MY BLOG IN 2018: Week Three

We’ve now talked about my four-week rotation for every calendar month of 2018. We talked about how I’ll be using the first week of the rotations to talk about the Top 12 Blog Posts of Covered in His Dust. We’ve also spoken about how I’ll be using the second week to bring you a little series titled A Day in the Life. Now it’s time to talk about what we’ll be covering in the third week of our monthly rotations.

While I don’t think it’s a secret to my readers, my vocational calling is one where I serve as the President of Impact Campus Ministries. At ICM, we believe in the work of campus ministry because we believe that if we can impact the university campus, we can impact the world. We truly believe that tomorrow’s great leaders are studying on campuses all over this country; we believe there are students here that will be called to all kinds of international destinations and jobs to make an impact in their particular contexts. In fact, the largest growing demographic of students is the international student — what better chance to impact the world on the global scale than to shape tomorrow’s leaders on today’s campuses?

Here is a video we made that talks about all of that:

One of the reasons I love ICM so much is because of the culture and the vision of our organization. Some of that culture was built into Impact from its earliest years of ministry. Amazing people like Dean Trune planted a counter-intuitive belief in ICM that true success is developing intimacy with God. I love working for an organization that runs against the current of mainstream thought — thought that believes all we need is a little more hard work — and says that true success is a fruitfulness that comes from what God wants to do through us. And maybe it has to be “caught not taught,” but just listen to this definition of success that was written long before I ever worked for ICM:

Success is developing intimacy with God and community with each other through a living relationship with Jesus. We believe an individual, who is developing intimacy with God, in the context of Christian community, will make an impact for the Kingdom of God.

A team of individuals, who make an impact for the Kingdom of God, will have a fruitful ministry. Though we do not aim for “making an impact,” and we do not aim for “fruitful ministries,” we recognize that these two situations will supernaturally occur when individuals develop intimacy with God in Christian community.

Ministry is the product of our love for God, and an expression of a heart devoted to God. We must not allow “ministry for God” to crowd “intimacy with God” out of our lives. We cannot control “making an impact,” and we cannot control “fruitful ministries,” but we have absolute control over developing intimacy with God and being devoted to one another.

I love that!

Out of this core belief, those who came after Dean and before me created a mission that still excites me. We exist to pursue, model, and teach intimacy with God in Christian community on the American university campus. Out of this mission statement we built a “common language” that we believe, over time, helps foster a culture to make ICM great. ICM is indebted to the leadership of Bill Westfall for this guidance.

We created eight core terms we use to talk about the discipleship process; we also have a list of six values on which we build our organization. We wanted to have shared definitions of what these words mean to us as an organization because we believe words are powerful. We created short definitions for disciple and discipleship. We found it to be very beneficial to identify exactly what pursue, model, and teach mean as ideas. And we also decided it would be helpful to expound on the importance of message, mode, and milieu. All of this is built upon the foundation of our values: passion [for God], community, character, excellence, [the local] church, and compassion.

Now, it’s important for me to state that this is simply our culture at ICM. This is not some seminar on success or how you can follow our formula to greatness. We don’t travel around the country putting on conferences about these terms and why they’re so great — “and you can do it too!” In fact, the mentality of ICM runs against this big box, perform-and-impress idea about church.

No, this is simply a conversation that means a lot to us. To be honest, I’ll be using this third week to write about these ideas for my staff and those connected to our organization. If Dean Trune instilled a definition of success — the spirit and DNA of ICM — and if Bill Westfall helped create a vision and mission for the future, then my job is to help us take ground and continue becoming the organization these great leaders dreamed about. And that means we need to keep talking about these ideas and pushing into them. Every day, every year — moving forward.

But these conversations are not something we want to keep secret. We want to share them with you. I will be posting a monthly article on one of our core terms and casting a little vision of what it looks like to pursue these ideas. If they bless you and help you in some way, we are excited and thrilled to be a part of what God wants to do in your life. If they don’t, that’s fine too. We have no plans for world domination.

So for the third week of every month, I invite you into the conversation of Making an Impact.


