Announcing a Revised and Expanded Crisis of Discipleship!

This week, my blog introduces the just-published revised and expanded version of Crisis of Discipleship. I became a Christian in 1977 in a small group in Houston, Texas. At the time, I was a young corporate attorney. During those years, I was an active layperson and small group leader of one kind or another while trying to put my faith at work in a secular calling. In 1991, Kathy and I left Houston and the practice of law and attended seminary. While in seminary, we were active in small group discipling. From 1994 until 2019, I pastored three congregations ranging from relatively small to large. Each congregation had a small group discipling ministry. The practical suggestions of Crisis of Discipleship flow from all those years of work and ministry.

Preparing a New Version of Crisis of Discipleship

Since 2017, I have been writing, publishing, and revising my reflections on making disciples in the challenging environment of contemporary culture. The results of this work are embodied in Crisis of Discipleship: Renewing the Art of Relational Disciple Making in a revised and expanded format published by Living Dialog Ministries.

The book is available at and other venues. Living Dialog has sacrificially assisted in this reprint, and I hope you will attempt to buy them directly from Living Dialog. I have included the new cover so that you will be able to purchase the latest version. You can see the book at The book is also available on Amazon and other sources. Be sure to purchase the Revised and Expanded Version. The older version with a different cover is still available from some sources.

A set of editable PowerPoint slides is available for pastors and teachers free of charge, enabling leaders to teach this as a series of lessons with minimal preparation. I am also most willing to create a Study Guide for anyone who needs it. The editability of the slides assures that teachers can customize the lessons for their congregation.

I hope that Crisis of Discipleship will help leaders of local congregations take practical steps to prioritize disciple-making in local churches. A pastor, friend, and mentor constantly reminded me that the church is never more than a generation from extinction. Making disciples in the challenging environment of post-Enlightenment America and Europe will take the concerted effort of many people. I hope you will read this book and consider giving it to your local church leadership.

The Material Covered

The book is both theoretical and practical, with the practical aspect predominant. It begins with an analysis of our culture. It ends with a glimpse into the future, reflecting upon why we must develop a relational discipleship strategy. The book does not take sides regarding various theological or denominational differences, trying to be fair to everyone and valuable to any congregation that would like to develop a better strategy for discipling people.

I have reproduced the Table of Contents below so that you can easily see what is to be learned through studying the book:

Part 1: Come and Follow Me

Chapter 1: The Blessed Life

Chapter 2: Life in the Ruins

Chapter 3: Costly Discipleship

Chapter 4: The Way of a Christ-Follower

Chapter 5: The Way of Relationship

Part 2: Live and Love Like Christ

Chapter 6: Sharing Christ’s Life

Chapter 7: Sharing Good News

Chapter 8: Sharing Your Testimony

Chapter 9: Sharing in Dialogue

Chapter 10: Living a Different Way of Life

Part 3 Being a Disciple in a Fragmented Age

Chapter 11: The Way of Prayer

Chapter 12: The Way of the Word

Chapter 13: The Way of Service

Chapter 14: Growing in Transformational Community

Chapter 15: Discipleship in an Age of Fragmentation


Crisis of Discipleship represents the lessons of almost fifty years of Christian discipleship as a lay leader and pastor. As the “Boomers” (my generation) move to the sidelines, a new generation of leadership is emerging. Crisis of Discipleship hopes to help those in active ministry and those emerging into leadership as they seek to find ways to meet the challenges of our culture. No one, least of all me, has all the answers. Nevertheless, many people have found ways to reach out to American and Western cultures—and many new ideas have been proposed. I hope that many leaders and laypersons will find a way to begin thinking through their own response to our culture in Crisis of Discipleship.

This has been a labor of love and, hopefully, a way to share my walk with Christ with others in a helpful way. I hope friends, pastors, church leaders, and others will appreciate it.

God bless you all,


Marshand and Ultimate Reality

In 2023 I published a novel, Marshland, which is a murder mystery, a story of the Texas Savings and Loan Crisis, and a spiritual mystery all rolled into one. [1] My friends (and the publisher) tell me that to create and maintain interest, it is necessary to occasionally publish an excerpt and perhaps give some insight into the background of the book. As I work on a more Christian and Biblical blog intended to become the second of the blogs on public theology, I decided that this week, I would publish an excerpt from near the end of Marshland. Next week, I think I am going to be publishing a bit of the newly published revised and expanded version of Crisis of Discipleship, which was also published last year and is now out in a new edition. [2]

For now, here is the excerpt from Marshland:


One night we spent together remains vivid in my memory. My father, brother, and I were alone after dinner. They asked me to recount the events of the past months, which I did. When I got to the dark figure and strange lights, Dad and my brother got very quiet. Finally, they asked me what I thought my experiences meant. I had a hard time answering.

“I don’t really know what to think. I make my living not believing what people say unless it can be proven in court. However, that kind of proof is unavailable when it comes to personal perceptions of a spiritual reality. I know what I experienced. I know what I saw or dreamed. I know what happened as a result. I do not think it was simply an illusion or false delusion. I am not sure I need to know more.”

