C., Anastopoulos, A.D., &

Fletcher, K.E. (1992). A comparison of three family therapy

programs for treating family conflicts in adolescents with

Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. Journal of Consulting

and Clinical Psychology, 60, 450�462.

Bordin, E.S. (1980). Of human bonds that bind or free.

Presidential address delivered at the meeting of the Society

for Psychotherapy Research, Pacific Grove, CA.

Boutin, D.L. (2007). Effectiveness of cognitive behavioral and

supportive-expressive group therapy for women diagnosed with

breast cancer: A review of the literature. The Journal for

Specialists in Group Work, 32, 267�284.

Brannan, A.M., Heflinger, C.A., & Bickman, L. (1997). The

Caregiver Strain Questionnaire: Measuring the impact on the

family of living with a child with serious emotional disturbance.

Journal of Emotional and Behavioral Disorders, 5, 212�222.

Burlingame, G.M., Earnshaw, D., Ridge, N.W., Matsumo, J.,

Bulkley, C., Lee, J., & Hwang, A.D. (2007). Psycho-

educational group treatment for the severely and persistently

mentally ill: How much leader training is necessary?

International Journal of Group Psychotherapy, 57, 187�218.

Burlingame, G.M., Fuhriman, A.J., & Johnson, J. (2004). Process

and outcome in group counseling and psychotherapy: A

perspective. In J.L. DeLucia-Waack, D.A. Gerrity, C.R.

Kalodner, & M.T. Riva (Eds.), Handbook of group counseling

and psychotherapy (pp. 49�61). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Cheung, S.K., & Sun, S.Y.K. (2001). Helping processes in a

mutual aid organization for persons with emotional distur-

bance. International Journal of Group Psychotherapy, 51,


Cutrona, C., & Russel, D. (1987). The provisions of social

relationships and adaptation to stress. In W.H. Jones &

D. Perlman (Eds.), Advances in Personal Relationships, 1, 37�67.

Eisenberg, N., & Fabes, R.A. (1994). Mothers’ reactions to

children’s negative emotions: Relations to children’s tempera-

ment and anger behavior. Merrill-Palmer Quarterly, 40,


Eisenberg, N., Fabes, R.A., & Murphy, B.C. (1996). Parents’

reactions to children’s negative emotions: Relations to

children’s social competence and comforting behavior. Child

Development, 67, 2227�2247.

Elksnin, L.K., & Elksnin, N. (2000). Teaching parents to teach

their children to be prosocial. Intervention in School and Clinic,

36, 27�34.

Fabes, R.A., Eisenberg, N., & Bernzweig, J. (1990). The Coping

with Children’s Negative Emotions Scale. Unpublished docu-

ment available from the first author, Tempe, AZ: Arizona State


Feldman, F.A., & Werner, S.E. (2002). Collateral effects of

behavioral parent training on families of children with

Treatment of parents 601

developmental disabilities and behavior disorders. Behavioral

Interventions, 17, 75�83.

Flaherty, J. (1999). Coaching: Evoking excellence in others. Boston,

MA: Butterworth-Heinemann.

Flannery-Schroeder, E.C., & Kendall, P.C. (2000). Group and

individual cognitive-behavioral treatments for youth with

anxiety disorders: A randomized clinical trial. Cognitive Therapy

and Research, 24, 251�278.

Fuhriman, A., & Burlingame, G.M. (1990). Consistency of

matter: A comparative analysis of individual and group process

variables. The Counseling Psychologist, 18, 60�63.

Fuhriman, A., & Burlingame, G.M. (1994). Group psy-

chotherapy: Research and practice. In A. Fuhriman &

G.M. Burlingame (Eds.), Handbook of group psychotherapy

(pp. 3�40). New York: Wiley.

Greenberg, L.S., Korman, L.M., & Paivio, S.C. (2001). Emotion in

humanistic therapy. In D.J. Cain & J. Seeman (Eds.), Humanistic

psychotherapies: Handbook of research and practice (pp. 499�530).

Washington DC: American Psychology Association.

Greenberg, L.S., & Paivio, S.C. (1997). Working with the emotions

in psychotherapy. New York: Guilford Press.

Greenberg, L.S., & Pinsof, W.M. (Eds.) (1987). The psychother-

apeutic process: A research handbook. New York: Guilford Press.

Hanks, R.A., Rapport, L.J., & Vangel, S. (2007). Caregiving

appraisal after traumatic brain injury: The effects of functional

status, coping style, social support and family functioning.

NeuroRehabilitation, 22, 43�52.

Harel, Y., Shechtman, Z., & Cutrona, C. (2011). Individual and

group processes that affect actual support in the group. Group

Dynamics: Theory, Research, and Practice, 15, 297�310.

Heiman, T. (2002). Parents of children with disabilities: Resi-

lience, coping and future expectations. Journal of Developmental

and Physical Disabilities, 14, 159�171.

Hill, C.E. (2005). Therapist techniques, client involvement, and

the therapeutic relationship: Inextricably intertwined in the

therapy process. Psychotherapy: Theory, Research, Practice,

Training, 42, 431�442.

Hoag, M.J., & Burlingame, G.M. (1997). Child and adolescent

group psychotherapy: A narrative review of effectiveness and

the case for meta-analysis. Journal of Child & Adolescent Group

Therapy, 7, 51�68.

Hogan, B.E., Linden, W., & Najarian, B. (2002). Social support

interventions: Do they work? Clinical Psychology Review, 22,


Holmes, S.E., & Kivlighan, D.M. (2000). Comparison of

therapeutic factors in group and individual treatment pro-

cesses. Journal of Counseling Psychology, 47, 478�484.

Horvath, A.O. (2005). The therapeutic relationship: Research

and theory. An introduction to the Special Issue. Psychotherapy

Research, 15, 3�7.

Horvath, A.O., & Greenberg, L.S. (1989). Development and

validation of the Working Alliance Inventory. Journal of

Counseling Psychology, 36, 223�233.

Johnson, J.E., Burlingame, G.M., Olsen, J.A., Davies, D.R., &

Gleave, R.L. (2005). Group climate, cohesion, alliance,

and empathy in group psychotherapy: Multilevel structural

equation models. Journal of Counseling Psychology, 52,


Kivlighan, D.M., & Holmes, S.E. (2004). The importance

of therapeutic factors. In J.L. DeLucia-Waack, D.A. Gerrity,

C.R. Kalodner, & M.T. Riva (Eds.), Handbook of group

counseling and psychotherapy (pp. 23�36). Thousand Oaks,

CA: Sage.

Kivlighan, D.M. Jr., Multon, K.D., & Brossart, D.F. (1996).

Helpful impacts in group counseling: Development of a

multidimensional rating system. Journal of Counseling

Psychology, 43, 347�355.

Koegel, R.L., Bimbela, A., & Schreibman, L. (1996). Collateral

effects of parent training on family interactions. Journal of

Autism & Developmental Disorders, 26, 347�359.

Leichtentritt, J., & Shechtman, Z. (2009). Children with and

without learning disabilities: A comparison of processes and

outcomes following group counseling. Journal of Learning

Disabilities, 43, 169�179.

Lieberman, M.A., & Golant, M. (2002). Leader behavior as

perceived by cancer patients in professionally directed support

groups and outcomes. Group Dynamics: Theory, Research, and

Practice, 6, 267�276.

McPhail, J.C., & Stone, C.A. (1995). The self-concept of

adolescents with learning disabilities: A review of the literature

and a call for theoretical elaboration. In T.E. Scruggs & M.A.

Mastropieri (Eds.), Advances in learning and behavior disorders

Vol. 9, (pp. 193�226). Greenwich, CT: JAI Press.

McRoberts, C., Burlingame, G.M., & Hoag, M.J. (1998).

Comparative efficacy of individual and group psychotherapy:

A meta-analytic perspective. Group Dynamics: Theory, Research,

and Practice, 2, 101�117.

Michaels, C.R., & Lewandowski, L.J. (1990). Psychological

adjustment and family functioning of boys with learning

disabilities. Journal of Learning Disabilities, 23, 446�450.

Moran, G., Pederson, D.R., Pettit, P., & Krupka, A. (1992).

Maternal sensitivity and infant-mother attachment in a devel-

opmentally delayed sample. Infant Behavior and Development,

15, 427�442.

Morrison, G.M., & Cosden, M.A. (1997). Risk, resilience, and

adjustment of individuals with learning disabilities. Learning

Disability Quarterly, 20, 43�60.

Nixon, C.D., & Singer, G.H. (1993). Group cognitive behavioral

treatment for excessive parental self-blame and guilt. American

Journal of Mental Retardation, 97, 665�672.

Orth-Gomèr, K. (2009). Are social relations less health protective

in women than in men? Social relations, gender, and cardio-

vascular health. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 26,


Piper, W.E., Ogrodniczuk, J.S., Lamarche, C., Hilscher, T., &

Joyce, A.S. (2005). Level of alliance, pattern of alliance, and

outcomes in short-term group therapy. International Journal of

Group Psychotherapy, 55, 527�550.

Shechtman, Z. (2004). Client behavior and therapist helping skills

in individual and group treatment of aggressive boys. Journal of

Counseling Psychology, 51, 463�472.

Shechtman, Z. (2007). Group counseling and psychotherapy with

children and adolescents. Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.

Shechtman, Z., & Birani-Nasaraladin, D. (2006). Treating

mothers of aggressive children: A research study. International

Journal of Group Psychotherapy, 56, 93�112.

Shechtman, Z., & Gilat, I. (2005). The effectiveness of counseling

groups in reducing stress of parents of children with learning

disabilities. Group Dynamics: Theory, Research, and Practice, 9,


Sherman, A.C., Mosier, J., Leszcz, M., Burlingame, G.M.,

Ulman, K., Cleary, T., Simonton, S., Latif, U., Hazelton, L.,

& Strauss, B. (2004). Group interventions with cancer and HIV

disease: Part III. Moderating variables and mechanisms of

action. International Journal of Group Psychotherapy, 54(3),


Smith, G.C., Majeski, S.R., & McClenny, B. (1996). Psychoe-

ducational support groups for aging parents: Development and

preliminary outcomes. Mental Retardation, 34, 172�181.

Solomon, M., Pistrang, N., & Barker, C. (2001). The benefits of

mutual support groups for parents of children with disabilities.

American Journal of Community Psychology, 29, 113�132.

Spekman, N.J., Goldberg, R.J., & Herman, K.L. (1992). Learn-

ing disabled children grow up: A search for factors related to

602 M. Danino and Z. Shechtman

success in the young adult years. Learning Disabilities Research

& Practice, 7, 161�170.

Spiegel, D., & Classen, C. (2000). Group therapy for cancer

patients. New York: Basic Books.

Stone, C.A. (1997). Correspondences among parent, teacher, and

student perceptions of adolescents’ learning disabilities. Journal

of Learning Disabilities, 30, 660�669.

Toren, Z., & Shechtman, Z. (2011). The association of individual,

process, and outcome variables in group counseling: A struc-

tural equation modeling analysis. Group Dynamics: Theory,

Research and Practice, 14, 292�303.

Turnbull, A.P., & Turnbull III, R. (1986). Families, professionals

and exceptionality: A special partnership. Columbus, OH: Merrill.

Turnbull, M., Hart, D., & Lapkin, S. (2003). Grade 6 French

immersion students’ performance on large-scale Reading,

Writing and Mathematics tests: Building explanations. Alberta

Journal of Educational Research, 49, 6�23.

Valentine, D.P. (1993). Children with special needs: Sources of

support and stress for families. Journal of Social Work and

Human Sexuality, 8, 107�127.

Veisson, M. (1999). Depression symptoms and emotional states in

parents of disabled and non-disabled children. Social Behavior

and Personality, 27, 87�97.

Webster-Stratton, C. (1984). Randomized trial of two parent

training programs for families with conduct-disordered

children. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 52,


Webster-Stratton, C. (1985). Predictors of treatment outcome in

parent training for conduct disordered children. Behavior

Therapy, 16, 223�243.

Yalom, I., & Leszcz, M. (2005).The theory and practice of group

psychotherapy (5th ed.). New York: Basic Books.

Treatment of parents 603

Copyright of Psychotherapy Research is the property of Routledge and its content may not be copied or emailed

to multiple sites or posted to a listserv without the copyright holder's express written permission. However,

users may print, download, or email articles for individual use.


Chatraw, J. D., & Prior, K. S. (2019). Cultural Engagement. HarperCollins Christian.  https://mbsdirect.vitalsource.com/books/9780310534587

chapter ten


We need not look any further than Genesis 1 to understand that Christians are called to work; it’s part of God’s original design. Genesis 1:28 tells us, “God blessed them and said to them, ‘Be fruitful and increase in number, fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.’ ” Before the fall, before work became toil, Adam and Eve labored side by side caring for and cultivating the garden as loving and joyful stewards.

Accepting work as an essential part of the Christian calling, however, does not make understanding the Christian’s relationship to work any simpler outside of the garden. Work, and the Christian relationship to work, like everything, is distorted by the fall. Genesis 2:15 reads, “The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and take care of it.” After the fall, God tells Adam that the gift he was originally given—the gift of a plentiful garden and good work—has now been replaced by, as Genesis 3:17–19 says, “painful toil,” “thorns and thistles,” and “the sweat of your brow.” The labor of the woman—her work in childbearing—will also be accompanied by pain and suffering (Gen. 3:16). Work was initially a fruitful gift, but is now a source of “painful toil” (v. 17).

Since work was part of God’s initial design and plan, it also falls under God’s ongoing plan for humankind. Work is harder after the fall, but it is still good. This idea of the inherent goodness of work is at odds with the classical notion expressed in the Latin word for work (negotium), which comes to English as our word negotiate. The word negotiate in Latin means the negation or removal of otium or work, which is to say leisure. In this understanding, work is not a positive endeavor, but rather the negation of a positive state. This connotation emphasizes even further the idea of work itself as a curse rather than a blessing. Indeed, in the ancient world, leisure was a privilege of the elite, and labor was the obligation of the masses.

When Jesus chose his disciples, he called them to leave their earthly work in order to follow him, what contemporary Christians term “full-time ministry.” However, the apostle Paul offered an example of a minister who engaged in secular work, tent making, in order to support his mission of advancing the gospel and building the church. In later centuries, the early church carved out a class of people whose work required retreat from the world to a monastic life where copying manuscripts, praying and worshiping regularly, and studying Scripture formed their labor. (The word “liturgy,” in fact, means “the work of the people.” Thus worship should be understood as a kind of work.)

Martin Luther radically critiqued the medieval division between work in and for the church and work outside the church (sacred and secular) with his doctrine of vocation. Before the Reformation, the idea of vocation (or calling) was limited to holy vocations or callings: one was called out of the secular world and into the ministry. But Luther and other Reformers sought to recover a biblical view that understands all morally and biblically licit work as a way to fulfill every Christian’s calling to love God and serve neighbors.1

Today some Christians pursue vocations within the ministry where they find their financial and physical needs being met as servants within the church. But most Christians pursue vocations outside of the church as bankers, teachers, electricians, plumbers, lawyers, and other lay positions, and this is where the tension arises. It is not difficult to see how the pastor of the local church serves the kingdom of God through his work. However, it can be difficult for the electrician, for example, to see how his work wiring a new house is, in and of itself, kingdom work. Luther’s doctrine of vocation has yet to take hold in some contemporary thinking about work.

Lesslie Newbigin’s description of the dualism that exists in post-Enlightenment society, written over twenty-five years ago, is still, in large measure, accurate: “It is assumed that there are statements of what is called ‘fact’ which have been—as we say—scientifically proved; to assert these is not arrogance. But statements about human nature and destiny cannot be proved. To assert them as fact is inadmissible.”2 Though the rise of “alternative facts” to persuade is an interesting political and public relations phenomenon, the distinction between “facts” and “values” is typically assumed. The public sphere operates with what is assumed to be “objective, scientific facts” and includes arenas such as the school, the workplace, and the marketplace. The private sphere, by contrast, is built on personal preferences and values, and includes the home, places of worship, and personal relationships. In light of this sharp division between the public and private spheres, many Christians live as divided people, expressing their Christian faith within the private sphere among close friends, family, and fellow Christians, but separate their Christian identity from their occupational identity, creating a divided self. Thus, while Christian worship is fervent on Sunday, it might go dormant from 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Monday through Friday because, according to cultural pressures, it belongs to the private sphere.

The challenge, then, for Christians is to understand their work to be holistically connected to their membership in the kingdom of God, as the “very thing through which I could be the salt and light Jesus called me to be.”3 Dorothy Sayers explains,

In nothing has the Church so lost Her hold on reality as in Her failure to understand and respect the secular vocation. She has allowed work and religion to become separate departments, and is astonished to find that, as a result, the secular works is turned to purely selfish and destructive ends, and that the greater part of the world’s intelligent workers have become irreligious, or at least, uninterested in religion. But is it astonishing? How can anyone remain interested in a religion that seems to have no concern with nine-tenths of his life? The Church’s approach to an intelligent carpenter is usually confined to exhorting him not to be drunk and disorderly on Sundays. What the Church should be telling him is this: that the very first demand that his religion makes upon him is that he should make good tables.4

The work of the Christian is holy because God has made the Christian holy. Thus, when the Christian works in her vocation, she is reflecting the glory of God to the onlooking world through her work. How the Christian does her work reflects as much on her Christian faith as does her worship on Sunday, perhaps even more so.

In the first essay related to work, Alex Chediak applies a gospel-centered lens to examine how Christians should engage in the secular workplace, arguing that how Christians work is as important for displaying the power of the gospel as what they work at. Placing a different—though not contrary—emphasis on the topic, Jeremy Treat reframes the way Christians ought to think about work by examining three foundational shifts Christians need to make to develop a biblical theology of work. Ultimately, Treat encourages Christians to think about work vocationally, communally, and holistically.

Darrell Bock’s essay provides a short biblical theology of wealth and then reflects on the moral wisdom this should bring on today’s complex and diverse economic situations, calling Christians to pursue justice through intangible ways. Building from the premise that money itself is neutral but the way we manage it is not, Matthew Loftus approaches the issue of global economics by encouraging personal responsibility and stewardship while also exhorting Christians of all economic backgrounds to strive for humility, generosity, justice, and compassion in the way we manage our personal finances and structure our economic systems.

In closing, Kayla Snow sets our understanding of work within the framework of the creation narrative, arguing that the rhythm of work and rest is an essential element of the created order that God has designed for humankind so that we may worship and enjoy him.


Alex Chediak

The 1999 film The Big Kahuna, starring Kevin Spacey and Danny DeVito, features a fascinating juxtaposition between work and evangelism. The movie is about a team of three salesmen for an industrial lubricant company who are dispatched to a manufacturers’ convention in Wichita, Kansas. The salesmen host a cocktail party to interact with potential clients. The men are particularly hoping to land a deal with Indiana’s largest manufacturer—“The big kahuna.” They fail because one of the salesmen, Bob, is so busy sharing his faith with the big kahuna that he fails to promote his company’s product. The movie features a lengthy dialogue in which Bob’s colleagues reprimand him for his misplaced priorities.

For Christians, the movie teases out a question that nags many of us who work primarily with non-Christians (as I did before entering Christian higher education): Were Bob’s priorities misplaced? After all, isn’t the big kahuna’s soul more important than which industrial lubricant he purchases? To put it crassly, shouldn’t we pursue soul-winning to justify the necessary evil of “non-Christian” employment? After all, aside from our need for money, why else has God given us our jobs?

A False Dichotomy

The questions I’ve just raised play upon a common but false dichotomy. It’s not either-or but both-and. Both work and evangelism matter. But how should Christians respond when doing one seems to come at the expense of doing the other?

Mercifully, the Bible frees us from the anxiety of having to evangelize 24-7. It does so by teaching us that our work—providing any lawful (nonsinful) product or service useful to others—has intrinsic value quite apart from whether we win souls. Our work has value because it’s assigned to us ultimately by God, flowing from the cultural mandate—the task God gave our first parents to exercise responsible dominion over the created order. It’s an important part of our spiritual worship (see Rom. 12:1; Heb. 13:15–16). It’s an important part of how we love our neighbors as ourselves, because in doing our jobs with excellence and integrity—as bakers, mechanics, lawyers, doctors, professors, and so on—we’re serving others in specific ways, using the unique talents that God has entrusted to us. Our work is to be done heartily, unto the Lord (Col. 3:23–24), because in serving others, we’re ultimately serving God. As Gustav Wingren said, “God does not need our good works, but our neighbor does.”1 In fact, our work-related activities not only help others, but they also help us in the sense that work (generally) allows us to put food on our table, a roof over our head, and clothes on our back—lest we become a burden to others (see 2 Thess. 3:6–12). Far from being a necessary evil, work is a necessary good.2

Okay, but how does our work relate to the advance of the gospel? If I work hard as a teacher, banker, plumber, or whatever, at the end of the day my colleagues and customers still need Jesus, right? Yes. But our work advances the rule and reign of Christ in at least three ways: It provides evidence for the gospel, wins an audience for the gospel, and adorns the gospel. Let’s take these in order.

Our Work Provides Evidence for the Gospel

Ephesians 2:8–9 is a well-known passage, reminding us that our salvation is by grace through faith apart from our works. Less well-known is the following verse: “For we are [God’s] workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (v. 10 NKJV). While we aren’t saved by our good works, we are saved for good works. Our employment is to be a theater in which we give ourselves to good works. The way we do our jobs should give evidence to the world that the gospel is transforming us from being self-centered to being God- and others-centered.