MY BLOG IN 2018: Week Two

I have been wanting to take some time each month this fall to share with you a little bit of what to expect on my blog in the coming year. Starting in January, I will begin a weekly rotation of blog themes that will drive the conversation in 2018. In the last post, I spoke of how I will be taking the first week of each month to share the Top 12 Blog Posts of Covered in His Dust. We’ll look back and see what posts have been used the most and I’ll enjoy speculating as to why they are the favorites.

The second week of my rotation will be dedicated to a series I’m going to call “A Day in the Life,” and it should be a collection of different things I do in my job each day. For many of my supporters, they have commented on how nice it’s been to see updates and the occasional video where they get to see what I do secondhand. It’s just one more way we can make our world a little smaller and I can invite you to see what it’s like to be a campus minister and/or President of Impact Campus Ministries.

Some examples of this might be the work I do with students or showing you some of the groups I teach here on the Palouse. I might do a post on discipleship and “take you on a walk” with one of my disciples. I might show you a meeting or two, such as those with the staff of ICM. I might introduce you to some of the staff at Real Life on the Palouse and talk about my partnership with the church there. And maybe I’ll even do a post on what I enjoy doing with my free time. There are so many things to invite you into!

None of these posts will be designed to be instructive or profound in any way — they’re just a fun trip into my day-to-day life where you get to see a little bit of things from my perspective. Of course, I’m sure there will be some cameo appearances from my family (they are who everyone really wants to see, I know) and we’ll have some fun.

So I look forward to inviting you into my life next year as we explore “A Day in the Life.”


MY BLOG IN 2018: Week One

So after four and a half years of blogging through the Text (and Church History), many people have asked me, “What’s next?” Luckily I work alongside some pretty great people here at Impact Campus Ministries. They helped me take my decent ideas and make them into great ones. If you are a reader of my blog, I want to introduce you to the ideas for what’s coming in 2018.

What about before 2018? A well-deserved break from my online voice. I will be posting once a month to give you a glimpse of what is on the way.

For every month of 2018, I will be working with a four-week rotation. There will be one post each week on the rotating topic that is up, and we’ll see where it goes from there.

For the first week of each month, I want to take a look at the top twelve posts from my blog. I will be linking to those posts and having a fun conversation around why I think that post has resonated more (or been Googled more) than the others. It should be an enjoyable time of looking back, enjoying some of the best conversations we have had since 2013, and keeping those posts alive for future conversations.

Some have asked if I’ll be taking down those old posts. The answer is no way! I worked hard on putting all of that content out there and I did it because I believe those things should be accessible to all people. Like I’ve said in the ‘my sources’ section of this blog, I am certainly not the authority on these issues for anyone needing a quote; but I have given my life to reading the sources that should be quoted and I love to repackage the things I learn and share them with other people. I did this so anybody can access my thoughts on “this book (of the Bible)” or “that passage” whenever they want.

The reason God put me here on this earth is to be a teacher — that is my gift set. Part of my job is to help the college students I work with begin to discern what their own gift sets are. As we spoke of in David and Goliath, we all have a stone to throw and it’s important that people know what it is. Once you do know what it is, you have a reason to get up every morning and be determined about what God has called you to do. It’s that determination that won’t let anything get in the way of that calling; and living according to that God-given design is where you find your identity and fulfillment.

Simply put, teaching is the thing I could do for all eternity — it's my stone to throw. I have been unbelievably blessed to have found places where I get to do that every day. Whether it’s having the opportunity to lead others through history in Israel and Turkey, preaching on Sunday mornings with the community of faith I belong to, or creating my podcast with Brent Billings and the work of BEMA DiscipleshipI love, love, love to do what I do!

And as a teacher, over the years, I have created a body of work I am able to share in all those forms. Years ago, I sought to put a large part of that body of work online on my blog. Now it is all there in a form that can be (somewhat) easily navigated. My blog started in February 2013 and you can find the first post of that series here. You can then follow those posts chronologically or quickly navigate the series by using the archives in the right side bar to find the post you’re looking for.

