Building a Team

Go TeamIn my role as the Dean of Nebraska Christian College, I am in the middle of several staff changes. Some people are leaving and we are interviewing and hiring others. I was reflecting that I have probably hired over 100 faculty members (many of them adjuncts) and a dozen administrative assistants over the years (along with many church staff members). Most have been good hires, but I have certainly had my share of bad hires, persons who make you regret ever agreeing to employ them.

There are many things to consider in a potential employee, but there is one thing I have found will always make a person a regrettable hire: inability or unwillingness to be a team player. Team players are folks who work well in all three spheres: with supervisors, with peers, and with those they supervise.

Years ago I was in a Cascade Symphony rehearsal with my friend, the late Frank Nielsen, conducting the practice. In a moment of frustration with us musicians, Frank gave a little pep talk. He said, “There are two great sins in playing symphony music. The first is to play the wrong note. The second is to play at the wrong time. And yea verily, the last sin is greater than the first.” I could not agree more. In an orchestra, if you play together, the blend of many instruments will minimize intonation problems to some degree. But when you do not start or stop together, when one section begins to rush while another section lags, or when a single player holds a note too long in an exposed place in the music, everyone in the audience notices.

And, yea verily, so it is with organizational teams. Yes, you need to be playing the same note (or as we usually put it, be on the same page), but more importantly you need to play together. Beginning an entrance half a beat early doesn’t really matter if every single player does it together.

two-trainsI remember doing a reference check on a potential faculty member in which I contacted a former dean about his performance. The dean said, “In our organization we strive to get everyone on the train and then get the train moving in the right direction. The problem with your applicant is that we would get the train rolling and I would look out the window and see him on his own train going a different direction.”

The issue is that such people often see themselves as important innovators and catalysts for change. Maybe this is true at times, but more often they are just poor team players. They see themselves as somehow above rules of workplace behavior that apply to everyone else. I don’t want anyone like this on my team.

This is not a vote for incompetence or mediocrity. Team players can be highly competent. Talented people can be team players. I want both characteristics on the teams I build.

Mark Krause
Nebraska Christian College of Hope International University

The views represented in this blog are solely the responsibility of the author.

Black Lives Matter: Some Reflections

Neal Blair, of Augusta, Ga., wears a hoodie which reads, “Black Lives Matter” as stands on the lawn of the Capitol building. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

As we near the long, long homestretch of the political season, it is hard to ignore the influence of the Black Lives Matter movement. It has been primarily a disruptive factor as far as politics goes. Those who think this is just radical, left-wing liberalism in new garb should remember that Black Lives Matter activists shut down campaign events for Bernie Sanders in protest. There is something else going on here.

Why would anyone want to promote a slogan that claims “Black Lives Matter”? The answer is pretty simple. There are some who wield government power or who have influence over opinions who do not think that black lives matter, at least not as much as some other lives.

My contact with the black community is not as strong as it has been in other locations, but I have seen various reactions from the non-black community concerning this movement. Here are some of them:

Black lives matter, but we should be saying that all lives matter. Yes, that is the point. All lives do matter including black lives. We should not stand for those who devalue people of color, whether overtly, covertly, or through neglect.

This is really about maintaining law and order in the community. Black lives matter, but the so-called martyrs of the Black Lives Matter movement were criminals and thugs. Do the lives of those who run afoul of the law not matter? Some of the black people who have been killed by the police were less than model citizens, but not all. Some seemed to be just law-abiding Americans.

Black lives matter, but the tone of this movement is fueling racism in America. Sorry, I don’t think it needs any fueling. If exposing long-standing racist attitudes and practices is dangerous, we might as well admit that the American proposition of “all men are created equal” is dead and not an ideal for which we strive.

Black lives matter, but …………. yes, black lives matter to me. I don’t need any “buts”. Ah, now we are getting somewhere and can begin to have productive dialog.

Mark Krause
Nebraska Christian College of Hope International University

The opinions of this blog are solely those of the author.

Theological Mistakes: God Died

Celtic Cross ChurchI realize that correct theology is not much valued in the church any longer. With deep-seated biblical illiteracy having found a home in congregations and increasingly among church leaders, it is no longer surprising to find things in worship songs or sermons that are askew of what has been considered the traditional teachings of the church. We now receive our theology as “sound bites,” short statements that seem clever and edgy, but often are confusing or misleading to new Christians.