We have to be careful here: It’s possible to be an excellent employee and be pervasively self-centered. That’s obviously not what we’re after. We come at it the other way: Because the Holy Spirit is transforming us into being increasingly God- and others-centered, we will invariably (as a by-product) become better employees in whatever our vocation may be. Why? Because the grace of God teaches us to work heartily unto the Lord (Col. 3:23), to be industrious (Eph. 4:28), and “eager to do what is good” (Titus 2:14).

Others may exceed us in skill or commitment. After all, the gospel doesn’t just make us better workers, but also better spouses, parents, and citizens. So our professional commitments will be tempered by our personal commitments. We don’t idolize our jobs, even if our boss or coworkers do. Still, our good works—on and off the job—will give evidence that we’ve experienced God’s grace.

I’m reminded of a scene in the great World War II film To End All Wars. Japanese guards catch a group of Allied POWs with Bibles. The guards are furious and threaten to confiscate the Bibles. An allied POW pleads with the Japanese to let the POWs keep them. His line of reasoning is that “this book makes us better slaves to your emperor.” That’s exactly right: Christianity makes us better slaves, and (by extension) better employees. And being better employees wins an audience for the gospel.

Our Work Wins an Audience for the Gospel

There’s truth in the oft-quoted phrase, “Nobody cares what you know until they know that you care.” We learn best, and are influenced more, in the context of a personal relationship. That’s probably more applicable today than in previous times for two reasons. One, ours is a day of information overload. We get our information from sources that have earned our trust. We block out the millions of other voices. Two, the default belief on the part of most non-Christians is that whatever you believe, at best, is true for you but nonbinding for them. So how do we win an audience for the gospel in this crowded, postmodern milieu?

We spend a large portion of our waking hours in the workplace. The way we do our jobs, and the attitude and demeanor we display to colleagues in the workplace, will either win us the right to be heard on matters of faith—or lose it. The quality of Esther’s and Mordecai’s lives gave them extraordinary influence with King Ahasuerus. In 1 Peter 3:1–2 wives are told that their unbelieving husbands can be “won over without words by the behavior of their wives, when they see the purity and reverence of your lives.” Similarly, if our coworkers and customers see that our lives are characterized by integrity, compassion, and genuine tolerance toward the irreligious and nonreligious, it buys us the moral voice to give a reason for the hope that is in us (1 Peter 3:15)—and be heard.

Our Work Adorns the Gospel

When others do not yet know we’re Christians, our work can win an audience—or prepare the way—for the gospel. When people do know we’re Christians, our work, done well, adorns the gospel (see Titus 2:10). Adornments beautify. We adorn Christmas trees because that makes them nicer to look at. If our work is done well, and heartily—with a cheerful attitude—it makes the gospel look more beautiful.

To be clear: Our work cannot make the gospel more beautiful. It doesn’t add to the gospel. The gospel is the good news that God has accomplished salvation for sinners by sending his Son Jesus to live a perfect life and to be a perfect sin-bearing substitute, dying to accomplish salvation for everyone who believes and calls upon his name (see John 3:16; Rom. 6:23; 10:13). This is the best news on planet Earth, and our works cannot possibly make it any better.

Our work can, however, make this good news seem sweeter to other people. If we do our work with diligence, punctuality, professionalism, and integrity, and others know we’re Christians, it makes it easier for them to believe in Jesus. If we’re sloppy and inattentive to our work, it makes it harder for them to believe in Jesus. The quality of the gospel is not at stake. Its attractiveness is.

Dr. Alex Chediak (PhD, UC Berkeley) is a professor at California Baptist University. He’s the author of Thriving at College, a roadmap for how students can best navigate their college years. He’s also written Beating the College Debt Trap.


Jeremy Treat

If a person went to church every Sunday from the age of twenty-five to sixty-five, he or she would spend around 3,000 hours gathered with the body of Christ. If the same person worked full time during that span, they would put in around 80,000 work hours. The point is simple: the workplace, not the sanctuary, is the primary place where most Christians will live out their faith.

How, then, does faith inform work? For many, Christ’s influence is relegated to the pew and doesn’t extend into other compartments of life, such as work. For others, the way to apply faith to work is simply to share the gospel in the office or make loads of money that can be given to ministry and missions. According to this view, God cares about someone’s work only if it is used for explicitly evangelistic purposes.

The Scriptures, however, paint a different portrait of work and its place in the life of God’s people. Learning and embodying the biblical vision for work will require three key shifts from the typical view of work.

Shift 1: From Occupation to Vocation

An occupation takes up time. A career is a way to build a personal kingdom. A job can make money. A vocation, however, is a calling from God (the word “vocation” comes from the Latin vocare, which means “to call”). That’s what work is, a calling from God to use your gifts and talents to serve others and glorify God. Many assume that a “calling” to work is reserved for only pastors and missionaries—those called to “the Lord’s work.” In Scripture, however, God calls people to a variety of types of work, including what are often considered secular jobs. When God wanted to bring Jerusalem from ruin to restoration, he called not only Ezra the priest but also Nehemiah the urban planner and Zerubbabel the politician.

Humanity is called to work because we were created to work. In Genesis 1, God tells Adam and Eve to “be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over . . .” (Gen. 1:28). This creation mandate is about more than making babies—it’s a command to make a culture. The earth was created good, but it was not complete; it had potential built into it. The commands to “subdue” and “rule over” are not calls to coercive oppression but rather to responsible stewardship. God has entrusted his image-bearers with the responsibility of cultivating and caring for his good creation.

In Genesis 2 the creation mandate is further clarified through a practical example: gardening. God places Adam in the garden, and rather than giving him a hammock, he gives him a job description: “work it and take care of” the garden (Gen. 2:15). Take note: work is a part of God’s good design for creation; it is not a result of the fall. God is asking Adam to take the raw materials of the earth (dirt, seed, and water) and cultivate them for the good of creation. Gardening in this case is a prototype for all work. Electricians take the raw material of electricity and work it in such a way that it is a blessing to others. Musicians take the raw material of sound and bring order from chaos to offer something that is pleasing to God and beneficial to others. Writers take the raw materials of words and craft them in a way that brings more sense and beauty to life.1

Unfortunately, many Christians today think work has only instrumental value, meaning that work matters to God if it is used as an instrument for spiritual purposes such as evangelism or mission. But if work is a calling from God to cultivate and care for his creation, then all forms of work have intrinsic value (unless, of course, they violate God’s moral commands). A woodworker who makes kitchen tables can trust that his work is glorifying to God because it offers a service that helps society flourish. He doesn’t have to share the gospel with coworkers or customers (although evangelism is great too), nor does he have to inscribe Bible verses on the side of the table. In making tables, he is fulfilling his calling to use his gifts to develop God’s creation for the good of others. The same could be said of teachers, business people, nurses, artists, and so on. The value of nonchurch work can be seen clearly throughout Scripture. Joseph worked in government. Boaz was a businessman. Lydia sold fine linens. God cares about it all.

Shift 2: From Personal Gain to the Common Good

Humanity is created to work and called to work, but because of sin, there are thorns in our vocational gardens that make it difficult to bear fruit (Gen. 3:17–18). In a fallen world, work is often used not to honor God and serve others but as a way to use others and make a name for ourselves.

There is good news! God’s grace in Christ not only removes sin; it also restores God’s design for creation, including the role of work. This gives a gospel perspective on work, which is different from just talking about the gospel at work. The good news of Jesus shapes our work not by momentarily looking at the gospel, but by always looking through the gospel.

The gospel frees us from trying to prove or define ourselves through work. If we are justified by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone, then we work not for the approval of others but from the approval of God. This is difficult in an accomplishment-driven society, where we are defined by our achievements and constantly asked the question: “What do you do?” For those who are “in Christ,” our identity is not based on our performance, but on God’s grace. When work no longer bears the burden of the way I build my identity or prove my worth, then work can be received as the gift it was intended to be. The gospel frees work from the shackles of selfish ambition and sets it on the path of seeking the flourishing of our cities.

“The essential modern heresy,” said Dorothy Sayers, “is that work is not the expression of man’s creative energy in the service of Society, but only something one does in order to obtain money and leisure.”2 In fact, work is one of the primary ways one will love one’s neighbor, both personally (in interaction with coworkers) and societally (in the way a company contributes to society). The goal of work is not merely profit, fame, or satisfaction. Work is not meant for your own personal advancement, but for the good of others and the flourishing of society.

Shift 3: From a Narrow to a Holistic View of God’s Work

Many people think of God’s work in the world only in terms of spiritual salvation. The story of Scripture, however, is not one of God plucking souls from a fallen creation, but God saving people as a part of his renewal of creation. God is constantly at work in sustaining and renewing the world. He does most of his work through us, and often he works through our work.

Psalm 136:25, for example, says God “gives food to every creature.” But how does he feed them? God doesn’t usually just snap his fingers and make food appear on a plate. Rather, he feeds people through the farmer, the truck driver, the grocer, the cook, and the server. As Martin Luther says, “God could easily give you grain and fruit without your plowing and planting, but he does not want to do so.”3 God is milking the cow through the vocation of the milkmaid, as Luther argued.

According to Amy Sherman, there are a variety of ways that God is at work in the world, and the myriad of human vocations give expression to the different aspects of God’s work.4

Redemptive Work: God’s Saving and Reconciling Actions




Creative Work: God’s Fashioning of the Physical and Human World





Interior designers

Providential Work: God’s Provision for and Sustaining of Humans and the Creation




Justice Work: God’s Maintenance of Justice



Law enforcement

Compassionate Work: God’s Involvement in Comforting, Healing, Guiding, and Shepherding





Social workers

Revelatory Work: God’s Work to Enlighten with Truth




How might one discover their specific calling within God’s holistic work? A good place to start is by pondering the words of Frederick Buechner: “The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.”5 Whatever you do, whether a bishop or barista, do it for the glory of God (Col. 3:23).

As a practical tip, remember: “Christian” is a better noun than it is adjective. There is no such thing as “Christian coffee,” even if it’s served in a café called “Grounded in Christ” or “Bean Redeemed.” There are Christians, and some of them make good coffee and some make terrible coffee. The same is true for filmmakers, musicians, nurses, dentists, and so on. If you have put your faith in Christ, you are a Christian, and you are called to be a good steward of whatever the Lord has entrusted to you vocationally, whether a coffee bean or an electric guitar.

God cares about it all. He is sustaining and saving his creation. When work is understood within this story, people will want to be lawyers because they care about justice (not social status), doctors because they care about health (not wealth), business men and women because they care about people (not profit), and artists because they value beauty (not celebrity). The biblical view of vocation will not only bring meaning to our jobs in this lifetime, but it will shape our eternity as we use our gifts and talents to glorify God and serve others in the New Jerusalem forever.


The Bible and Economics

Darrell Bock

Money as a resource is an important part of human life. The famous song in Cabaret says it rather baldly with its lyric that “money makes the world go around.” The use and abuse of money is a major topic of Scripture, and it is all too easy to discuss the topic by making money all good or bad. In fact, like any resource, money can be used well or poorly. It is something to steward. Scripture sees one with resources as possessing a blessed potential source of strength (Prov. 10:15). It also decries the love of money as the root of all sorts of evil (1 Tim. 6:10). So balance is needed in thinking through how money and stewardship go together. As the text suggests, the issue is not the resource, but how we handle and view it.

The Individual and Money

The personal freedom to accumulate wealth is an important concern. Biblical values address both our freedom to accumulate wealth and our obligation to help others.

Wealth properly used is seen as a blessing. Ecclesiastes 5:19 says, “When God gives someone wealth and possessions, and the ability to enjoy them, to accept their lot and be happy in their toil—this is a gift of God.”

Proper use of wealth includes the need to provide for one’s family—food, shelter, clothing. Other issues tied to human well-being and respect for people made in God’s image include health care and other core needs of life—which in the modern world might include education to further equip oneself to contribute to society. This is part and parcel of stewarding the earth well (Gen. 1:26–28). The goal is that we not be a drain on society, but that we do our part in serving our community (2 Thess. 3:8). Society has a responsibility to help people become so equipped.

Wealth and wisdom combined serve society and contribute to its well-being—often through creatively providing services that help others function more efficiently in their lives.

Biblical passages like the ones cited above led many to define the Protestant work ethic as a hard day’s work for a solid wage.1 As we see from these biblical texts, the pursuit of riches is not a bad thing, but is tied to the pursuit of labor that serves others and manages creation well. Resources are a blessing when they are used well and when they are used to benefit our families and others in our society.

Yet Scripture also warns about the risks of wealth and its need to be managed. First, riches can all too easily produce a false sense of confidence and security. Proverbs 11:28 says, “Those who trust in their riches will fall, but the righteous will thrive like a green leaf.” Another danger of wealth is that it can produce a dangerous kind of self-indulgence. Proverbs 21:17 notes, “Whoever loves pleasure will become poor; whoever loves wine and olive oil will never be rich.” Further, wealth is sometimes gained by taking advantage of others. Proverbs 22:16 observes, “One who oppresses the poor to increase his wealth and one who gives gifts to the rich—both come to poverty.” This passage condemns not wealth itself but wealth gained by evil means. Both oppressing the poor and cowering to the rich lead to poverty.

The prophets too warn against gaining wealth at the expense of others. One such text is Jeremiah 5:27: “Like cages full of birds, their houses are full of deceit; they have become rich and powerful.”

Jesus also discussed the topic. In Luke 12:15–21, Jesus tells a parable about a rich farmer who, when his crops increased even more, did not consider, and deliberately avoided, giving to others—even building bigger barns to contain all his crops. But because he kept all for himself, God took away his life. The man’s riches led to a sense of self-sufficiency that drove him away from God. Jesus was calling that sin an affront to God.

Corporate Economics

Reflection on wealth and poverty has a rich legacy, extending back to before the Reformation.2 Yet there is little in Scripture or writing from the premodern church that directly addresses corporate economics. This is because most ancient monetary life was built around agriculture, fishing, or skilled labor. Capital development was minimal, as technological innovation was sporadic at best. Service industries were mostly subsumed under forms of slavery and did not contribute to a developing economy. An economy based on expansion and sharing of resources was nearly impossible in this structure. Such an economy depended on significant technological advances which didn’t emerge until the medieval period and then intensified with the Industrial Revolution. These advances and their impact continue today and make for many economic possibilities.

The most important discussion about large businesses concerns how we relate to each other as people.3 On the one hand, large businesses often depersonalize individuals in the pursuit of profit. And those who are the most responsible for personal injustice can hide behind managerial layers or the size of the operation, not to mention how sheer logistics can complicate effective, humane service. Yet, on the other hand, an effective economic system or business can provide society with several benefits.4

Christian Values and Economic Reflection

In moral reflection, we are not called to embrace a single macro principle such as one that says business is good or business is bad. This is an oversimplification that serves no one well. We must instead consider the kind of society that businesses build. Character matters and so does motive. Seeking profit and managing resources well are the responsibility of all who manage a business, just as allowing for a healthy, growing economy is a concern for all who govern a nation.

These discussions are complex because they involve answers at a large national or international macro level as well as in localized forms with cities or families. When we discuss capitalism, it is important to note that there are many kinds of capitalism, from highly state guided to highly entrepreneurial mostly free of regulation, plus other variations. We must be careful not to generalize when speaking about capitalism, or socialism, or a “mixed economy” such as a welfare state. What type of economy are we considering? What country provides the model economy? Is it the United States, the United Kingdom, Germany, Sweden, Japan, China, Russia, or another country? There is a spectrum, not just one model or one “pure” model. As in many of the areas we are discussing, buzzwords and sound bites alone do not help us much. Much of our political discourse bypasses such nuances and helps no one. Reasoned discussion is what we need, not class warfare.5

Scriptural values about the poor, human flourishing, and concerns of justice for all humanity should guide us in our corporate economics. There needs to be a balance between upholding individual rights, generating an economy that works for the most, and taking responsibility to care well for our neighbor for those who can.

Political discussions about welfare and government aid of all kinds can be well informed by Scripture, even if the language is different. The themes of justice and love undeniably tell us to care about the poor. That care operates in two ways: meeting core needs for food, shelter, and clothing, as well as building responsibility in people so they are better able to care for themselves. This is just another tension of life in a fallen world that must be kept in balance.

In sensitively dealing with the poor, we need to exercise wisdom regarding the level of help needed to truly help. In a fascinating book, When Helping Hurts: How to Alleviate Poverty without Hurting the Poor, Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert discuss engaging poverty in ways that provide real opportunity for the poor to move beyond their need.6 In it they observe three levels of help for the poor.

The first is called relief. This is simply responding to disaster or giving aid that meets the short-term, immediate need. It is what they call an effort “to stop the bleeding.”

The second level is rehabilitation, which seeks to restore people to a functional level. It teaches the person being aided how to help with their own recovery. Those being helped begin to exercise more agency in their own recovery. It is here where education or skill training comes in, as well as providing support so that those efforts can be pursued.

The final and more encompassing level is development. Here the goal is empowering people to care for themselves, so the distinction between “helpers” and “helped” is minimized because everyone is contributing to the full. This means enabling individuals to carry out the creation mandate of Genesis 1:26–28 to subdue the earth and be a responsible, disciplined, and caring steward of its resources. It is here that education and affordable care fit, for unless people are equipped to contribute to the world and are healthy enough to do so, their ability to help in the operation and management of our world becomes more difficult.

As Corbett and Fikkert develop these levels of involvement, they go on to say, “One of the biggest mistakes that North American churches make—by far—is in applying relief in situations in which rehabilitation or development is the appropriate intervention.”7 People are denied agency in their own lives because an exclusive focus on relief-oriented methods of “helping” them keeps them helpless.

It does not take much to see that the two levels of help most needed for long-term help—rehabilitation and development—cannot be the responsibility of any single social entity.

But justice in regards to the poor cuts two ways: Those who have riches are called to be generous and compassionate in being a good neighbor. But those who are poor should not steal or be envious of what others have legitimately gained. We are all responsible to do what we can to change our situation. The danger of a society that cultivates a sense of entitlement is that it can lead to an unhealthy dependence on others for what one should and can provide for oneself. Rather than being merely passive recipients, we all should step up and take advantage of the opportunities that rehabilitation and development provide.

As on all difficult issues, we are in serious need of meaningful, balanced discussions about how society should help and how those in need should contribute to that help. We need to be especially sensitive to how opportunity to contribute can be blocked by how our society functions. If we’ll try to take stands that reflect the heart of Jesus, we’ll avoid cherry-picking arguments that bolster our own side, and consider what conforms to biblical principles. We can work to achieve a better balance and steward our world more effectively. Justice, mercy, giving, compassion, and responsibility can coexist.

Darrell Bock (PhD, University of Aberdeen) is the executive director for cultural engagement at the Hendricks Center and senior research professor of New Testament Studies at Dallas Theological Seminary. He is the author or editor of more than forty books, host of the Table podcast, and former president of the Evangelical Theological Society.


1. This phrase “Protestant work ethic” was first discussed by Max Weber, The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, trans. Talcott Parsons (Germany, 1905; repr., London: Unwin Hyman, 1930).

2. James Halteman and Edd Noell, Reckoning with Markets: Moral Reflections in Economics (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012), especially chs. 2 and 3.

3. Edd Noell, Stephen Smith, and Bruce Webb, Economic Growth: Unleashing the Potential of Human Flourishing (Washington, DC; AEI, 2013).

4. Kenman L. Wong and Scott B. Rae, Business for the Common Good: A Christian Vision of the Marketplace (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press Academic, 2011), 117–22; Jeff Van Duzer, Why Business Matters to God (And What Still Needs to Be Fixed) (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2010).

5. Kathryn Blanchard, The Protestant Ethic or the Spirit of Capitalism: Christians, Freedom, and Free Markets (Eugene, OR: Cascade, 2010), 218.

6. Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert, When Helping Hurts: How to Alleviate Poverty without Hurting the Poor (Chicago: Moody Press, 2009).

7. Ibid., 100.


Matthew Loftus

The question of Christian cultural engagement and global economics is, quite frankly, overwhelming. There are so many different forces shaping our world and many of them are so large that most people feel more comfortable not thinking about the subject at all. Yet many Christians in developed nations are influencing the economies of other nations by what they buy, who they vote for, and how they give to various organizations. Christians in the West who have been blessed with much must learn how to steward the money that God has given us so that we don’t harm others, especially our brothers and sisters around the world.

There has been trade between different nations as long as there have been different nations in contact with each other, but recent history has seen rapid developments in communications and transportation that allow information and goods to spread rapidly all over the world. This process is known as globalization. A farmer in rural Kenya can use his cell phone (made in China out of materials extracted from the Democratic Republic of the Congo) to video chat with his nephew studying in Canada. The nephew can then electronically send his uncle money that pays for the fuel extracted from Saudi Arabia that powers the truck made in Japan that takes the farmer’s flowers to the capital city of Nairobi. The flowers are flown to a market in France, where a Brazilian tourist takes a selfie with the flowers that they send to their friends back home in South America.

Globalization has both positive and negative effects. Trucks, trains, and planes moving goods freely have given many more people opportunities to work for more than just sustenance, but it also allows wealth to be concentrated in the hands of a few people while putting other people out of work. This is particularly challenging in more developed economies, where low-skilled labor is either outsourced to other countries where wages are lower or taken over by robots. Developed countries, in turn, can subsidize their own products and then dump them on the international market, undercutting countries trying to compete. Communications technology now allows the gospel to reach nations hostile to missionaries via satellite, but it also permits false teaching and pornography to spread to anywhere there is a cell phone. The first step in stewarding our resources well in a globalized world is learning about how the global economy shapes the lives and vocations of others.