I found that when I wrapped up the series this summer, it had been more of an emotional journey than I realized. This wasn’t in a taxing way, but I had poured so much of myself — my heart, my mind, and my body — into this project. I am lucky that I haven’t had to answer for all sorts of criticism and attacks about the things I’ve written (maybe that means I didn’t push hard enough?) and I love that I get to share it with all of you.

So I look forward to 2018. In the first week of every month, I will be counting down the twelve most-viewed blog posts on Covered in His Dust.



We’ve now finished the journey. Over the course of four years, we have traveled from “In the beginning…” to this very day in 2017. We have just spent the last few months wandering through postbiblical history, figuring out how we got to the point we are at today.

You are here.

I’d like to summarize what I believe I learn from church history in the same way I summarize the trips I lead for my students in Israel and Turkey. As I look at the early Church, a church couched in the context of first-century Judaism, I see four things that stand out to me as a learner.

TEXT: The first-century Jewish world of Jesus was a world deeply committed to the Text. Teaching their children how to memorize the entire Torah at a very early age (and then much of the rest of the Tanakh), they had a working knowledge of God’s commandments we can hardly begin to understand. Without the printing press, this oral communication and commitment of God’s Word to memory would prove invaluable to an entire culture of people devoted to following God. Unfortunately, when we lost our connection to our Jewish heritage (by rejecting the Jewish identity upon which we were built), we didn’t just lose relationships with the Jewish people — we lost the written Word of God, as well. As the one Word that doesn’t return void, but always accomplishes the purpose for which it is sent (Isaiah 55), we effectively lost the power of our movement. Paul told us in Ephesians that the Word of God is “the sword of the Spirit.” I believe we lost the power of the Spirit by losing our connection to the Text, exchanging it for a fascination (maybe idolatry) with doctrine and creed.

COMMUNITY: Our Hellenistic ways always deceive us. Again, as we jettisoned our connection to a Jewish world that lived in intentional subversion to the pagan narrative, we were left with our own pagan roots, deeply entrenched in the narrative of Empire and the Roman worldview. Instead of living in intentional community, rejecting the lies of self-preservation, luxury, comfort, and leisure — we embraced (and still do to this day) these tools of the empire. The most fascinating and effective tool of the Kingdom is an inclusive community that shows the world a better way to live.

DISCIPLESHIP: One of the best ways of training up leaders was the first-century model of discipleship. Consider the fact that Jesus started no churches and went on no missionary journeys. What he did do (and then asked us to do) was make disciples. He spent three years with twelve young men — all day, every day — and he changed the course of human history. He didn’t lead Bible studies (which are great) or create awesome new conferences to teach the masses (although those are incredibly beneficial, as well). He simply went out, told twelve guys to “follow me,” and then showed them how to live as God had asked them to live. It changed everything. We don’t do this anymore.

WRESTLING: The early church community was a community devoted to the same wrestling that Jacob, the father of the Israelites, was known for. They didn’t think answers to all the questions were the point. They believed the Text was meant to be wrestled with and that life was tricky and difficult. They did not believe in formulas or self-help strategies. They believed in walking the path with faithfulness. This walk meant things could be quite complicated and messy. There are many shades of gray. However, working with God to restore the world would be worth the great wrestling match. But this, too, was something we lost. Because we had lost the Text, questions and doubts were threatening. We immediately began to identify orthodox answers to questions and discouraged dissent. In a world that was founded on a culture of chutzpah and engagement, this is an odd experiment.

So, we lost the Text, disengaged from subversively inclusive community, stopped making disciples the way our Jesus did, and discouraged wrestling.

We still don’t know our Text. We find it nearly impossible even to experiment with true community because of the idolatry of our consumerism and comfort. We run church programs and invest in programmatic ministries rather than believing discipleship could change the world. And we still discourage people from asking questions that push the boundaries or color outside the lines.

Is there any hope?


God has placed you and I here for such a time as this. Consider the following:

TEXT: Because of the Internet, we have an unprecedented amount of Bible study tools and information at our fingertips. Unlike any other point in human history, accessibility to truth is at an all-time high. Even though many of us struggle to have a knowledge of the Text rivaling that of Orthodox Judaism, we do have the tools to pursue that kind of understanding and keep learning, learning, learning. If the disciples knew we have biblegateway.com or online lexicons to do word searches in a matter of seconds, they would roll over in their graves. There is no reason we cannot create our own kind of Essene community — people who seek to know the path and walk it.

