May 29, 2009

Help me spread the love!

Hey Dojo-dwellers!

I've created some fun banner ads to promote my Examiner articles:

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Would you consider copying the code for one (or each) of them below and posting them to your facebook, Myspace, blog, website, or anywhere else that will help catch people's attention and direct them to the articles?

cut and paste your favorite design's code!

Jesus facepalm:

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Nunchuk skills:

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Thanks for helping spread the word. And as always, if you have any ideas for article topics or would be interested in having me come speak at your church or ministry organization, drop me a line.

Always in training,

May 24, 2009

Congratulations Lyoto!

Showing that strategy, intelligence and top-notch Shotokan karate is an unbeatable combination, Lyoto Machida won the light heavyweight championship at this weekend's UFC 98 event by KO'ing Rashad Evans (previously undefeated) in the 2nd round with a beautiful combination!

Not only is Machida the undefeated LHW champ in the highest level of MMA on the planet...he's also NEVER LOST A ROUND in any of his fights.

For those who don't follow MMA, that is like someone batting 1000 in baseball or having a 100% FG avg in the NBA. Unbelievable!

Hats off to you, Lyoto!


Charlotte Methodist Examiner: The role of the early Christian creeds

Charlotte Methodist Examiner: The role of the early Christian creeds

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May 21, 2009

Shameless plug, part 2

Friends and family and loved ones of the Dojo (particularly those of you who are Methodist...or Methodist-friendly!),

Would you all be willing and/or able to circulate the following notice to the Pastors in your District as well as any other Districts you have contacts in? I really need grassroots support and don't know of any other way than people contacting others (which I've been doing all day today here at Panera...mmm...Sierra Turkey...aaaaagghhhh...).

Any help is GREATLY appreciated!


To those who serve God in the often-thankless role of Pastor,

My name is James-Michael Smith and I served as the Pastor of Discipleship at Good Shepherd UMC for the past 5 years. I'm also a part time speaker at CharlotteONE:, a city-wide ministry that targets young professionals here in Charlotte. I'm a UMC PK as well--my father, Jim Smith, serves in the South GA Conference at Americus First UMC.

I wanted to let you know about some work I've been doing with the goal of Discipling as well as reaching out to the 18-35 year old young adult demographic. I've been writing for the Examiner, and online op-ed newspaper, in the role of Charlotte Methodist Examiner ( My articles are short and meant to be intellectually challenging, but accessible by anyone, and are on a variety of topics.

I was hoping you'd be willing to take a look at some of them and help me spread the word throughout your conference and district. I've stepped down from my position at GSUMC in order to pursue writing/teaching/speaking as well as Th.M and/or Ph.D studies in the near future. So any exposure I can generate through my Examiner articles is a huge help in the meantime--hopefully not just for me, but also for the UMC!

Thanks so much for any help you can give me in this. And if you know of any churches in your area who would be interested in having me come speak or teach on any of the topics I write about please don't hesitate to let me know.

Be blessed,

James-Michael Smith
Charlotte, NC

Was Paul a Cynic?

Paul or Epictetus??
"Now concerning the unmarried, I have no command of the Lord, but I give my opinion as one who by the Lord's mercy is trustworthy. I think that in view of the present distress it is well for a person to remain as he is.

Are you bound to a wife? Do not seek to be free. Are you free from a wife? Do not seek marriage. But if you marry, you do not sin, and if a girl marries she does not sin. Yet those who marry will have worldly troubles, and I would spare you that.

I mean, brethren, the appointed time has grown very short; from now on, let those who have wives live as though they had none, and those who mourn as though they were not mourning, and those who rejoice as though they were not rejoicing, and those who buy as though they had no goods, and those who deal with the world as though they had no dealings with it. For the form of this world is passing away.

I want you to be free from anxieties. The unmarried man is anxious about the affairs of the Lord, how to please the Lord; but the married man is anxious about worldly affairs, how to please his wife, and his interests are divided. And the unmarried woman or girl is anxious about the affairs of the Lord, how to be holy in body and spirit; but the married woman is anxious about worldly affairs, how to please her husband.

I say this for your own benefit, not to lay any restraint upon you, but to promote good order and to secure your undivided devotion to the Lord."

(1Corinthians 7:25-35; RSV)


"But in the present state of things which is like that of an army placed in battle order, is it not fit that the Cynic should without any distraction be employed only on the ministration of God, able to go about among men, not tied down to the common duties of mankind, nor entangled in the ordinary relations of life, which if he neglects, he will not maintain the character of an honour- able and good man? And if he observes them he will lose the character of the messenger, and spy and herald of God. For consider that it is his duty to do something towards his father in law, something to the other kinsfolks of his wife, something to his wife also (if he has one)...How can he have time for this who is tied to the duties of common life?

...Consider what we are bringing the Cynic down to, how we are taking his royalty from him.

--Yes, but Crates took a wife.

--You are speaking of a circumstance which arose from love and of a woman who was another Crates. But we are inquiring about ordinary marriages and those which are free from distractions, and making this inquiry we do not find the affair of marriage in this state of the world a thing which is especially suited to the Cynic.