The process of development itself is a matter of stewardship. Different nations choose different priorities in developing their economies based on their resources and interests, but the sinful inclinations of human beings often make “development” an uneven and unseemly process. Many people who are rich try to hoard as much wealth as possible and consume luxuries rather than ensuring all have the necessities of life, sometimes through abject corruption. When it comes to cultural development, people hungry for that which is popular in the West will feel pressured to abandon what is good in their own culture for the graphic obscenity, the Prosperity Gospel, or atheism-soaked education being peddled by neocolonial overlords.

This immediately leads to a set of dilemmas about how we choose to spend our money. The goods we want are almost always cheaper when they’ve been produced by people who don’t have the power to demand better wages or safe working conditions. In some cases, outright slavery and violence are used to extract particular resources or produce certain products, while the profits go to terrorist organizations or brutal militias. In some cases, it is very difficult to know how a particular material or product has been sourced.

Even when we know how a product got to us and there was no outright violence involved in its production, there is still debate about whether it is ethical to spend our money on it. Is it right to buy a shirt made by a laborer who works long hours in brutal conditions, but is still able to use their very small wage to send their children to school? Is it worth it to buy blueberries in December that have been flown in from another country? Is it good to support a company that tries to skirt requirements to pay benefits for its workers by reducing their hours?

There aren’t easy answers to these questions. It is clear from the Bible, though, that God hears the cries of laborers who have been denied a fair wage (James 5:1–6) and does not accept the worship of those who oppress their workers (Isa. 58:1–4). Christian teaching throughout the ages has reinforced and expounded upon these ideas, such as in the great papal encyclical Rerum Novarum, published in 1891 as many of these questions were coming to the forefront of religious and social thought. In that encyclical, Pope Leo XIII says:

Let the working man and the employer make free agreements, and in particular let them agree freely as to the wages; nevertheless, there underlies a dictate of natural justice more imperious and ancient than any bargain between man and man, namely, that wages ought not to be insufficient to support a frugal and well-behaved wage-earner. If through necessity or fear of a worse evil the workman accept harder conditions because an employer or contractor will afford him no better, he is made the victim of force and injustice.1

God’s commandment to obey the Sabbath also enjoins us to allow the people who labor on our behalf to rest as well, so we ought to consider whether the money we are spending is going to unjust employers who compel their employees to violate this commandment. Consumers also have the power to advocate for workers anywhere in the world in addition to refusing to buy products that they feel are unethically produced. Just as we would not want to invest our money in studios making hardcore pornography or have our taxes pay for a new abortion clinic, we should strive (however imperfectly) to use our money in ways that help other people labor in just vocations.

A different set of questions attends to our charitable giving. Many people in developed countries, recognizing the need to help the poor in other places, give generously to various organizations providing food, health care, or education. Christians also spend billions of dollars every year to support missionaries and indigenous workers spreading the gospel. This generosity has helped to communicate the gospel of Jesus Christ in word and deed around the world, fueling incredible decreases in deaths from preventable disease around the world and giving millions of people the opportunity to hear about Jesus.

However, good intentions are never enough to truly help. Donating clothes, for example, often undercuts nascent textile markets in developing countries.2 An idea that may seem appealing to Western donors may in fact be an unwanted “white elephant” in the community on the receiving end of that idea. Giving money without ever inquiring into how it is spent can encourage fraud or perpetuate harmful practices.

One common example is the problem of orphanages. Most developed countries have eliminated orphanages because we recognize the inherent harms that children may experience as a result of growing up in an orphanage, yet we are happy to give generously to international ministries that focus their attention on a handful of children. Many of these so-called “orphans” still have living parents, who may have abandoned their children at the orphanage in the hopes that they would get an education. In some cases, children may even have been kidnapped and sold to these orphanages.

In many places where Western-sponsored orphanages thrive, traditionally children who have lost one or both parents will be taken in by other relatives. It’s unfair to extract these children from these support networks and their local communities, leaving behind other children who are often just as poor. That’s why child sponsorship—which usually distributes benefits throughout a community and has been shown to increase the likelihood that the children sponsored will be employed3—is often a much better model, as are programs that try to support families in a community who have taken in orphans.

Our contemporary global economy is both complex and pervasive, giving us more power than ever before to bless others but also many ways to unsuspectingly cause harm. If we are going to enjoy the benefits of instant communication and accessible-everywhere goods, it is incumbent upon us to steward our power and wealth well. We can do this by researching supply chains, asking hard questions of the ministries we support, and advocating for a just and good economy that reflects the Bible’s concern for vulnerable people and their labor.

Matthew Loftus serves as a family physician in Litein, Kenya, and is a faculty member for the Kabarak University Family Medicine Residency based in Nakuru, Kenya. He sees patients and helps to teach and supervise students and interns participating in medical training programs.


1. Pope Leo XIII, “On Capital and Labor: Rerum Novarum” (Vatican: the Holy See. Rome, May 15, 1891).

2. Natalie L. Hoang, “Clothes Minded: An Analysis of the Effects of Donating Secondhand Clothing to Sub-Saharan Africa” (2015), Scripps Senior Theses, Paper 671, http://scholarship.claremont.edu/scripps_theses/671.

3. Bruce Wydick, et. al, “Does International Child Sponsorship Work? A Six-Country Study of Impacts on Adult Life Outcomes,” Journal of Political Economy 121, no. 2 (2013): 393–436.


Kayla Snow

Genesis 2 begins with the picture of the almighty, unchanging Creator of the universe resting. From this moment in Scripture, God reveals a significant part of his plan for humankind: he shows us that life given and ordered in and through him follows the eternal rhythm of work and rest, or Sabbath. The Jewish people have, throughout history, understood and observed the rhythm of work and Sabbath with great reverence and fear. Christians, by contrast, have applied great effort to our work, but, by and large, have lost sight of the meaning, purpose, and practice of Sabbath rest. Thus, we have grown weary in our work and weary in our rest. We often work seven days a week, and, even when we rest, we do not fully enter into the rest that God shows us in Genesis 2. Yet, when we order our lives according to the rhythm of work and rest that God displays for us and gives to us, we enjoy more fully the abundance of the Christian life in the kingdom of God.

No small part of the Christian struggle with Sabbath rest arises from a misunderstanding of what Sabbath actually means for the believer. Sabbath, as we often understand it, finds its roots in Jewish teaching and tradition, and, more pointedly, Jewish law. Christians, though, have been released from the law through Christ, who fulfilled the law perfectly. When the law is removed from the Sabbath, what remains? To answer this question, we must look to the creation narrative because the Sabbath preceded the law as part of the created order.

Christians often miss the fact that the Sabbath itself is a created thing. Reflected in the creation narrative, we see God enjoying his work and delighting in its goodness. On the seventh day, God enters into a rest that is the culmination of his creation. He is not tired; he is delighted with the goodness of creation, and blesses the seventh day as a day for us to delight with him in the goodness of creation. According to Norman Wirzba, the Sabbath is “a celebration of, and sharing in, God’s own experience of delight.”1 Jewish tradition affirms that the seventh day was an act of creation, for it was the day that God created menuha, translated “rest.”2 Wirzba calls the creation of the Sabbath the “climax of creation.”3 In Wirzba’s view, then, the creation of mankind is not the pinnacle of creation; rather, the rest found in our eternal fellowship with and delight in God is the pinnacle.

Rest without the law, though, becomes difficult—and even dangerous—to define. In her book Keeping the Sabbath Wholly: Ceasing, Resting, Embracing, Fasting, Marva Dawn often warns against prescribing a particular practice or timing for observing the Sabbath, noting that prescription quickly leads us back to legalism.4 As a Christian raised in the American South, I often experienced a kind of Sunday legalism that, though often imposed with the best of intentions, actually reduced Sunday to a day of naps, television, and boredom. We set aside our work for the day, but I’m not so sure that we replaced our work with something worthy of the time. If the Sabbath is intrinsically good because God created it, then the rest offered through the Sabbath must reflect something about the nature of God, something that we can enjoy through Christ apart from the law.

The key to understanding Sabbath under the New Covenant is, of course, found in Christ, but we must first understand the nature of Sabbath rest as established in creation. As Jewish theologian Abraham Joshua Heschel explains, the menuha created on the seventh day is not a “negative concept but something real and intrinsically positive.”5 This distinction is important because it means that Sabbath is not simply about the things we cannot do; it’s about the things we should do. Thus, we cannot enjoy Sabbath simply through abstinence, by giving up, by laying aside. Instead, Sabbath requires that we take up the very things that feed and nourish the soul. We partake of the Spirit on the Sabbath, who offers himself to us as the source of perfect rest.6 Augustine famously writes, “Thou hast made us for Thee and our heart is unquiet till it finds rest in Thee.”7 Whatever forms of rest we enjoy in Sabbath should be rooted in Christ, without whom we find no true rest.

When our rest becomes about squandering time, mindless consumption, or sensuality, we do not actually enter into Sabbath rest, and our souls remain weary, tattered, and heavy, unready for the work that lies ahead. If the Sabbath is holy, which it is, then there is a sanctity to the purpose and practice of Sabbath that, when lost, destroys its beauty and power. This sanctity is why the law was put into place. Abraham Joshua Heschel writes, “The Sabbath is not an occasion for diversion or frivolity [ . . . ] but an opportunity to mend our tattered lives; to collect rather than dissipate time.”8 The beauty of Heschel’s words here should not be overlooked. Too often when we stop working, we waste time on activities that carry little to no eternal value. In fact, we often think that rest is equivalent to binge-watching our favorite show, trolling social media, or, my personal favorite, napping. None of these is intrinsically wrong. Yet none of them is truly satisfying to the soul either. In Heschel’s view, time is holy; it’s sacred. The sanctity of time that Heschel observes stems from the Jewish belief that God has, indeed, made the Sabbath—a day, a collection of time—a holy place wherein believers see eternity stretched out before them and are renewed by the Spirit as they dwell there. As Wirzba says, “Sabbath practice, on this view, is a sort of training ground for the life of eternity, a preparation for the full reception and welcome to the presence of God.”9 When we enjoy Sabbath here and now, we anticipate eternity.

This view of rest reframes the way we think about Sabbath in every aspect of our lives. Sabbath is not just about Sunday. Wirzba explains,

That the Sabbath should assume such importance in the life of faith will likely sound strange to many of us because we have grown used to thinking of Sabbath observance as an add-on to the end of a busy week. Sabbath is the time for us to relax and let down our guard, to pause from the often anxious and competitive patterns of daily life. This is not what the Jews, those who first gave us the teaching about Sabbath, thought. In their view, Sabbath observance is what we work toward. As our most important and all-encompassing goal, it frames and contextualizes our planning, much as the desire to achieve a specific objective—a championship, a masterful performance, an exquisite meal or party—will require that we take the proper steps all along the way. Sabbath frames our entire life, helping us set priorities and determine which of our activities and aspirations bring honor to God.10

Sabbath rest, then, is not simply about escaping from or recharging for work. I am an athletic person—not an athlete in any professional sense, but a person who trains regularly and pushes my physical limits often. Recently, I’ve practiced High Intensity Interval Training, or HIIT, which—though a mild form of torture—is incredibly effective for training the heart, boosting the metabolism, and building strength and stamina. HIIT programs are built on the basic principle that we work at maximum training capacity for short intervals and rest briefly in between each interval to restore ourselves so that we can push just as hard in the next training interval. In these training programs, the rest is as important as the work because the rest allows us to work at maximum capacity in each interval. We often think of Sabbath in this way, as a way to recharge physically and spiritually so that we can work at our optimum levels for the other days. Heschel combats this idea, saying, “To the biblical mind, however, labor is the means toward an end, and the Sabbath as a day of rest, as a day of abstaining from toil, is not for the purpose of recovering one’s lost strength and becoming fit for the coming labor. The Sabbath is a day for the sake of life.”11 Thus, when we stop working on the Sabbath, we “cease not only from work itself, but also from the need to accomplish and be productive.”12 Sabbath rest is not about improving efficiency as if we are machines that simply need to be recharged for a few hours so they are ready to be used again. This is not how God sees us, and it is not why he has offered the blessing of Sabbath.

At its core, Sabbath is about enjoying a glimpse of eternity with our creator. That’s the reality of Sabbath rest. It allows us to experience the rest that Christ offers when he says, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light” (Matt. 11:28–30). If our work is not about us, as Hugh Whelchel argues,13 then our rest is, likewise, not about us; it points us to Christ and to his eternal work. Heschel writes,

He who wants to enter the holiness of the day must first lay down the profanity of clattering commerce, of being yoked to toil [ . . . ] Six days a week we wrestle with the world, wringing profit from the earth; on the Sabbath we especially care for the seed of eternity planted in the soul.14

Thus, Heschel’s claim is that the Sabbath allows us to cast off the “yoke of toil.” As Christians, though, we know that we don’t simply cast off a yoke of toil; we exchange it for the yoke of Christ.

Kayla Snow earned an MA in English from Liberty University. She currently teaches courses in research and writing and English literature for Liberty University. Her graduate research focuses largely on the influence of Christian thought and theology on the literary works of writers such as Jonathan Swift, G. K. Chesterton, J. R. R. Tolkien, and Flannery O’Connor. She has published the article “What Hath Hobbits to Do with Prophets: The Fantastic Reality of J. R. R. Tolkien and Flannery O’Connor,” through LOGOS: A Journal of Catholic Thought and Culture.


1. Norman Wirzba, Living the Sabbath: Discovering the Rhythms of Rest and Delight (Grand Rapids: Brazos, 2006), 47.

2. Abraham Joshua Heschel, The Sabbath: Its Meaning for Modern Man (Boston: Shambhala, 2003), 13.

3. Wirzba, Living the Sabbath, 47.

4. Marva J. Dawn, Keeping the Sabbath Wholly: Ceasing, Resting, Embracing, Fasting (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1989).

5. Heschel, The Sabbath, 13.

6. Ibid., 7.

7. Augustine, Confessions, 4.

8. Heschel, The Sabbath, 7.

9. Wirzba, Living the Sabbath, 31–32.

10. Ibid., 30.

11. Heschel, The Sabbath, 2.

12. Dawn, Keeping the Sabbath, 2.

13. Hugh Whelchel, How Then Should We Work?: Rediscovering the Biblical Doctrine of Work (McLean, VA: Institute for Faith, Work, and Economics, 2012).

14. Heschel, The Sabbath, 1.

chapter eleven


The Bible, particularly the Old Testament, has much to say about the creative arts. The first human words recorded in the Bible are the poetry Eve inspired in Adam (Gen. 2:23). In the book of Exodus, we learn that God called a skilled artist to build the tabernacle that would hold the ark of the covenant. He also gave detailed instructions to Moses about the tabernacle’s design and ornamentation. The detailed description of the artistic splendor of Solomon’s temple in 1 Kings 6 affirms the importance of beauty and design. King David, author of many of the psalms, was a harpist and poet. Even the various literary genres represented in the various books of the Bible demonstrate that literary form is important, not just content. And, of course, we need only to consider the spectacular (and seemingly gratuitous) forms that fill the world the Creator made to see that God cares about artistry and beauty and manifests it in infinite varieties (Job 38–41).

The art of the early Christian era often celebrated tenets of the faith through symbols and types, even appropriating materials and myths from the surrounding pagan culture. In the Middle Ages, equipped with the power and resources of the Roman Empire, the medieval church created some of the most splendid and lasting art of all time in cathedrals and monasteries. This art was created from the labor of craftsmen and workers, funded and supported by the whole community, taking decades to build. Jacques Maritain explains,

In the powerfully social structure of medieval civilization, the artist had only the rank of artisan, and every kind of anarchical development was forbidden his individualism, because a natural social discipline imposed on him from the outside certain limiting conditions. He did not work for the rich and fashionable and for the merchants, but for the faithful; it was his mission to house their prayers, to instruct their intelligences, to delight their souls and their eyes.1

The relationship of the early Judeo-Christian tradition to the arts is surprisingly complex, even when that art is created or performed directly in service to or worship of God, what is called sacred or religious art. Think, for example, of stained glass windows in a church, the towering steeples of medieval cathedrals. Michelangelo’s paintings in the Sistine Chapel, the Byzantine mosaics, Russian icons, or Leonardo daVinci’s The Last Supper.

In ancient and medieval times, art of all kinds carried with it the sense of craft. All art was a work of skill and craftsmanship, and they all had a use. The laborer crafted tools for workers, the artisan made leather goods for clothing, and the painter or sculptor made works of beauty for the church and community.2 But with the Renaissance and its return to the humanism of the ancient Greco-Roman world, art became increasingly separated from the community of faith and glorified the individual in both its subject matter and its creation. The question of the value of art for its own sake (what would come to be phrased toward the end of the nineteenth century as “art for art’s sake”) is a distinctly modern question. It was then that the division developed between “art” and “craft” and, correspondingly, high art and low art. As this division between the useful and the beautiful grew wider, Christians became increasingly suspicious of the merely beautiful.

The disregard, skepticism, and hostility found in pockets of the church today toward art for its own sake has a variety of roots, particularly within Protestantism. For example, Puritanism’s iconoclasm (as well as that of Islam) is based on the second commandment’s prohibition against graven images. The seventeenth-century Puritan Richard Baxter, for example, rejected reading literary works less on the merits of the activity itself than because he believed that time could be better spent reading Scripture and biblical commentary. Puritans also opposed the theater primarily on the basis of the prostitution and other illicit activities that often took place in the theater’s vicinity and because the mockery of piety and religion was a staple of many dramas. This opposition to art that is based more on context and content than on form has continued throughout the centuries. Indeed, the central weakness in the engagement with art by the contemporary church is, arguably, in its tendency to emphasize content while overlooking form and the role of aesthetic experience as a crucial aspect of spiritual formation.3

Some more recent Christian thinkers have examined the intrinsic value of art from a distinctly Christian worldview. One of the most notable among modern writers is Francis Schaeffer in his short treatise, Art and the Bible.4 In arguing that art is good in and of itself, and that art is to be judged by both its form and its content, Schaeffer helped bring about a revival of interest and appreciation of the arts among evangelical Christians in the twentieth century and beyond.

In our opening essay in this section, Makoto Fujimura works to reframe the way contemporary Christians think about their role in culture, asking them to shift their view from engaging the culture to making culture by empowering Christian artists.

W. David O. Taylor’s essay examines the nature of the triune God to illustrate the abundant nature by which artists can create in and through their faith. While the triune God forms the ultimate source and grounding for all our theologizing, the gospel of Jesus Christ is the ultimate self-revelation of God. Hence, Taylor’s essay is complemented by Taylor Worley’s application of the arc of the gospel narrative (Creation, Fall, Redemption, Restoration) to display what traits and virtues Christians should seek in art.

Jonathan Anderson’s contribution reflects on John Cage’s infamous 4'33" to draw out a deeper understanding of art and the way that Christians should engage with them, concluding that believers have been made to offer and learn from contemporary arts.

In closing, Cap Stewart stands out in this section by offering a cautionary essay, seeking to raise our awareness of the potential dehumanizing impact of some art forms. In particular, he asks Christians to reevaluate their standards for consuming entertainment due to the rampant sexual objectification in the entertainment industry. Stewart urges Christians to love the entertainers as they love themselves and avoid consuming media that objectifies its actors and actresses.


Cultural Engagement and Art?

Makoto Fujimura

First, a thought about the word “engage.”

Engage is a war word, or it is a word that may lead to nuptial vows as in “engage to be married.”

So when we speak of “cultural engagement,” it is often assumed that there are two parties warring, or two parties are getting “engaged” to be married. I am not sure if either definition describes the current malaise, and I am not sure that these intimations are what one desires in using this term. The church wants “cultural engagement” to mean battling against the years of neglecting to steward or care for culture. Thus “cultural engagement” sticks out like a sore thumb, perhaps as a result of trying to till a rocky, neglected soil.

The church’s primary mission is to love with God’s love. Love is generative, love is creative, love is imaginative, love makes.

Instead of engaging, we need to be making. Andy Crouch, in his book Culture Making, outlines this thesis very well. Similarly, James Davison Hunter, in his classic book Culture Wars, warned, before anyone else dared to, of the debilitating consequences of warring and creating polarities within cultures by this “engaging.”1

I’ve noticed that in this “cultural engagement” model, churches are eager to create arts groups and “use” the arts for evangelism and discipleship. I’ve been asked to consult with churches excited to create such a program. The first advice I give: “Don’t do it.”

They are shocked. “But have you not been an advocate for artists in the church?”


But segmenting artists into their own corner so they can share their woes is not the way I foresee transformation in culture taking place. We cannot “use” the arts any more than we can “use” a human being. As Lewis Hyde noted in his seminal book The Gift, art is a gift, not a commodity.2 We can commoditize art, or at least make it “useful” to us, but we also need to realize that art and artist are in danger of losing their soul in doing so. As Hyde notes: “Works of art exist simultaneously in two ‘economies,’ a market economy and a gift economy. Only one of these is essential, however: a work of art can survive without the market, but where there is no gift there is no art.”3 Art in a transactional world loses her power; but art dwelling in the “gift economy” can liberate the culture. “Using” the arts for whatever instrumental purposes pulls art into the transactional realm of “bottom lines” and “programming.” Instead, the arts speak of the mystery of existence, tell of the power of the ephemeral, describe the indescribable, and refuse to be categorized. Even a well-intended “target” of artist groups and “how to succeed” sessions can relegate artists to the “useful” segment of society.