My father seemed to think that was a pretty good answer.

“In the ministry, I have seen a lot of things that an unbeliever might explain as a coincidence, supernatural answers to prayers, the intervention of God, or chance. I have always thought of them as something spiritual. I never felt it necessary to know or understand more. In the end, it is a matter of faith how one interprets experiences like those you recently had. Personally, however, I also think the experiences were real.”

My brother listened carefully, then gave his take on what had occurred.

“When I was in seminary, I had a class on, of all people, John Calvin. One day, as we were discussing Calvin’s views about angels, someone in the class spoke dismissively about Calvin’s premodern worldview. The professor, who was by no means a fundamentalist, paused thoughtfully and then said, ‘I think it is a great mistake not to believe in angels.’ He never explained his meaning, but I have always remembered that class.

“During my seminary days, I was often asked to preach in churches with which the seminary wanted to sustain a relationship. During those times, I habitually asked pastors what they thought about angels and demons and whether they had ever experienced things that seemed mystical in origin. The answers were interesting. Across various theological orientations, the answer was almost invariably that they believed in the demonic and in the angelic in some form. They had seen and experienced things in ministry that were difficult to explain on any basis other than supernaturally. They did not agree on the explanation, but they did agree on the existence of what I would call a trans-material dimension to the universe. I have experienced things as a pastor that are hard to explain without postulating an element of the divine or demonic.

“Art, it seems to me you have had such an experience. Your visions could just be dreams, but in the case of the angelic lights, your experiences were shared by others who saw the strange pillars of light. These experiences do not seem to be some kind of mass delusion. You will have to decide for yourself what you believe. As for me, I believe the world is stranger than we know.”

My father chimed in. “One interesting development in philosophy in recent years has been recognizing that reality is multilayered. At the bottom of material reality lies the principles of physics, from which chemistry and biology emerge as independent areas of reality. The human race emerged in a long process of biological and social development, with the result that religion, psychology, sociology, law, and other disciplines also developed, due to the capacity of human beings to create human societies and institutions. Each level of reality depends on others, yet has its own degree of independence. While other levels are relevant and may impact higher levels, they do not determine them. In my view, beyond the created order, there is a vast, invisible order of spiritual reality. This order may well include an angelic order of being. You may have had some kind of contact with that reality.”

Our conversation shifted to the wedding and the excitement it generated in the family. We never returned to the subject of angels. In the intervening years, until recently, I rarely encountered anything like what I experienced during the final days of the Marshland transaction. As the years passed, the vividness of my experience faded, and with it, my curiosity and interest. I was busy as a lawyer, husband, and father. Yet it was in those days that I found my true vocation, the great love of my life, and a kind of center from which I have lived since.

This week, I ran across a quotation from Thomas Torrance, whose theological writings have meant a lot to me over the course of the years. It is from an essay entitled “Christianity and Scientific Change.” When I wrote Marshland, in my mind I attributed the words of Arthur Stone’s father to what I learned studying John Polkinghorne, the British physicist and theologian, whose work has also been important to me and who makes a similar observation in his many books. Arthur Peacocke and Ian Barbour also influenced my understanding of the multi-layered nature of reality. It is actually an important idea to get in one’s mind.

In Torrance’s essay, he makes the point:

“Scientific knowledge embodies layers of coherent comprehension which answer to and are affected by the coordinated layers of orderly relations, in reality itself. This integrated complex structure in reality and in our corresponding knowledge of it forms an ascending hierarchy of orderly relations which prove to be open upward in ever wider, comprehensiveness and profounder ranges of intelligibility, but which cannot be flattened down word by being reduced to homeomorphic relations on one and the same level.

As these different levels of reality become disclosed through our inquiries, together with the corresponding levels of our explanatory accounts of them, they combine with one another, in such a hierarchical way, as to constitute a vast semantic focus of meaning.” [3]

A lot rides on understanding this quotation and the point I am making in Marshland. If I could summarize what Torrance is saying it is this:

  1. Every level of reality exists dependent upon other levels but independent of them.
  2. Reality has a hierarchical structure, from basic physics to chemistry to biology to psychology to sociology to theology.
  3. In reality, there is an upward openness to emerging novelty, which means that the higher levels are not fully reducible to the lower levels.
  4. Through science, mathematics, words, and other symbols human beings discover the structure and meaning of this multi-layered reality.

Because there are different levels of reality, it is not appropriate to try to understand one level of reality on the basis of lower levels alone. For example, one cannot understand the functioning of the human spirit solely on the basis of physics, chemistry, or even biology. The existence of the human mind creates an entirely different level of reality that must be understood on its own terms. Similarly, spiritual realities, such as the angels in Marshland, exist on a different level than material realities.

Modern science and much modern philosophy tend to dismiss religious views and experiences as not “scientific,” at least as the speaker understands science. Torrance and I would disagree with this.

