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This is the dome and oculus of the Pantheon, in Rome, still the largest unreinforced concrete dome in the world.  Photo credit:  Atibordee Kongprepan, Flickr, Creative Commons 2.0.  The Pantheon was originally constructed as a temple to the gods of ancient Rome.  It was commissioned during the reign of Augustus Caesar.  It was rebuilt after a fire and completed by the pagan Emperor Hadrian around 126 AD.  In 609 AD, the Christian Emperor Phocas in Constantinople gave the building to Pope Boniface IV, who converted it into the Church of Saint Mary and the Martyrs; which is still in use as a Catholic church.  In 663 AD, Emperor Constans II stripped the roof of its bronze tiles and sent them to Constantinople as supply. 


The Pantheon represents the complex interactions between Church and Empire.  At times the Church seems to reverse pagan practices; at other times the Church seems to reinforce them.  At times, the Church seems to benefit from the Empire; at other times the Empire plunders the Church for building materials. 


The selection of perspectives on church history in this section has been guided by the study of empire as a recurring motif in Scripture by recent biblical studies scholars.  It is also guided by explorations of biblical Christian ethics on issues of power and polity.  As such, Christian relational ethics continues a Christian theological anthropology that began with reflection on the human nature of Jesus.

NHI Resources on Jesus' New Humanity as a Response to Empire and Race


Reflection on the Presidential Election of 2016

(Nov 30, 2016) voiced a concern about how white American evangelicals are turning towards Vladimir Putin and the Russian Orthodox Church as a model of a state-church partnership, in order to politically oppose Muslims and pro-gay voices.  This continues to unfold.  See Young Turks, Putin Spies Infiltrate Major Christian Organization (The Young Turks, Jan 11, 2019) involving "The Fellowship Foundation" aka "The Family" in Washington DC and the National Prayer Breakfast being a way to work around the State Department. 


White American Evangelical Political Attitudes and Behavior: Explanation and Correctives

White American evangelical political attitudes can be characterized by the debate between John Winthrop and Roger Williams, and their respective attitudes towards Native Americans, slavery, fairness, and faith in the civic space.  This is a presentation also explores Scripture and church history to argue that Roger Williams was correct.  Given to the staff of Emmanuel Gospel Center, Apr 18, 2018, as a follow-up to how Christian restorative justice impacts ministry; audio file here


The Role of Jesus in Revolution and the Pursuit of Justice

This is an evangelistic message that highlights the Christian-led and Christian-influenced non-violent resistance movements throughout the world in the 20th century.  They show the connections and spiritual vitality of Christian faith under empire or empire-like oppression.


Why Question Atheism from a Political and Moral Perspective?

A presentation on how the Enlightenment tradition gave birth to racist liberal democracies on the one hand, and Marxist communism/state-capitalism on the other.  The Enlightenment tried to dethrone Christian faith from political theory and the Christian church from political power.  Thus, the ideology of the individual and the nation-state went to these two extremes, colored by the presumption of cultural, intellectual, and spiritual superiority that Europeans had about themselves.  Protestant heresies, fed by self-imposed Protestant ignorance about the church prior to Luther, and combined with a growing nationalism, accelerated the problem.  Race became the badge of membership in Empire or the token of citizenship in the Nation-State.  Authentic Christianity, therefore, must stress Pentecost (a principled cultural diversity) as the expression of Jesus' new humanity for all humanity.


Human Dignity: Does Every Individual Matter?

Science, philosophy, existentialism, other religions, and double-predestination based theologies mean that some human beings do not matter. Only a fully Trinitarian theology with a medical substitutionary atonement can provide an adequate foundation.


God as the Foundation of Human Rights (Genesis 1 - 11)

Genesis 1 - 11 was aware of other Ancient Near Eastern and Mediterranean creation stories, and argued against them, as shown by the literary analysis of these literatures.  Topics of disagreement include:  the value of every human being; the relations of humans and God/gods; the reason for catastrophes like the Flood; the resolution or movement.


Hebrew Messianic Hope as Anti-Imperial Declaration (TBD)

This paper will trace the theme of empire through the Old Testament. 


Why Did God Choose a "Chosen People"?  Why Not Just Skip Right to Jesus?

Why Israel was a multi-ethnic faith community, and what implications that has, addressed in Part 1. Accusations abound of God being racist by selecting a "chosen people," or expressing favoritism by defending Israel against Egyptians, Canaanites, and others.  This is why a loving God had to have an Israel as a covenant partner as a precursor to Jesus.