Ironically and paradoxically, though, this ability of the artist to create something that society deems to be useless or inapplicable to industry is exactly what makes the arts so valuable, both as commodity and as social capital. The arts in this sense is gratuitous; but so is God’s creation birthed out of God’s love. God is self-sufficient, so God does not need us. So why did God create? God created because “God is love.” Love makes, and it does so gratuitously, not out of need, but out of extravagance and passion. Therefore, that part of our lives that seems useless to our sense of utilitarian pragmatism is exactly the part that the Holy Spirit can speak through toward the new creation.

Instead, I say empower artists. Give attention to that “extra” that cannot be accounted for by either the market or the “need” of the church. Care for them as both beauty and mercy meets in the gospel. Commission them, have them be considered for an elder/vestry team—not so that they can help in pragmatic decisions, but in order to help us to envision, to “paint” the future together. Send them out as missionary/artists to various needy, desolate places that lack beauty, like Wall Street or hurricane ravaged Puerto Rico. Give your worship director a sabbatical to compose music. Encourage your musicians to compose music that everyone can sing (i.e., not worship music), even a non-Christian. Remove the instrumental, transactional part of the language and let art be a gift to the world.

What if artists are allowed to lead in the church, to ask “what if” generative questions?

What if artists are sent out, and what if they share what they learned by coming home and playing a concert, having an exhibit, or reading their writings?

What if artists journey together with patrons to discover together how to be a healing presence in the midst of chaos?

What if established artists journey together with emerging artists to cocreate into the future?

Philosopher Esther Meek states in Loving to Know: Covenant Epistemology, “If knowing is care at its core, caring leads to knowing. To know is to love; to love will be to know.”4 Care is the essence of creating community; care is at the heart of anything worth pursuing and at the heart of knowing. Care is at the heart of creativity and making; care is the source well of our “cautious engagement” with culture. Caring leads to prosperity and abundance.

The message of Jeremiah 29 took my family and me to spend fifteen years in New York City, ultimately leading to our children becoming “Ground Zero” children (we lived three blocks from the World Trade Center). This profound “cultural engagement” passage states:

This is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says to all those I carried into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: “Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce. Marry and have sons and daughters; find wives for your sons and give your daughters in marriage, so that they too may have sons and daughters. Increase in number there; do not decrease. Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prospe.r” (Jer. 29:4–7)

Several important facets of this prophetic counterintuitive voice led us into the city and its culture. First, it is God who brings us into exile, not our sins. Second, we are to not only “engage” the city, but we are to love the city, to settle down, and plant gardens. We are to keep our identity and calling as distinct realities of culture, but we are to pray for the city’s and the culture’s prosperity.

This is our map into the cultural journey. From this, I have been championing what I call “Culture Care,” as opposed to fighting Culture Wars. Culture Care sees culture as an abundant ecosystem, or a garden to nurture. Rather than assume the “we versus them” mentality, we need to acknowledge that we all share the same ground to till. Even if we disagree with our fellow gardener, we can still work together to plant and pull weeds. In the occasional flare-ups of disagreements, such as what we should plant, or what we should pull, we can agree to disagree. Dandelions, after all, can either be part of a salad or a weed to be pulled. With enough understanding of why we are cultivating, or pulling, we may even change our minds.

But what haunts me the most about the Jeremiah edict is verse 7: “Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.”

Have we been praying for our culture, or our city, to prosper? Or have we been fighting culture wars to deny the potential of that city and fight against her prosperity? Perhaps the reason our culture of Christ-followers has not been an abundant blessing is that we have not done well with this edict. We have not loved and sought the prosperity of the neighbors that we disagree with. What would happen now, if the Christ-followers became a radical center of generosity and began to bless our cities with beauty and mercy?

It’s all about love. Love makes. It’s also all about the soil of culture for the seeds of love to germinate. Let’s start tilling, especially in the “winters” of our church communities. May our spring come. May God’s prosperity bless even the “enemy” neighbors and strangers among us.

Makoto Fujimura, director of Fuller’s Brehm Center, is a renowned artist, writer, and speaker. He founded the International Arts Movement in 1992 and established the Fujimura Institute in 2011. His book Refractions: A Journey of Faith, Art, and Culture is a collection of essays on culture, art, and humanity.


1. James Davison Hunter, Culture Wars (New York: Basic, 1991).

2. Lewis Hyde, The Gift: Creativity and the Artist in the Modern World (New York: Vintage, 2009).

3. Ibid., 88.

4. Esther Lightcap Meek, Loving to Know: Covenant Epistemology (Eugene, OR: Cascade, 2011), 31.


W. David O. Taylor

What does it mean to support art for faith’s sake? Plenty of us might suppose that the answer is self-evident. But what exactly do we mean by “faith”? Do we mean an individual Christian’s “faith” in God? Do we mean “the faith” as a euphemism for Christian doctrine? Do we mean a particular body of believers, as in “I’m part of the faith”?

I want to propose here that the meaning of “art for faith’s sake” rests not chiefly in something that describes human beings. It rests instead on the object and ground of faith, the triune God. A proper support for the arts, I suggest, arises out of our knowledge of this kind of God, as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and out of our participation in the triune life.

What kind of God, then, is this? And how do the arts factor into the world that the Trinity has made possible? In this essay I wish to offer three (all-too-brief) observations about the God whom we confess as triune and relate them to the kind of art that we might say was done “for faith’s sake.”

God the Father: Maker of Heaven and Earth

The world that God has made is marked by hyperabundance. There is more in the cosmos than human beings need or could ever make good use of in multiple lifetimes. Birdsong, tuneful to the human ear, exceeds our need for aural pleasure. The flavor in our foods, from Chicken Korma to Krispy Kreme donuts, goes beyond what any individual deserves. Here there is excess: of light and texture, scent and sound. Here there is not just one kind of apple; here there are 7,500 cultivars of apple, from Aceymac to York Imperial.

In God’s world there is get to, not just have to. Humans have to make clothes for protection against the elements. But they get to make cutwork lace and Panama hats. They have to build shelters. But they get to build basilicas and bivouacs. They have to do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with God. But they get to do so in all sorts of ways, which are both useful and pleasing to the eye, as “The Aesthetics of Prosthetics” might demonstrate.1 In God’s world, humans get to play Pokémon and the grand piano. They get to put on plays. Like God, they get to imagine new things into being: sticky toffee pudding, Middle Earth, bronze thinkers, and virtual realities.

Because of the abundance that marks God’s creation, as a sign of God’s grace, humans are freed from an anxious need to feel only “useful.” They get to wonder at things: why red is red, why appoggiaturas (“grace notes”) affect us so acutely, why Gothic cathedrals evoke images of pyramidal peak mountains, and why, in humor, just the right punch line is everything. Humans get to explore toy stories and the perfect gesture for Princess Odette in Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake. Humans get to do so because it is God’s everlasting pleasure to make such a world possible.

God the Son: The True Human

While it is only in Christ that we perceive the true image of humanity, it is also only in Christ that we see the extent of humanity’s brokenness. In Christ’s initiative, to become “flesh from our flesh,” we discover both our acute need for redemption and the proper shape of our vocation: as the beloved of God, empowered by the Spirit, in Christ, to make things (like Narnian or Westerosi worlds) and to make sense of things in our world (as Maya Lin’s Vietnam Veterans Memorial does).

As Jesus uses stories and parables to reveal the human condition, so artists use stories and parables to reveal humanity’s glory (Divine Comedy) and its misery (Crime and Punishment), its quirkiness (Dr. Seuss) and its gravity (M*A*S*H). As Jesus makes the unknowable knowable, so artists make the unknowable in some sense knowable, as Christopher Nolan’s movie Interstellar might do. As Jesus enables us to “sense” the goodness of God, so artists make the goodness of God sensible through sight (Tiffany glass), sound (Looney Tunes), taste (Paella), touch (Coppélia), and smell (Ikebana).

Eusebius of Caesarea once wrote that Jesus has three offices: prophet, priest, and king. It is through these offices, the fourth-century bishop argued, that Christ brings about the reconciliation of the world. If our human calling is “in Christ,” then we too, in some fashion, will engage in prophetic, priestly, and kingly activities. Artists, under this light, will be in the business of bearing witness to that which is right and wrong, as Athol Fugard’s play “MASTER HAROLD” . . . and the Boys does. Artists will offer the things of this world back to God, as Frances Havergal’s “Take My Life and Let It Be” might do. And they will make things, like silly limericks and surrealist comedies. They will do so for Christ’s sake.

God the Spirit: Lord and Giver of Life

According to Scripture, the Holy Spirit animates the universe, breathing new life into all things. So too, in some sense, artists give life to things that seemed dead, as Andy Goldsworthy’s art installations in nature might show, and breathe newness into things that have become old, as we see with The Saint John’s Bible. As the Spirit illumines the things of God, so artists bring to light things that are hidden or in the darkness (Gabriel Orozco’s “Sandstars” or Jeff Nichols’s movie Loving). As the Spirit inverts, enabling the first to be last, so too artists create things that turn our worlds upside down, as Shakespeare’s plays often do.

It is the Spirit who exposes the depths of the human condition. Artists also expose the depths of human grief, as the Congolese setting of the Latin Mass, Missa Luba’s “Kyrie,” does, while also drawing our attention to the sharpness of human joy, as we witness in Pete Docter’s movie Up. As the Spirit improvises, so artists make the familiar strange (as with John Chamberlain’s crushed car exhibits) and the strange familiar (as with Mary Doria Russell’s novel The Sparrow). And as the Spirit unites the like and the unlike, so artists bring into relation things that might not have been expected or believed possible, such as the liturgical music of Aradhna that makes use of classical Indian musical forms.

And whatever goodness or beauty may come into the world through these works of art, it is only on account of the in-spiration of the Holy Spirit.


Faith in the triune God is not simply a transaction between human beings, on one side, and God, on the other. Faith is something we inhabit. More accurately, it is a Someone we inhabit—Christ himself. By the Spirit we inhabit the faithful life of the Son who presents all of creation, in love, to the Father. The Father, in turn, calls us by his Spirit to live out, here and now, in our own particular way, the life of his Son. Art for faith’s sake, then, is art that has been oriented by the life of the Trinity. Such an orientation opens up an immense field of possibility, variety, style, and interest for the Christian in the arts.

With such a view of things, artists “of faith” will want to make art that, among other things, offers a foretaste of a world put to rights, marked no longer by an economy of scarcity, infected by sin, but by an economy of abundance, suffused by grace. And since no style or genre of art can exhaustively express all human interest, nor capture the mystery of God’s world, it will require the whole body of Christ, over the whole course of human history, to make tangible the shalom of God through the art that it produces. Even then, of course, a whole eternity will be required to give the Godhead all the glory due its triune name.

W. David O. Taylor (ThD, Duke Divinity School) is assistant professor of theology and culture at Fuller Theological Seminary. He is the author of The Theater of God’s Glory and Glimpses of the New Creation. An Anglican priest, he has lectured widely on the arts, from Thailand to South Africa. He lives in Austin with his family.


Taylor Worley

What makes for a truly significant encounter with art? In a lesser known and more technical work, C. S. Lewis explains the basic challenge this way: “We sit down before the picture in order to have something done to us, not that we may do things with it. The first demand any work of any art makes upon us is surrender. Look. Listen. Receive. Get yourself out of the way.”1 In other words, the place of artistic encounter must be a space of imaginative and emotional vulnerability. We must be ready to pause and wait patiently for whatever the artwork gives us and wherever the artwork takes us. Such openness and generosity of spirit is not a given. Some of us will, no doubt, find this frustrating or difficult. Many art forms require sustained and careful attention, which seems increasingly hard to come by in our media-saturated age. Christians, however, do not come to this place empty-handed. In what follows, we will explore four aspects of the biblical story (i.e., Creation, Fall, Redemption, and Restoration) and how they provide specific theological resources for engaging the arts. In particular, the Christian gospel commends to us the beautiful, prophetic, hospitable, and imaginative in art.

Before exploring these values, a crucial note must be given. Just as much as prior generations, we are consumed with the question: “What is art?” Some accounts assume or take for granted their definition of art. Here, philosophers studying the arts can lend much help. Perhaps most helpful is the Christian philosopher Nicholas Wolterstorff and his book Art in Action. To the question “What is art?” he responds:

There is no purpose which art serves, not any which it is intended to serve. Art plays and is meant to play an enormous diversity of roles in human life. Works of art are instruments by which we perform such diverse actions as praising our great men and expressing our grief, evoking emotion and communicating knowledge.2

This observation offers some much-needed clarity. Why do we ask the question, What is art? Do we want a tidy definition or concept that will just help us to say what is art and what is not art? Anyone who has been to an art museum with a modern or contemporary collection knows that the categories are not so simple. So instead of describing art’s essence, Wolterstorff points to art’s diverse functions. If we recognize that art can do many different things, we will then need to expand beyond one single value of what counts. So let’s consider how these four values can complement rather than compete with one another.


Beauty celebrates order, harmony, symmetry, proportion, balance, and form. By far the most dominant in the history of Christianity, beauty occupies a central place in Christian engagement with the arts. Early luminaries like Augustine found much to celebrate in the Greco-Roman accounts of eternal beauty. The late-medieval and Renaissance periods—perhaps the era of the greatest artistic achievements of Christendom—bear out this reliance. In recent history, however, beauty’s influence has waned considerably. Secularism has prompted the dissolution of the ancient triad of truth, beauty, and goodness, and under the influence of Romanticism the “sublime” (i.e., the overpowering, terrible, or uncanny) has replaced beauty as a dominant aesthetic value today.

As it relates to the Christian gospel, however, beauty fits with the first movement of the fourfold story of God’s work in the world and corresponds most closely with the doctrine of creation (Gen. 1:31). Beauty names the aesthetic goodness, wholeness, and wonder of God’s originally pristine handiwork. It connotes perfection of design and intimates completion. When everything is exactly as it should be, we are most struck by the beauty of a thing.

The beautiful, as a theological value for engaging the arts, remains primary but not solitary. While it often comes first, it should never be alone. When we attempt to let beauty tell the whole story of an artwork’s worth, we are necessarily leaving out the complexity of the fall, redemption, or restoration. Such efforts result in an unfortunately cheap account of beauty, not unlike a symphony where all the minor chords have been removed from the score. We must remember that our faith rests with a beautiful Messiah that the prophet Isaiah, perhaps paradoxically, describes this way: “He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him” (Isa. 53:2b). As in Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s The Idiot, we are reminded that the beauty that will save the world is not the beauty we naturally expect. To our first theological value for the arts, we must have a second; the beautiful must be accompanied by the prophetic.


The prophetic uncovers disorder, injustice, oppression, and evil. As a theological value, prophetic witness serves to remind us that we live amid a fallen world in rebellion to God’s kingdom. If beauty operates as a stabilizing force for our experience, the prophetic serves to destabilize us. Whereas beauty provides an orientation to the ideal life in God’s good world, the prophetic witness is a profound disorientation from that ideal. When beauty highlights how the world should be, the prophetic helps us to see where we have fallen short of that glory.

The biblical authors often use poignant word pictures to strengthen their prophetic witness. Many times throughout Scripture, moral failure is described as a broken or bent line:

The way of peace they do not know;

there is no justice in their paths.

They have turned them into crooked roads;

no one who walks along them will know peace. (Isa. 59:8)

These uses of an aesthetic evaluation like “crooked” remind us how much God values an honest description of the brokenness in the world. When Christians can value the contribution of an artist’s crooked line, we will be able to encounter many of the artworks that are more focused on truth-telling and representing the way the world actually is than an ideal or detached beauty.

Like beauty, however, prophetic witness cannot be the Christian’s sole value for engaging the arts. If beauty needs a prophetic witness, the prophetic depends on all the other values combined. How hard will it be to focus on meaninglessness without some eventual recourse to the meaningful? The fall is certainly not the end of God’s story but rather another starting point within it. Indeed, sin, death, and evil will not win the day. Even as the art of prophetic witness allows us to see and lament the brokenness of our world and our own lives, we must hold in tension the hope that God will restore the ruins we have made and turn our mourning into exuberant praise (Isa. 61:1–3).


The hospitable promotes empathy, authenticity, inclusion, belonging, and invitation. As the next movement in this cascading flow of theological values, we want to explore hospitality in the arts. If beauty provides an orientation to the world and art’s prophetic witness provides dis-orientation, then art as hospitality constitutes some reorientation. Here artworks can function as vehicles for vicariously experiencing the thoughts, feelings, or questions of an imagined other. This other may be the artist herself, the work’s subject, the imagined subjectivity of the work’s audience, or something else entirely. Artworks can embody the perspective of a distinct individual or community that would be necessarily unavailable to the work’s viewer without it. In this way, the hospitable invokes the renewed vision of those disciples on the road to Emmaus that though they did not know with whom they were speaking, yet their hearts burned within them (Luke 24:32).

This may seem too simplistic or unheroic, but in the wake of the prophetic, the hospitable can provide the space for awaiting what’s next—to anticipate some redemption. We might think about the function of the hospitable in art as making room to see a tragic story finished well. Resolution—lasting, satisfying resolution—to any story requires adequate time and space to trust that while we may have no way out, God will, in fact, make a way. The art of hospitality puts flesh and bones on this trust and anticipation. Redemption is never abstract; it’s embodied and always personal. Hope is a practice, an exercise, or way of being in the world; it is not a concept. The hospitable in the arts reminds us that suffering must speak so that true hope may arise.


The imaginative probes the possible, the potential, even the fantastic. Now we find ourselves living in the moment of God’s ongoing redemption. We only have access to the beauty of creation as a reconstructed past, and in the same way, we can only imagine the future as promised restoration, where Christ unites all things in himself (Rev. 21:5). Indeed, the resurrection glory of Christ guarantees the transformation of the world, and the imaginative in the arts helps us to picture now what is not yet. The biblical story itself invites art’s creativity here because Scripture records some fascinating details about the only envoy this world has ever seen from the next. The risen Christ evidences both continuity and discontinuity with our earthly experiences. For instance, he can pass through the closed door of the disciples’ room but then asks them for something to eat (John 20:19–20 and Luke 24:36–43). The Resurrection’s new reality will be both familiar and strangely new at the same time, and the arts can help us imagine it even now. Indeed, much of the trajectory of modern and contemporary art refuses to settle for time-honored stylistic formulas and instead pursues the next unchartered territory for each medium. For instance, what can a painter do with paint that has never been done before?

In this way, the imaginative carries the story further—beyond resolution and toward something even better: glory beyond glory (2 Cor. 3:18). It speaks to the future state where we can truly enjoy the generative overflow of a well-resolved story. We will celebrate that the story is not only resolved but still expanding, going further, and getting better. Just as in Paul’s prayer for the Ephesians, we are invited to contemplate with the arts “immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine” (Eph. 3:20).


Each one of these values represents a viable and vital means of engaging with the arts. Each should be given priority in turn. Unfortunately, because of the influence of fundamentalism and its disdain for secular culture, Christians have been seen as those who primarily protest, abstain from, critique, and reject cultural movements. Hopefully, this set of theological values illuminates new avenues for encountering all that is good in the arts. Of course, not everything we encounter there can or should be celebrated, but we should demonstrate in tangible ways that the faith, hope, and the love of the Christian gospel compels us to celebrate what we can. In order to do so, we must embrace these complementary values and thus encounter art from multiple perspectives. Where we do not find the beautiful, perhaps we can locate the hospitable. Where we do not find the hopeful, perhaps we can appreciate vulnerability and authenticity. Where we do not find consolation, perhaps we can accept the distance and disruption as God’s own disquiet for an incomplete and imperfect world. Perhaps even the unfinished and the incomplete can create a platform for imagining a potential future resolution. In the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ, we already have the answer to every human need, so let’s be willing to allow art the chance to ask multiple and varied questions. In this way, Christians can offer much to today’s world. Of all people, we should be the most patient, hospitable, and sympathetic (i.e., engaged and engaging) because our fiercely gentle Savior has certainly demonstrated that to us (Rom. 2:4).

Taylor Worley (PhD, The University of St Andrews) is associate professor of faith and culture as well as associate vice president for spiritual life and ministries at Trinity International University. He is coeditor of Theology, Aesthetics, and Culture: Responses to the Work of David Brown.


Jonathan A. Anderson

Many people experience modern and contemporary art as disconnected from everyday life. It often seems to be a domain of strange and difficult objects cloistered away into extravagant exhibition spaces, circulated through their own rarefied marketplace, and sustained by an academic art-speak that the general public doesn’t much follow or care about. This alleged disconnection is real, but its meanings—and indeed its virtues—require further understanding. On the one hand, we might simply recognize (and forgive) the effects of specialization: art has become a robust field of study and is thus as susceptible to abstruseness and elitism as any other field—there is, after all, nothing in the art discourse any more obscure than what one finds in contemporary mathematics, medicine, theology, law, engineering, finance, etc. On the other hand, there is something about contemporary art that seems intentionally difficult and self-distancing. The artistic canon of the past two centuries celebrates artworks that poignantly jolt, withhold, surprise, and subvert expectations for what an artwork should be or do. As a general project, contemporary art intends to unsettle and to complicate that which would otherwise appear familiar, normative, and hermeneutically easy.