COMMUNITY: No matter the time or place in history, if we are human, then we are capable of great community. There is no reason we cannot create subversively inclusive communities that show the lies of our culture’s idolatry for what it is, and show the way of Jesus is the best way to live, even after all of these centuries. We can create communities that teach the world how to Sabbath, forgive, and be generously hospitable to others. We can look out for the mumzers. There is nothing stopping us from these endeavors. In fact, because of our “connectivity” in our social networking world, we have tools to facilitate community like never before. It simply requires us not to settle for pseudo-community that allows us keep our Herodian idolatry of consumerism and neo-Hellenism. We have to make the sacrifices necessary for true community.

DISCIPLESHIP: I remain convinced that this model and methodology of discipleship would be just as effective in our world as it ever was in the Greco-Roman context. Total immersion is still the best context for true learning and transformation. It is not easy to fit into our world, and we certainly don’t live in a culture that facilitates these commitments, but the Great Commission still sits for us to seize — today more than ever.

WRESTLING: Maybe one of the best things postmodernity has given us is a culture that values the complexities of life and rejects the notion of black and white answers. This kind of context — often misidentified as moral relativism — is not our enemy, but an incredible opportunity. We need to recapture a world where questions are not a threat to our systems of control, but the doorway to discovery. We need to trust the process of searching, believing that if we truly do search for God, we will find Him — just as He promised us.

Will you wake up tomorrow and do all these things like a champ? No, you will not. But can you wake up tomorrow and set some realistic and obtainable goals to begin making new ground in all four of these areas? Yes, you can.

And I believe some wise man once said the journey of a thousand miles begins with one step.

Or as the Talmud instructs us: Just as rain falls in drops and forms mighty rivers, so it is with Torah. A man studies a little here and a little there, until understanding comes like a rushing stream.

May it be so.
In our day, LORD.


CHURCH HISTORY: AD 1925 thru Today

NB: For readers who missed it, I suggest going back to review my setup to this section on church history to know about my disclaimers. For the graphics used in this post, the timelines are not to scale, and the dates represented are not intended to be exact. They are meant to be visual aids for understanding the larger conversation.

Fundamentalism and secular humanism continued to be locked in a fierce battle for “truth” for a decade. It would be worth answering the question that often goes unanswered in these conversations: What happened to the parts of Christendom that wouldn’t have aligned with fundamentalism? At this point in history, those who would have rejected fundamentalism often drifted towards theological liberalism. While the Church (in this century) would eventually learn how to have more progressive conversations and put more “options” on the table (rather than a simple bifurcated presentation of the argument), this is not that point in history. For much of [theological] liberalism, their position felt like a weak take on humanism, with Jesus slapped on the label.

The two options most 20th-century Christians had to choose from seem today like equally bad options; it also looked like Christianity, while putting up a good fight, was not going to have the staying power to outlast the run that humanism was putting together.

But that all ended with the arrival of World War II.

Any hope that humanity could usher in some utopian societal existence, whether it was by fascist, socialist, communist, or even democratic means, would come to a crashing end. Every humanistic worldview seemed to show its true self in the face of unbelievable genocide, communist oppression, and nuclear war. Simply put, humanity isn’t as great as we thought it was.

This gave Christianity a great and sudden turnaround that ushered in what I call the modern evangelistic era, and the eventual rise of the evangelical church. Fundamentalism gives way to a broader, softer version of itself in a wide representation of Protestant, American Christianity. While the beliefs that justify “evangelical orthodoxy” change depending on who you ask (even today), modern evangelicalism attempted to plant its flag and set up its defenses. It’s worth noting that we still find ourselves in this tension today. The “culture wars” of the current evangelical church are not the great Promised Land of our day, nor are they the last and final Armageddon we often want them to be. At best, they are simply the awkward phases of a modern evangelicalism that is going through a sociological “puberty” and, at worst, they are the final gasping breaths of a movement coming to a very unflattering end. We would do well to consider these things.