On the spiritual level, we are dealing with the person of God. Like all personal relations, we cannot understand this God, unless God chooses to communicate himself to us. Of course, God can be expected to communicate to us on the basis of our human abilities to perceive, which is why religious people experience visions and dreams. It’s also why the religious truths of every religion are embodied in people and in books.

Jesus told parables. Mohammed wrote the Koran. The sayings of Buddha have been passed down to us. Confucius wrote the Analects. We can read, understand, and grow closer to understanding Ultimate Reality in our study of them.

As a Christian, I read my Bible daily as one of the ways God communicates with me. Prayer, worship, and service to others are other ways God communicates. I study the Old and New Testaments because I believe they render a true vision of the nature of the infinite, personal God, a God finally revealed to us in the Person of Jesus Christ.

Nevertheless, there is always an irreducible mystery to any such communication for the reality being communicated is at a different level of reality than we human beings inhabit. This is why God chose to give us the name “I am” or “I Am that I Am,” or, as I sometimes refer to God in my writings, “I Am what I Am and will be what I Will Be.” God loves us. We know that from Christ. God wishes us the best. We know that from Scripture. But God will not be fully understood by us. Like Arthur Stone, we have to be content with what we know and can know within our human limits.

Copyright 2024, G, Christopher Scruggs, All Rights Reserved

[1] Alystair West, Marshland (Bloomington, ID: Westbow Press, 2023).

[2] G. Christopher Scruggs, Crisis of Discipleship: Renewing the Art of Relational Disciplemaking (Richmond, VA: 2024).

[3] Thomas F. Torrance, Christian Theology and Scientific Culture “Christianity and Scientific Change” (Eugene OR: Wipf & Stock, 1998), 37, 39

Where Love and Wisdom Meet

The End of the Intellectual Search for Wisdom

Wisdom literature is committed to an unflinching search for truth and an understanding of the reality of human life, squarely facing the problems inherent in a simple equation of blessings, success, and meaning with the wise life. [1] Job, Ecclesiastes, and Daniel, each in their own way, address the reality that good people suffer, much suffering does not make sense, and wisdom does not prevent a wise person from experiencing injustice and meaninglessness inherent to much of human life.

In Job and Ecclesiastes, one senses the conviction that any explanation of the human condition must finally come through a personal revelation. This is why Job is so insistent that he achieve a personal interview with God. His friends are not adequate mediators of reasons for his suffering. He wants his case, and by extrapolation, the case of every sufferer, to be personally heard by God and answered by God. You see, the character of God is at stake in the problems of meaningless and undeserved suffering. To a person who suffers undeservedly or loses a sense that life has meaning, God often seems strangely silent.

Near the end of Proverbs, a passage speaks of the ultimate helplessness of human reason in the face of the most profound questions of life. It is as if, in frustration, the wisdom writers finally confess the futility of trying to understand the ways of God:

I am weary, O God; I am weary and worn out, O God. I am too stupid to be human, and I lack common sense. I have not mastered human wisdom, nor do I know the Holy One. Who but God goes up to heaven and comes back down? Who holds the wind in his fists? Who wraps up the oceans in his cloak? Who has created the whole wide world? What is his name—and his son’s name? Tell me if you know! (Proverbs 30:1-4, NLT).

This passage expresses a fundamental problem with the human search for wisdom: We are not God. We cannot ascend to heaven and check our earthly conclusions with the Almighty. The search for God and for human wisdom concerning the most critical questions of life ultimately reaches the end of human understanding. More arguments will not suffice—a revelation is needed. One is tempted to quote the modern philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein, “Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent.” [2]

Humans must live within the limits of human understanding. The ways of God are beyond our understanding. If humans are to find answers to life’s most troubling questions, God must reveal them. We cannot ascend to God or investigate God and find our answers. Since our deepest need for a sense of the presence of God, and not simply a word from God, the revelation we need must be personal, not merely verbal. [3]

One Greater than Solomon

New Testament writers would agree for a surprising reason: They had seen the mysterious, inscrutable God revealed in human flesh. When they saw Jesus, they saw revealed a kind of wisdom so different from their expectations that it initially seemed foolish. As they reflected on the revelation of Christ, they came to understand it as foundational to any rational understanding of God and the universe.

In Matthew 12, Jesus alludes to his special status. The Scribes and the Pharisees have been challenging Jesus because he seems not to follow the wisdom of the Jewish tradition as they understand it. Finally, Jesus responds. Here is how Matthew relates the story:

Then some of the scribes and Pharisees said, “Master, we want to see a sign from you.” But Jesus told them, “It is an evil and unfaithful generation that craves for a sign, and no sign will be given to it—except the sign of the prophet Jonah. For just as Jonah was in the belly of that great sea-monster for three days and nights, so will the Son of Man be in the heart of the earth for three days and nights. The men of Nineveh will stand up with this generation in the judgment and will condemn it. For they did repent when Jonah preached to them, and you have more than Jonah’s preaching with you now! The Queen of the South will stand up in the judgment with this generation and will condemn it. For she came from the ends of the earth to listen to the wisdom of Solomon, and you have more than the wisdom of Solomon with you now! (Matthew 12:33-42, J.B. Philips [emphasis added]).