What is often misunderstood, however, is that this intentional strangeness and difficulty are not ends in themselves—at least not if the artwork will have enduring human significance. Rather, the entire point of artworks that unsettle expectations is to open some kind of reflective distance from which to re-view and re-cognize what has become familiar. In other words, the whole enterprise of presenting difficult art objects in spaces set aside for paying attention ultimately has less to do with detachment from everyday life than with generating renewed attentiveness to one’s daily surroundings and default modes of living. Indeed, this is why contemporary art traffics in the stuff of everyday life: commonplace materials, artifacts, forms, activities, technologies, and the taken-for-granted mechanics of visual culture. Despite the common impression that contemporary art is disconnected from the everyday life of the general public, this is in fact precisely what contemporary art is most preoccupied with.

John Cage’s 4'33"

To take one influential example, consider John Cage’s infamous 4'33" (1952), a piano performance in three movements comprising four minutes and thirty-three seconds of musical rest. Cage recognized that this silent composition “would be taken as a joke and a renunciation of work,” whereas he also earnestly believed that “if it was done it would be the highest form of work.”1 It was first performed in the Maverick Concert Hall in Woodstock, New York—a rustic theater that opens out into a surrounding forest. No notes were played on the piano for the duration of the performance, but the hall was in fact full of sounds: birdsongs, wind in the trees, cars traveling along a nearby road, etc. Cage’s conviction was that concertgoers who had gathered expectant to hear meaningful sounds might be capable of hearing all of these background sounds—and indeed the manifold sonic textures that fill their lives—as intensely musical. Cage withheld the one instrument his audience expected to hear in hopes that their attention might turn to hear the world around them as (always) giving a surprisingly complex and elegant kind of music.2

Cage was influenced by Zen Buddhist mindfulness, but he also directly linked this work to Jesus’ admonition to “consider the lilies of the field” (KJV)—exactly as they present themselves, without human composition—for “not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these” (Matt. 6:25–30).3 Cage sought the sonic equivalent: to consider the “flowers” of the sonic field, convinced that not even Beethoven in all his splendor composed sounds like those constantly surrounding us, including the subtlest of sounds produced by the most extravagant instrumentation (think, for instance, of the absolutely over-the-top “instrumentation” required to produce the sounds of wind blowing through trees or automobiles moving along a highway).

Whether or not one considers 4'33" to be “the highest form of work,” the key point is that it (alongside numerous other twentieth-century artworks that could be discussed here) profoundly clarifies art’s central vocation: art is the presentation—the bringing-into-view—of any form, artifact, occurrence, and/or space that, in Cage’s words, succeeds at “waking us up to the very life we’re living.”4 Art thus has less to do with producing certain qualities of form than it does with producing a certain quality of attentiveness within a community of people. Cage’s composition is obviously not impressive as a deployment of skill, formal beauty, or expressive content; rather, its primary value is as “a means of converting the mind, turning it around, so that it moves away from itself out to the rest of the world,”5 disclosing the sheer givenness of the world and of human consciousness, attuning us to “the very life we’re living” with an expanded sense of meaning, attentiveness, even gratitude.6 Any presentation that fulfills that function is, in his estimation, an artwork of the highest order.

A Framework for Understanding

This example, and the (re)definition of art that accompanies it, provides a helpful framework through which to understand the wonderfully “strange” array that has blossomed in the arts in recent decades. First, many artists continue to take up the artifacts of everyday life—found objects, consumer products, construction materials, various forms of cultural detritus—as artistic media for exploring the lives we’re living. Artists like Tara Donovan, for example, configure thousands of mass-produced disposable objects (Styrofoam cups, drinking straws, etc.) into massive forms that are simultaneously beautiful and repellent, calling into question the ethics implicit in the things we produce. Other artists, such as Jim Hodges, explore the poetic capacities of everyday things, using domestic materials like denim or silk flowers to create lyrical meditations on the fragility and dignity of human lives. Others deploy found objects as lamentations over violence and suffering: Doris Salcedo, for example, uses found chairs and concrete-filled furniture as heart-rending stand-ins for those who have “disappeared” in the violent conflict in her native Colombia.

Second, many artists physically intervene in the space of the built environment—both public and private—to explore the ways that human lives are shaped by the arrangements of our homes, neighborhoods, marketplaces, and public institutions. Theaster Gates, for example, has incorporated extensive involvement in urban revitalization into his artistic practice, restoring vacant buildings in his hometown of Chicago to generate new forms of interaction and meaning in the community. Korean artist Do-Ho Suh speaks to issues of migration and cultural displacement by intricately reconstructing his childhood home out of translucent polyester fabrics, creating a malleable structure that is folded up and travels to exhibition spaces throughout the world. Artists like Francis Alÿs address related issues by entering directly into the flow of city life, subtly disrupting the taken-for-granted routines, patterns, and boundaries that shape lives in metropolitan public spaces.

Third, these approaches heighten the importance of the human body as both an object and a medium of artistic contemplation. For artists like Tim Hawkinson, this takes the form of lyrical sculptural improvisations on the human form, investigating the body as a site of both longing and limitation, mediacy and immediacy. Performance artists, including those influenced by Allan Kaprow, regard the body itself and its daily activities (breathing, squeezing oranges, shaking hands) as mediums and loci for exploring tacit assumptions about human embodiment, performative social norms, and daily habitus.

Fourth, many artists focus attention on mass-media technologies as domains of familiarity that need sharp scrutiny (and disruption). South African artist William Kentridge creates haunting films and installations exploring the ways that communication technologies shape and narrate collective human histories. Gillian Wearing and Lorna Simpson scrutinize the ways that everyday photographic media shape how we picture—and thus see—ourselves and each other. Wade Guyton and Raphaël Rozendaal borrow the formats and processes of digital media to derail and destabilize their effects, whereas artists like Bill Viola attempt to reclaim them for poetic contemplation of transience and transcendence.

Christianity and Contemporary Art

So how does all of this pertain to the ways Christians think about and participate in the arts? The history of modern and contemporary art is, after all, the history of art after it left the church (a history which, it should be noted, decisively begins with the Protestant Reformation, not the Enlightenment). The estrangement between modern art and the church has led many Christians to organize their “engagement” with the arts in defensive terms. These approaches have some merits, but they also have terrible deficiencies—not least of which is that they virtually ensure one’s ignorance of and nonparticipation in what is actually going on in the arts today.

At least two considerations encourage another approach. First, the understanding of contemporary art sketched above clarifies the extent to which artists are actively engaged in fundamental human vocations of caring for, cultivating, and naming the earth, and heightening sensitivities to our various particular enculturated ways of living in the world. In this respect, Christians have much to affirm in contemporary art as goods in themselves, to be enjoyed and wrestled with on their own terms, without impatiently either reducing them to worldview arguments or uncritically co-opting them into the church. Second, all of the topics discussed above have deep theological questions and implications built into them, even if these tend to be underrepresented and under-interpreted in the ways that art history and criticism are generally written and taught. Scholars are increasingly recognizing that modern and contemporary art is, and has always been, engaged in questions and concerns that have deep religious roots and dimensions, though much work remains to be done to adequately explore these. Christians have much to contribute to and much to learn from engaging the arts as domains already dense with theological meaning, particularly as we become better attuned to the ways the generative strangeness of contemporary art might help awaken us to the life we’re living.

Jonathan A. Anderson is an artist, art critic, and associate professor of art at Biola University. He is the coauthor of Modern Art and the Life of a Culture: The Religious Impulses of Modernism (with William Dyrness).


Cap Stewart

With the rampant pornification of pop culture in the West, an overriding concern Christians express when engaging with the arts is about content. “Could this album/video game/movie be a stumbling block to me?”

Concerns like this are legitimate, but they don’t go far enough. When we engage with most types of entertainment, we are interacting, in some form or fashion, with other human beings. And if objectification can negatively affect us as an audience, what is it doing to those on the other end of the equation?

“We Are Not Things”

Consider Jennifer Lawrence’s experience filming the 2017 movie Passengers. This project provided Lawrence with her first on-screen sex scene, which she describes in her own words:

I got really, really drunk. But then that led to more anxiety when I got home because I was like, “What have I done? I don’t know.” And he [Chris Pratt] was married. And it was going to be my first time kissing a married man, and guilt is the worst feeling in your stomach. And I knew it was my job, but I couldn’t tell my stomach that. So I called my mom, and I was like, “Will you just tell me it’s OK?”1

This is not simply the response of an actor pushing beyond her comfort zone. This is the response of an actor violating her conscience. The coping mechanism she chose—getting drunk—only exacerbated her anxiety and guilt.2

Tragically, Lawrence’s experience is only one of many. For example, Ruta Gedmintas describes her first sex scene in the HBO series The Tudors like this: “I was absolutely terrified and had no idea what was going on. . . . I cried after-wards because I was thinking, ‘This isn’t acting, what am I doing?’ ”3

In fact, if you pay attention to the way entertainers routinely describe performing nude and sex scenes, their word choices are revealing: “awkward”4 (Zoe Saldana), “awful”5 (Eva Mendes), “nerve-wracking”6 (Margot Robbie), “terrified”7 (Reese Witherspoon), “mortifying”8 (Jemima Kirke), “toxic”9 (Michelle Williams), “humiliating”10 (Claire Foy), “traumatic”11 (Natalie Dormer), “sort of unethical”12 (Kate Winslet), and “shell-shocked”13 (Dakota Johnson).

There are even cases where women feel coerced in a way resembling outright sexual assault, as evidenced by the testimonies of women like Sarah Silverman,14 Salma Hayek,15 Kate Beckinsale,16 Sarah Tither-Kaplan,17 and Maria Schneider.18 Suffice it to say, a great number of women are traumatized by these experiences because of how their privacy, dignity, and sexuality are trivialized, all in the name of entertainment.

Do the examples above represent how all performing artists feel? Certainly not. Plenty of them show few reservations about nude and sexual content. The experiences I have described may not be universal, but they are prevalent—prevalent enough to be a major concern, especially since it is nearly impossible for audience members to discern when a piece of sexualized entertainment involves serious coercion, some coercion, or no coercion at all. The end product often looks the same.

In the entertainment industry, there is a longstanding “tradition of objectifying female characters.”19 Indeed, the societal pressure placed on women to publicly perform as sexual objects is tangible and pervasive, infiltrating virtually every art form. In the realm of filmmaking, for instance, women publicly undress almost three times as often as men do.20 Film critic James Berardinelli explains why: “For the most part, only high-profile actresses have been able to dictate no-nudity terms. Lesser-known actresses or those with lower profiles are given a ‘take it or leave it’ option in which they either strip or are passed over. As in any kind of commerce, it’s a matter of who has the power.”21

Women are objectified, dehumanized, and even abused because of “who has the power.” And who exactly has this power? Producers, directors, and other executive heads. But even much of their influence can be traced back to another source: consumers like you and me.

There would not be so much hypersexualized material in our entertainment if there were not such a high demand for it. We may not consider ourselves as “demanding” it. We may reluctantly tolerate it only to enjoy a good story or performance. We might even do so while publicly objecting to the pornographic content. But when our pocketbook is involved, our toleration communicates only support. In the words of author Anna Lappé, “Every time you spend money, you’re casting a vote for the kind of world you want.”22

Love Your Entertainer as You Love Yourself

When debating the appropriateness of various forms of entertainment, we have largely (and, I believe, inadvertently) constructed flimsy soapboxes on the shifting sands of selfishness. Our personal freedom, as important as it is, becomes moot when it intrudes on the spiritual, emotional, and psychological health of others. As the apostle Paul wrote, “You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love. For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself’ ” (Gal. 5:13–14).

When it comes to pursuing and enjoying the arts, the freedom Christians enjoy is indeed greater than many legalists would have us believe. But that great truth is only half the truth, for it ignores a greater element to our freedom—namely, our ability in Christ to restrict our own practices so we can love our neighbor.

It is this love which we have neglected.23 Our consumeristic mindset has largely eclipsed our ability to consider the spiritual well-being of those we pay to entertain us. Sadly, we are more concerned with staying relevant, or enjoying a cathartic experience, or keeping up with what everyone else is doing.

Instead, let us cultivate a willingness to deny ourselves any indulgence that would contribute to a performer’s sexual degradation. Yes, our options will be limited—sometimes significantly. But think of all that we have to gain: valuing the inherent worth and dignity of others regardless of their ability to amuse us; severing the root of secret lusts that might be hiding beneath the surface; enjoying more freedom from self-centeredness; gaining greater mastery over the temptations of pornography (in all its forms); developing a healthier sexuality, which focuses more on the needs of others than it does on itself; growing in pure, holy, and erotic love for one’s spouse; and experiencing a cleaner conscience through several small acts of selfless love. The rewards of loving our neighbor are rich and deep, and we will soon wonder at how small and petty those things were that we once feared to lose.

Cap Stewart has developed his love of stories through drama, radio, videography, independent filmmaking, and collecting and reviewing film scores. His cultural commentary has appeared, among other places, on Reformed Perspective, The Gospel Coalition, and Speculative Faith. Cap has been writing about theology and the arts at capstewart.com since 2006.

chapter twelve


There is no singular Christian position on the role Christians should take in war and how Christians should think about weapons and capital punishment. Throughout history, thoughtful Christians have understood the Bible’s teaching on these topics quite differently based on their interpretations of Scripture—with Genesis 9 and Romans 13 functioning as pivotal texts in the debate—and their understanding of church history as well as the pressures of their own historical context. At least part of the challenge Christians face when determining how and what we ought to think about going to war—and, more broadly, violence—stems from the seeming discontinuity between the Old Testament’s record of and teaching on war and Christ’s attitude and teachings on the subject. Positions on war, weapons, and capital punishment depend, at least in part, on the hermeneutical relationship one holds between the Old and the New Testaments. The God of the Old Testament at times leads his people—the Israelites—into war to free them from their oppressors, to deliver them from their enemies, and secure for them the Promised Land. Christ, on the other hand, teaches his followers to love their enemies, to pray for them, and, following his example, even to die for them. It is widely recognized that the early church fathers maintained pacifist positions, drawing hard lines between the government and military of the age and membership within the kingdom of God. This duality meant that they generally acknowledged the empire’s right to administer capital punishment while also admonishing Christians against being involved in the administration of executions.1

One of the earliest pacifists recorded in church history is Justin Martyr (c. 150 CE).2 Second-century Christians identified themselves as “warriors but of a special kind, namely, peaceful warriors” because they “refused to practice violence and, on the warrior side, they excelled . . . in showing fidelity to their cause and courage in the face of imminent death.”3 The record shows that for some early Christians, nonviolence was viewed “as an essential attribute of discipleship” required even of new converts who had held military or other positions requiring violence.4 In fact, during the reign of Marcus Aurelius (161–180 CE), “the church perceived military service and following Jesus as mutually exclusive, a choice which Roman soldiers attracted to the gospel were forced to make.”5 Tertullian maintained that the very nature of the gospel required those who believed it to “accept death when under attack” rather than act violently against their aggressors.6 He even went so far as to prohibit Christians from holding governmental offices wherein their decisions would naturally affect matters of life or death for others.7 The church’s stance on nonviolence relaxed, however, as Rome experienced an extended period of peace under the pax Romana, and Tertullian did eventually allow converts to continue to hold posts in those professions so long as peace prevailed.8 And so it did, for a time.

The first major shift in the view of the Christian’s relationship to violence occurred because the church found itself in the position to offer ethical guidance on governmental and geopolitical issues. Augustine is famously credited with developing the foundations for Just War theory, the guiding principles by which Christians traditionally have condoned and participated in war with other nations. Augustine writes,

What is the moral evil in war? Is it the death of some who will soon die in any case, that others may be subdued to a peaceful state in which life may flourish? This is mere cowardly dislike, not any religious feeling. The real evils in war are love of violence, revengeful cruelty, fierce and implacable enmity, wild resistance, and the lust of power, and such like; and it is generally to impose just punishment on them that, in obedience to God or some lawful authority, good men undertake wars against violent resistance, when they find themselves set in positions of responsibility which require them to command or execute actions of this kind.9

In other words, Augustine, affirming what the Old Testament reveals about the nature of the Lord through his interactions with Israel while simultaneously upholding what Christ teaches about the kingdom of God in the New Testament, suggests that violence is not wrong in and of itself. Rather, Augustine argued, it is the unrestrained love of violence that is evil and ought to be resisted and restrained through holy violence if necessary. In The City of God he argues against the objection that the first commandment forbids all killing:

The divine authority itself, however, did make certain exceptions to the rule that it is against the law to kill a human being. But these exceptions include only those whom God orders to be killed, either by a law he provided or by an express command applying to a particular person at a particular time. In addition the one who owes this service to his commander does not himself kill; rather he is, like a sword, an instrument in the user’s hand. Consequently, those who, by God’s authority, have waged wars have in no way acted against the commandment which says, you shall not kill; nor have those who, bearing the public power in their own person, have punished the wicked with death according to his laws, that is, according to the authority of the supremely just reason.10

These statements, among others, not only laid the groundwork for Just War theory11 and promoted the ongoing Christian defense of capital punishment, but also, when misapplied, opened the door for the justification of the Crusades, a period of church history in which violence against the church’s enemies was aggressively pursued. By the modern period, the church had turned much of its warring and violence inward, in the form of the various forms of violence the church of Rome and its Protestant Reformers wreaked upon one another across Europe.

The founding of America, prompted by the religious wars that impinged on the religious liberties of emerging Christian sects, itself depended on violence and weaponry at the personal and community level as European settlers came and, in the name of religious freedom, wrested land from Native Americans. At the root of the nation’s formation in the early colonies and later in its westward expansion, and eventually in its own Civil War, was a rationale for the use of weapons and violence to seize and settle the land. This long history continues to influence national debates on gun control and gun violence.

By the early twentieth century, when the world itself was at war, Christians who conscientiously objected were the exception rather than the rule. The church, along with the rest of the world, faced unprecedented violence from weapons far more powerful than anything seen before. “Everywhere by overwhelming majorities Christian people pronounced in word and act the same decision, viz. that to fight, to shed blood, to kill—provided it be done in the defense of one’s country or of the weak, for the sanctity of treaties or for the maintenance of international righteousness—is at once the Christian’s duty and his privilege.”12 In other words, Christians by and large returned to a more philosophically and theologically sound understanding of the Just War theory instituted by Augustine and largely supported the great World Wars as necessary to curb the evil that was oppressing and killing innocent people.

Of course, the wars of the twentieth century were not limited to those two great wars of the first half of the century. In fact, the century saw wars and heard rumors of wars in every corner of the world. And the Christian response to these wars has continued to vary, with the two most prominent scholarly views being a responsible application of the Just War theory and passivism. Famous contemporary pacifist Stanley Hauerwas explains the distinctions even within pacifism, saying, “My pacifism, which is based upon Christological presuppositions, does not look on our disavowal of war as a strategy to make the world less violent. Indeed, my own view is that Christians are called to nonviolence not because our nonviolence promises to make the world free of war, but because in a world of war we, as faithful followers of Jesus, cannot imagine being other than nonviolent.”13

The specter of terrorism and weapons of mass destruction in the twenty-first century has shifted the debate in ways that could not have been foreseen even in the world wars. Today Just War theory and pacifism must take into account the possibility of entire nations of innocent people being maimed or destroyed by the press of a button or the release of noxious substance. Moreover, with the aid of modern news reporting and technology, our acute awareness of the horrific evil and mass violence that continues to be perpetrated around the world raises the question for some whether capital punishment is, at least in extreme cases of reprehensible brutality, the proper punishment. Yet even for some who in theory see merit in the case for the death penalty, the apparent systemic racial and socioeconomic injustices have caused them to oppose capital punishment in practice. Much of the American church, seemingly, has faced these issues more fervently at the ballot box than at the altar.

This section includes three sets of articles that clearly take opposing positions. First, Matthew Arbo presents a theological and philosophical argument against capital punishment, while Joe Carter presents an argument in favor of capital punishment founded in a study of the Noahic covenant.

In the second set of positions, Bruce Ashford lends his support for biblical Just War theory, arguing that it is the most logically and theologically coherent approach to understanding the function of war and violence in light of Scripture. In contrast, Ben Witherington III presents an argument in favor of Christian personal pacifism, rejecting violence at the personal level based on Christian moral and ethical standards while recognizing that God has given authority to secular governments to enact violence when necessary.

Third, Rob Schenck argues that Christians should, in following Christ’s example, avoid gun ownership and lethal violence, while Karen Swallow Prior, drawing from her personal experiences and pro-life principles, presents her argument for gun ownership, urging Christians—and particularly Christian women—to use wisdom and conscientious stewardship to develop their views on gun ownership and violence.


Matthew Arbo

Christians are not obligated to support capital punishment and indeed should not support it. That is the claim I intend to argue for here. My reasons for opposing the death penalty are both philosophical and theological. Let me begin with philosophical objections, which I divide into practical and theological objections to capital punishment. The justice in capital punishment does not consist in feelings of satisfaction achieved through retaliation or vengeance, but in setting to right what really can be set to right.

Practical Objections

Evidence also suggests that capital punishment does not serve as an effective deterrent to capital offenses. First, if a crime is unpremeditated, or committed in the heat of passion, then clearly the threat of execution never entered the wrongdoer’s mind before committing the crime. In addition, many who have committed capital offenses admit to ignoring the possibility of being executed for their crime. Moreover, in fourteen states without the death penalty, homicide rates are at or below the national average. Positive evidence of the death penalty’s effectiveness at dissuading violent crime is not compelling.

Consider the following US statistics:

• More than half of death row inmates are people of color.