The modern evangelical movement was created by some of the greatest evangelists of our era. People like Billy Graham and Bill Bright (founder of Campus Crusade for Christ) helped the church navigate this very difficult era, giving the Church language for communicating the gospel like we had never seen. I believe history might look back on this era with a similar perspective to our view of the printing press and the Reformation. This modern evangelical push paved the way for cultural engagement like never before.

Evangelism was now in the hands of normal, everyday parishioners — not just the clergy and preachers in revival tents. The creation of the “Four Spiritual Laws” (no matter how you or I might feel about their theological accuracy) created a world where college students, coworkers, and soccer moms could articulate the movement of Jesus in simple language. The same resurgence of cultural engagement would eventually lead to what many from the 1970s call the “Jesus Movement” and the great testimonies of the movement of Jesus in people’s hearts. 

About the same time (the 1970s), the world of biblical scholarship was experiencing a new frontier, as well. While this is highly oversimplified, the work of Jacob Neusner changed the world of hermeneutics as we know it. Neusner, a Jewish literary scholar (not a Christian), was attempting to understand how modern Christian thought had influenced Jewish thought. As he brought modern Christian scholars (mostly Catholic) to the table, they found themselves learning lessons from Judaism that had gone missing some 1800 years ago. Realizing the impact this had on our understanding of the Bible, academic Christians would never again engage in scholastic research or archaeology without the aid of their Jewish brothers.

Many people have asked me, “How could we have not known this stuff for all these years?” The ridiculously simplistic answer is that we just hadn’t asked. Until the work of Neusner and others, Christendom had been too worried about doctrinal purity and theological rightness to ask basic questions about the Bible’s long-lost Jewish context. Since the turn of the century, many evangelical churches are beginning to experience the work of these scholars, finally “turning the corner” to our common knowledge.

I had professors who told me in college that new discoveries often took 20–30 years to find a presence in the Church. These new discoveries have to be vetted and then handed to the educational institutions (universities and seminaries), and then taught to the eventual pastors who would teach these things from pulpits (and through blog posts). Now, with the rise of the Internet, the distribution of this information — and all information (good and bad) — is increasing exponentially.

But that’s not the only thing that changed at the turn of the century. The world of science had also taken an unexpected turn. While the modern era produced a scientific belief that we would be able to figure out everything if given enough time (see how this fits so well with secular humanism?), the discovery of quantum science radically changed all of that. Some of the most basic principles of physics and Newtonian movement no longer applied in quantum science. The scientific world reeled in the implications of this development.

Combine this with the sociological realizations of this century, and we have a major shift in worldview. While humanism took a major hit, secularism was (and is) far from dead. In fact, since the days of the French Revolution, this might be the most shocking shift Christendom has yet to accept. While we talk about it often (“post-Christian culture”), we have not figured out how to respond well to it.

Enter: Postmodernity.

In the late 1990s, the cultural cry became, “What do we truly know, anyway?” Whether it was society or politics or science, it seemed like absolutes weren’t as absolute as we had once thought. While the Church cried out against what they perceived as moral relativism, the world moved on anyway. Some progressive evangelicals attempted to move with this cultural change, bringing the gospel back into the cultural conversation by creating what is known as the Emerging Church. Largely rejected by Evangelicalism (and, I would argue, no longer considered a viable approach to the “new day” of Christian thought — at least in its original form), the Emerging Church helped start some conversations that would set the stage for growth the Church needed to prepare for its survival.

And now, a decade or two later, we find ourselves at today. With the rise of decentralized consumerism (Uber, Airbnb, etc) and social networks changing the language of interaction everywhere, it’s hard to know exactly what lies just around the bend. Where is God calling us and what does any of this mean? Is there any hope at all for the future of Christianity? It seems like we have devolved into such a mess that it's hard to know what God would even approve of in our efforts.

Well, in fact, I believe we find ourselves (as every generation has) perfectly placed for the future.