(Epictetus, Discourses 3.22.62-76)


Many students of the New Testament have noticed that Paul’s advice on marriage as found in 1Corinthians 7:25-35 is very similar to Epictetus’ (pronounced ehh-pick-TAY-tuss) writings on the same subject, as found in Arrian’s Discourses of Epictetus III.xxii.62-76. Given the remarkable similarities, some have been tempted to jump to the conclusion that Paul was directly dependent on Epictetus for his ideas. This happens frequently when portions of the Bible parallel other ancient writings.

In this instance however such dependence was highly unlikely, if not impossible—the main reason being that Epictetus was born almost the same year in which Paul wrote his letter to the Corinthian Christians (ca. 55 A.D.)!

Nonetheless Paul’s advice did not originate in his own mind exclusively, nor was it indicative of a traditional Hebrew view of marriage. The advice given in 1Corinthians 7 (which Paul goes out of his way to state is merely his own opinion) can, most likely, be traced back to another source. Before determining that source, let us look at the key similarities between these two writings, which point towards a possible common source.

Both Paul and Epictetus seek to offer advice on whether marriage is acceptable for people of their own community—Paul speaking about the Christian and Epictetus speaking of the Cynic.

Both feel that the lifestyle of the devotee (whether Christian or Cynic) requires so much effort that marriage would most likely distract from the pursuit of the greater good.

Both concede, however, that if one is to marry, it should be to a spouse who is of the same beliefs.

Both view their faith as a struggle against the forces of the world; Paul only alludes to this in verse 31, however spiritual warfare is a prevalent theme throughout many of his other letters. Epictetus clearly states that the present age “is like that of a battle-field.”

Perhaps the greatest similarity between the two writings is the idea that the duties involved in caring for one’s family often get in the way of the duties involved in serving God--both use a form of the word "aperispastos" (undistracted/free from distraction) to describe the way in which one is to serve God.

Finally, neither Paul nor Epictetus feels that marriage is of prime significance in the life of one following God.

These similarities are too great to be coincidence; however, we know that Paul did not read Epictetus and we can be pretty sure that Epictetus wasn’t influenced by Paul. So what should we conclude?

Well, we know that Epictetus was a devoted Cynic and that Cynicism had been around since the 3rd century B.C. Crates, whom Epictetus mentions, was among the more famous Cynics whose teachings had greatly influenced nearly every aspect of Greek and Roman culture.

The Cynic view of marriage had been around for centuries and had spread throughout the Roman Empire, including Corinth. The fact that Cynics and early Christians were sometimes confused is of no small importance. These two worldviews had many things in common, as noted above.

However they were only similar on the surface. Where Cynics served God because they felt it was a noble endeavor, Christians served out of love for God and gratefulness for their salvation. The God of the Cynic was a distant, impersonal deity whereas the God of the Christian was personal and close. The Cynic sought to better himself; the Christian sought to allow Christ to better him. There are many other significant differences, thus they far outweigh the similarities.

So why does Paul seem to endorse the Cynic view of marriage?

The best explanation is that Paul was using an aspect of culture as an entry point for the message of the Gospel. Just as he had done on Mars Hill (see Acts 17), Paul is seeking in 1Corinthians 7 to take an aspect of Greco-Roman culture and show how it still carries a faint trace of God’s original plan for all of mankind.

As a Hellenistic Jew (i.e. one raised and educated in the Greco-Roman world of Tarsus rather than in Judea), Paul was very familiar with this culture. In this passage, the message is clear: our relationship to God takes precedence over our human relationships, even the closest ones. Since the Corinthians would have already been familiar with this concept, Paul subtly uses it to teach the Christian perspective.

The implications of Paul’s use of Cynic views should be obvious for the modern Church. If the Apostle familiarized himself with surrounding culture enough to use it to illustrate aspects of the Gospel message then Christians today should by no means close themselves off to their culture in a “circle-the-wagons” mentality.

Rather than going the route of the Essenes (the group who compiled the Dead Sea Scrolls and who secluded themselves in the Judean wilderness in order to avoid corruption of Jerusalem culture), Christians should seek to permeate their society at all levels so that they may be "the aroma of Christ” (2Corinthians 2:15) in this world.

After all, that is precisely one of the main “affairs of the Lord” that Paul is concerned about marriage taking away from—the preaching of the Gospel to a world in need!


For more on Paul's use of Greco-Roman rhetorical strategy in his letters to the Corinthians I recommend:

"Conflict and Community in Corinth: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary on 1 and 2 Corinthians" by Ben Witherington III.

May 13, 2009

Who needs theology?

For many, the term theology brings to mind the image of an old bearded scholar sitting in a dusty library pouring over ancient texts and quibbling over minute doctrinal points such as how many angels can dance on the point of a needle.