• Since 1977, the overwhelming majority of death row inmates (77 percent) have been executed for killing white victims, even though African-Americans were victims in half of all homicides.

• Since 1973, 140 individuals on death row have been exonerated.

• Almost all death row inmates could not afford their own trial attorney.

• Since 1976, 82 percent of all executions have taken place in the South.

• Of the 344 exonerees represented by the Innocence Project, 20 served time on death row. Of those 344 exonerations, 71 percent involved eye-witness misidentification, 46 percent involved misapplication of forensic evidence, and 28 percent involved false or coerced confessions.

• Of those 344, a full two-thirds were people of color.1

These represent but a small sample of the practical problems endemic to the criminal justice system.2 I wish to highlight the problems of attorney representation and racial bias, in particular. Given the current strain placed on public defenders, both because of case load and prolonged underfunding, it is difficult to see how every violent offender who cannot afford their own counsel is comparably represented by state-appointed counsel, no matter how well-meaning or talented that counsel might be. Mounting evidence also suggests people of color receive a disproportionate percentage of the capital sentences. Together these findings constitute reason enough to place a temporary national stay on capital punishment.

Theological Objections

I transition now to theological objections to the death penalty. First, if one wishes to base one’s justification for capital punishment on lex talionis of the Old Testament, then one must demonstrate how death as a punitive measure is morally right, not merely permissible. Jesus’ instruction in Matthew 5:38–41 makes clear that retaliatory interpretations of the law are incorrect. If one is subject to wrongdoing or injustice, Jesus implores forbearance and charity, dismissing any reading that justifies vengeance. It is especially difficult in practice to disentangle vengeance from retribution in capital punishment. Governing authorities are sometimes required to use force in upholding the law and securing peace, of course, but nothing requires them to kill offenders to do so (cf. Rom. 13). In pleading for measured clemency, the Christian is not being insubordinate or disrespectful.

A second theological point is one offered long ago by Augustine: once the condemned is put to death, that person is no longer eligible for evangelization and conversion. Clemency extends the possibility of rebirth in Christ. It doesn’t guarantee conversion, obviously, but execution certainly ends the opportunity. Historically the church has taken this particular opportunity very much to heart.

Third, the Christian faith is fully and entirely pro-life, beginning to end. This commitment has broad enough scope to include even the condemned. Every human being has dignity and no one, not even the monstrous, can lose their dignity altogether. If Christians take human dignity seriously, we should criticize any penalty that fosters attitudes of contempt toward the condemned. The Deuteronomic code, for example, limits the number of times the guilty can be flogged, for otherwise “your fellow Israelite will be degraded in your eyes” (Deut. 25:1–3). Degradation is here distinguishable from shame, which may rightly attend punishment; but execution is degradation by definition. As Oliver O’Donovan puts it, “When the suffering of punishment becomes an object of vulgar curiosity and fascination, even experiment, the condemned person ceases to count among us as a human being deserving of neighbor-love, and ordinary human respect seems to vanish.”3

Let me address two possible objections. First, some may wish to take issue with the appeal to Matthew 5:38–41 as a criticism of lex talionis. They will say Jesus’ instruction is directed to disciples, to the church, and does not apply to civil authorities. This objection is valid in part, for Jesus is indeed addressing followers. But the text does not specify that it is only followers he speaks to, nor does it preclude the possibility of a civil authority also being Christian. Thus, if I am right, then the Christian apologist for capital punishment must give distinctly Christian reasons that respect the force of Jesus’ teaching: does it avoid vengeance, and what distinctly Christian good does it establish that no other punishment can?

The second objection has to do with my dismissal of Genesis 9:6 as constituting a sufficient Christian principle for capital punishment. The text itself seems straightforward: whoever sheds the blood of man, so shall his blood be shed; for God made man in his image. Destroying the image of God carries grave consequences. This is a powerful theological claim, and because Genesis 9:6 figures so centrally in defenses of capital punishment, I wish here to offer a more detailed response to the objection.

A tremendous amount could be said about what is happening in Genesis 9, from its unique postflood context to the repeated use of “blood” language. In its application to capital punishment, however, it is the principle in verse 6 that has been enshrined in legal history. Taken literally, the verse does not speak to capital punishment. In spirit, however, it serves as an important legal rationale for retribution, a retribution based on the intrinsic value of the image of God.

The covenant in Genesis 9 has two distinct but integrated parts—verses 1–7 and 8–17. In the first part, God tells Noah and his sons what they are to do and explains to them the relation they now share with other creatures. God gives them “everything,” but with a couple of stipulations: They may not eat meat with blood in it, nor may another man’s blood be shed. That’s the immediate context for verse 9, which then pronounces the penalty for shedding another’s blood. Humanity is distinctive among creatures because of the image of God. Then the command to be fruitful is repeated, and only after this, in the second part, is the covenant broadened to include every living creature. It just doesn’t make any sense to read verses 1–7 as including all creatures when all the provisions of the covenant are about distinctly human activities.

I see something distinctive in verse 6 and believe it should be interpreted in light of Christ’s saving work and the New Covenant he has established with this church. I do so because other provisions of the covenant in Genesis 9:1–7 have only loose application to the church today, and in some instances are also fulfilled in Christ himself. Is “everything that moves” really meant to be food for us? It is possible, if not probable, that in context this is precisely what is being commanded. Are we obliged to follow it? All humanity? Or only the church? If so, what are we supposed to make of Paul’s instruction in 1 Corinthians 8 and 10 about eating and abstaining? God also tells Noah and his sons that he gives them “everything.” If that is true, how are we to interpret John 3:34–36 in which Jesus explains that the Father loves the Son and “has given all things into his hand”? The Noahic covenant is still meaningful and relevant for the church, of course, but for these reasons I do not interpret verses 1–7 as a self-standing moral prescription.

Interpreting verse 6 as is, apart from Christ’s work and covenant, carries rather odd implications. As mentioned, verse 6 presumes the logic of lex talionis, but at almost no place in history has the principle been upheld in literal terms—i.e., that punishment should identically match the wrong. Not even in odd Islamic codes does this happen. When someone steals from another’s produce stand, for example, the penalty is to remove the offender’s hand, not to steal produce from the offender, when the latter would more accurately reflect lex talionis. When politically institutionalized, as after many generations it inevitably would be, penal codes do not specify total replication of the wrong upon the wrongdoer, but of proportionate justice upon the wrongdoer, particularly in form and severity.

The pivotal question is how the Noahic covenant is reinterpreted in light of Christ’s finished work. The church cannot draw a straight line from Genesis 9:6 to formal justification of capital punishment. It has to be interpreted and applied in light of the New Covenant and the mission it confers upon the church. The church is a people reconstituted in the grace and love of Christ. It is his command to love God and love neighbor. Could the condemned be a neighbor, I wonder? Are we loving family and friends of the slain, for example, when we affirm their longing to see the killer executed? If all human beings are bearers of the image of God, who are we supposed to love: the killed or the killer? If we cannot love the killed, then would it be possible to love some idealized Killed, a victim representing all who are lost? Genesis 9:6 doesn’t settle these sorts of questions and wasn’t meant to. This also begins to get at my claim that killing a person as punishment for killing is a paradoxical thing to “support.” How do we love bearers of the image and support the killing of them at the same time?

Those are my objections and explanations. I put them frankly, knowing many readers will vehemently reject my arguments. I ask only that readers consider whether capital punishment in fact gives the condemned what they deserve or whether it simply assuages the anger, however justifiable, of those with a relation to the slain, who equate “justice is served” with “the one who killed my loved one has been killed.”

A legitimate Christian defense of capital punishment must demonstrate the good it serves without recourse to satisfying vengeance. Christians are aware of at least one example of an innocent man being unjustly executed. How many more are we willing to accept for the sole purpose of maintaining a penalty we could just as well do without? Many so-called Christian defenses of capital punishment are, I fear, more emotive and utilitarian than theological.

Matthew Arbo (PhD, University of Edinburgh) serves as assistant professor of theological studies and director of the Center for Faith and Public Life at Oklahoma Baptist University. He is the author of Walking Through Infertility and Political Vanity. Arbo serves as an elder at Frontline Church in Oklahoma City.


Joe Carter

When considering the morality of an issue like capital punishment, the first question Christians must ask is, “Has God spoken about the topic?”

In attempting to answer this question, many Christians look to the Mosaic law. Denying the legitimacy of the death penalty is made more difficult when we recognize that the law God gave the Israelites included twenty-one different offenses that would warrant the death penalty.

The problem with this approach, of course, is that the law of Moses applied only to Israel. Since this particular covenant was made between God and the Hebrew people, it was never universally applicable. But while the Mosaic law doesn’t provide a sound basis for a defense of modern capital punishment, there is a covenant that does: the Noahic covenant.

After God destroyed mankind with a flood, he established a covenant with Noah, his family, and with his descendants. Along with the promise that he would never destroy the earth by water again, God included this moral command: “Whoever sheds human blood, by humans shall their blood be shed; for in the image of God has God made mankind” (Gen. 9:6).

This verse not only provides a moral norm for capital punishment but also delegates the responsibility to mankind—to a legitimate, though undefined, human authority—and limits it to a particular crime: murder. Since this covenant is “everlasting” (9:16) and “for all generations to come” (9:12), it’s as applicable today as it was in the age of Noah.

But who is the legitimate authority to carry out this duty? In Israelite society, the family of the victim carried out God’s mandate. When more advanced forms of governing authorities were created, this duty was transferred to magistrates.

Some Christians argue that since modern liberal governments do not recognize the authority of God, the modern state is free from having to carry out his mandates. The result is that the question of capital punishment must be considered a matter of social, and sometimes individual, justice. Since capital punishment does not serve a legitimate societal interest, they contend, its only purpose is to slake a victim’s quest for vengeance.

This argument turns on the assumption that outlawing private revenge frees governments from the responsibility to implement God-mandated capital punishment. But what basis do we have for believing that claim?

In the ancient Near East, a person claiming wrongdoing was expected to seek personal justice by retaliating in kind. This seeking of justice would often escalate into a private vendetta, and eventually into a blood feud between families or tribes. The resulting suffering would often far outweigh the original injustice.

The Mosaic law, however, placed a limit on personal vengeance, allowing only what was directly proportional to the injury done. This is known as the lex talionis, the law of retaliation (Ex. 21:23–24; Deut. 19:21; Lev. 24:20–21). The phrase “eye for an eye” doesn’t literally mean you could poke someone’s eyes out (as Ex. 21:26–27 makes clear) but only that the compensation had to be in exact proportion to the damages. (We should also note that the judges—Israel’s version of the civil magistrate—used the verses to adjudicate on the matter. A third party mediated the vengeance.)

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus places an even greater restriction on the lex talionis: “You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also” (Matt. 5:38–39).

This is a radical limitation on what was once considered an individual right to justice. But we should carefully note what Jesus didn’t say in this passage. What he left out of the verse he quoted is as important as what he included. Exodus 21:23–24 states: “If there is serious injury, you are to take life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot.”

Notice Jesus starts quoting at “eye for eye” instead of “life for life.” Murder was not, nor had it ever been, a matter of individual vengeance. When a person commits murder, they are committing an offense against God himself and not against a mere individual, his family, or even society. Jesus’ command only applies to individual vengeance; it does not abrogate God’s command in the Noahic covenant.

Different orderings of the social contract may shift the burden of carrying out capital punishment from one societal sphere (the family) to another (the civil magistrate). But the duty must be carried out. If Christians believe their governing authorities are legitimate, then we must expect them to take on the role instituted by God himself.

The apostle Paul makes clear that governing authorities are tasked with implementing the wrath of God on the evildoer. In Romans 13:1–6 Paul makes a logical argument with multiple, interrelated premises.

1. All authorities have been established by God.

2. All Christians are subject to these governing authorities.

3. All such authorities have been instituted by God for the good of the people.

4. Governing authorities are God’s servants.

5. Resisting these authorities is resisting what God has appointed and will result in divine judgment upon the individual.

6. Governing authorities that “bear the sword” are carrying out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer.

The passage by Paul is unambiguous: Governing authorities are instituted by God to carry out God’s wrath on the evildoer. Whether citizens of the state recognize his lordship over civil government is inconsequential; the Bible makes it clear that nations and rulers are servants of God (see Isa. 45:1; Jer. 25:9; Dan. 4:32).

We may choose to reject the legitimacy of this arrangement, but in doing so we are choosing to reject God’s wisdom. If Christians believe governing authorities are legitimate, then we must expect them to carry out this mandate against murderers. For officials of the church to slander the officials of the state by claiming they are “not in keeping with the gospel of Jesus Christ” while they are carrying out God’s command is scandalous.

This is not the only scandal, however. There are serious concerns with how the death penalty is applied and carried out in the United States. While the Bible establishes a justification and requirement for capital punishment, it does not address the problems with its application. We have a moral responsibility to redress these wrongs through the political process. What we must not do, though, is allow our apprehension about the means, method, and scope of capital punishment to override our obedience in carrying out the Creator’s command.

Long ago, God made a promise to never again destroy the human race with a flood. When we see the rainbow in the sky, we are to “remember the everlasting covenant between God and all living creatures of every kind on the earth” (Gen. 9:16). As Christians, we should remember more than just the covenant. When we see a rainbow, we should remember that we are made in the image of God. And when we see the electric chair, we should remember too the price to be paid when we destroy the image-bearer.

Joe Carter is an editor for the Gospel Coalition, the editor of the NIV Lifehacks Bible, and author of The Life and Faith Field Guide for Parents. He serves as an elder at Grace Hill Church in Herndon, Virginia.


Bruce Riley Ashford

At the age of fifty-three, after having served as commander-in-chief of the Continental Army, George Washington stated, “My first wish is to see this plague of mankind, war, banished from the earth.”1 No doubt many of us also wish that war would be banished from the earth. But, like Washington, we must recognize that war is sometimes inevitable in a world populated by sinners.

A Biblical “Just War” View of War and Peace

The Bible reveals to us an overarching story about the world. This story stretches all the way back to God’s creation of heaven and earth and leans forward to Jesus Christ’s return to defeat his enemies and renew the heavens and earth. This divine narrative is the true story of the whole world, and it is the context within which we can begin to make sense of war and peace.

At the time of creation, God’s world was characterized by a comprehensive peace and harmony (Gen. 1–2). In fact, the Hebrew word that is translated as “peace” is shalom. This term means more than mere absence of war. It signifies something more comprehensive: universal flourishing, delight, peace, order, and justice.

When Adam and Eve sinned, they broke this shalom and left the world in the condition we now know and inhabit (Gen. 3). Because of sin, our world is no longer characterized by universal flourishing, delight, or peace. Instead, it is riddled with the effects of sin, including the horrifying realities of war. But God, in his love, sent his Son to save us from sin and sin’s consequences (John 3:16–18); in fact, he promises that he will send his Son again in the future to defeat his enemies and institute a peaceful kingdom (Rev. 21–22).

In the meantime, before the Son returns to consummate his peaceful kingdom, the Bible gives some specific principles that are applicable to war and peace. First, it makes clear that we cannot force the world to be a war-free utopia. Until Jesus returns, there will continue to be “wars and rumors of wars” because “the end is not yet” (Matt. 24:6 NKJV). Second, God has ordained governments to use force as an appropriate tool to defend their citizens (Ps. 144:1; Rom. 13:1–7). Third, Christians should always hope and pray for peace, but should accept the fact that war will sometimes be necessary. And because war is necessary, they should view the military as an honorable vocation (Luke 3:14).

Two Flawed Approaches to War

The view that has just been outlined is known as the “Just War” view. It draws upon biblical teaching to argue that deadly force is sometimes necessary because we live in a fallen world. However, not all Christians hold the “Just War” view.

Pacifism (Be Peaceful by Laying Down Your Sword)

Some Christians are pacifists. Pacifists refuse to use deadly force because they believe it is evil to do so. Some pacifists will approve of the military using deadly force as long as the pacifist himself doesn’t participate, but consistent pacifists refuse to support any type of violence at all. They draw upon passages such as the Sermon on the Mount, in which we are told that we should love our enemies and be peacemakers (Matt. 5:9, 38–46).

Although well-intentioned, pacificism is idealistic and does not make sense of a fuller biblical teaching. It overlooks the Bible’s teaching that God instructs the government to bear the sword (Rom. 13:3–5), Jesus used violence to cleanse the temple (John 2:15–16), and told his disciples to carry swords in case they needed them (Luke 22:36). Pacifists are right to want peace but are wrong to think that government should not wield the sword in a fallen world.

Crusade (Seek Universal Peace by Means of the Sword)

Other Christians reject “Just War” criteria and support wars of crusade. A war of crusade is religious and/or ideological. It is led by a religious (e.g., imam) or ideological (e.g., Lenin) authority who wishes to defeat evil and impose their vision of the “good.”2 Crusaders see themselves as waging war on behalf of ultimate good by imposing an ideal social order. Instead of showing restraint in war by, for example, distinguishing between combatants and noncombatants, they tend to want to annihilate the old social order by converting, punishing, or destroying the enemy.

Crusaderism’s own idealistic picture does not make sense of biblical teaching. Although there are instances in which the Bible views a crusade mentality approvingly, those instances are ones in which God himself instructed Israel to go to war (e.g., Num. 31:1–54) or in which God will lead a final crusade to defeat his enemies and institute a one-world government (Rev. 19:11–21).

Criteria for Waging a Just War

Over the millennia, Greek philosophers, Roman lawyers, Christian theologians, and others have developed specific criteria that must be met if a nation-state is to be justified in becoming engaged in a just war. Those criteria are:3

Just Cause: A nation must go to war only if it is defending against an unjust aggression. In other words, a nation should not go to war merely to topple another nation’s leader, install a preferred political or economic system, or expand its own power.4

Competent Authority: The decision to go to war must be made by the ruler or ruling body that is responsible for maintaining that nation’s order and security.

Comparative Justice: A nation should go to war only if this war leads to greater justice than refraining from war and tolerating the other nation’s injustice.

Right Intention: A nation may go to war only if the intention is to restore the peace. It may not go to war for the purpose of glorifying itself, enlarging its territory, or humiliating its opponent.

Last Resort: A nation must exhaust all realistic nonviolent options (e.g., diplomacy, economic sanctions) before going to war.

Probability of Success: A nation must determine that it has a realistic hope of achieving victory.

Proportionality of Projected Results: A nation must determine that the anticipated results of the war are worth more than the anticipated costs.

Right Spirit: A nation must never go to war with anything other than regret. It should never wage war with a lust for power or delight in humiliating the enemy.

Just as there are criteria for becoming engaged in war, so there are also criteria for a nation’s conduct during the war. The nation must not use more force or do more killing than is necessary to achieve its legitimate military goals. It must distinguish between combatants and noncombatants, avoid using evil means such as rape or the desecration of holy places, treat POWs with humane decency, and cease fighting once it becomes clear there is no chance of winning.


Augustine, the fifth-century church father, once wrote,

But perhaps it is displeasing to good men to . . . provoke with voluntary war neighbors who are peaceable and do no wrong, in order to enlarge a kingdom? If they feel thus, I entirely approve and praise them.5

Pacifists, Crusaders, and Just War proponents agree that the world clashes with conflict, and also that God’s full shalom will not be restored until Jesus returns. Inevitably in our broken world, nations and kingdoms will “provoke . . . neighboring kingdoms . . . as a way to enlarge [their] own kingdom.” Thus, not only should Christians themselves seek peace with neighbors, domestic and foreign, but they must encourage nations’ leaders to seek peace and to exercise force only after having met specific criteria that ensure the ensuing conflict is justified.

Bruce Riley Ashford (PhD, Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary) is provost and professor of theology and culture at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. He has written a number of books, including Letters to an American Christian and The Gospel of Our King. He is a frequent writer for Fox News Opinion and other national media outlets.


Ben Witherington III

Perhaps some of you saw the highly acclaimed film Hacksaw Ridge, which came out in the fall of 2016. It tells the true story of a Christian, Desmond Doss, who served in World War II on Okinawa and rescued seventy-five soldiers during that battle, all while carrying no weapon at all, indeed refusing to do so. He is the only pacifist to have received the Congressional Medal of Honor. What his story makes perfectly clear is that Christian pacifism has nothing to do with cowardice or being passive. Indeed, Doss’s witness suggests that it takes far more courage to crawl across a battlefield and rescue the wounded without a weapon than with one.

At its core, and for me personally, the commitment to pacifism comes from the desire to fully obey the teachings of Jesus and Paul on this subject, teachings found in Matthew 5–7 and the second half of Romans 12 and 13. The gist of the matter is, as Wendell Berry makes clear, when Jesus called us to love our enemies, he did not mean love them to death at the point of a gun.1 He really meant “thou shalt not kill” or, if you prefer, “you shall not murder” (Ex. 20:13). This is not an optional added extra commandment of Jesus; it is something that reflects the necessary corollary to the call of the great commandment—“Love your neighbor as yourself.” It means that one treats every human life as of sacred worth, whether unborn human life, or born human life. For me, this means being totally pro-life. I cannot be party to abortions, capital punishment, or war in any combat capacity. I am amazed at the lack of consistency in some Christians’ so-called pro-life ethic. Being pro-life means more than being pro-birth.

Let me be clear: this does not mean that I expect my government or any government to run on the principles of the Sermon on the Mount. I’m quite familiar with Romans 13 and what it says. I do not agree with the Amish reading of that text, which suggests that God merely ordered but did not authorize human authorities and governments. No, it was Jesus himself who told us that all legitimate human authority comes from God, and that even Pilate had such authority given him by God.