The Scribes and the Pharisees wanted a sign that Jesus was an authentic teacher of the wisdom of God, which they could fit into their pre-existing worldview. They wanted a Messiah that fit their expectations. Jesus refused their request, telling them they would indeed get a sign—but not one that they could accept. Although in Jesus, one greater than Solomon is present, they will have to change their expectations in the face of the reality of the Messiah God has sent to them. [4]

Greater than Solomon? Who among the teachers of Israel could be greater than the patron saint of the wisdom tradition, the Son of David? Here, Jesus is making his case that, as “one has come down from heaven,” he is the authentic and reliable guide to the wise life. However, this is not a wisdom the world will easily recognize or accept. In fact, the very people who might have been expected to acknowledge Jesus as the bearer of true wisdom reject and crucify him.

 The Word Made Flesh

It is not just the spoken words of Jesus that are important. In his very being, the Word and Wisdom of God are revealed. John begins his gospel:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. … The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth (John 1:1-8, 14, NIV).

In Christ, God has chosen to make a personal appearance in human history. In Jesus, the wisdom that was with the Father in the beginning as a master craftsman of creation (Proverbs 8) came to dwell in history in human form and is now revealed not just in words but also in a human being whose character is “full of Grace and Truth” (John 1:14).

Despite the presence of the True Light of God’s wisdom in Jesus, the True Light was not easy to recognize (John 1:9). In fact, “…though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him” (John 1:10, NIV). When John says that the world did not receive him, he does not just mean the gentile nations who might be expected to miss the purpose and meaning of his life. Not even his own people, who had been prepared for his coming throughout their long history, understood. “He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him” (John 1:11, NIV).

The New Testament is replete with indications that even those closest to Jesus, the disciples, were often puzzled by Jesus and his teachings. [5] They did not always understand his parables and frequently had to have them explained to them (See Mark 4:13). In Matthew 13, Jesus tells a series of parables that his followers have difficulty understanding. Then, the reason is given:

Jesus spoke all these things to the crowd in parables; he did not say anything to them without using a parable. So was fulfilled what was spoken through the prophet: “I will open my mouth in parables, I will utter things hidden since the creation of the world” (Matthew 13:34-35, NIV).

Jesus’ teachings were difficult to understand, and his wisdom was often confusing because he revealed a hidden wisdom from God (I Corinthians 1:18-19). This wisdom can only be recognized based on the revelation God is making through Jesus.

The core misunderstanding of the disciples concerned the character of Jesus and God. Jesus revealed a wisdom that does not necessarily breed success or victory. It is not a wisdom that brings with it adulation of the crowds or political or economic power. It is not a wisdom that the best and the brightest of the academy will necessarily applaud. It is a wisdom that leads to a cross. It is wisdom shown by submitting to injustice. It is a wisdom symbolized by a cross. In other words, human wisdom formed by the notion that wisdom brings success and adulation is no kind of wisdom at all.

The Wisdom of the Cross

The apostle Paul expresses the surprise the apostles felt at Christ’s incomprehensible self-disclosure of God’s self-giving wisdom:

For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written: “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise; the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate.” Where is the wise person? Where is the teacher of the law? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe. Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength (I Corinthians 1:18-25, NIV).

The wisdom Christ revealed is so unimaginable that no form of human understanding could have foreseen its character. The Jews rejected it because it defied their messianic expectations of a military and political deliverer. The Greeks rejected it because their ideas of divinity postulated an impassible God who could not suffer, a God beyond the misery of this world and its bondage to sin, suffering, and death.

Thus, the wisdom of God is paradoxical—a wisdom that must be accepted by faith before it makes sense. It is a wisdom that no person wise by Jewish or Greek standards would have predicted. It is a wisdom revealed not in strength but in weakness and suffering love. It is a wisdom that does not fit into the categories of thought prevalent in Jesus’ day or our own. It cannot be assimilated into any human wisdom other than by making it the foundation of a new kind of wisdom. [6]

The reality and power of God’s wisdom can only be known in the person of the crucified and resurrected Jesus Messiah (I Corinthians 2:2). It can only be understood in humble reliance upon God’s mercy, which is its basis and foundation (I Corinthians 2:3). It cannot be known with the wisest and most persuasive arguments (I Corinthians 2:4-5). It can only be understood in the experience of personal forgiveness and restoration by the power of the Holy Spirit (I Corinthians 2:4-5).

This is a wisdom that cannot be known by the rulers and authorities of “this age” because it is a hidden wisdom:

But we speak God’s wisdom, secret and hidden, which God decreed before the ages for our glory. None of the rulers of this age understood this; for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. But, as it is written, “What no eye has seen, nor ear heard,  nor the human heart conceived, what God has prepared for those who love him”—these things God has revealed to us through the Spirit; for the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God (I Corinthians 2:7-9, NRSV).