The Troubling Acts of God:  Noah's Flood, Sodom and Gomorrah, the Egyptian Firstborn, and the Canaanites

How to understand God's activity, as part of the biblical narrative, of taking human life prior to Jesus.


How to understand God's activity, and character, at all stages of the biblical story.  Especially important when considering human moral failure and injustice.


Jesus' Kingdom Movement: The Gospel of Matthew

Jesus came as a new humanity for all humanity.  He commissioned his disciples to follow him in that mission.  Here are sermons, small group leader notes, essays, and links.


Jesus as Anti-Racist, Anti-Nationalist Revolutionary

Notes on Matthew 22:1 - 14, where Jesus used the language of destruction against the Jewish leadership of his day.  This language can certainly be taken out of context and abused if not understood properly. 


There Is Another King: The Gospel of Luke

Jesus came as king in the line of David, to fulfill the promise God made to King David to defeat human evil through his dynasty.  Jesus engaged with both Jewish and Roman expressions of evil and injustice.  Here are sermons, small group leader notes, essays, and links.


The Kingdom You No Longer Want (and ppts)

A sermon on Luke 13:17 - 21 given at Neighborhood Church of Dorchester on August 13, 2017, the day after the white supremacist march in Charlottesville, Virginia.


Ethnicity, Culture, and Christian Faith:  A Paradigm and Questionnaire to Help Explore the Importance of Culture and Pentecost

This is a short questionnaire to help people identify their family and cultural background, reflect on it, and see it as a factor that God sees and values


Paul as Anti-Imperialist Missionary (TBD)

This paper will sketch the thought and practices of the apostle Paul, arguing that his welcoming of a principled Christian multi-culturalism honoring both Jewish and Gentile cultures makes him an anti-imperialist missionary. 


Jesus is Lord, Caesar is Not, Part 1: Studies in 1 Corinthians

Paul stressed the resurrection of Jesus and the ethics of the body (individually and corporately) as he developed a Christian community with a new sense of purpose distinct from the Roman Empire, and critical of it.  Since Paul wrote 1 Corinthians from Ephesus, we can be confident that Ephesians (below) was written to an audience already familiar with 1 Corinthians.


Jesus is Lord, Caesar is Not, Part 2: Studies in Ephesians

Paul's stressed union with the Messiah Jesus, over the powers, as he developed a Christian community with a new sense of allegiance greater than Caesar.  


Justification as Membership in Jesus' New Kingdom (TBD)


The Best of Both Worlds

reflections on parenting, faith, and cultures

Helpful Resources on Empire as a Biblical Theme


(Amazon book, Jan 5, 1984)


(Amazon book, 1988)


(Amazon book, Jan 5, 1988)


(Amazon book, Jan 1, 1992)


(Amazon book, Mar 16, 1999)


(Amazon book, 1999) and this bibliographic summary by Patristic Evangelism, Readings in Patristic Ethics  (Patristic Evangelism blog, date unknown)


Paul Evdokimov, Ages of the Spiritual Life (pdf file, 2002), an Eastern Orthodox perspective, examines monasticism as a movement against the Christianization of the empire; says, "We must admit that the empire proclaimed Christian was built on the three solutions of Satan, certainly not entirely or consciously, but in mingling light with darkness, God and Caesar, the suggestions of Satan and the refutations of Christ.  It was an ambiguous empire, for it distorted the cross... Constantine founded an empire whose greatness and prosperity were more dangerous than the cruelties of Nero." (p.143)


(Amazon book, Nov 1, 2002)


(Amazon book, Nov 1, 2002) a creative, socio-rhetorical reading of Paul's letter to the Colossians.  Deserves careful consideration.  They do not sufficiently explore Paul's engagement with the Old Testament, however.


(Amazon book, 2007) a vital counterpart to biblical exegesis: major theologians from the early church to the present; rereading them is vital


(Amazon book, Mar 3, 2008) a readable introduction to this topic


(Amazon book, Oct 31, 2008)


(Amazon book, Oct 1, 2010)


(Amazon book, Oct 1, 2010)


(Amazon book, Apr 28, 2013)

