What I Believe


Needless to say, as a Christian I take Scripture very seriously.

And obviously, when we approach Scripture, we read it in different ways in different contexts.

In Mark 12:30-31, Jesus says we are to love God and also love our neighbor. I take that pretty literally! Then, in Matthew 5:43-48 Jesus goes on to insist that we also love our enemies! Those are strong words, enduring words, words that have led me into fresh ways of seeing other people. Yes, there are lots of places where we take Scripture quite literally, using our days living into God’s great story of love, forgiveness, and redemption.

For all Christians, Jesus is the focal point of Scripture, the Son of God, and not least of all the foretaste of our eventual hope: new creation.

Now other genres in Scripture invite us to see God as an agent working in history through flawed, broken people, people no different than you or me. Abraham, for example, the father of Israel-God’s covenant people, gets nervous that God won’t follow through on his promise for a son [he and his wife, Sarai, were really old!]. So, he gets his wife’s slave pregnant, then sends her away with their child, Ishmael, when Sarai gets pregnant with Isaac, their legitimate, promised son.

What do we learn here? It seems we learn that God forgives, God works through flawed people, and God takes his promises very seriously.

The Bible isn’t a story about people whose role model we should always follow; it’s a story about our great God, made known best through Jesus, the Son, in the power of the Spirit. Yes, sometimes biblical figures do great things. Abraham believed [Gen. 15:6] and this was credited to him as righteousness. And yet, he also didn’t believe enough not to cover his bases, having sex with his wife’s servant because he apparently didn’t trust God enough to follow through.

Genres in Scripture include narrative, history, wisdom literature, discourse, prophecy, poetry, genealogies, imprecations, parables, epistles [letters] and even apocalypse. Each is to be carefully studied, processed, and internalized-and each in a different way.

To illustrate, I hope no one claims Psalm 137:9 as their life verse:

Happy is the one who seizes your infants and dashes them against the rocks. 

At the same time, I pray that people experiencing great anger can express it to God and not act out in violence. That is what this painful, gut-wrenchingly honest Psalm teaches us. We are to turn our every emotion over to God so that, through the power of the Holy Spirit, those emotions might be catalyzed and used for good.

Another aspect of these ancient, God-breathed words, is their ultimate purpose: uniting us with God through the power of the Spirit and through our brotherhood with Jesus. The biblical text is not so much to be analyzed, documented, and studied as it is to be internalized, digested, and embodied.

Eugene Peterson, pastor, author, biblical translator, and professor likens our consumption of Scripture to a dog’s love for a bone. We chew on Scripture, eat it and “inwardly digest it” as the Anglican prayer goes, so that we move beyond intellectual or academic enjoyment and into a deep experience of God and participation in the body of Christ.

Following the lead of Christ, Scripture, with the appropriate illumination of the Spirit, becomes the path to being God’s own.

Creeds [The Church is Big]

I’m a catholic Christian. Yes, I’m a huge fan of the Roman Catholic church, but that’s not what I mean.

By catholic, I’m talking universal. I have had the privilege of participating in [and even leading within] a host of Christian communities and churches, and those experiences have helped me to see the church in a much bigger way.

Richard Foster wrote a book quite some time ago called Streams of Living Water. In the book he talks about how each worshiping tradition emphasizing something unique and different within the story God is telling in the cosmos.

Every church, network of churches, and denomination does ecclesial [church] life a little differently, and this great mosaic of believers brings great honor to God as they live into the uniquenesses of their tradition.

Wesleyans and Methodists are great at systematically growing spiritually, and about taking seriously the mission of God in the world in a personal way.

Reformed and Presbyterian Christians have a knack for really robust theology as well as a keen presence in the academy. I happen to be ordained in the RCA, so I won’t go overboard here about the really good experiences I have had in Reformed circles.

Roman Catholics are pretty great at a lot of things, one example being their  hesitancy to quickly change their views without a lot of very intentional deliberation [i.e. Vatican II!]. They are also pretty serious about sacraments, which I love.