The ultimate expression of wisdom cannot be expressed in words. It had to be expressed on a cross and can only be appropriated in a personal relationship with God as revealed on the Cross. Those who understand this wisdom must have their minds transformed so they have the mind of Christ, the mind of the One who revealed this wisdom, this hidden word of God (I Corinthians 2:13-16).

This wisdom of the Cross reflects the true nature of the One who created the heavens and the earth. The world cannot understand this wisdom because its truth finally must be revealed to us by God. C. S. Lewis captures this mystery in his book, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. In the book, Edmund betrays his brother and sisters, the people of Narnia, and even Aslan, the true king of Narnia. He deserves to die—and the White Witch demands that he do so. Aslan strikes a bargain with the White Witch to substitute himself for Edmund. The Witch accepts, and Aslan is sacrificed only to be resurrected. When Lucy and Susan cannot understand what has happened, Aslan replies:

It means, said Aslan, “that though the Witch knew the Deep Magic, there is magic deeper still which she did not know. Her knowledge goes back only to the dawn of Time. But, if she could have looked a little further back, into the stillness and darkness before Time dawned, she would have read there a different incantation. She would have known that when a willing victim who had committed no treachery was killed in the traitor’s stead, the Table would crack and Death itself would start working backward.” [7]

The wisdom of the Cross is the Deeper Magic, the most profound wisdom that underlies and supports all human attempts to live and order their lives. On the Cross the limitations of a human notion of justice is demonstrated and a deeper wisdom, what we might call a “Wisdom of Grace,” is revealed. This wisdom is present in life and death, in success and failure, in deserved blessing and undeserved suffering, and in times of radiant meaning and purpose in the dark times when meaning and purpose seem absent.

The Way of Wisdom and New Testament Faith

Contemporary people sometimes consider “faith and knowledge” and “theory and practice” as categories. We often think of “faith” as a kind of incomplete knowledge, or worse, something people choose to believe in the face of contrary facts. [8] Critics of Christianity often describe faith as irrational – a flight from reason. For these people, “faith” means holding to a belief despite the absence of evidence, or worse, against clear evidence. Even Christians can fall into thinking that faith is something alien to reason or, in some ways, opposed to reason. Much harmful debate between science and religion stems from this way of thinking.

The false dichotomy between faith and reason is foreign to the spirit of the Christian Bible and the early Church’s writers. For early Christians, the revelation of Christ was a moment of deepened understanding of God and the universe God created. The early Church saw the incarnation as a physical revelation – a personal revealing inside of creation of the invisible wisdom of God (Colossians 1:15-17). This same divine wisdom was also revealed in nature (Romans 1:20). For these writers, practical wisdom, understanding reality, and moral knowledge come from the same source – the uncreated wisdom of God.

For those who accept this ancient way of wisdom, scientific understanding, faith, and moral insight are parts of a seamless web of created rationality binding the physical, ethical, and intellectual universe together. Eugene Peterson captures this notion in his paraphrase when he says, “…God’s law is not something alien, imposed on us from without, but woven into the very fabric of our creation. There is something deep within … that echoes God’s yes and no, right and wrong” (Romans 2:14, Message).

For early Christians, the revelation embodied in Jesus was not a flight into the irrational or a subjective world of metaphor. Instead, Christ provided a revelatory insight into the deepest rationality of the world. This is why an early Christian could say:

He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers—all things have been created through him and for him. He himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together (Colossians 1:15-17, NRSV).

For the writer of Colossians and early Christians generally, the revelation of Christ was a revelation of the ultimate rationality of the universe, the principle of reconciliation between the physical and moral universes. On the cross, God revealed the ultimate nature of the deity. He revealed God as Self-Giving Love—a love present in the meaningless parts of life and in the undeserved suffering we sometimes endure. In the resurrection of Jesus, God was revealing at the very boundaries of human reason the ultimate ground for our hope.

A Life Reordered by Transformational Insight

James Loder speaks of the importance of transformational knowing—a kind of knowing that re-orders all that we have previously known into a new order—an order that explains what was once inexplicable and makes rational what was once irrational. [9] Transformational knowledge results from a convictional insight that transforms understanding and reorders the human psyche. [10] The revelation of Christ is such a transformational insight. By faith, new understanding is created. This new understanding is not irrational. It is more profound than human rationality. It is not a form of foolishness. It is a wisdom that renders lesser insights foolish. This is the wisdom to which the New Testament writers bore witness.

The Old Testament wisdom writers were searching for truth—for a true way to find happiness and fulfillment. They did so in the context of their faith and God’s revelation to Israel. Their quest was confronted with difficulties that they wrestled with and sought to resolve. They sensed a deep conflict between the fundamental premises of the wisdom tradition and reality as they knew and experienced it.

