Justification by “Steadfast Reliance”?

In reading Romans 4, I noticed that it explains the kind of faith that is counted for righteousness (that justifies). Romans 4:17b-21 describes the faith of Abraham. The verses that follow then state that this is why Abraham was justified and that we can be justified through the same sort of faith. Verses 17b-21 also tie closely to other NT passages that help us understand faith.

Here is the text of 17b-21 (NASB)

in the presence of Him whom he believed, that is, God, who gives life to the dead and calls into being things that do not exist. 18 In hope against hope he believed, so that he might become a father of many nations according to that which had been spoken, “So shall your [s]descendants be.” 19 Without becoming weak in faith he contemplated his own body, now as good as dead since he was about a hundred years old, and the deadness of Sarah’s womb; 20 yet, with respect to the promise of God, he did not waver in unbelief but grew strong in faith, giving glory to God, 21 and being fully assured that what God had promised, He was able also to perform.

The word “waver” (diakrino) points us to James 1. We are to bring our requests to God in faith without wavering. James describes the one who wavers as like a wave of the sea, and as double minded and unstable. Faithful Abraham, by contrast, was assured that God could perform him promise even though both Abraham and Sarah were dead in terms of reproductive ability. Faith steadfastly relies on God. (Let us be thankful, though, that Jesus can work with faith the size of a grain of mustard seed and can help our unbelief.)

When Paul references God’s ability to give life to the dead and call into being the things that do not exist (4:17). He likely refers not only to Isaac’s conception and birth, but also to the time when Abraham received him back alive from the altar of sacrifice. Hebrews 11 describes the role of faith in both incidents. Sarah received the ability to conceive seed because she considered God to be faithful and relied on his promise. (Note: the beautiful reminder that Sarah’s faith was involved in the promise to Abraham.) God called into being that which did not exist. Abraham offered up Isaac, the son whom God had promised would make him a father of many nations, because he believed that God could raise Isaac from the dead. Faith steadfastly relies on God.

Romans 4:22 attributes Abraham’s justification to this steadfast reliance on God: “Wherefore (dio) it was counted to him for righteousness.” This is to teach us, Paul says, that all who similarly rely on God who raised the Lord Jesus from the dead can be justified, just like Abraham who relied on the fact that God could raise Isaac from the dead.

Discussions of the nature of faith can quickly become contentious. Is faith purely passive? Or is active? How sharply should we distinguish between faith itself and the things that are done by faith? Is that even a helpful distinction? Without wading into a philosophical-psychological-theological morass we can observe a few things based on how the NT handles the story of Abraham. Romans says Abraham was justified by faith in God’s promise that he would become the father of many nations. Hebrews says he offered up his son “by faith” (pistei, dative case). James connects the dots. James says that Abraham’s faith was completed when he put Isaac on the altar and that this fulfilled the earlier statement (before Isaac was born) about Abraham’s faith being counted for righteousness. On this basis, James asserts that a person is justified by works. He does not mean that one can be justified by keeping Torah or by any supposed method of putting God in his debt. He is referring to the actions that complete one’s steadfast reliance on God.

For some practical direction for our own faith, consider the words of Hebrews 10:32-39. This is the preface to the famous “Hall of Faith” in Hebrews 11. Paul calls them to remember the difficult days when they were first enlightened. They are to remember the suffering and hardship, the mockery of others, their fellowship with those who suffered, their willingness to lose their property because of their confidence in better things to come. They are to remember this and not throw away their confidence. They need endurance to continue this path, “that when you have done the will of God, you may receive what is promised.” The Lord is coming and the one who righteous from faith (justified by faith) will live. The one who “shrinks back” will not experience the pleasure of the Lord, but rather destruction. The readers are urged to remember their past and continue steadfastly in living out their identity as people of faith.

The choice before us is between shrinking back in fear or laziness and pressing on in faith running the race before us with steadfastness. Let us present our mustard seeds, and let us pray “Lord I believe, help my unbelief.”


The Way We Live Is the Way We Educate

Is school different from life? Is school real life? The way we live is the way we educate. Do we live our lives conscious of our past? If so we will educate with a view of history. Do we live our lives focused only on present gain. If so we will educate our young to ignore the past and claw their way toward money. Do we view our own learning merely as the pursuit of credentials to let us get on with the job? Our children will view school as a credential to check off as fast as they can.

School is a special time in that it is set aside for study. But school should not reflect different values that our life as a whole, and in the long run it will not. Study is not the whole tapestry of life, thank God, but it amplifies threads that run through our lives and communities. Our schools reflect our epistemology.


Money Modesty and Body Modesty

My article on Anabaptist Perspectives

A lady who wrote well about money modesty.

Rebekah Mui writes about the importance of love in thinking well about sexuality and modesty.

