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.”

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!


Why Worship?

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A professor once told me that worshiping violates something about the moral dignity of a human being. Worship involves, at a minimum, recognizing another being as supremely worthy and as greater than oneself.

At the time I was puzzled as to why rendering worship to God, should be thought to diminish human dignity. Why are we less because God is more? As I reflect now, I realize that many Christians share the concern that worshiping something else degrades humans beings. We do believe that idolatry, that is the worship of anything but God, is not only an affront to God but also to our humanity. We also commonly believe that humans must functionally worship something. It is only a question of worshiping God versus idolatry. Worshiping God completes our humanity and our moral dignity as persons. Worshiping anything else undercuts our humanity and our moral dignity as persons.

As I am sympathetic to the above claims, I suspect that I partly agree with my professors claims about worship being unworthy of humans, but only certain worship. At the same time, I completely believe that worship is essential. A human being must be related to God appropriately to flourish. The thought that we can do just fine without worshiping anything is an illusion.

All of this leaves me hungry for an account of what worship is, and there is much of that account I do not have. I hope to explore that in the future, for my own sake and for the sake of those who think worship unnecessary.

Ideas? Leave a comment below.

About Knowing

Epistemology Across My Life

This article originally appeared at Anabaptist Perspectives. Audio narration available there or in the Essays for King Jesus Podcast

“The chicken showed me where the chickens are getting out,” said my son.  We soon fixed that hole in the fence. (Unfortunately, there were more.) What stuck with me were the words “the chicken showed me”. Those words indicate observation and attentiveness. And, perhaps I push the point too far, openness to learning from the chicken.  

Philosophizing about knowing (i.e. epistemology) may seem arcane or excessively technical. However, what increasingly strikes me is that our mindset toward knowing and the way we think about knowledge ties into our overall stance toward life. Whether or not we study formal epistemology, we all have a functional epistemology: our conception of what knowing is, our ideas about what (and who!) it is worthwhile to know, and ideas about how we can gain knowledge. The first part of this essay highlights epistemological thinkers and themes that I find helpful. The second part notes thinkers and themes I have encountered in various parts of my life that exemplify the approach to knowing outlined in part one. 

What Is Knowing and What’s Worth Knowing? 

Steven Brubaker’s delightful essay, “A Mennonite Thinks about Knowing,” introduces key themes.1 What is worth knowing? God, first and foremost. God’s creation is also important and worth knowing. Humans are a key part of creation we should know and love. As humans, we also exercise creativity through our work, which results in what Brubaker calls “creation’s creation.” If we study history, or writings, or architecture, or carpentry, or any host of other things we are dealing largely with creation’s creation.  

In order to discuss the nature of knowing, Brubaker starts with the nature of truth. Usually, we think of truth as true statements that someone makes. However, Jesus said that He is the truth. Obviously, Jesus is a person and not a statement. There are lots of true statements we could make about Jesus such as that He is kind or divine. But Brubaker makes the point that truth is, first of all, Jesus Himself and secondly, true statements that describe Him. For Brubaker, this is a general point that applies not only to Jesus, but also to other people and even to plants or inanimate objects. Truth is first substance and second description. Lots of true statements may describe an oak tree, that it is tall, leafy, strong, etc. But first of all, the truth of the oak tree is the tree itself.  

This means that knowledge is not limited to knowing true descriptions. One can know lots of truths about God without truly knowing God. One can know lots of truths about a fellow human without really knowing them personally. Knowing God or people takes relationship and love, and sometimes commitment and obedience. Brubaker sees this as the pattern for all knowing. 

For me, it comes relatively naturally to think about knowing God or humans as first relationship and second description. But when we talk about knowing the rest of creation, or of knowing creation’s creation, it seems less natural. What is it, after all, to have a relationship with an oak tree or a bar of steel? We talk easily of knowing that an oak tree is tall, or that a bar of steel is heavy. On the other hand, to speak of knowing the oak tree itself, or the bar of steel itself, sounds strange. But if Brubaker and other writers I have come to respect are correct, knowing persons is the model that shows us what it is like to know any reality. 

One way that I make sense of relational knowledge of trees or steel is by thinking about what it is like to work with them. Moving something, cutting something, or trying to shape it to fit our purposes are all modes of interaction. In physical work, I am trying to accomplish something, but to do so, I have to participate with those physical entities. That hard board or heavy bar becomes painfully well known when I break a drill bit or smash my toe. My dissertation explores how we know various realities through participating with them in skilled physical work.2 

Does how we think about knowing matter.? Esther Meek is convinced that it matters for how we comport ourselves toward reality and ultimately toward God. In fact, she says most of us need epistemological therapy and proposes an epistemological etiquette for how we should conduct ourselves, if we want to know the world aright. Her very long book, Loving to Know, has helped me see that knowing creation has personal and relational dimensions, which is grounded in the fact that it is created by God.  