CHURCH HISTORY: AD 1800 thru AD 1925

NB: For readers who missed it, I suggest going back to review my setup to this section on church history to know about my disclaimers. For the graphics used in this post, the timelines are not to scale, and the dates represented are not intended to be exact. They are meant to be visual aids for understanding the larger conversation.

As the age of revolution changed the cultural setting for Christendom, there was a new push to get our bearings as a faith movement. For almost 1400 years, the world of Christendom had enjoyed being the privileged default of culture. If you unplugged the western world and plugged it back in, the default setting would have blinked “Christian.” But now, with the rise of the Age of Enlightenment, Christendom’s white-knuckle grip on theology, creeds, and doctrinal truths did not age well. As the world became more and more knowledgable, more and more educated, more and more literate — simply affirming creedal beliefs wasn’t holding a candle to the scientific method.

But before we talk about science, one has to talk about the this new culture of independence and the impact it had on our own shores in America. The movement of culture away from Christianity had a positive effect for Christendom as a whole. In an effort to regain what was being lost, Protestant believers fell into what is often referred to as the Second Great Awakening (the “First” Great Awakening is usually attributed to the rise of Methodism in the mid-1700s, which we discussed previously). This great time of ‘revival’ was ushered in throughout North America and Europe through what we commonly know as “camp meetings.”

These revivals became a time for denominations to come together and enjoy fellowship, worship, and preaching. Such a focus and desire to experience true confession and repentance would lead to great times of spiritual revival and movement. Many attribute the rise of Pentecostalism to these experiences where the Holy Spirit seemed to be poured out in abundance. What is widely accepted as the first camp meeting was held in Kentucky in 1801 and would set the stage for an invigorated and passionate movement of Protestant parishioners.

This same awakening, coupled with the cultural movement of America toward freedom and independence, led to the jettisoning of denominationalism. As many denominations were attempting to hold onto their imperial moorings through the use of creeds and belief statements (think of a more colonial version of ‘church membership’), entire groups began kicking against colonialism as it was experienced in the North American church. The Stone-Campbell movement (also known as the Restoration Movement) was started when Barton Stone, a recently ordained minister of the Presbyterian Church, was asked to sign the Westminster Confession before he could receive the Eucharist. Appalled by the use of Confession and doctrine in this way, Stone joined others with similar encounters to restore a sense of the faith experienced in revivals (a faith they associated with the early church in the book of Acts) to Christianity in America.

It is not a coincidence that other movements started at this time, as well. Driven by the same disgust in the direction of Christianity, Joseph Smith received his calling (Mormonism) at this point in history, and we see the work of Ellen G. White, John Darby, and Charles Russell (Jehovah’s Witnesses). Note that all of these movements are capitalizing, albeit unintentionally, on a newfound culture of freedom and independence to start new, revived expressions of a faith they felt was corrupted and dying.

On the scientific front, things are not turning out well for any form of Christendom trying to hold on to the doctrinal confessions and creedal understandings of their faith. In the middle of the nineteenth century, Charles Darwin began his famous work and Karl Marx was pursuing new political ideals; both seemed to work against a Christian worldview. While many of these ideas were critiqued within the Christian worldview, some critical thinkers in Christianity were affirming certain components.

The need for social vigilance was championed by people like William Booth, the Methodist pastor who founded the Salvation Army. Booth would become one of the lead thinkers shaping Christianity’s social consciousness around the turn of the century, giving rise to what we would call the social gospel. While the term has a negative connotation in most conservative evangelical circles, the movement was simply trying to recapture the practical and misplaced emphasis on caring for the poor and marginalized in our increasingly industrialized world where the gap between the rich and the poor was rapidly increasing. These were some of the same things that modernity — in all of its socio-polical growth pains — was trying to articulate, as well.

The secular aspect of this cultural growth curve is known as secular humanism, and after we finished fighting World War I (it’s interesting how war always hinders progress), Christendom in North America turned its attention to fighting these secular ideals. Like a lit powder keg, the famous Scopes Trial in Dayton, Tennessee, led to eruption of Christian “fundamentalism.” Christians immediately saw themselves in a culture war with secular humanism. The problem is that this rings incredibly reminiscent of the mistakes we made with Copernicus and Galileo. It seems we may be in danger of misidentifying our “enemy” and the truth we should be fighting to preserve.