The issue here is not what is legitimate for a non-Christian government to do, or not do. One cannot impose a specifically Christian ethic on a secular government, or at least one ought not to do so. People have to be convinced in their own hearts of the Christian faith and its ethics—convinced, not coerced by government. The ethics of the kingdom are ethics for disciples of Jesus, and not until you are a disciple do they have authority over you.

What Jesus specifically calls for is not merely to resist retaliation to someone’s attack; he calls for forgiveness of those who offend against us in any way. You will remember the story in Matthew 18 where Peter asks Jesus how many times must he forgive someone who sins against him. Jesus replies that infinite forgiveness is called for. Indeed, Jesus is depicted in the Lukan crucifixion narrative as even forgiving those who nailed him to the cross! This is not natural; it is the gospel of grace—it is supernatural. Forgiveness is the one thing that can break the cycle of violence. From Cain and Abel until now, violence has generated only more violence.

Paul puts it this way in Romans 12:17–21, “Do not repay anyone evil for evil. . . . Do not take revenge, . . . but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: ‘It is mine to avenge; I will repay,’ says the Lord.” (this is also the message of the bloodiest book in the NT—Revelation). “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (such as providing one’s enemies with the necessities of life). Here’s a truth we should have suspected all along. Doing violence to others does violence to yourself, not least to your God-given conscience. When you meet persons who have come back from Iraq or Afghanistan and discover they have PTSD, as a Christian, you should hardly be surprised. Killing someone is the opposite of affirming that they are of sacred worth—the opposite of loving them as you love yourself. God hears the blood of the innocents crying from the ground, and believe me, there are always innocents and noncombatants caught in the crossfire.

I find it more than a little ironic that so many people who insist on taking the Bible not merely seriously, but literally, skirt lightly over the teachings of Jesus and Paul on this subject. They ignore the plea, “Why not rather be wronged? . . . you yourselves cheat and do wrong” (1 Cor. 6:7–8). They dismiss whole denominations like the Mennonites and the Amish who affirm Christian pacifism. They ignore the witness of the earliest Christians in the first four centuries of Christian history who were prepared to give their lives for others, but were not willing to take other people’s lives away from them. I am old enough to remember and to have supported the civil rights movement of the 1960s, and even today, we should not ignore the witness of people like Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., through whom great social change came about with nonviolent witness and protest against racism. He held to “active pacifism” and was inspired by E. Stanley Jones’s discussions of the life of Gandhi, who in turn was inspired by Jesus. Jones was a graduate of Asbury College and the person for whom our mission school at Asbury Seminary was named.

What Christian personal pacifism means for me is that I could not serve in the military in a combat capacity, but I could serve as a chaplain or medic—someone trying to rescue and put people back together, even in a war zone. I could serve in a police department as an EMT dispatcher or the like. What I cannot and will not do is have or carry around the instruments of death—guns. There is a powerful scene in the older movie The Witness, starring Harrison Ford as a policeman, where the Amish grandfather tells his grandson when he sees Ford’s weapon on the kitchen table one morning, “Touch not the unclean thing, for murder is a grave sin.”

I happen to believe that in a society that involves both Christians and others, there is a place for a loyal minority witness to a better way than violence, namely the way of the cross and of Christ. I love my country as much as anyone, but my job is not to do any and every task possible in our society; my job is to bear witness to the better kingdom way of loving even one’s enemies, praying for those who persecute you, and forgiving those who harm you.

Am I being naïve about the wicked ways of a fallen world? No, not at all. I will serve my country in ways that do not lead to the harming of others and as such provide a preview of coming attractions, because as Isaiah told us, the day is coming when we will train for war no more and beat our weapons into implements of farming (Isa. 2:4). While empires may rise and fall, the kingdom of God is forever. Because I know this, I choose to make my first priority always the serving of that peaceable kingdom that will one day come fully on earth as it is in heaven.

When there is a conflict between my kingdom values and our American values, then the American values have to be set aside. Christ and his gospel must always be first, and the example of Christ’s life, who helped, healed, delivered, loved one and all, and even forgave his enemies, must be followed. Again, this is not optional. It is obligatory for a Christian.

Inevitably, the question of “lesser of two evils” situations arise. What if the life of the mother is almost certainly going to be lost if the pregnancy goes to full term? What then? Some pacifists would say, pray hard and trust God. Others have said, though murder is always a serious sin, it would be an even more serious sin to deprive the other children of this, and so an abortion is seen as a sin, but not an unforgivable one. Nevertheless, one must repent of the sin of terminating the unborn’s life.

The same logic would apply if someone attacks a pacifist’s family. Personally, what I hope I would do in such a situation is the following: (1) try to get in the way of the assailant and convince him to not harm others but direct his attention to me; (2) if necessary use nonlethal force to subdue him and his efforts (again remember pacifists are opposed to the use of violence, particularly lethal violence, not the use of all force); (3) if even this doesn’t work, then I might try to do nonlethal harm to the assailant.

For the Christian pacifist, the most important thing is salvation, whether of one’s own family or of the assailant. When you kill someone, you deprive them of the opportunity to (1) know Christ, or (2) repent if they have lapsed from their faith. It is precisely because the pacifist believes only God has enough knowledge to pass final judgment on people and will take care of the matter at the final judgment, that it is not necessary for his children to try to be judge, jury, and executioner of other human beings.

For those looking for detailed exegesis of some of the key passages, I would refer them to my Matthew and Romans commentaries (Smyth and Helwys Commentary, Eerdmans). For those wanting thoughtful discussion about the ethics and theology of Christian pacifism, I commend Ron Sider’s Christ and Violence, John Howard Yoder’s classic study The Politics of Jesus, and S. Hauerwas and W. Willimon, Resident Aliens.

Ben Witherington (PhD, University of Durham) is Amos Professor of New Testament for Doctoral Studies at Asbury Theological Seminary and on the doctoral faculty at St. Andrews University in Scotland. Witherington has written more than fifty books, including The Jesus Quest and The Paul Quest, and is considered a top evangelical scholar.


Rob Schenck

If I’m going to train you in how to use a firearm, you must assure me you can use the weapon to kill in an instant, without hesitating. Understand? If you can’t do that, you’re more dangerous with the gun than without it, because, in a violent confrontation, it will be taken from you and used to kill you and go on to kill others.”

The admonition from my volunteer firearms instructor, a US Marine reservist, was a tough challenge; firearms were not a part of my world. As a minister, I never imagined using lethal force in any situation. My job was to preach, teach, and work toward harmony between man and God and between one person and another. Killing did not fit in my toolkit, but, as part of a research project on evangelicals and American gun culture, I wanted to know my subject matter firsthand.

The unusual exercise began when Abigail Disney, an award-winning documentary filmmaker, sought me out as a nationally known evangelical pro-life advocate. She was a nonreligious progressive, and she wondered about the ardent stance my community took on unfettered gun rights, as compared to our adamant opposition to abortion rights. “How can you be pro-life and pro-gun?” she asked.

What mystified Abby was how people who believed in the Sermon on the Mount, with its beatification of peacemakers, would so jealously guard the right to use lethal weapons. After all, didn’t Jesus command his followers to “love your enemy”?

For most Christians, the topic of lethal weapons and Jesus doesn’t usually come up in the same sentence, but they must. American evangelicals in particular constitute a demographic sector most likely to embrace unfettered gun rights and access to firearms. Other Christians enthusiastically defend the Second Amendment to the US Constitution, which indicates that owning and using a gun for self-defense is a right protected by the highest law in the land. Still other Christians, among them Mennonites and Brethren groups, take a diametrically opposite position, objecting to the use of lethal weapons of any kind based on moral grounds.

Concerned about a growing threat of terrorism, more and more congregants and pastors have armed up. Churches have recruited armed volunteer security details, while some pastors and Christian leaders even conceal-carry their weapon in the pulpit.

The embrace of deadly force by Christians raises several moral, ethical, and even theological questions that must be addressed. Quite simply, under what circumstances may a follower of Christ kill another human being? When is one’s own life more important than that of another, even an enemy? How is readiness to kill a perceived “enemy” consistent with Jesus’ command to “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matt. 5:44)?

Different answers to these questions divide Christians. A quick search of phrases like, “God and guns,” “biblical self-defense,” and “Christians and killing,” will result in a plethora of websites, Bible studies, and books often presenting very different conclusions based on the same biblical material. How might we approach such an unsettled matter? We could begin by agreeing on authority. Who—or what—has the last word on such an inquiry?

Most evangelicals subscribe to a tenet that defines the Bible as “the inspired, the only infallible, authoritative Word of God.” Other Christians balance the Bible with creeds, councils, traditions, or teaching bodies, such as the Catholic Magisterium, or, in Orthodoxy, “the conscience of the Church.” It would seem, then, that the question of when and how a Christian may use lethal force in self-defense must rely on what the Bible says and what church authorities say. But evangelicals—and all Christians—are, in the end, focused most on the person and work of Jesus Christ. We are “Christo-centric.” This includes how we read Scripture and interpret it. In other words, the model and teaching of Jesus is the ultimate key to unlocking the will of God—in the pages of Scripture and in his dealings with humankind.

In John 14:8–10, Philip asked Jesus to “show us the Father.” In response, Jesus said to him, “Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father.” And, “The words I say to you I do not speak on my own authority. Rather, it is the Father, living in me, who is doing his work.” Based on this instruction, we must ask, “What does Christ say about God’s will in the defensive use of a deadly weapon?”

Luke 22:36–38 is often cited when the subject of guns and lethal force are raised. In that passage, Jesus directed his disciples, “If you don’t have a sword, sell your cloak and buy one,” to which they responded, “See, Lord, here are two swords.” This brief exchange is used to justify a Christian’s purchase and use of deadly weapons for self-defense. Besides the problem of relying on one unique and isolated passage as an authority for faith and practice, there is also historical context to consider. First, the only protective law enforcement available to the disciples in that time was the Roman guard and by the time of Luke’s writing the Empire had become hostile toward Christians. It would be centuries before there was a civilian police force anywhere in the world. In New Testament times, protecting oneself meant you were entirely on your own. With these elements in mind, it is easy to see that Jesus was simply preparing his disciples for what may await them in the days ahead, including physical threats. However, he still had more to teach them, and it would come by way of his arrest, torture, and ultimate execution. In each phase of these physical assaults against Jesus, not only did he not retaliate, but he forbid his disciples from using any type of force to protect him.

Some say it was only because Jesus was on a messianic mission to surrender his physical life to accomplish God’s plan of salvation that the disciples were prohibited from using force to protect him. Yet, this does not explain why, when Stephen was later martyred, the same disciples who proudly displayed their arms to Jesus did not use them to protect one of their own. Nor did Stephen offer resistance to his persecutors. If Christ permitted reasonable self-protection, why then did the disciples not employ it?

The answer is found in what is required to orient oneself to kill and the consequences of killing. Killing is central in this discussion. Using a gun to “scare off ” a threat is never a good idea. First, guns can escalate a confrontation. Second, using a gun is itself a very uncertain response to a threat. It is difficult to hit a moving target, and bullets are indiscriminate in where they land, putting bystanders at great risk. In addition to all of this, a shooter cannot know who may be on the other side of a door or wall. This positions the shooter to err toward defending his own life at the expense of others, a position of power that, I would argue, is also a position of pride. It is, in fact, in direct conflict with the admonition to “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves” (Phil. 2:3). In my own experience with firearms, I have felt the rush of self-confidence and even domination that often goes with having lethal firepower at your immediate disposal. There is an element of pride to the process that puts the shooter at odds with what Paul is calling Christians to choose.

For evangelicals, there is one particular theological problem when it comes to easy access to deadly force. We believe all human beings are lost in sin, “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,” (Rom. 3:23) and, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked” (Jer. 17:9 KJV). Jesus said of this sinful human condition, “For out of the heart come evil thoughts—murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander” (Matt. 15:19). So, by definition, whoever may be handling a deadly weapon is, by biblical definition, “desperately wicked.”

As my firearms instructor told me, anyone that bears arms must be ready to use them to take human life in an instant. If this impulse to kill is affected by our sinful nature, as the Bible makes clear it is, then any shooter is vulnerable to killing unjustifiably. Of course, even in the most justifiable of circumstances, the taking of a human life is regrettable, and the shooter must be prepared in the aftermath to experience a full spectrum of emotions from unhealthy triumphalism or gloating to doubt, guilt, shame, and remorse. Military chaplains speak of debilitating “moral injury” suffered by soldiers who have killed under the most justifiable circumstances. This indicates killing is not natural to humans; it is always an anomaly. For Christians, the act of killing, whether offensive or defensive, is a product of sin and spiritual rebellion.

For all these reasons and more, civilized peoples have largely delegated the onerous task of killing for protection to a select few who are highly trained, highly regulated, and held highly accountable. These include members of the armed forces, police officers, government agents of various kinds, and specially certified private security personnel. In this way, society limits the danger of wrongful shootings.

American evangelicals have made concerted efforts to preserve the constitutional right to “bear arms,” but we must ask why we haven’t matched our enthusiasm for killing to finding nonlethal forms of protection. Bible believers celebrate human life as a gift from God. We dedicate ourselves to the Lord Jesus, who said, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full” (John 10:10). As Christians, we decry murder and abortion because they violate the sanctity of God-given life. Surely, as prayerfully motivated Christ-followers, we can find solutions to danger that do not include a constant disposition toward killing.

In a fallen world there will be killing, both as an act of murder and as an act of self-preservation. However, this reality does not resolve the serious ethical, moral, and spiritual questions about a Christian’s use of deadly force. Owning and using a gun may be legal, but that doesn’t make it moral. Killing another human being may be a reality, but that doesn’t mean we should condone it. I suggest we follow the model of Jesus and eschew defensive guns and the violence that goes with them whenever and wherever we can.

Rob Schenck is the president of the Dietrich Bonhoeffer Institute and is an ordained evangelical minister with degrees in Bible, theology, religion, and Christian ministry. He is author of Costly Grace: An Evangelical Minister’s Rediscovery of Faith, Hope, and Love and the subject of Abigail Disney’s Emmy-award-winning documentary The Armor of Light, exploring evangelical gun culture.


Karen Swallow Prior

It’s not every Christmas morning you wake up with a Bersa .380 in your Christmas stocking.

The story started on an isolated stretch of road, escalated into flagging down a police car, and resolved with more calls to the police and their surprise visit at the home of a very dirty old man. The handgun was the epilogue.

But this isn’t about guns as much as it is about how Christian women should think and act in matters of self-defense, given the realities of today. For the record, I’m for gun control, but that term includes greatly divergent types of control that are not the purpose of this essay.

I run 35 to 40 miles a week. Living as I do in a rural area, those miles are on roads of varying degrees of inhabitation. I live in a low-crime area—all the more reason to resist the lull of a false sense of security, especially when being a woman alone is enough to make one vulnerable. So I spend a fair amount of time during those miles being wary, vigilant, and proactive with self-defense strategies.

The first trouble I had, years ago when I lived in another state with more crime, was a flasher who parked on my road in the early mornings, awaiting my daily runs. He would keep far away, face me to, um, service himself, then get in his car and speed off before I was close enough to read his license plate. Teamwork with a neighbor, however, resulted in identification, a house call by the police, and an end to his shenanigans.

The incident that birthed the Bersa started with a truck pulling up beside me and the driver asking me if I “wanted a ride.” It’s surprising how many such offers one encounters when one is out running. (Note: if you see me running along the road in running shoes and running shorts, rest assured, I do not want a ride. Besides, I’m dying to know: has anyone ever really gotten lucky with such an offer?) When the truck turned around and passed me again, I successfully used what was then the first strategy of my self-defense plan (which I can’t disclose publicly without rendering it useless). This was before I was in the habit of taking a cell phone with me (the purpose of such runs being, after all, the sense of lightness and disconnectedness), but miraculously, when I got out on the main road, a police car drove by and I flagged it down. Even so, it took one more encounter with the man before the police were able to put an end to it.

That’s when my husband bought me the handgun.

So I wasn’t surprised to read in my local newspaper that a new shooting range in my area is attracting a significant portion of female clients. Locations around the country reflect similar patterns. A poll conducted by Gallup in 2014 reported that 38 percent of women surveyed and 58 percent of women polled said they believed having a gun in the house makes it safer.1

I know that Christians in favor of tighter gun control laws argue that as Christians, particularly ones like me who strongly identify as pro-life, we, of all people, should “love our enemies” and “turn the other cheek.” But while as a Christian I try to cultivate my willingness to lay down my life for the sake of the gospel or for the life of another, I don’t believe I’m supposed to risk my life for a would-be rapist. To me, being pro-life means protecting my own life too.

No one seriously contests the right to defend oneself. Self-defense is a natural right, and a self-evident one at that. The disagreement is merely over how much lethal force one must be prepared to use in fighting back against an attack on the innocent. Rescuing the innocent is commanded by Scripture, as in Psalm 82:4, which says, “Rescue the weak and the needy; deliver them from the hand of the wicked” (ESV). And Proverbs 25:26 states, “Like a muddied spring or a polluted fountain is a righteous man who gives way before the wicked” (ESV).

Some might say I should simply give up my love of the outdoors and running (which I’ve enjoyed since I began running cross-country in junior high), join a gym, maybe, or drive twenty miles one way into the city to run in a more populous area. But surrendering my freedom and giving in to evil so willingly doesn’t seem like the call of the Christian either. Matters of stewardship play into the equation too: stewardship of my time, talents, and my physical and mental health. More than anything else, running meets these needs in my life.

Besides, the handgun is a self-defense strategy of last resort. I now run with a phone. I pay attention to my surroundings at all times. I text the plate numbers of any suspicious vehicles (or those whose drivers offer me a ride) to my husband’s phone and call immediately if I am alone on a long stretch and encounter an unfamiliar, parked, or slow-moving vehicle. And I gave up running on the beautifully forested road where the man in the truck accosted me the first and second time (the final time was on my own road).

Ultimately, in my running, as in all things, I must put my trust in the Lord, yet without testing him.

I was reminded of God’s sovereign protection in yet another incident. I was running uphill on a two-mile stretch of a private, uninhabited dirt road when I saw an older model car with an out-of-state plate parked up ahead. A man was leaning against the car smoking a cigarette. Quickly, I pulled my phone from the pack that holds all my necessaries and called my mother, whom I knew to be home. I stayed on the phone with her as I ran a wide berth around the man and his car. As I crested the hill, I saw a police car sitting at the top. Unbeknownst to me, the officer, from his elevated position at the crossroads, had been able to see us the entire time and waited for me to arrive safely.

Yes, God is watching over me. Yet, I am still called to wisdom and good stewardship of all the gifts he’s given me, including my life and health.

This piece has been adapted from an article that first appeared on ChristianityToday.com on July 26, 2012. Used by permission of Christianity Today, Carol Stream, IL 60188. The original title was “Packing Heat and Trusting in Providence: Why I Own a Handgun.”

Karen Swallow Prior is an award-winning professor of English at Liberty University. She earned her PhD in English at SUNY Buffalo. Her writing has appeared at The Atlantic, Christianity Today, Washington Post, Vox, First Things, Sojourners, Think Christian, and other places. She is a senior fellow at the Trinity Forum, a research fellow with the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, a senior fellow at Liberty University’s Center for Apologetics and Cultural Engagement, and a member of the Faith Advisory Council of the Humane Society of the United States.

chapter thirteen


Engaging within Culture

Christians aren’t somehow immune from culture. As we reflect on culture, it is not something “out there” that we jump in and out of; we are all swimming in culture. As we discussed in chapter 1, culture provides a prereflective grid that we live in and see the world through. This means that our Christian lives can’t help but be impacted by our cultural location. There is no such thing as a culture-free human, no less a culture-free Christian. The question is not if we will be in or out of culture, but how will we live in our particular cultural space and time as Christians. Or to put this question differently, how might the gospel itself, the very core proclamation of Christianity, serve as our guide to living faithfully in our present context?

1. Cultural Engagement in Light of the Gospel Balances an Embrace of Culture with a Critique of Culture.

Historian Andrew Walls argues that the gospel itself implies two opposing tendencies that should serve as guide rails as we interact with the world around us. In the person of Jesus Christ, God comes to us as we are. God became human. He entered into space and time. He took on flesh and lived within a particular culture. God thus affirms the physicality of the world and the particularities that make up human life, implicit from the opening scenes of the biblical story and stretching through the vision of the New Testament church and the coming new heavens and new earth. By affirming the particularities of humanity—in what Walls refers to as the indigenizing principle—the gospel story reminds us of “the impossibility of separating an individual from his social relationships”1 and the future redemption of the whole person. We are each born into a particular time, culture, and family. And God accepts us as social and cultural beings.2 Yes, God redeems us—a salvation that profoundly shapes all of our lives, including our values, priorities, ideas, families, and work. But the result is not uniformity. The marriage supper of the Lamb will include the splendor of diversity. And as we await the kingdom’s final consummation, the church grows within culture, not apart from it. “The fact, then, that ‘if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come’ [2 Cor. 5:17] does not mean that he starts or continues his life in a vacuum, or that his mind is a blank table.”3 Instead, the believer “has been formed by his own culture and history, and since God has accepted him as he is, his Christian mind will continue to be influenced by what was in it before. And this is as true for groups as for persons. All churches are culture churches—including our own.”4 And yet, the indigenizing principle should be balanced with a second principle, what Walls calls the pilgrim principle.