Implications for Action 

Thinkers I have encountered in various dimensions of my life have confirmed the relevance of a philosophy of knowledge. 

First, I have developed an approach for the permaculture approach to agriculture and our physical surroundings. The permaculture movement emphasizes knowing the particularities of our homesteads and environment with the aim of working with nature instead of against nature. The first permaculture principle is “Observe and Interact.” Watch and learn with patience and then try something and participate. Work with nature and cultivate it to produce flourishing. While I am more of a reader than a practitioner, I have begun to find the permaculture mindset helpful, not only in gardening, but across my life.3 

Second, thinking about knowing should affect how we think about learning. Our children’s school classes are based on a model which we sometimes call relational education. The term relational does not refer to relationships between child and teacher, but to relationships between students and what they study. In other words, the teacher’s goal is to facilitate students developing the kind of knowledge that Brubaker and Meek point us to.  A speaker at a recent event explained that we measure the success of education by the number and quality of relations that the child develops with a range of realities, whether nature, art, the beautiful structures of mathematics, or the “living ideas” of worthwhile books.4  

Finally, issues related to our approach to knowing keep coming up in my reading about missions, church life, and alleviating poverty. If we want to help a community or culture, we first have to understand it. The arrogant outsider who comes in with nothing but dreams and an education is likely to do more harm than good. The helper must first be a learner, who uses humility and respect to not only learn what is wrong but also to cultivate an appreciation of what is right and of the potentials for good. These principles apply to our work in our own communities, as well as cross cultural efforts. A recent article by Kyle Stoltzfus brought this home to me with a call to exercise “vigorous love” for the people of our church communities rather than indulging in fantasies of what we wish our church was like.5 If we want to facilitate healing and flourishing, we must come as a humble, appreciative, relational learner. 

So, in summary, epistemology matters because our comportment to reality matters. I find it exciting to see a convergence between philosophers thinking about knowing and thinkers writing about more “practical” subjects. I find it exciting to seek to know, not merely as an intellectual exercise, but with my whole person and life. Most of all I am thankful that God allows us to know Him, and that knowing His creation can be part of that. 


1 Steven Brubaker. “A Mennonite Thinks about Knowing.” 2015 

2 Marlin Sommers. Participating with the Known and the Value of Craft as Knowing. Doctoral Dissertation. The University of Tennessee Knoxville. 2018. See more info at   

3 While some practitioners work without the knowledge of God, Christians can recognize deep insight in much of their work. On the principle, “Observe and Interact” see, for example, 

4 See, for example, the mission statement of the tutorial our children attend. 

5 Kyle Stoltzfus. Faith Builders Newsletter, Fall 2021 “That I May Know Him: In a world of information & opinion, what does it mean to know?”  

About Knowing

My Dissertation

I speak of ‘knowing’ rather than simply “knowledge” to emphasize the active character of knowing. To know is to engage the reality that is known. In my doctoral dissertation, I explore the value of skilled physical work in knowing the world around us.

Participating With the Known and the Value of Craft as Knowing


Craft, here defined as skilled physical work of some scope, forms a rich way of knowing the world around us. Craft’s value as knowledge is, however, obscured by certain tendencies in thinking about knowing and value. These lead to the conclusion that craft’s value as knowledge is minimal. This conclusion is largely based on craft’s physical character (achieving physical results through bodily activity) and on its practical character (aiming at meeting wants or needs, usually in a very specific way). I argue against inadequate views of knowledge which sharply separate knowing from doing and unduly prioritize knowing that. I also argue against inadequate views of the interrelations of values which unduly devalue activities done for the sake of meeting needs. In my positive response, I elaborate an epistemological notion of knowing by “participating-with” the object or aspect of reality which we (would) know. The fullest case of knowing by participating-with comes in the sorts of inter-actions by which we can know other people, but we can also participate-with other realities. Craft involves participating with a wide range of realities in the natural, built, and social worlds in ways that are robustly physical and robustly practical. Physicality and practicality enable distinctive valuable modes of knowing and participating with our world. In craft our bodily agency is engaged with the physical world. Crafts also lets us know aspects of reality through our successes, and our failures, at working with that reality to achieve our aims. The final chapter explores various goods of craft knowing through reflection on specific kinds of craft work. Craft allows participatory knowledge of the natural world, the built world, and the social world in which we live and move and exist. Craft also occasions self-knowledge and the intellectual virtues of attentiveness and creativity.