One that I have heard three times in recent months is “God died on the cross for you.” Really? If we follow this logically, it means one of two things. First, it might mean that God is dead, permanently and eternally. Death is death after all, and the only one who could raise someone from the dead (God) is dead, so there is no possibility of overcoming death, even for God. Second, it might mean that God didn’t really die on the cross. The body crucified on the cross may have ceased to function in a living manner (no pulse, breathing, or brain function), but the person (God) retained the power to bring this body back to life.

Either option denies cardinal, foundational principles of the Christian faith. If God is dead because of the crucifixion, there is no one to raise us from the dead and our faith in the resurrection of the dead is futile. If the person on the cross did not fully die, then he was not fully human. In this case, no one has actually died for our sins and we remain in them.  The doctrine of the atonement doesn’t work.

The Bible never teaches that God died on the cross. It tells the story of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, dying on the cross for our sins. Because he was fully human, he died completely. This is why early creedal statements always include the detail of Jesus being buried. You only bury dead people. Jesus was stone cold dead in the tomb for parts of three days. The human Jesus was dependent upon God the Father to raise him from the dead, to restore him to life. The doctrine of the Trinity is admittedly difficult, but we don’t make these difficulties disappear by abandoning a distinction between the Father and the Son. The early church did not see Jesus’ death on the cross as a negation of his divine nature.

So to say, “God loved you so much he died on the cross for you” is a distortion of biblical teaching. To say, “God loved you so much he sent his Son to die on the cross for you” reflects what the church has believed and taught for nearly 2,000 years.

Mark Krause
Nebraska Christian College of Hope International University

The views expressed in this blog post are solely those of its author and not necessarily those of his employer.

Muhammad Ali, R.I.P.

ali and listonThe news cycle seemed broken this last weekend as early Saturday morning it became known that boxing legend Muhammad Ali had died in Scottsdale, AZ. As I watched CNN Saturday morning, the meager and repetitive coverage was frustratingly thin. Most mainstream news folks (including those at Fox) don’t work weekends, so it took time for the news industry to gear up for better analysis of this man. This week promises to be full of insightful and fascinating stories, testimonies, and clips about a man who held a place in the American spotlight for four decades. Allow me to give my take.

I must admit up front that Muhammad Ali was not my favorite person. I found him very hard to like for three reasons:

  1. Ali was a relentless braggart. I think it is OK to talk smack in competitive situations, but Ali never knew when to stop. There was no line between self-confidence and self promotion. He nullified the demeanor of the quiet heroes in sports I grew up with, men like Roger Maris who circled the bases after breaking the home run record with his eyes down and ducked into the dugout quickly. Men like Edgar Martinez who was the most surprised person in the Kingdom when he hit the double Edgar 1995that won the 1995 playoff series against the Yankees. Or Peyton Manning, when asked what he was going to do with all the money he would make after signing his first contract, said, “I’m going to earn it.”
  2. Ali renounced the Christian faith. He rejected the name of his Christian father (Cassius Marcellus Clay, Sr.) and turned his back on his Baptist and Methodist upbringing. He affiliated with Elijah Muhammad’s Nation of Islam, a strange mix of Muslim teachings and black radicalism from the 1960s. Later, Ali appears to have moved to a more orthodox version of Sunni Islam, but I cannot celebrate the rejection of my Lord Jesus Christ.
  3. Ali DraftAli refused to be drafted into the Army. I think there is a lot of romanticizing of this now, but I
    remember when it happened in 1966. Ali was trying to claim a religious exemption because of his Muslim faith, in effect asking to be excused on the grounds of clergy exemption while being a professional boxer. America was stunned by this. No one was too big or famous to be drafted, we thought. Even Elvis Presley had reported for duty when drafted a few years earlier! I was not a fan of the Vietnam War either and I faced the draft a few years later. As much as I disagreed with this war, I like to believe that I would have reported if drafted and served my country as best I could.

In 1977, as his boxing career was coming to an end, Muhammad Ali was asked what he would do when he finished boxing. His answer is still interesting:

“So what I’m gonna do when I get out of boxing? Is to get myself ready to meet God. Don’t people die everyday? It’s a scary thing to think that I’m going to hell to burn eternally forever so what am I gonna do? When I get out of boxing or when I’m through I’m gonna do all I can to help people,” said Ali. “He wants to know how do we treat each other, how do we help each other. So I’m going to dedicate my life to using my name and popularity to helping charities, helping people, uniting people,” he continued, adding, “We need somebody in the world to help us all make peace. So when I die, if there’s a heaven, I want to see it.” 