They saw much-undeserved suffering in the world and understood a wise life does not guarantee happiness, fulfillment, or meaning. Over long centuries, wisdom writers struggled with these problems as they relate to their understanding of God, wisdom, morals, and the rationality of the world. Then, in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth, the disciples experienced a complete reorienting of their ideas about God, the Law, and the Prophets.

The revelation they received made sense of what had previously been difficult, if not impossible, to understand. But that revelation required a rethinking and reenacting of the entire history of Israel, so surprising and revolutionary was its impact. In the figure of Christ, they saw revealed a wisdom of one greater than Solomon (Matthew 12:42), a prophet greater than Moses (Hebrews 3:3). They saw revealed in Christ the character of one who fulfilled the Law and Prophets (Matthew 5:17). In the crucified and risen Messiah, they received the clue to the mystery their tradition had so long pondered. In the one life of Jesus of Nazareth, they saw the wisdom of God revealed in the most unexpected yet undeniable way. It was for them and us to work out the implications of that revelation. [11]

Because of the personal nature of the revelation of Christ, no purely mental, cognitive response can ever be sufficient. The proper response of faith is to not simply cognitively accept what God has done in Christ. The word for faith connotes more than acceptance. It also connotes trust, and trust requires an act of personal commitment and will. To trust in Christ and to receive his wisdom is to be converted in our minds (what we think), in our bodies (what we do), and in our hearts (what we feel and will do). A personal revelation demands a personal response from the whole human person. Wisdom is never a matter of abstract cognitive knowing. Wisdom is practical. It is a matter of knowing and doing in a concrete human life formed in a relationship with God, a concrete community, and the world.

Copyright 2024, G. Christopher Scruggs, All Rights Reserved

[1] This entire essay is a revision of chapter 14 of my book, Path of Life: The Way of Wisdom for Christ Followers (Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 2014), 195ff.

[2] Ludwig Wittgenstein, Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus (London, ENG: Kegan Paul, Trench, Turner & Co, 1922), 90.

[3] This is one reason pastors and other caregivers quickly learn that our presence with people who are suffering is far more important than anything we may say. In fact, as Job’s friends illustrate, what we say may interfere with the comfort of our presence!

[4] Thomas F. Torrance, Theological Science (New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 1969). In scientific, religious, and other thinking there can only be real knowledge when an investigator adjusts his or her view of reality to the nature of the subject matter. “[In] Jesus Christ God has broken into the closed circle of our inability and adequacy, and estrangement and self-will, and within our alien condition has achieved and established real knowledge of Himself.” Id, at 51.

[5] One of the motifs of the Gospel of Mark is the incomprehension of the disciples despite their constant contact with Jesus.

[6] Lesslie Newbigin, Foolishness to the Greeks:  The Gospel and Western Culture (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans, 1986).

[7] C. S. Lewis, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (New York, NY: HarperCollins Publishers, 1950, renewed 1978), 74.

[8] This section contains ideas first presented in Centered Living, Centered Leading: The Way of Light and Love for Christ-Followers previously cited.

[9] See, James E. Loder, The Transforming Moment 2nd ed. (Colorado Springs, CO: Helmers and Howard, 1989).

[10] Id, at 33.

[11] In this section, I use Loder’s notion of “convictional knowing” and its stages of: conflict, scanning, revelation (what he calls “imagination”), release, and interpretation to express the way in which the revelation of Christ impacted the disciples’ (and our) expectation of the Messiah. See, Loder, Transforming Moment, at 35-44.

From a Naked to an Illumined Public Square

In 1984, author and social commentator, Richard John Neuhaus wrote a book that had a profound impact on American public life, The Naked Public Square: Religion and Democracy in America. [1] This book, and Neuhaus’ work editing First Things, widely regarded as one of the most influential journals on religion and public life, had a deep impact during the following years. [2] I remember reading the book in the late 1980’s and admiring his scholarship. During the 1990s while in seminary, I developed the habit of reading First Things our seminary library. Later for some years, I subscribed until I concluded that the money of a local pastor might be better spent on his family. However, during all those years I was not comfortable with all the conclusions of  The Naked Public Square or the tone of the work in a few places.

The book was written during the presidency of Ronald Reagan, to some people a kind of golden age of evangelical witness in the political arena. During the presidency of Jimmy Carter, evangelical Christians emerged as a force in American politics. The emerging alliance of evangelicals with a Democratic administration was ultimately not successful. The deep feelings of many evangelicals on the subject of abortion, and the perceived ineptitude of the administration in handling the Iranian Crisis, resulted in a massive shift of evangelical support to the Republican Party in the 1980 election, where, until recently, it has resided. It is too early to tell whether the Trump Administration and the reaction of some evangelical leaders to his style and perceived immorality have resulted in a permanent change of this alliance in the future. In any case, many prominent evangelical pastors and intellectuals have distanced themselves from the Republican Party. In my view, this is also a positive development.