But with all the splintering and division of Christianity, it becomes harder and harder for us to learn from our mistakes.


CHURCH HISTORY: AD 1650 thru AD 1800

NB: For readers who missed it, I suggest going back to review my setup to this section on church history to know about my disclaimers. For the graphics used in this post, the timelines are not to scale, and the dates represented are not intended to be exact. They are meant to be visual aids for understanding the larger conversation.

As the Age of Enlightenment continued, our secular growth curve continued, as well. If the theories and science proposed and proved by men like Copernicus and Galileo rocked the very foundations of our assumptions about the universe, it was only just setting the stage for what we call today modernity (or the “modern era”).

This growth curve would continue through the contributions of men like Isaac Newton and John Locke. Famous for his “laws of motion,” Newton is considered the modern father of mechanics and all of my engineering students have Newton to thank for so much of the field they enjoy. While this was not his only major contribution (for instance, Newton did incredible work in the field of color and the light spectrum, among other things), Newton changed the way we think about physics — therefore setting the stage for technological advancement like never before.

Locke is often referred to as the “Father of Liberalism.” While many in my circles in the rural northwest see the word liberal as something close to a swear word (I jest, I jest), it would be foolhardy to make assumptions about Locke. In its most basic and earliest forms, liberalism referred to a line of political philosophy that believes in liberty and equality. Locke’s influence, for instance, on the Declaration of Independence is unmistakable, and one of the reasons American democracy even works (on its good days) is because of the tension and balance held between liberalism and conservatism — one philosophy bent toward complete freedom and the other philosophy bent toward maintaining a constant ethic. Outside of our modern American context, Locke greatly impacted other major thinkers and players in the next century.

This secular growth curve should not convince us there was a lack in the theological department, by any means. The Protestant Reformation was finally cooling down. The Edict of Nantes (signed in 1598) had determined Protestants were granted civil liberty and equality, meaning they no longer had to run around as heretics under the oppression of the Holy Roman Empire. This freedom of thought had two results.

On the positive side, this newfound freedom allowed people to think for themselves, study, publish, and teach others their theological beliefs, theories, and systems. The negative side would be that Protestantism no longer had a central system holding it together. As Europe became more and more splintered and migration went on the rise, we would see mass division and splitting of Christian thought that seemed to increase exponentially for the next 200 years. Not that such diversity is a bad thing, but it has its struggles, as does anything else.

One of those new movements was led by John Wesley. While certainly not the first to do so, Wesley argued adamantly against the premises of Calvinism. Having broken away from the Anglican faith, Wesley became the father of what we know today as Methodism and the Methodist Church. Wesley preached vehemently about personal repentance, confession, and the power of our personal will to be transformed and to pursue the holiness of God. Christianity has been unbelievably impacted by his influence on Christian thought and practical applications of theology.

But we can’t forget all of this progress is happening in a world that is quickly changing. The writings of John Locke influenced another major secular voice in the eighteenth century: Voltaire, a French writer and philosopher who was widely praised for his satirical attacks on the Catholic Church (and some would say on established religion in general). Using his wit and cutting sense of humor, he argued for the freedom of religion and speech. His thoughts and writings shaped tremendously the ideas we know as the separation of church and state. Voltaire was quick to point out (accurately, I might add) the danger of religion when mixed with the power of the state.

Much of this had a major impact on public and educated opinion, and much of this opinion ended up changing culture in a way that radically affected history. The movement in France would ultimately lead to the French Revolution and ushered in what we now call the “post-Christian” era. The Church would continue to see a decline in its influence, both politically and culturally, as well as a loss of privilege over the centuries to come (something much of the Church is still in denial about to this day).

As far as my American context (as most of my readers are such), it would behoove us to realize that the great migration to America has been happening during this period. The cultural tenor has certainly set the stage for the Declaration of Independence and the American Revolution. With thinkers like Locke and Voltaire, the pump had been primed for the ideals that led to European revolution, and the independence on our shores, as well.