Even the great Ali feared death. He did not understand grace or salvation by faith in Christ. He was motivated to good works after his boxing by his desire to see heaven, not hell. It is hard to tell if he was speaking from the Muslim faith he had embraced or the legalistic Baptist faith in which he was raised, but he transparently expressed doubts many people hold. “… if there’s a heaven, I want to see it.”

Now you know, I think, so Muhammad Ali, Cassius Clay, Rest in Peace.

Mark Krause
Nebraska Christian College

Ayn Rand and the Christian

Howard RoarkRecently the thought and writings of 20th century philosopher Ayn Rand have seen something of a revival. Politicians claim to have derived inspiration from her thought and to be guided by her principles of “Logical Positivism.”

Like many, I first encountered Rand in my college years and read The Fountainhead voraciously. I did not know at the time that Rand was more philosopher than novelist, and moved on to her larger work, Atlas Shrugged. There is a stark contrast between these two, and I will admit never finishing the 1,000+ pages of Atlas. I don’t remember exactly why, but I’m sure my college-aged self had many other things it thought were more important, and Atlas is nothing if not tedious.

But I learned from a friend that Ayn Rand had written philosophical essays, too, and went to the University library to read some of them (pre-internet, no Kindle yet). As a Christian, I was appalled by what I found.

In Fountainhead, the brave hero, Howard Roark, presents his worldview as a society made up of “creators” and “parasites.” The creators, people like himself, are individuals who think in new ways and refuse to compromise. These are the men and women that move society forward, that achieve greatness. The parasites are those who ride the coat tails of the great ones, stealing credit for their ideas, stifling their initiative, blocking their innovations, hating their independence. Current Roarkism I now hear is that society is made of the “makers” and the “takers.” Government is the enemy of the “makers,” who need to be freed from pesky regulations and especially from taxation in order to exercise their individualism.

I am left wondering, then, if there is any room for a Christian response to Randism and Roarkism, which is seemingly embraced by many national leaders (from both parties) who also claim to support Christian values. Let me offer three things to ponder in this area:

  1. Ayn Rand was an avowed and unapologetic atheist. There is no getting around this. She considered people of faith to be fools. If you don’t believe me, watch her interview on the Phil Donahue show here. She was hostile to the church and to the Christian faith. To me, her philosophy has much more affinity to that of Friedrich Nietzsche (or perhaps Voltaire) than Jesus Christ, the Apostle Paul, or to St. Augustine. The philosophers have identified Jesus’ core teachings as based on “altruism,” the idea of self-sacrifice and love for others. Altruism is the great enemy of Rand.
  2. Rand’s great existential dichotomy between individualism (Roark) and collectivism (Ellsworth Toohey in Fountainhead) grew out of the 20th century battle between communism and democracy. Rand was a powerful anti-communist voice until the day she died, but these battles don’t resonate as strongly today. China is the rival of the USA not so much because it is ruled by a communist party as because it is competing fiercely in the market economy arena that is supposed to be the foundation of democracy. Not every anti-communist is automatically a friend of Christianity.
  3. I am left to wonder if Rand’s embrace of selfishness has found its voice again in the narcissistic and self-centered culture we now have. I have long thought that selfishness is the logical outcome of atheism, for to believe there is no Ultimate Judge leaves us to our worst impulses with no external restraint. With Rand, it almost seems that atheism is the logical outcome of selfishness, but the result is the same. I find it interesting that Rand’s fellow-atheist, Christopher Hitchens, lampooned her in this area, saying:

I don’t think there is any need to have essays advocating selfishness among human beings. I don’t know what your impression has been, but some things require no further reinforcement.

So I don’t quite know what to think in this area. I realize that it is possible to choose some things from Rand’s philosophy and reject others, but I wonder if we have Christians who are doing this as much with the essentials of the Christian faith when they marry the two.

A recent article pointed out that Evangelicals are now unpredictable and seem to no longer be making political decisions based on what should be expected from conservative Christians. The article concluded that there is no real contradiction here, because many who claim to be Evangelicals are not strong in their biblical faith commitments. This was summarized by saying that for such self-identified Evangelicals,  “their faith is now more political than theological.”