Perhaps more central to the hope of this book is the fact that at the time the basic contest in the area of public theology among evangelicals, Catholics, and mainline protestants and what was sometimes termed the “Religious Right” concerned the question of which group’s basic theological and social views should Christians adopt. Neuhaus, The Naked Public Square, and the Mainline Protestants came down on the side of themselves. Having spent a good bit of my life in academia (undergraduate, law, and seminary), I was not certain this was the right question. In my mind, the question is whether or not Christianity will have any important voice in political affairs under the current dominant way of thinking. Will the light of Christ in any way impact public life.”

The Short-Sighted Public Square

One weakness of contemporary Christian witness in public life is that it too often focuses on “hot button” issues, such as abortion, or personalities, such as Donald Trump’s or Joe Biden’s moral character. While character is important, and a focus on moral issues certainly has a place in Christian views on public life, single-minded or overly-moralistic approaches inhibit the development of discussion and reason concerning Christian faith and its fundamental message to Christians and others in complex areas of our national political life. This particular feature of Christian participation in public life has many consequences, none of which are positive. First, it often results in the demonization of other sides of the political debate. Second, it diverts attention from issues that are important to human flourishing and the stability of our democracy. Third, it creates a kind of “winner take all” moral enthusiasm related to issues that can prevent the proper functioning of our democracy and its fundamental institutions.

Finally, and most destructively, excessive negative focus on the most dangerous proposals of our opponents creates a demand for a kind of messianic leader who will establish the policies that various supporting groups desire. The results of political messianism are both inevitable disappointment and the creation of a kind of misplaced moral outrage that hinders wise and fair decision-making. Christians of all stripes believe in the doctrine of the fall, one particular result of which is we cannot expect a level of moral purity from our leaders that we regularly admit we do not possess.

Our national elites find it relatively easy to allow public debate to occur on two levels. First, there is the vulgar level of social media, broadcast media, and the like. Anyone who has read the comment sections of any version of social media regularly reads comments that are either inane or violently rude. It is amazing to me how many people when faced with a problem like the Middle East or the Deficit react by posting “Bomb them into oblivion” or “Tax the rich” or “Fire all federal employees.” There is not much light to be gained by reading the comment section in media.

Illumined by Wisdom and Love

I sometimes call my approach to political philosophy and theology “sophia-agapic.” The Greek word “Sophia” is the word for wisdom in the New Testament. The Greek word “Agape” is the word Christians use for the self-giving love of God. In Christ, Christians believe that the love of God became human and “dwelt among us full of grace and truth” (John 1:14). Christians also believe that God possesses all wisdom, which wisdom also became human in Christ and its implications revealed for the human race (John 1:4). This has implications in every area of Christian life and activity, two of which are important in any discussion of political theology:

First, God is Love and exists in a loving family-like relationship, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Therefore, the Christian faith will seek mutuality and self-giving relationships as a characteristic of its involvement in public life. This includes recognizing the limitations of force, physical, mental, emotional, and otherwise in public affairs.

Second, God is Light, which is to say that God is completely, wise, completely pure, completely rational, completely good, and completely beautiful. This includes the importance of approaching public policy wisely and with and informed discretion.

Most people tend to think of power as a primary quality and important for one to possess. One of my professors in undergraduate school commented that “politics is just about power, getting it, using it, and losing it.” At the time, I agreed. Now, I do not. Political power is both profoundly interpersonal and depends on numerous factors, some of which are moral and psychological.

The philosopher Nietzsche instituted a program of seeing all moral claims, and all truth claims as simple bids for power, a program that finds its current home in deconstructive social theory. Nietzsche effectively “deconstructed” the foundations of Enlightenment liberalism, reducing all truth claims, all moral claims, and all aesthetic claims to bids for power. Nietzsche’s hostility towards Christianity as a “slave religion,” reflecting an attempt by the weak to gain power over the strong, the “Ubermensch” (“overman” or “superman,” who has the vitality to impose his or her will on others) is well known. In practice, the result of Nietzschean thought has inevitably been some kind of totalitarianism. [3] This Nietzschean notion of the will to power embeds in contemporary politics an innate tenancy toward violence. [4] The truth and reality of this observation are seen in the events in major U.S. cities over the past several weeks.

If you are like me, you watch the nightly news with a sense of horror and foreboding. The riots on the streets, the antics of nihilist anarchists, the tactics of the Marxist left seeking the ever illusive “end of history” and institution of a proletarian dictatorship, the complicity of left-wing politicians, and worst of all, the egging-on by the liberal media, without the slightest reflection on where this is all heading. For those who want to know the end game of all this, my suggestion is that the end game will not be pretty—or what its proponents desire.

The Enlightenment, with its hostility to religion, began in France among a group of philosophers who were anti-Catholic, the most famous of whom was Voltaire. They envisioned a perfect, humanistic state. They created a dictatorship in which thousands died in an orgy of madness. The result was not a perfect state, but a perfectly demonic state. What finally emerged was not a paradise of reason, but Napoleon.