Pentecostals take very seriously the reality of the Holy Spirit as a living and vital presence in the lives of every follower of Jesus. And this is a pretty big deal/.

You get where I’m going with this; all the various expressions of Christian faith are testament to the power of God. On top of that, the fact that human beings along with our exquisite world exist bears witness to the mystery of the creative God we know best through Jesus Christ, the Son [through the power of the Spirit!].


Making Scripture [and the Creeds too!] One’s Own

Working Scripture into one’s life can be really simple or overwhelmingly complicated. Pastors dedicate their lives to this objective, slowly unpacking the transforming revelation of God and getting it into the Costco trips, cubicles, and conversations that compose real life.

As I have alluded to above, the Bible can be a lot to take in. Hence, ancient and contemporary Christians have sought ways to summarize and thereby more easily both communicate and internalize their deepest and most vital beliefs.

Below is the Apostles’ Creed. I annotated it slightly, line-by-line, to simply add a bit of personal context to how I believe this particular creed. The italicized sentences are my own; the text is the RCA version of this ancient creed.

I believe in God, the Father almighty,
creator of heaven and earth.

Having created the cosmos [Genesis 1-2], Creator God crafted humankind in God’s own image.

I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord.

Existent from the beginning [John 1], Jesus communed with the Father and the Spirit from the beginning of time yet broke into human history at the right time, uniting humankind with our Creator in a new way.

He was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary.

Though humanity chose to choose domination over mutual love and compassion, God’s Spirit sparked divine life within a holy woman-Mary-who certainly would have had a lot of explaining to do! Yet God vindicated her through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.

He suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, died, and was buried.

After an earthly ministry of healing and revealing the kingdom of heaven, Jesus was crucified at the hands of an angry mob according to the direction of [some of] their religious leaders and under the political authority of Rome.

He descended to the dead.
On the third day he rose again.

Jesus died, conquering death [I Corinthians 15:20-28], then revealed himself to be the foretaste of what is to come: new and complete life in communion with God.

He ascended into heaven,
and is seated at the right hand of the Father.

Before leaving, Jesus chose to leave the Spirit with the church [John 14:15-31], opening up all people to full connection with God. As a Great High Priest, Jesus now prays for the church [Hebrews 7:11-28], reconciling heaven and earth.

He will come again to judge the living and the dead.

Jesus will return, uniting heaven and earth and making all things new [Revelation 21:5].

I believe in the Holy Spirit,

The Spirit of God, a member of the Godhead gives comforts and guides the church and every individual therein.

the holy catholic Church,

The church is broad and catholic-universal-and exists to bear witness to the kingdom of God most easily recognizable through the life, ministry, death, and resurrection of Jesus.

the communion of saints,

In heaven and on earth we worship and pray with a great cloud of witnesses [Hebrews 12:1-3] who also pray for us.

the forgiveness of sins,

God frees us from the burden of sin [I John 1:9] and empowers us to new life, not permitting us to go on destroying ourselves [Romans 6:1].

the resurrection of the body,

At our death we do not die permanently; instead, we who follow our Lord are raised with Him [Ephesians 2:6] at the day of Christ [Philippians 1:3-6].

and the life everlasting. Amen. 

God intends for humanity to discover the grace made apparent in Jesus through the Spirit, and to believe and follow, inheriting everlasting life [John 3:16].


On the Twisting of Religion

That the faith currently transforming me is twisted is no surprise whatsoever. Just as warmongers take advantage of scientific discoveries for evil purposes, so have leaders throughout history twisted religion for dastardly purposes [you like that word? it just seemed to fit!].

Hitler did it.

Warlords in the feudal age did it.

I’ll bet most of us have done it too, hopefully in less disastrous ways.

Jesus himself predicts how future generations will experience confusion at the teachings of false prophets [Matthew 24:23-24].

And it is a clearly terrible witness to the true, risen Jesus that so many have both attempted and carried out great [and small] evils under the guise of his name! I lament any and every instance in human history where religion-true religion-is bastardized at the hands of malicious people.