This was a wonderful collection of essays bringing us up to date on what New Testament scholars believe about whether the NT has an anti-imperial message within its pages. In some ways, it is a literature review, and a very helpful and illuminating one at that. Each contributor to the book not only does an even-handed job with the scope s/he was given (on Matthew, or John, etc.) they take a position curbing the enthusiasts. That curbing is well taken, given that the scavenger hunt for anti-imperial clues has been on since the ‘post-colonial’ paradigm for studying literature, politics, and the social sciences has dominated the field for a few decades: One is likely to find a bit of ‘empire’ to criticize if you go looking hard enough! This book is a good examination of that. So it is with disappointment that I must disagree with each author and the book as a whole. I do so because their methodology is truncated and incomplete: Each author analyzes the correspondences between images and phrases used by the Roman Empire and also used by the New Testament, like comparing ‘Caesar is Lord’ with ‘Jesus is Lord;’ they say that the New Testament’s deeper concern is not confrontation with empire per se, but correspondence with the Old Testament. With this I wholeheartedly agree. However, they stop there, and that is their methodological problem. The Old Testament itself was anti-imperial, and the New Testament builds upon it. For instance, God scattered Babel, then designed Israel to be an open community with laws that respected human dignity and relations, with strict limits on its land claims. Israel’s Scriptures criticized urbanization, the centralization of power in a kingship, and the Temple cult itself. When the major Gentile empires emerged on the scene, Daniel condemned them as beastly against the visionary backdrop of a new Adam figure who would be enthroned above them. So the correspondence between the New and Old Testaments on this issue is deeper than these New Testament scholars perceive. The New Testament is anti-imperial because the Old Testament is anti-imperial. I have put my position into the mouth of Apollos in my fictionalized account of his time in Ephesus, Character Sketches for 1 Corinthians.


(Amazon book, Jun 1, 2014)


Berry Friesen and John K. Stoner, If Not Empire, What? A Survey of the Bible (Bible and Empire, Jun 1, 2014) is a helpful resource, although they tend to downplay historic Christian eschatology to stress this life


(Amazon book, Jun 24, 2016) with contributions from Beth Sheppard, Davina Lopez, Neil Elliot, Warren Carter, and others.


(Amazon book, 2017) examines multiple angles from various scholars wrestling with modernity; includes chapters on prophetic, ecclesial, civic, and symphonic positions


(Amazon book, 2018) examines the theology of hierarchy - a technical term not identical with power structures - beginning with Dionysius the Areopagite


Krishnan Kumar, Were Empires Better Than Nation-States at Managing Diversity? (Zocalo Public Square, Mar 16, 2018) a thought-provoking article which makes us ask the question of whether Nation-States are necessarily an improvement over Empires, and why Pentecost-expressions might have been more intuitive in formal Empires rather than formal Nation-States.


Alan Bean, When Churches Fail: The Abiding Challenge of Dietrich Bonhoeffer (Friends of Justice, Nov 17, 2018) a Mennonite reflection on the rise of Nazi Germany and the capitulation of German Christians

Helpful Resources on Pentecost as Paradigm for Christianity & Culture


Ched Myers, Pentecost: Divine Polyculture vs. Imperial Monoculture (Genesis 11 and Acts 2) (Radical Discipleship, May 21, 2015) helpful theology of culture, although historically, empires have a better track record at managing cultural diversity because they tend to be pluralistic, whereas nation-states are more prone towards monoculture


Geoffrey Holsclaw, Is Babel Reversed at Pentecost? (Northern Seminary blog, May 26, 2015) helpful theology of culture


Joseph Pearce, Turning Multiculturalism on its Head (The Imaginative Conservative, Jul 17, 2016) a subsidiarist, localist view of culture which is thoughtful, but still not a Pentecost-driven multiculturalism fueled by a Christ-centered vision of a new humanity for all humanity


Lizzie Stromme, Multiculturalism Creates Divisions and Has No Future in Europe, Blasts Church Leader (Express, Nov 21, 2016) Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill referring to decentered, or unprincipled multiculturalism; it is unclear, however, whether the Russian Orthodox Church leadership is being faithful to the vision of Pentecost or being obedient to the lure of mono-cultural nation-building.  See Sergei Chapnin, A Church of Empire: Why the Russian Church Chose to Bless Empire (First Things, Nov 2015) and Ryan P. Hunter, Analyzing the Transformation of Church-State Relations in Russia from 1987 to 2008 (blog, Dec 1, 2015)


Charles C. Chaput, (Re)Building the Kingdom: Secularism, Christianity, and Cultural Renewal (Witherspoon Institute, May 5, 2017)


Camille Paglia, ‘Hillary Wants Trump to Win Again’ (The Spectator, Dec 4, 2018) says "comparative religion is the true multiculturalism and should be installed as the core curriculum in every undergraduate program. From my perspective as an atheist as well as a career college teacher, secular humanism has been a disastrous failure"

Part of the series: