Tuesday, November 20, 2007


By the way, I pray you have a wonderful Thanksgiving celebration this year!

Connie, little Alexandra, and myself will be flying to Ft. Lauderdale tomorrow to celebrate the holiday with my godson and his wife. We will also get to spend some time with family and friends while we are there.

Please pray for us as we fly on such a busy travel day, and know we are so grateful for your prayers.

Much love to the One for Whom we are most thankful,



I am honored to be taking the Epistle of St. Paul to the Romans from Fr. Ted Stylianopoulos during this semester here at Holy Cross.

Fr. Ted has been teaching at Holy Cross for over 30 years and has also agreed to be my spiritual father while I am here at Holy Cross. It is an honor.

One of the reasons for this is that Fr. Ted's little blue Orthodox prayerbook that he edited and published many years ago was very helpful to me as I began the transition from Pentecostal pastor to Orthodox Christian. When I told him this story, he was both pleased and a bit embarrassed by the praise.

In any event, what has struck me about this Romans class, other than it being one of the toughest classes I have ever taken, is Fr. Ted's constant refrain "The Text!"

What he means by this is that one of his goals in this class is to get us to "live" with the actual text of the book during this semester, to read it over and over again, and to really work hard to enter into St. Paul's thinking as this saint pens his theological "magnum opus." Living with this text has produced some interesting insights.

First, Romans really is St. Paul's theological masterpiece. He is preparing for a trip to the Empire's capital and he wants the Christians there to be familiar with his theology before he arrives. Because of this, Paul systematically (or as systematically as a Semitic mind can be) lays out his vision of the Gospel and God's Righteousness. His vision is both cosmic and surprisingly personal. Paul's vision for the Gospel cannot be divorced from his experience on the Damascus Road. His life was radically changed, and he expects every person's life to be changed by this radical Gospel of Jesus.

Second, Paul cannot be understood outside of the very Semitic mind and the Jewish mentality that is so obvious in this book. Paul simply cannot be understood without an appreciation for the 1st century Jewish mind he possesses. This means any attempt to read into Paul and Romans some later theological position or to attempt to "prove" this or that theological point that would have never been dreamed of by Paul is disingenuous. "The Text!" It is the text as it stands that simply will not lend itself to being kidnapped by later theologians who want to foist some "reformed" notion of God or salvation in Christ. The "proof-texting" so popular in our western world would simply be a puzzlement to St. Paul and his Roman audience.

Finally, Romans is richer and messier than I ever imagined. Paul takes a huge shift away from his Pharisee roots and marks his departure from the theological understanding of the day in the Jewish world concerning Israel, the Messiah, and God Himself. And that cosmic shift is caused by an encounter, Paul's encounter with the Risen Lord Jesus. You simply cannot read Romans and escape from the screaming truth that it is Paul's relationship with Jesus Christ that has radically changed everything in Paul's mind. But Paul does not abandon his roots. he sees them as completely fulfilled in this new and earth-changing Christ event. Paul wants the Roman Christians to know that this new and yet consistent faith in Jesus is not a denial of Israel's past but it's point and purpose.

Fr. Ted's insistence that we deal with "The Text!" has given me a deeper appreciation for the Orthodox understanding of God and our understanding of the very purpose of salvation - not to vindicate some juridical notion of justice, but to reveal that God's righteousness is seen in His making right that which had gone so horribly wrong and catching up all His creating in the work.

I will never read Romans the same again. Thank you, Fr. Ted!

Monday, November 12, 2007


A recent article in the LA Times asked the question "Is Prosperity a Blessing from God, or a Crime?" In it the writer talks about mega-church ministries where the pastor drives a Rolls-Royce, lives in a mansion, and owns a private jet.

Having come from that world of Evangelical media ministries and having seen close up the challenges this lifestyle can bring, I was mesmerized by the writer's reporting on what was really the problem - Accountability!

Interestingly enough a US Senate oversight committee has asked several mega-church ministries to respond to a questionnaire sent to them by the committee to investigate whether these ministries are violating tax law and their non-profit status.


Of course some are arguing that this can portend an increase in governmental scrutiny of non-profits, but I think that's good too.

Why, you may ask? Well, because God loves His creation too much to allow theological sickness to continue forever unchecked, and if the Church won't stand up and exercise oversight then the "other deacon" of God will have to - the State. The lack of accountability, the abandoning of historic Christian theology, the absolute denial of a Christian view of poverty and possessions cannot be allowed to continue harming unlearned souls who fall prey to these broken theologies and spiritually poverty-stricken preachers. It has to be confronted and it has to be judged!

God loves us. This truth alone is enough to make even the most ardent "small government, States Rights, conservative, non-regulatory, free market" idealogical purest (yes, I'm talking about me) stand up and cheer when the Church has become so impotent that it can no longer prophetically shut the mouths of the gainsayers and heretics with a firm stand. When the Church's voice has become so marginalized by culture, cowardice, and ignorance, I rejoice that there is at least the godless government to shout "Hey that ain't Jesus!"

Now before you begin to think that seminary has pushed me over the deep end (a possibility that has occurred to me) I want you to know that I have no intentions of abandoning the philosophical and political mindset you all have come to know and love about me. However, I cannot simply sit by and continue to pretend that the "Christianity" being promoted by the "Prosperity Gospel" preachers I have known to continue to be passed of as a legitimate form of the Faith of Jesus Christ. Even if this brings some hardship on legitimate ministries, it is worth the price to speak very clearly to this culture that the rampant reduction of Christianity to just one more American commodity to be "bought" and consumed cannot be allowed to continue.

I prefer persecution to heresy!

Glad to be back! :-)

Monday, November 05, 2007


Well, dear ones, if there are any of you left out there, I wanted to let you know that I will be posting again to Sober Joy in the next few days.

Life has been hectic and full with the first semester at seminary. I have neglected writing because I wanted to get acclimated to our new surroundings and to observe a period of silence so I could foster a student's heart.

Not sure if I've succeeded, but I wanted to ask your continued prayers for Connie, little Alexandra, and myself as we approach our spiritual labors here at Holy Cross.

You may be surprised to learn that I have found Holy Cross to be a hotbed of spiritual growth opportunities! Filled with human persons, all struggling with their own failings and shortcomings, this environment is perfect for trampling down the foolish and childish notions of rose colored glasses.

Dealing with REALITY is the key to spiritual maturity and not allowing the Evil One to con us into falling into either ditch on either side of this "narrow road."

In any event, dear reader, I will attempt to send you regular updates from these "front lines" of my own war with selfishness and the passions. Consider them "postcards from the battle" and don't expect too much wisdom but do pray for this struggling student.

Who knows, perhaps he will turn and have mercy. I have known Him to do that very thing.

Barnabas (by the way, I'm the one in the shiny robe with the beard in front! I'm in front of the chapel with two former police officers in my class, John Ferlakas and Jim Kiritsis)