Lydia Florence writes:

When it comes to modesty, considering your community and context doesn’t mean seeking their approval…but it does mean prioritizing their good. It means placing the well-being of others as greater than your individual freedom.

Modesty in the context of finances might mean choosing not to plan a multiple-day bachelor party out of town, because you know that some of the people in your wedding party are financially struggling. Modesty in the context of clothing might mean not posting Instagram pictures of yourself in a minidress, because you know that the middle school students you lead are looking to you for a standard. Modesty in the context of your community might mean not constantly talking about the new relationship you’re in to a friend who just went through a breakup.

And in a previous post she wrote:

I remember when my dad got a new job when I was in the fourth grade, and our family had a little more income than we had before. Our family was growing, so my mom began to look at other houses to accommodate the need for more space. There was one house that sat on a hill over a pond, with a big yard and beautiful street value in a nice neighborhood. Our family strongly considered purchasing it, but ultimately my mom felt convicted that its outward appearance came across a little too “prestigious.” Would it have been sinful or wrong for our family to move into that house? No. You could probably make the argument that it would have been a good thing! But ultimately, my mom wanted our home to be reflective of our heart…a bit messy, obviously imperfect, but open to all and content as is. It was a choice she made in modesty, from a humble posture.



Alan Hirsh and other argue that the Apostles, Prophets, Evangelists, Shepherds and Teachers (APEST) given by Jesus to equip the church constitute a defining paradigm for the life and ministry of the church.

I love Hirsh’s descriptions in the book 5Q. But can it serve as a master list of gifts? Why use these 5 rather than the longer lists in Romans or 1 Corinthians as the primary lens?

I sympathize with the objections mentioned here.

And resonate with some of the defenses referenced here.

Leaders Take Responsibility

I speak to you as a leader responsible for your generation. Take responsibility for your generation. Take responsibility for your current reality, for the part you played in creating that reality, as well as the part that involves you changing it as necessary. And quite frankly, if you are not willing to take responsibility, you should not be in leadership in the church–or any organization that requires moral leadership for that matter.

Alan Hirsh, 5Q xxiv

Is an Order a Church?

I have a friend who is trying to make sense of the Anabaptist world (and, more importantly, to discern how Christians should live and work together). Recently, he shared an insight someone shared with him.

Think of the Anabaptists as a religious order, with the different groups as sub-orders.

Many of us would prefer not to have our congregations compared to a group of monks or nuns and most of us aren’t interested in living in a monastery or a convent. But the comparison is definitely helpful for understanding the conservative Anabaptist mindset. We think about a lot of issues in ways that make more sense for a religious order than for a full fledged church. From our concept of obedience to church leaders, to our concerns for regulated dress, to our willingness to include things in our discipline statements simply because we think they are one helpful way of doing things, we can infer the mindset of an order.

Now I have sympathy for orders, monastic ones included, though I would question the wisdom of a lifetime vow. But orders are supposed to be part of a full fledged church. A full fledged church must be broad enough to encompass believers in all legitimately Christian vocations. An order, by definition, is for those with a more specific vocation.

Many unresolved issues in Anabaptist ecclesiology can be thought of as confusing orders with churches.


Head – Kephale

What sort of headship is in view in Ephesians, Collosians, and 1 Corinthians? The options are usually framed as either authority or source. Both words are of some help, but neither is adequate. Ephesians gives several pictures of Christ’s headship before chapter 5. This is nicely discussed by Thomas R. Yoder Neufeld. In 1:10 we see God’s plan to “sum up” all things in heaven and earth in Christ. The term for “sum up” is cognate with the Greek word for head, and this passage implies bringing all things under the headship or “heading” of Christ. At the end of chapter 1 we see the risen exalted Christ as a two-fold head. He is seated above all rule and authority and power, which has been subjected to him. He is given as head over all things to his body, which helps him fill all things. Chapter 2 speaks of believers sharing in Christs reign by being seated with him. Chapter 4 shows Christ as the head who supplies what is needed for the bodies growth through each member of his body, so that the whole can grow up into the head.

If we are to draw ethical implications from this for marriage it would highlight the husbands responsibility to care for, give to, empower, and equip his wife. It also suggests that he represents the pair in their shared dominion and reigning with Christ. While Christ reigns over his church, Ephesians put equal emphasis on the church sharing in the reign of Christ over all things.

Head Links in Scripture

“Head” is used in the Septuagint to refer to the capital city in a country and the king located in that city. (Isaiah 7:8-9)

Colossians: Used of Christ

Ephesians: Used of Christ and husbands

1 Corinthians: Used of God (The Father), Christ, and Men/Husbands

Ephesians 1:20-23; Colossians 1:15-18

Ephesians 4:15-16; Colossians 2:8-19

Ephesians 5:22-30; 1 Corinthians 11:3-12

[compare headship ideas in Ephesians and women passages in other epistles]

This podcast has a great discussion of the head passages in 1 Corinthians 11 and Ephesians 4-5. Though I wish it brought in a few more things.

Business Knowing

An Epistemology of Love for Businesses and Organizations

[Notes, Quotes, Links for a talk]

Work as Knowing

Work can be a mode of contact with reality. Often, it is a brutal and humbling mode. I have written extensively on the value of skilled physical work as knowing, but am now beginning to articulate how this works in my present line of work within organizational management.

For a brief introduction to my general epistemological reflections, see this essay or my dissertation.

Leading up and down the chain of command

This is a multifaceted topic but I will approach it from two epistemological angles, who knows what and how do we make use of that knowledge at an organizational level.

Make decisions easy for busy people. You will rise fast in your career if busy people like working with you. Here’s a tip: when you have a problem to solve, come prepared with a suggested next step. If you have a question, phrase it in a way they can answer yes/no. If there are multiple options, lay them out and ask them to pick one. Try to avoid expansive, open-ended questions.

David Perell

Of Software, Secretaries, and Doing Things

The Double MVP as described by Sahil Lavingia

MVP as a software term Minimum Viable Product

MVP as Manual Viable Process

Do Things that Don’t Scale by Paul Graham

[You] are your software. When you only have a small number of users, you can sometimes get away with doing by hand things that you plan to automate later. This lets you launch faster, and when you do finally automate yourself out of the loop, you’ll know exactly what to build because you’ll have muscle memory from doing it yourself.

…the way Stripe delivered “instant” merchant accounts to its first users was that the founders manually signed them up for traditional merchant accounts behind the scenes.

… It would be a little frightening to be solving users’ problems in a way that wasn’t yet automatic, but less frightening than the far more common case of having something automatic that doesn’t yet solve anyone’s problems.

Paul Graham, Do Things That Don’t Scale

Loving to Know


Of Software and Secretaries: Lessons for New Organizations

I have been helping with a number of startups. 

  • Kingdom Channels
    • Began as bookkeeper and learned QBO by reverse engineering.
    • Identified the need for a fuller CRM and set up Kindful for donation and contact management. 
    • Identified the need and led the adoption of Microsoft Teams and SharePoint for systematizing our file storage and communication.
    • Identified needs for a more robust database for relating to staff, trainees, and churches. Oversaw design and implementation of a new database in sync with Kindful and custom apps built through the Microsoft Power Platform.
    • Specialized software and Saas selection
  • Anabaptist Perspectives
    • The pain story on accounting and donor records. We thought we didn’t have money for accounting software at the beginning and I spent way to much time on various “budget” solutions.
    • Mixed results with integrating donor software etc with our website.
    • Moved content management from spreadsheet/folders/approvals to Notion database
  • Local businesses
    • Set up Quickbooks and custom analysis spreadsheets
    • Payroll migration to Gusto
  • Wellspring Mennonite Church
    • Treasurer duties: I started totally green and had no concept of accounting software, so I had lots of pain debugging Excel spreadsheets.
    • Church website: Again started green, fortunately had a collaborator who knew a little more. But we started with self-managed WordPress hosting when a little more Saas would have served us well.
  • Starr Mountain Academy (launching fall 2024)
    • I will see if I can do better on this one.
    • Seriously considering the Zoho One suite.

Get software for your needs.

Software, especially software as a service, feels expensive. Staff time is expensive. (And volunteer time is equally precious.) Software that will do what you need it to do is important. Cobbled together solutions are a real liability and changing software solutions later can be a real pain. My story with Anabaptist Perspectives exemplifies that pain. 

On accounting we went from a simple spreadsheet, to personal finance software, to Aplos as combined accounting and donor software, to Quickbooks and separate donor software, still using Gusto for payroll. 

We have processed online donations through Paypal buttons, Donorbox, Aplos, CiviCrm, and GiveWP.

Some transitions are necessary as needs change, some come from initial ignorance of true needs, but other times software changes happen because we don’t want to spend the money on software as soon as we should and limp along too long.

Simplify, streamline, and build in procedures

What do you need to know? How easily can you know it? Does everyone know where something belongs? Does everyone know how something should be documented? A sprawling mess comes easily to an organization, especially one with multiple part timers and volunteers.

File organization, versioning, and record keeping, might not be the most exciting topics for entrepreneurs. But some creative discipline in all things data organizing can save enormous headaches.

Define procedures and administrative responsibilities for everyone 

Most procedures and data organization require everyone to use it. Nobody is exempt from putting their work and records in the official system.