Mark Krause
Nebraska Christian College


It Is Not Finished

577For me, Easter Sunday is the most significant celebration of the year. It brings together everything that makes us Christians: faith, hope, and love.

In the time of Jesus, Jerusalem was considered to be the holiest city in the world. It was the location of the Jewish temple, but it fascinated Romans and Greeks. It had been rebuilt, starting with King Herod, and the lavish scale and costly accouterments would astound us, even today. The temple was one of the grandest buildings of the ancient world, and would surely have been on Herodotus’ list of the Seven Wonders if it had existed in his day. The temple was made to be the focal point of grand festivals, much beloved by the Jewish people. It had a spacious courtyard and covered porticoes, capable of holding hundreds of thousands of pilgrims for the festivals.

The biggest and most important annual festival was Passover, celebrated each year on the 15th day of the spring month of Nisan (the Jews had a lunar calendar of 28 day months). Every Jew in the cities all over the Roman Empire desired to be in Jerusalem for this festival. (Today, some observant Jews still end their Passover celebration by saying, “Next year in Jerusalem.”) Josephus, the Jewish historian of this period, claims that one year there were 100,000 lambs slaughtered for Passover in Jerusalem. If each lamb serviced a meal for ten men, Josephus’ implicit claim is that over a million pilgrims had packed the city for the celebration. Imagine a city of maybe 50,000 people swollen to twenty times its usual population! (like Los Angeles, 4 million people, ballooning to 80 million in the summer!)

Raising suitable lambs and having them available for sale was big business in those days for the villages surrounding Jerusalem (including the shepherds of Bethlehem). It was like the Christmas season for merchants today, they could make a year’s income in a few days. There was one special lamb, though. On the 10th of Nisan, the High Priest would go outside the city to a lamb seller and choose a perfect lamb to be the Lamb of Israel. One tradition says that this lamb was led by the High Priest into the city in great ceremony, with pilgrims lining the streets, singing, shouting, and waving palm branches in worship. Traditionally, they sang the lines of Psalm 118, “Blessed is he that comes in the name of the Lord.” This Lamb for Israel would be penned within the Temple courts, and during the week of Passover, all the visitors in town could go and view it. It had a huge role as a “celebrity” lamb, scheduled to die by the hand of the High Priest.

On the week of Jesus’ death, he ate a Passover meal with his disciples on Thursday night, a meal he modified to become our basis for the Lord’s Supper. He went to the Garden of Gethsemane to pray, and there Judas, the betrayer, led a squad of temple police and other rabble to arrest him. Jesus was seized, and given a series of trials. He was condemned and led to the place of the Skull, and there he was crucified. His nailing to the cross took place about 9:00 a.m. on Friday morning.

Meantime the Temple was buzzing with activity. Thousands of pilgrims were bringing their Passover lambs to be ritually killed and this went on for hours with gallons of blood being spilled. The blood ran out the Temple’s drain system into the Kidron, the little stream between the Temple and the Mount of Olives, turning into a crimson flow. The killing of these lambs went on for six hours, until about 3 p.m. At that time, all the lambs were sacrificed except one, the Lamb of Israel. With great pomp and ceremony, this lamb was brought to the High Priest himself. He stood before the great altar and taking the ceremonial knife, he killed the final Passover lamb, proclaiming in a loud voice, “It is finished.”

At about the same time, there was a small group of Jesus’ disciples who gathered around his cross on a hill called Calvary. They had witnessed Jesus’ agony on this evil tree for about six hours. Then, about 3 in the afternoon, Jesus raised himself one last time and wheezed, “It is finished.” The perfect Lamb of God had been slain, not just for Israel, but for the sins of the world. Jesus statement meant both that death had come and that his mission of atoning sacrifice had been accomplished.

But it was not the end. Jesus died, and was buried, but on the following Sunday, God raised him from the dead. He who was dead lived again. Death had not won and our world will never be the same. It is not finished. Celebrating the Resurrection means it is only beginning.

Mark S. Krause
Nebraska Christian College

The Future of the Restoration Movement, Part 3

thefutureIn my earlier posts on this topic, I pointed out two trends I see for the future of the Restoration Movement. My observations were:

First: the institutions of the Restoration Movement are undergoing massive shifts and changes.

Second: the Restoration Movement is becoming less about principles and more about people. 

My third observation is: the people of the Restoration Movement will be important players in the new movement for a unified church.