However, this view is anything but Biblical. Jesus said, "This is eternal life, that they may know you, the one true God, and the Son whom you have sent." (John 17:3) The word "theology" comes from the Greek words for God (theos) and words/knowledge (logos). Theology is, simply put, knowledge of God. And since Christians all claim to have a relationship with God including thinking thoughts about Him and saying things about Him, all Christians are by definition theologians. The question is not "Do we as Christians need to do theology?" Rather, the question is "Are we as Christians doing good theology or bad theology?"

Theology should permeate the everyday life of any Christian. The choices we make, words we speak and even thoughts we think are all based on our varying degrees of knowledge of God. Does this mean that every layperson is required to read the great theological works of the past two millennia? No (although it most certainly would benefit one if they do!). Rather, the Christian should live every day of his or her life with a conscious effort to more fully know God.

Of course in order for those in the pews to realize this those in the pulpit must encourage it! More than that, the Pastor should be a model theologian within his or her the church. Pastors should set the example of what it means to live theologically and should make a conscious effort to demystify and destigmatize theology from the pop-notions and urban legends that have unfortunately been attached to it. For when it comes down to it, a pastor has little chance of being effective in ministry without a firm theological ground upon which to stand. This is one of the reasons churches in general--mainline, evangelical, and Catholic/Orthodox alike--are in such a state of theological disarray. For without knowledge of God, how can one share such knowledge with others? Pastors must strive to build a theological framework with which to operate...and it must be one based upon Scripture if they truly desire to speak the Word of God to their congregation. By framework, I mean a comprehensive view of God based upon his entire revelation throughout the whole of Scripture. Upon such a framework can he or she lay out a theological vision for the church that can be put before the congregation. Such a vision then becomes a means by which they as a church are guided as they strive to be the Body of Christ in this world and fulfill the great commission. Theology is not a nice idea or side-hobby. It is at the core of the Church's life!

One thing must be clarified, however. The pastor is still called to shepherd the flock. Therefore, balance must be maintained between study and other pastoral responsibilities. For example, though Jonathan Edwards is known by many as the greatest American theologian, he does not have that same reputation as a pastor. Rarely did he visit or interact with his congregation. He was too busy in his studies for such duties. And he is but one example of such imbalance among many, unfortunately. (Of course I would argue that there are many more who fall on the opposite side of error--pastors who are excellent at interacting with people, but completely lacking in solid theological grounding!). All of this serves to illustrate and important point: The pastor should not be looked upon to be the sole theologian within the church! Such a burden no pastor could bear! Rather, churches should be FILLED with passionate followers of Jesus who seek to honor Him as much as they are able with whatever means God has given them. There is no reason why any curious and dedicated believer should not be encouraged and guided in a deeper study of God by the pastors and leaders of his or her church community. With the abundance of high-quality FREE resources available in this day and age, anyone can have access to a wealth of knowledge that even the greatest theologians of the past could never dream of having.

This brings us back to our original point: ALL who bear the name "Christian" or "Follower of Jesus" must do theology. It simply won't do for a person to say, "I dont need theology, just give me Jesus!" For what this statement actually says is, "I dont need knowledge or understanding of God, just give me the benefits!" This is not only intellectually lazy, it's completely selfish. Imagine telling someone you love, "I don't want to know very much about you or tell people about you; I just want to enjoy having you love me!" Would any of us dream of doing this to someone we truly loved? Why then do so many of us do it to God every day? We are called above all to love the LORD our God with all our "heart, soul, mind, and strength" (Mark 12:30)

If one rejects theology, one is actually rejecting Jesus. For He and He alone is the true "Logos" of "theos.


For those wishing to do theology but don't know where to begin I recommend the following online resources:

I also recommend the following books for beginner theologians (i.e. anyone wanting to know God better!):

"Basic Christianity" by John Stott

"Simply Christian" by N.T. Wright

"Christian Theology: An Introduction" and "The Christian Theology Reader" by Alister McGrath

"Questions to All Your Answers" by Roger Olson

May 3, 2009

My Kinda Town...

For those who don't know, I'm leaving Monday morning (5/4) to make a road trip up to Chicago for about a week or so. I'll be going there primarily to meet with Dr. Daniel Block at Wheaton College to discuss a potential Ph.D study under him in 2011 as well as to get more insight into the whole process of making the jump from ministry to academia.

While there I plan on visiting a few friends, some old, some new, as well as checking out the city a little more. I visited briefly in '04 but didn't get a chance to see much. This time I'll be on my own with no agenda (except meeting Dr. Block) and plenty of time to check things out. It'll be me, my Honda Element, a number of books, and my laptop for a week on the road. I'm hoping to get more work done on my book as well as post a few more articles for the Examiner. [Check there every day--or multiple times per day!--to see what pops up this week. And remember, every click puts a little $$$ in my account, so tell EVERYONE you know!]

After that, I'll be heading to GA for Mother's Day with my family and then back here to home sweet home in the Queen City. After that...who knows? This whole unemployment/teaching-on-demand/checking-out-Ph.D-programs thing isn't really conducive to maintaining a set schedule....which is probably why it suits me!

Love from the Dojo!

JM's Audio Teaching Archive

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Bruce Lee quote of the day...