The pilgrim principle affirms that God transforms sinful people. As pilgrims, we are looking forward to the eternal city. This is not our home. The Christian’s life will at times be foreign, even offensive, to the norms of any given society. The gospel positions us at a critical distance from our particular cultures. So while the indigenizing principle emphasizes that God does not simply obliterate the social, familial, or vocational dimensions of an individual who becomes a Christian, the pilgrim principle reminds us that the cultural strands that are built into the fabric of an individual need to be transformed by Christ. Walls explains, “The Christian has all the relationships in which he was brought up, and has them sanctified by Christ who is living in them. But he has also an entirely new set of relationships, with other members of the family of faith into which he has come, and whom he must accept, with all their group relations (and ‘disrelations’) on them, just as God has accepted him with his.”5

Similar to Walls, theologian Miroslav Volf emphasizes the importance of recognizing that being critically distant from culture does not mean that we should or even could be completely separated from it. “The proper distance from a culture does not take Christians out of that culture. Christians are not the insiders who have taken flight to a new ‘Christian culture’ and become outsiders to their own culture; rather when they have responded to the call of the Gospel they have stepped, as it were, with one foot outside their own culture while with the other remaining firmly planted in it. They are distant; and yet belong.”6

The indigenizing and pilgrim principles serve as guard rails as we engage culture. The pilgrim principle steers us away from the error of cultural captivity, whereby we naïvely assume our culture’s priorities and consume its artifacts without discernment. The particular world we inhabit is not just “common sense” or “the way things are done.” All human cultures are distorted by sin, and the pilgrim principle reminds us that we are prone to blindly overlook the maladies of our own culture, taking part in them and even promoting its vices as virtues. This is because, as we discussed in chapter 1, these disorders are part of what we largely assume is normal. But as Christians, we now inhabit the true story (Creation, Fall, Redemption, Re-Creation) with knowledge of the ultimate aim (Christ and his kingdom), so we are better situated to see reality and critically engage our own culture and its various false mythologies and disordered aspirations.

The indigenizing principle reminds us that “distance from a culture must never degenerate into flight from that culture but must be a way of living in a culture.”7 “Distance without belonging isolates” us from the world around us and runs the risk of neglecting the good of the created order. Moreover, failure to maintain the indigenizing principle can ironically also result in a fall back into an insidious “belonging without distance,” driving us into a counterdependence and leading us to find identity in a subgroup that demonizes those who are unlike us.8 The gospel points us forward to unity found in Christ, and diversity found in an array of beautiful artistry and ingenuity within different cultures. As Christians, our unique ethnic and cultural features are not removed. Our identity in Christ and our membership in his kingdom transcends, but does not erase, our cultural particularities. Thus, our culture particularities are appreciated, but not idolized. Because we aren’t bound to the ultimacy of any culture, we are open to what other cultures can contribute and freed to challenge the sins of particular cultures, starting with our own. This relieves us from the false nostalgia that blithely insists on returning to some “golden age” within our native culture while simultaneously keeping us from demonizing everything in a particular culture or time period.

2. Cultural Engagement in Light of the Gospel Is Informed and Wise.

Wisdom and humility are closely linked in the Scriptures. Humility leads us to learn from experts, even those who we might ultimately disagree with. Listening and learning are prerequisites for faithful engagement.

We live in a world exploding with information. The worldwide web has made it much easier to research topics and learn from the leading “experts” around the world. And to the publication of books, there is no end. One might assume that the massive pools of information at our fingertips would make the potential for informed engagement easier, and in one sense, it obviously can.

Yet the vast proliferation of research on a given topic can also be overwhelming. The web creates a sometimes confusing egalitarian world—a PhD in economics can be challenged online by a college freshman. Their opinions are placed side by side. Everyone gets to chime in and be heard. And weeding out the reliable from the facile is not always so straightforward. When everyone claims to be an “expert,” and you can find someone with an advanced degree who supports just about any theory, being rightly informed is not always as easy as a Google search. Knowledge—the possession of data—is easily obtainable. But to make sense of the data, the need of the day is the recovery of wisdom—knowing the most important truths and being able to practically live them out in particular contexts.

Engagement that is “informed” and “wise” is not code for “leave it to us experts with PhDs.” The unfortunate habit of some Christians triumphantly posturing as experts should not cause those with more humble and nuanced messages to become squeamish about engagement and remain on the sidelines. Quite the opposite—we need those Christians who will do it differently.

Engagement shouldn’t be left to an elite few because, for one, the “experts” often tend toward an overly narrow focus, without an eye for bigger questions or integration between disciplines. University research programs are designed to train up specialists in a specific topic in a particular field. The result can be a person who is a genius when it comes to, say, mapping the human genome or the historical events that led to the Thirty Years’ War, but is reticent and often averse to connect this expertise to the larger and most important questions—the questions of the good, the true, and beautiful. The point here is not to denigrate experts—we should be thankful for experts and should consult their work. But “expertise” does not equal “wisdom.”

Yet part of informed engagement means researching what the experts in a particular field are saying; neglect to do this means you will often be wrong and you will almost certainly lose credibility. We need generalists working together with the experts. We need people who will look at the world through a telescope and those who will look at it through a microscope. This will lead to a community that is both informed and wise.

Growing into communities of wisdom will also require renewed imaginations—“The faculty of perceiving the whole.”9 As theologian Kevin Vanhoozer explains, “The wise person relates herself to God, the world and others in a way that is fitting, and hence in a manner that leads to human flourishing (and to the glory of God): ‘In all that he does, he prospers’ (Ps 1:3).”10 How might we gain this godly wisdom?

We must learn to live and breathe the biblical narrative. The gospel story gives us a wide-angle lens that allows us to understand the world and opens up our imagination for how things might be different—even how they should be different. Through a gospel lens we live, learn, and interact with others. The story of the cross and the resurrection gives us, yes, knowledge of reality, but also calls us into a lived experience—a story—that is the syllabus for wisdom. This is what C. S. Lewis meant when he famously said, “I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen: not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.”11 Christianity provides a way of looking at the world that illuminates everything around us. We believe in order to understand. Rather than insulating us into our own parochial worlds, the gospel beckons us to open our eyes to everything—to take in knowledge wherever we find it and to understand what we find through the prism of the gospel, the true story that shines a light on every aspect of life. But more than just seeing life through this story, wisdom comes from stepping into this story—learning to reason, live, and interact from within the story. This happens when our lives are imbedded in the church—God’s community of wisdom bearers and the training ground for the gospel narrative. Through our communal worship, prayers, sacraments, confessions, listening, and teaching, we situate ourselves in God’s story and the Spirit teaches us to experience the world and imagine what could be in light of the coming kingdom.

3. Cultural Engagement in Light of the Gospel Displays a Humble Confidence.

The gospel creates a people possessing two qualities that at first glance can seem to oppose one another: humility and confidence. Central to the good news is that we are sinners saved by grace. The more understanding we have of ourselves in light of God, the more we have an overwhelming sense of our own deficiencies—and even more so, our own evil. “Woe to me! . . . I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty” (Isa. 6:5). Humility is a result of understanding our personal bankruptcy before God. What do we have to boast about? Paul answers: “May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Gal. 6:14). The cross is a constant reminder that we have nothing to boast about other than the work of God (Eph. 2:8–9). What good things do we possess that are not gifts from God (James 1:17)? Our talents, abilities, and work ethic are gifts from the Lord’s providential hands. This posture of humility and gratitude before God should impact how we engage. “Gentleness and respect” (1 Peter 3:15) is not something that can be simply conjured up; true humility comes from resting in his grace. And it is in resting in this grace that we also find true confidence: “If God is for us, who can be against us?” (Rom. 8:31). We engage with boldness, but without the glow of superiority.

The cross not only impacts the tone of our interactions and our posture but it also changes our expectations for engagement. The road to glory, after all, traveled through Golgotha. If they persecuted our Savior, as his followers we need to realign our expectations for our reception. The crucified Messiah sets us on the path of a cruciform life, with chastened expectations of what cultural engagement will achieve before he returns. Our lives can point to the kingdom, but they can’t usher it in.

Hence the gospel does not lend itself to naïve optimism. We live in a sinful world, and salvation came by way of a shameful cross. But neither does the gospel leave us in despair. Death is not the final scene. Resurrection and Pentecost followed closely behind, and along with them, hope. The Spirit casts our eyes on what is still yet to come: the promises that will be answered “yes” in Christ, propelling the church joyfully on mission. The vision of the ultimate realities of the coming kingdom—which feature such qualities as justice, love, and beauty—are “the norm for what good culture-making looks like in a fallen-but redeemed creation.”12 The church, by the work of the Spirit, is set apart to offer glimpses of this future kingdom.

So as we await Christ’s return with a humble confidence, the gospel frees us from naïveté and despair about cultural change. Instead, in hope and joy we set out upon our mission to make disciples, love our neighbors, and pray as Jesus taught us: “[May] your kingdom come, [may] your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” (Matt. 6:10).

chapter fourteen


Andy Crouch

Our posture is our learned but unconscious default position, our natural stance. It is the position our body assumes when we aren’t paying attention, the basic attitude we carry through life. Often it’s difficult for us to discern our own posture—as an awkward, gangly teenager I subconsciously slumped to minimize my height, something I would never have noticed if my mother hadn’t pointed it out. Only by a fair amount of conscious effort did my posture become less self-effacing and more confident.

Now, in the course of a day, I may need any number of body gestures. I will stoop down to pick up the envelopes that came through the mail slot. I will curl up in our oversized chair with my daughter to read a story. I will reach up to the top of my shelves to grab a book. If I am fortunate, I will embrace my wife; if I am unfortunate, I will have to throw up my hands to ward off an attack by an assailant. All these gestures can be part of the repertoire of daily living.

Over time, certain gestures may become habit—that is, become part of our posture. I’ve met former Navy SEALS who walk through life in a half-articulated crouch, ready to pounce or defend. I’ve met models who carry themselves, even in their own home, as if they are on a stage. I’ve met soccer players who bounce on the balls of their feet wherever they go, agile and swift. And I’ve met teenage video-game addicts whose thumbs are always restless and whose shoulders betray a perpetual hunch toward an invisible screen. What began as an occasional gesture, appropriate for particular opportunities and challenges, has become a basic approach to the world.

Gestures Toward Culture

Something similar, it seems to me, has happened at each stage of American Christians’ engagement with culture. Appropriate gestures toward particular cultural goods have become, over time, part of the posture Christians unconsciously adopt toward every cultural situation and setting. Indeed, the appeal of the various postures of condemning, critiquing, copying, and consuming is that each of these responses to culture is, at certain times and with specific cultural goods, a necessary gesture.

Condemning Culture

Some cultural artifacts can only be condemned. The international web of violence and lawlessness that sustains the global sex trade is culture, but there is nothing to do with it but eradicate it as quickly and effectively as we can. The only Christian thing to do is to reject it. Likewise, Nazism, a self-conscious attempt to enthrone a particular culture and destroy others, was another wide-ranging cultural phenomenon that demanded Christian condemnation, as Karl Barth, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, and other courageous Christians saw in the 1930s. It would not have been enough to form a “Nazi Christian Fellowship” designed to serve the spiritual needs of up-and-comers within the Nazi party. Instead, Barth and Bonhoeffer authored the Barmen Declaration, an unequivocal rejection of the entire cultural apparatus that was Nazi Germany.

Among cultural artifacts around us right now, there are no doubt some that merit condemnation. Pornography is an astonishingly large and powerful industry that creates nothing good and destroys many lives. Our economy has become dangerously dependent on factories in far-off countries where workers are exploited and all but enslaved. Our nation permits the murder of vulnerable unborn children and often turns a blind eye as industrial plants near our poorest citizens pollute the environment of born children. The proper gesture toward such egregious destruction of the good human life is an emphatic Stop! backed with all the legitimate force we can muster.

Critiquing Culture

Some cultural artifacts deserve to be critiqued. Perhaps the clearest example is the fine arts, which exist almost entirely to spark conversation about ideas and ideals, to raise questions about our cultural moment, and to prompt new ways of seeing the natural and cultural world. At least since the Renaissance, artists in the Western tradition want the rest of us to critique their work, to make something of what they have made. Indeed, the better the art, the more it drives us to critique. We may watch a formulaic blockbuster for pure escapism, laugh ourselves silly, and never say a word about it after we leave the theater. But the more careful and honest the filmmaking, the more we will want to ask one another, “What did you make of that?”

By the same token, other “gestures” toward art are almost always beside the point. Serious works of art are not made to be consumed—slotted unthinkingly into our daily lives—nor, by law in fact, may they be simply copied and appropriated for Christian use. Of all the possible gestures toward culture, condemnation, in particular, almost always ends up sounding shrill and silly when applied to art. It is difficult to think of a single instance where condemnation of a work of art has produced any result other than heightened notoriety for the work and the artist.

Consuming Culture

There are many cultural goods for which by far the most appropriate response is to consume. When I make a pot of tea or bake a loaf of bread, I do not condemn it as a worldly distraction from spiritual things, nor do I examine it for its worldview and assumptions about reality. I drink the tea and eat the bread, enjoying them in their ephemeral goodness, knowing that tomorrow the tea will be bitter and the bread will be stale. The only appropriate thing to do with these cultural goods is to consume them.

Copying Culture

Even the practice of copying cultural goods, borrowing their form from the mainstream culture and infusing them with Christian content, has its place. When we set out to communicate or live the gospel, we never start from scratch. Even before church buildings became completely indistinguishable from warehouse stores, church architects were borrowing from “secular” architects. Long before the contemporary Christian Music industry developed its uncanny ability to echo any mainstream music trend, Martin Luther and the Wesleys were borrowing tunes from bars and dance halls and providing them with Christian lyrics. Why shouldn’t the church borrow from any and every cultural form for the purposes of worship and discipleship? The church, after all, is a culture-making enterprise itself, concerned with making something of the world in the light of the story that has taken us by surprise and upended our assumptions about that world. Copying culture can even be, at its best, a way of honoring culture, demonstrating the lesson of Pentecost that every human language, every human cultural form, is capable of bearing the good news.

When Gestures Become Postures

The problem is not with any of these gestures. All of them can be appropriate responses to particular cultural goods. Indeed, each of them may be the only appropriate response to a particular cultural good. But the problem comes when these gestures become too familiar, become the only way we know how to respond to culture, become etched into our unconscious stance toward the world, and become postures.

Because while there is much to be condemned in human culture, the posture of condemnation leaves us closed off from the beauty and possibility as well as the grace and mercy in many forms of culture. It also makes us into hypocrites, since we are hardly free of culture ourselves. The culture of our churches and Christian communities is often just as lamentable as the “secular” culture we complain about, something our neighbors can see perfectly well. The posture of condemnation leaves us with nothing to offer even when we manage to persuade our neighbors that a particular cultural good should be discarded. And most fundamentally, having condemnation as our posture makes it almost impossible for us to reflect the image of a God who called the creation “very good” and, even in the wake of the profound cultural breakdown that led to the flood, promised never to utterly destroy humankind and human culture again. If we are known mostly for our ability to poke holes in every human project, we will probably not be known as people who bear the hope and mercy of God.

There is much to be said for critiquing particular cultural goods. But when critique becomes a posture, we end up strangely passive, waiting for culture to deliver us some new item to talk about. Critique as a posture, while an improvement over condemnation, can leave us strangely unable to simply enjoy cultural goods, preoccupied with our interrogation of their “worldview” and “presuppositions.” The posture of critique also tempts us toward the academic fallacy of believing that once we have analyzed something, we have understood it. Often true understanding requires participation—throwing ourselves fully into the enjoyment and experience of someone or something without reserving an intellectual, analytical part of ourselves outside of the experience, like a suspicious and watchful librarian.

Cultural copying too is a good gesture and a poor posture. It is good to honor the many excellences of our cultures by bringing them into the life of the Christian community, whether that is a group of Korean-American chefs serving up a sumptuous church supper of bulgogi and ssamjang, or a dreadlocked electric guitarist articulating lament and hope through a vintage tube amp.

But when copying becomes our posture, a whole host of unwanted consequences follow. Like the critics, we become passive, waiting to see what interesting cultural good will be served up next for our imitation and appropriation. In fast-changing cultural domains, those whose posture is imitation will find themselves constantly slightly behind the times. Church worship music tends to be dominated by styles that disappeared from the scene several years before. Any embarrassment about being cultural laggards is mitigated by the fact that our copy-culture by definition will never be seen by the vast majority of the mainstream culture. And in this way, when all we do is copy culture for our own Christian ends, cultural copying fails to love or serve our neighbors.

The greatest danger of copying culture, as a posture, is that it may well become all too successful. We end up creating an entire subcultural world within which Christians comfortably move and have their being without ever encountering the broader cultural world they are imitating. We breed a generation that prefers facsimile to reality, simplicity to complexity (for cultural copying, almost by definition, ends up sanding off the rough and surprising edges of any cultural good it appropriates), and familiarity to novelty. Not only is this a generation incapable of genuine creative participation in the ongoing drama of human culture making; it is dangerously detached from a God who is anything but predictable and safe.

Finally, consumption is the posture of cultural denizens who simply take advantage of all that is offered up by the ever-busy purveyors of novelty, risk-free excitement, and pain avoidance. It would not be entirely true to say that consumers are undiscerning in their attitude toward culture, because discernment of a kind is at the very heart of consumer culture. Consumer culture teaches us to pay exquisite attention to our own preferences and desires. Someone whose posture is consumption can spend hours researching the most fashionable and feature-laden cell phone; can know exactly what combination of espresso shots, regular and decaf, whole and skim, amaretto and chocolate, makes for their perfect latte; can take on extraordinary commitments of debt and commuting time in order to live in the right community. But while all of this involves care and work—we might even say “cultural engagement”—it never deviates from the core premise of consumer culture: We are most human when we are purchasing something someone else has made.

Of all the possible postures toward culture, consumption is the one that lives most unthinkingly within a culture’s preexisting horizons of possibility and impossibility. The person who condemns culture does so in the name of some other set of values and possibilities. The whole point of critique is becoming aware of the horizons that a given culture creates, for better or worse. Even copying culture and bringing it into the life of the Christian community puts culture to work in the service of something believed to be more true and lasting. But consumption, as a posture, is capitulation: letting the culture set the terms, assuming that the culture knows best and that even our deepest longings (for beauty, truth, love) and fears (of loneliness, loss, death) have some solution that fits comfortably within our culture’s horizons, if only we can afford to purchase it.

Artists and Gardeners

What is missing from our repertoire, I’ve come to believe, are the two postures that are most characteristically biblical but have been least explored by Christians in the last century. They are found at the very beginning of the human story, according to Genesis: like our first parents, we are to be creators and cultivators. Or to put it more poetically, we are artists and gardeners.

The postures of the artist and the gardener have a lot in common. Both begin with contemplation, paying close attention to what is already there. The gardener looks carefully at the landscape; the existing plants, both flowers and weeds; the way the sun falls on the land. The artist regards her subject, her canvas, her paints with care to discern what she can make with them.

And then, after contemplation, the artist and the gardener both adopt a posture of purposeful work. They bring their creativity and effort to their calling. The gardener tends what has gone before, making the most of what is beautiful and weeding out what is distracting or useless. The artist can be more daring: she starts with a blank canvas or a solid piece of stone and gradually brings something out of it that was never there before. They are acting in the image of the One who spoke a world into being and stooped down to form creatures from the dust. They are creaturely creators, tending and shaping the world that the original creator made.

I wonder what we Christians are known for in the world outside our churches. Are we known as critics, consumers, copiers, condemners of culture? I’m afraid so. Why aren’t we known as cultivators—people who tend and nourish what is best in human culture, who do the hard and painstaking work to preserve the best of what people before us have done? Why aren’t we known as creators—people who dare to think and do something that has never been thought or done before, something that makes the world more welcoming and thrilling and beautiful?

The simple truth is that in the mainstream of culture, cultivation and creativity are the postures that confer legitimacy for the other gestures. People who consider themselves stewards of culture, guardians of what is best in a neighborhood, an institution, or a field of cultural practice gain the respect of their peers. Even more so, those who go beyond being mere custodians to creating new cultural goods are the ones who have the world’s attention. Indeed, those who have cultivated and created are precisely the ones who have the legitimacy to condemn—whose denunciations, rare and carefully chosen, carry outsize weight. Cultivators and creators are the ones who are invited to critique and whose critiques are often the most telling and fruitful.

Cultivators and creators can even copy without becoming mere imitators, drawing on the work of others, yet extending it in new and exciting ways—think of the best of hip-hop’s culture of sampling, which does not settle for merely reproducing the legends of jazz and R&B but places their work in new sonic contexts. And when they consume, cultivators and creators do so without becoming mere consumers. They do not derive their identity from what they consume but from what they create.

If there is a constructive way forward for Christians in the midst of our broken but also beautiful cultures, it will require us to recover these two biblical postures of cultivation and creation. And that recovery will involve revisiting the biblical story itself, where we discover that God is more intimately and eternally concerned with culture than we have yet come to believe.

This article first appeared in the September 2008 issue of Christianity Today. Used by permission of Christianity Today, Carol Stream, IL 60188.

Andy Crouch (MDiv, Boston University School of Theology) is partner for theology and culture at Praxis, an organization working as a creative engine for redemptive entrepreneurship. His most recent books include The Tech-Wise Family: Everyday Steps for Putting Technology in Its Proper Place and Strong and Weak: Embracing a Life of Love, Risk, and True Flourishing.