If American intellectuals, left-wing politicians, and the plutocrats who control much of our wealth are wise, they will take a break from radical politics, political calculations, and cultural accommodation and study the French Revolution. Those who egged on the French mob were ultimately destroyed by the mob. This same kind of senseless evil was characteristic of the 20th century, from Lenin to Hitler, Mao, Pot Pol, and beyond.

There is a kind of naïve utopianism that discounts human brokenness and our capacity for evil, that believes that a different sort of ruler (me or my group) would mean change for the better, and that impatient for change. In the case of modern revolutions, people seek a secular Messiah who will usher in a golden age of peace and plenty, but most often get Stalin. “Woe unto the world because of offenses! for it must need to be those offenses come; but woe to that man by whom the offense cometh!” (Matthew 18:7, KJV).

Will to Healthy Relationality

Over and against the Nietzschean notion of the “Will to Power” as ultimate, Christians posit that the universe is communal, flowing from the communal nature of God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Christians fundamentally disagree with the modern worldview that “All that exists are objects and forces.” While we confess the reality of the objective world outside of us, we also believe that there is a noetic or spiritual world in which words like “Freedom” and “Justice” have a real though not physical existence.


On and off this year, I am going to take a leisurely blogging trip through some fundamental ways  Christian faith  can guide Christians in bringing wisdom and love into American public life. This is an important undertaking because our public culture is without question experiencing an unprecedented decay into a kind of nihilistic “winner take all” game in which the Christian virtues of reason, compassion, justice, and love are inevitably lost. The propensity impacts Christians and non-Christians alike. The result is an impoverishment of our public discourse on important issues.

Neuhaus was aware that Christian engagement with political life includes the danger of Christian thinking about matters of public life degenerating into a “Church of What Is Happening Now” response. [5] One blessing of religious faith is that it involves internalizing an eternal perspective on current events that allows a kind of disengagement with the pressure of the currently urgent and allows focus on important things. Hopefully, the result is that Christians can engage others in the public arena with the wisdom and love that God has asked all his disciples to demonstrate.

Neuhaus also believed that the emergence of the Evangelical Right was an event that required examination. He was concerned to illuminate the errors of the Moral Majority and similar movements. From the perspective of 2024, it would seem to me that his concern was overdone. The Moral Majority has disappeared from public life. What has emerged in its place is a kind of disconnected dislike of the current regime without a philosophical basis or a well-thought-out policy alternative. We do not need more buzzwords.

The cultural changes of the 1960’s were, perhaps, slowed by the Reagan Presidency but they were not by any means without continuing impact. On college campuses, in the media, and in other cultural settings, the forces unleashed by the decay of modernity continue to impact public life in powerful ways. The world of 2024 is almost unrecognizable from the perspective of 1984. America was becoming more secular in the late 20th century. It is secular in the early 21stcentury.

While religious faith is a factor for people of faith in their making of public decisions, faith is not a factor for non-religious people. In addition, while religion is important to people of faith, it is by no means the only or often primary consideration in their political views or actions once in office. About many matters of public life, it may not even be arguably the most important matter. For example, I am a member of a local neighborhood association that deals with issues like, where should boundary signs be located and what height of the wall should be permitted in a particular lot. Hopefully, my religious faith causes me to be loving, kind, and concerned with the people involved and just, but Christian faith does not determine my vote on the height of privacy fences. Finally, religious and other factors will impact a Christian response to any public policy issue, and as to some issues, Christians may well have to weigh their faith with other factors.

Cultural forces are not easily overcome as the massive change in sexual morals among religious and non-religious people in early 21st-century America clearly shows. Cultural change involves creating cultural artifacts (art, literature, movies, music, and institutions) that capture the imagination of people and hold their loyalty beyond the passing emotion of a political movement or reaction. Christians, and especially more conservative Christians have not been particularly good at the creation of a cultural response to late modernity that is both compelling and energizing to contemporary Americans. A deep and deeply rational public policy is one of those artifacts that Christians need to develop.

Copyright 2023, G. Christopher Scruggs, All Rights Reserved

[1] Richard John Neuhaus, The Naked Public Square: Religion and Democracy in America (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans, 1984), hereinafter, “The Naked Public Square.”

[2] First Things: A Journal of Religion and Public Life, published by the Institute on Religion and Public Life, a bipartisan non-profit corporation headquartered in New York, NY. On its cover on the internet it describes itself as “América’s Most Influential Journal of Religion and Public Life.” See

[3] In my view, contemporary Communist China is a national socialist state masquerading as a communist state. Modern Russia under Putin is clearly a kind of national socialist state, in which very wealthy oligarchs and the state control every element of human life. Milbank believes as do I that Nietzschean nihilism always leads to some form of Nazism. Unfortunately, we see elements of this kind of government in American and Western European society.

[4] John Milbank, Theology and Social Theory: Beyond Secular Reason 2nd ed. (Oxford, UK.: Blackwell, 2006), at xiii, and chapter 10, “Ontological Violence or the Postmodern Problematic” pp. 278-326

[5] The Naked Public Square, 3ff.