What, you say, there is a new movement for a unified church? You hadn’t heard about it?

Let me offer you a parallel from my field, biblical studies. In 1906, a great German scholar, Albert Schweitzer, published a book entitled The Quest for the Historical Jesus. Briefly, this was the culmination of 19th century efforts to sort through the theological formulations about Jesus and recover the story of the man who lived in Galilee in the first century. Schweitzer was a brilliant mind, having the equivalent of doctoral degrees in music, philosophy, theology, and medicine. He was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1952. However, many believed that his “Quest” book left many questions unanswered. He lost interest in biblical studies soon after the publication of this important and controversial book. Schweitzer’s work spurred many other books, but little consensus. It marked the end of the first “quest.”

In 1959, James Robinson published A New Quest for the Historical Jesus. Robinson noted that the “quest” had been revived and had shifted from a rigorous historical investigation to one based on the philosophical driver of the day, existentialism. This is not the place to trace the developments of this second quest, but simply to say it quickly reached dead ends (or drove over cliffs, depending on your chosen metaphor).

In 1993, an evangelical British scholar, N.T. Wright, announced that a “Third Quest” had begun, what I remember hearing described as the “New New Quest for the Historical Jesus.” This time, conservative and not-so-conservative scholars plunged headlong into analyzing and debating every piece of evidence about Jesus and his world, both from the Bible and other ancient sources. The results were things like Wright’s colossal series, Christian Origins and the Question of God, now at four volumes out of a projected six. The second volume, Jesus and the Victory of God is a hefty 700 pages and is the epitome of this third quest, exploring every possible avenue to recover the best and most accurate picture of the man, Jesus.

Three quests pursuing the historical Jesus, all having the same goal but different presuppositions and results. Each was a product of its historical context.

The Restoration Movement as envisaged by the Campbells and Barton Stone was a quest for Christian unity. They saw this as possible if Christians would abandon divisive creedalism and look to the Bible as the sole source of doctrine. However, even among the ranks of their immediate followers, complete consensus concerning the doctrines of the Bible was never reached. Alexander Campbell and Barton Stone themselves disagreed over something as central as the nature of God, Stone being semi-Arian and Campbell being clearly Trinitarian. Yet they agreed in principle to cooperate and have their churches be united. After their passing, the movement was split over things that seem almost comic in retrospect. Using pianos in worship? Paying ministers? Observers of the Restoration Movement in the first half of the twentieth century must have been amazed the a unity movement had so many hard-line sectarians.

In the 1980s and 1990s, there was a second quest for unity. This seemed to be motivated partly out of the dismay that the Restoration Movement had splintered so badly and needed to restore its own unity if it had any hope of being an example to the church at large. Several things happened, including the founding of the Stone Campbell Journal, a publication that had writers from all three branches of the movement. But while on a scholarly level the SCJ was a success, the churches were still separated. Perhaps they had lived apart for too long, a little like childhood friends reunited in old age who have little in common but distant memories.

I think there is now a third quest for Christian unity underway and it has little to do with the Restoration Movement. The sectarianism that has so permeated the church in America for 300 years makes little sense to many today. The megachurch phenomenon has congregated Christians of many backgrounds served by pastors with equally diverse educations and experiences. As I have said for twenty years, it is not about doctrine anymore and certainly not about doctrinal warfare. There are a few essentials: the authority and value of the Bible, the divinity of Christ, and the necessity of faith for a saving relationship with God. But no one wants to fight over premillennialism anymore.

There is a growing sense that Christians should be active agents for good in their communities, far beyond just inviting people to Sunday services. If the church is to matter to the next generation, it must do things that matter. Social justice is high on the agenda of the millennial generation, and this will not go away.

I believe the churches and the leaders of the Restoration Movement are poised and able to make a substantial contribution to this new quest for unity. Can we truly be Christians only again? Can we quit drawing lines that divide and find reasons to unite with other Christians?

There are some big issues here, and they are found throughout the evangelical community. Can we quit treating Catholics as sub-Christian enemies? Can we leave our right-wing or left-wing politics at home and no longer let our churches be political tools? Can we finally banish racism from our churches and accept people of all skin colors and ethnicities as brothers and sisters, even as church leaders?

The result of this may be that the Restoration Movement becomes a footnote in church history books. But it may be that its influence will be evident in a more unified church for the next century. That would be a good outcome, I think.

Mark Krause
Nebraska Christian College