Maintain adequate secretarial support 

Computers have changed a lot of things. Everyone can type, which makes dictating letters to secretaries unnecessary. Myriads of other tasks have been made easier by technology. But an organization still needs people to close the loops and keeps things flowing. Even with software, procedures, and holding everyone accountable, there is secretarial work to be done.

As one of my colleagues said, however good your system is, “It is always easier to use no system.” His point was that, we can’t just build systems we have to train users, and for more complicated processes, we may need one person in charge of the system and managing the checklists.

Multiple mindsets are needed for secretarial and operational purposes. Even if someone could do both, it is hard to be tuned into both at one time. Secretarial and administrative matters require their own dose of wisdom and the filling of the Holy Spirit. (Acts 6). Happy is the organization that recognizes this early. 

Appendix: particular software needs

  • Accounting: QuickBooks is standard and QuickBooks Online is generally your best bet, unless you are physically based out of one office and/or have multiple sets of books to keep. The software is pricey but registered non-profits can get it essentially free through Techsoup. If you don’t know your way around accounting, get QBO and some basic training. Every bookkeeper or accountant will be familiar with it and there are lots of good software integrations. If you know your way around a bit. There are other options that can be better for complicated situations.
  • Accounting accessories: Depending on your situation you may want separate (but integrated software for payroll, employee expense tracking, accounts payable, time tracking etc.) If the built-in features of your accounting software cover your needs, that is the simplest. For payroll it is worth comparing Gusto or competitors with QuickBooks payroll for your given situation. Gusto has a little richer feature set and prices are often competitive. (Gusto takes care of local taxes on all price plans whereas QuickBooks only handles that on their highest tier.) The Quickbooks integration for recording payroll in your accounting is decent. If you decide to use Gusto, use this link and we both will get gift cards after you run your first paid payroll.
  • Non-profit CRM and donation software: If you are processing any volume of online donations, you want those online donations to automatically flow into your accounting and automatic receipting. You also want donations automatically tracked for generating end of year summaries, keeping track of tax deductible and non-tax deductible funds etc. A system with integrated CRM and online donation forms is a must.
About Knowing

What Is An Editor? Three Types

Job descriptions for editors vary greatly. Is this just a proofreader? Is it a coauthor or ghost writer? Is it the business manager for an organization? For the publishing work I am involved in I think of three main roles.

Editor as Proofreader

Proofreaders are people who care about whether to write “proof reader” or “proofreader.” They catch mistakes, lots of them. They notice inconsistent formatting. Writers can proofread their own work and learn to write more carefully, but for published writing where it matters, a separate proofreader is needed.

Beyond the word level, proofreaders may examine phrases or sentences for technical grammar or missing words. Again, an indispensable task. On the other hand the author may need to push back against prescriptive grammar and a conventionalizing, flattening hand.

Editor as Rhetorician and Stylist

These editors delete sentences, maybe paragraphs or chapters. They also tell the author where to add sentences or paragraphs.

This is what I think of as an editor proper. The editor carries the reader and the author in mind. Per context, they may rework a piece or simply give feedback to the writer.

Edit with love. A sympathetic understanding of the author’s heart and mind is the proper basis for editing. Bring out the author’s best voice; don’t get rid of the distinctive voice. Amplify their key ideas. You help the author communicate. So love for those on the receiving end is requisite. You work on flow and terminology, etc. to get and keep the readers attention.

Editor as Reviewer

The reviewer cares about substance. They may or may not be sympathetic to the author’s aim, but in either case they will look for weaknesses of reasoning, evidence, clarity, depth, accuracy etc. as needed for the genre. Reviewers don’t rewrite. They may ask an author to revise and resubmit based on their feedback.

What Kind of Editor Are You?

You might straddle the lines or fill another niche. On the other hand knowing which hat you are wearing when editing is helpful. It is easy for me, for example, to blur between reviewing and editing, which can be hazardous, when I am assigned to be simply an editor. One way to tell your natural editor type, is to observe what changes you would like to see in this piece. Are you correcting my grammar? Catching inconsistencies? Thinking about how to improve the flow and make it more catchy? Evaluating my sloppy thinking and looking for better categories to describe different types of editors?

Editors for Video and Visual Media

A coworker who edits video said he sees his work as a sort of visual proofreading, watching transitions, cutting out stumbles in a section of speech etc. To get a macro sense of a video for the purpose of rearranging it or cutting clips would require a different watching and a different mode of thought.

I’m curious too how these categories apply to static visual design. Designers tell me that they can’t do design and proofread text at the same time. I wonder if there might be a proofreader, rhetorician divide even in design review with some editors looking for basic consistency of design elements and others reviewing for style, and overall visual messaging. I would love comments from designers!

Whatever your line of work, I would love your feedback on these categories in the comments below!