When people do terrible things [supposedly] in the name of the Christian faith, it is so easy to wrap together the teachings of Jesus and of Scripture with the malicious intents of so many throughout history! A great many persons have leaned into forms of agnosticism or atheism with this stark reality as a prime point in the argument.

Christians were warned about this, so it should be no huge surprise that so many would pervert our faith. But suffering, sacrificing love at the very center of our teachings!

Consider a corollary illustration. So many have done evil things using the advances our world has offered us. Persons advocating for eugenics, doctors performing horrific human experiments during WWII, and the creators of nuclear weapons have all used scientific theory to cause widespread disaster and the deaths of hundreds of thousands.

Of course Hitler sought to leverage the influence of the German church during the ’30s and ’40s-he could twist the Christian faith toward his purposes! Some theologians abided the anti semitism, such as Kittel, Althaus and Hirsch. But unsurprisingly, there was deep resistance as well, as chronicled in the lives of Bonhoeffer, Niemoller, Bernhard Lichtenberg, Oskar Schindler, and many, many more devoted Christians resisted Hitler.

And this is what we celebrate when we reflect on Christian history. God is bringing the church into his eternal future, reaching from his present and carrying us forward toward a victorious hereafter where earth and heaven are no longer occasional acquaintances but are truly one.

On Same-Sex Marriage / LGBTQ+

To begin, I will offer a slight overgeneralization of my view of the two competing narratives. Hopefully this [false] dichotomy creates some space for finding a deeper sense of what is true and good and right. The two narratives are real, and there is a lot of truth to be found on both sides; however, each misses some important details.

One narrative analysis, most especially in the West and maybe even more acutely in the United States, sees the recent history of the world pessimistically. Sure, there are some good things happening here and there, but the church is falling apart. Divorce has broken up families, we have forgotten how to read our bibles, and secularism is rapidly on the rise. It has been especially bad since the sexual revolution, especially in the wake of Roe v. Wade. This narrative sees the normalization of same-sex marriage and the various factors precipitating this new reality as entirely unbiblical and not pleasing to God. The other side simply cannot read the bible, and they are only using it to justify their pre-existing beliefs; they are “caving to the forces of culture” and “unable to stand strong.” They are vulnerable to every advance in science as they look to everything except Scripture to carry forward their new and dangerous message, which will most likely lead to a terrible place. And the only bible worth reading is the ESV, in which version Romans 1:26-27, a key text in this great debate, is translated as follows [and must be read literally and without any wondering questions]:

For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature; and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error. 

The other narrative sees the recent epoch in history as largely positive, with some caveats. Though Roe v. Wade legalized abortion, this was seen as a necessary evil in the fight to give women freedom. Earnings differentials between the sexes continue to reinforce what early feminists saw: patriarchy has indeed ruled in history, and it is time to turn the tables. Complementarian Christians are seen as especially backward, since they simply cannot get with the times and learn that things are just different now. After all, all the science seems to point to what is the inevitable truth. Plus, Alan Chambers condemned Exodus International, an ex-gay ministry that dissolved in 2013, just shortly after Chambers repudiated its failed mission: “Change is Possible.” That was only one nail in the coffin, with more and more of the population moving to a progressive viewpoint on human sexuality. Those silly conservatives with their fundamentalist roots and their literalism, how could they possibly ignore Galatians 3:26-29 [which is a general statement that clearly has everything to do with the equality of LGBTQ+ rights and gay marriage]:

So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise [NIV].

Ok, with these two caricatures in mind, is it any wonder we speak past each other? The way we decide to think on this issue defines how we see others. “They don’t read their bibles!” growls one side, as the other responds, “It’s nuanced! Barth said to keep one hand in the Bible and the other in a newspaper! Don’t deny science!”

Staying in these two ruts is the fast track to nowhere. It is doing great damage to the body of Christ to continue seeing things this way. We have been lazy in our reading of both the Bible and of the science surrounding human sexuality, and hesitant to approach persons who sees things differently than we do. That’s a critique of both sides [or several sides] debating this.

Alrighty, as I quickly paint myself into a corner here, I want to suggest an alternative way to approach this issue. A brief perusal of Amazon along with a search that includes Bible, Christian, gay, marriage, or LGBT will land you with a host of books on both sides of the issue that approach the same biblical texts differently and compellingly.

That said, my goal is discerning a workable path forward, so Christian communities can walk into the unknown future with a greater respect for how others approach this monumental question.

Now, my own story.

I understand that to some, the sharing of a story only amounts to that; but since I clearly communicated the reality of two differing approaches to the entire question, all grounded in the same Scriptures, I must insist that we consider personal stories. The personal stories of gay Christians who are conservative and progressive, as well as straight Christians who are both progressive and conservative, all factor in as we try to make sense of how our faith comes to bear on the subject.

Having begun seminary in 2009, I finished my coursework in 2015, just a few weeks before the SCOTUS decision legalizing gay marriage in all 50 states in the Obergefell v. Hodges case. The journey to that decision was long and winding, with a great deal of intentionality on both sides of the issue. It was not only the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act, but a great many intricate cases over decades that galvanized progressive and conservative groups.

Even before seminary, my undergraduate studies were marked by both ugliness and honest reflection, not only in the professors and faculty but also in fellow students. One gay student was militantly pleading his cause, constantly at odds with our college’s rather gentle though still-convicted leadership, which faithfully held to a woman+man view of biblical, covenant marriage.

Toward the very end of college, of my closest friends came out to a small group of our closest companions. Knowing him and his story helped me understand the gravity of orientation: he didn’t sit down and choose to be gay. I have come to believe it’s the way he was created.

There is no need to remind anyone in our era how polarizing the conversation at hand can be. It is not only Christians who wrestle with this deeply dividing question, but also persons who have no expressed concern with faith whatsoever. Amidst this fog, I would add that there should be no need to remind anyone that this conversation centers with real human beings.

Like me. I’m a straight, married guy with two kids. I’m like a 0.1 on the Kinsey Scale. I am not sexually or otherwise attracted to men apart from friendship. And yet, a great many people around me, even people close to me, have asked me outright, “are you gay, Ben?” Yeah, so evidently something about me makes people wonder-my voice, my clothes, my love for interior design, who knows what kind of stereotyping is going on in people’s minds.

It feels weird to be judged like that, it really does. I’ve even had kids [and a few adults who initially saw me from the back], think I was a woman, or simply fail to be able to judge one way or the other [I guess my mustache is on the blonde side!? maybe my hair is too long?].

I get that these little weird experiences are not a huge deal. After all, I’m heterosexual, cisgendered, and white to boot with all the entanglement and privilege that tends to come with. I’m even right-handed. But these experiences in life, most especially being suspected of being gay, have helped me place myself more honestly in the shoes of others. Not that I object to it, but I have been effectively  forced into empathizing. These moments, along with a number of friendships with gay people, have shaped how I think about the world of sexuality, helping me to ask new and better questions such as these:

What if everyone suspected you were gay, you were, and you were forced to hide it out of a deep sense of shame? 

What if no one would have imagined you were gay, and you lacked the courage to share your orientation? 

What if you felt in your deepest soul like the opposite gender?  

What if you carefully tried to let someone else in on your life journey as a gay woman or man, and they unconditionally condemned you for it?

What if when you came out your trusted friend told you that they “loved the sinner yet hated the sin” but you felt like that wasn’t really true in the least? 

What if you’re scared to come back to church because a certain group of Christians told you your orientation was messed up, wrong, sinful? 

What if you are gay yet cling to a traditional view of marriage and live a celibate life? 

What if you find yourself somewhere in-between, not sure if you could settle down with someone of the opposite sex or of your own sex?

What if you don’t find yourself sexually attracted at all to others? 

These stories matter, because they so definitively shape how we understand reality. We are complicated beings caught in the sweeping contours of God’s great story on earth, built to make sense of the world and designed as image bearers of God. If we conclude that acting on exclusively gay orientation is sin, then we must conclude that to be gay is an aberration of God’s goals for human sexuality.

It seems best to proceed with caution if you take either route, progressive/liberal or traditional.conservative, and to know the difficulties that come with each view.

So now, back to that biblical text which shapes Christian worldview, imagination, and ethical system. That’s where I started, and I want to return there, because it’s important.

As I alluded to at the forefront in this post, much ink has been spilled over how we are to read key passages in the Bible that have reference to relationships involving one’s own sex, and for good reason. I’ll say this at the start: the biblical case supporting single sex, covenant marriage appears to me [and to a great many] to be less clear than the case that preserves the normative man+woman definition. But that does not mean that a very strong case has been made that appropriates the same texts in a new covenant-centered direction: these arguments are made carefully, and with theological honesty not only toward Scripture but also toward the Christian tradition.

Just as we have learned that the beautiful creation accounts in Genesis 1-2 are more polemical poetry in support of YHWH than a divine planet recipe, so too is it possible for the most faithful understanding of God’s true intent for human sexuality to be bigger and more inclusive than what has been the standard case in human history, with the church certainly the primary advocate for a woman+man view of covenant marriage.

Years from now, we will continue to see churches that hold to a traditional position on marriage, flourishing in a host of ways, with cis-gendered and gay alike following Jesus together, allowing for a grace-filled difference in orientation while affirming only woman+man marriages.

Years from now, I imagine a great many of the current churches that affirm single-sex covenant marriages will certainly flourish also, and others will be joined to their number. Gay marriages will be understood in the context of covenant promises, and families will be raised with a new and different comprehension of sexuality and relationships.

Just like there are churches working in harmony that have different views of the gifts of the spirit, baptism, women in ministry, and even hairstyles and material lifestyle, we will have churches that embody faithful Christianity differently. My prayer is that we hold to our historic creeds, honor our ancient forebears, but most importantly participate in the kingdom of God by following Jesus in the power of the Spirit.

Now, to the ever-changing current context in which we discover ourselves today. It is always helpful to look well into the past, but also wise to take a look around in the present when it comes to any contentious question.

The following influential Christians hold to a traditional view of marriage:

Tim Keller, Adam Barr, Kevin DeYoung, John Piper, Robert A.J. Gagnon, Richard B. Hays, Richard Mouw [of course the list goes on!].

These Jesus-believing, Bible-trusting leaders take the progressive line:

Ken Wilson, Matthew Vines, Austen Hartke, Julie Rodgers, Justin Lee, David P. Gushee, James V. Brownson, Nicholas Wolterstorff, Mark Achtemeier [naturally, the list goes on!].

My own conclusions align with the progressives. I don’t believe Paul condemned same sex marriage in his writings, but instead he was concerned about the licentious and oppressive forms of sexuality exhibited in the Greco-Roman world. There is much to be said about the distortions of healthy sexuality in the ancient world. Suffice it to say men of status got what they want, whether their sexual prey was of the same sex, a child, or a slave. Paul was grieved over this. He wasn’t, from any historical account I have observed, witnessing same sex marriages.

Even as a progressive minded believer, I have a lot of friends who stand on both sides of the contention, straight and gay both, all of whom have their own unique and valuable story. Some gay friends are seeking to lead celibate lives, sacrificing a monumental aspect of the typical life in order to more closely imitate Jesus and honor the biblical account of marriage. Other gay friends are married, having come to a different conclusion; and they also seek to love God and their fellow person, to inhabit God’s kingdom and pursue Jesus in mission.

I want to respect, honor, and love all who come together in the body of Christ to participate in the life of God in the power of the Holy Spirit. And to that end, may we who love Jesus come to our varying conclusions with the deep sense that we may just be wrong about the conclusion to which we have come-yet also find a gracious way to communicate our convictions and work within the framework of the global church in its many expressions.

Everyone Worships

I am unabashedly borrowing this illustration from Dr. James K.A. Smith, a Christian professor, writer, and philosopher, so be it known that this is entirely unoriginal.

So. Most of us have been to a mall before.

When entering a mall, one’s eyes are directed up to the intricate details of the architecture and skylight windows, to the glowing interior storefronts, to their gleaming wares and crafted displays.

I’m especially drawn to the Apple store and its clean, modern lines, welcoming staff, and helpful products [I admit it!].

Often we receive literature from a kiosk, or after a conversation with a store representative.

And we taste the delights of planet earth, carefully concocted to make us hungry for more [google McDonalds hydrogenated oil].

What we have when we go to a mall are: mall

1. Intentional architecture [epic skylights and alluring storefronts]

2. Liturgy [from stores and salespeople]

3. Sacraments [Jamba Juice, Starbucks, etc.]

If we do not intentionally follow a religion, our culture will intentionally foist a religion of its own making upon us.

It is not difficult to see how marketers have discovered our buttons. Watching a gleaming Audi ripping through the countryside, with some b-roll of a dark leather interior complete with aluminum-brushed details has its soul-bending effect. We want it, and we want more.

Christian religious people like myself are prone to exactly the same soul-bending as any atheist or adherent of another faith.


Expect we have, in Jesus especially and in our sacred text, a deeper understanding of life as we experience it. God’s Spirit carries a bigger picture of what life is all about straight into our souls, challenging the various desires within us that would distract, at best, or damage, at worst, the fractured but transforming image of God who we exist to be.

I have not a thing against things themselves. I have written about how much I appreciate things that last, things like my leather bike seat, my DSLR camera, my canvas pannier bag. Products are great! Keep up the good work out there, and try to honor our created world as you do! Make is sustainable!

What I am concerned about is how our material world can either assist us in effectively loving God and loving others or take us completely away from any concern for God or neighbor, much less enemy. We can so easily sink into a Netflix show, a take-out meal, maybe a mug or two of beer, and totally isolate ourselves from others. And even in the presence of community, we can so easily hide, keeping our true selves from being deeply known.

We are all living into a religious story of some kind, valuing and trusting something or someone, be that our jobs, relationships, home values, vehicles, accomplishments, even our physical health. Yet, when we lose our jobs, good friends, our health, we are reminded of the frailty of human life-and often driven to seek God’s assistance.

Yet, if we honor God even though distractions exist and threaten to overwhelm us, seeking to imitate Jesus in all things, it is easier to connect with our saving hope during times of difficulty. Just ask a faithful Christian who has gone through cancer, a searing divorce, or the loss of another form of stability.

I believe personally in a lifestyle of simplicity, keeping quiet and determined focus on relationships with God and neighbor. And yes, I also understand that others may sense greater freedom than I do, financial freedom to only give meaningfully of resources but to also have several new cars or a couple beautiful homes. If someone feels the freedom for this, so be it, and godspeed! Yet, for me and for my family, I prefer to channel my energies into people, fellow image-bearers of God, worthy of risk and relationship.

We are all worshiping, be it clothing, success, Instagram likes, career, money, whatever our faith or lack thereof is.

But we choose who to worship.

Visualizing a Teaching Plan [Putting Ideas into Action!]

I don’t mind sharing. Really, I don’t.

And you probably already knew that.

So, I am really passionate about spiritual formation, and I am all about seeing everyone grow into their full spiritual stature, as Paul says it in Ephesians 4:13. Because, I mean, I don’t want people getting to age 38 or 62 or 89 and thinking, “gosh, I have all these regrets about how I lived life!”

No way!

Instead, I want people to be spiritually whole, to know Jesus, to have a love for God and for others, to sense the direction and freedom of the Holy Spirit. Life is far too short; we must find ourselves whole in Christ!

Here are a couple lesson plans from the past while [if you’re really interested I can certainly send you more]:


Here is an overview of how I understand youth ministry. Yes, that’s sort of a big idea, but it’s helpful, I think, to have a meta view of each year of ministry. This is a system that ended up working for our particular situation, but obviously every ministry context is unique, so this model is not comprehensive.


There you have it. A few brief insights on how I think about pastoral ministry.