“’That’s My King’: On Messianic Monarchical Meritocracy Theory and the Justification by Faith Theory”

“’That’s My King’: On the Messianic Monarchical Meritocracy Theory and the Justification by Faith Theory”


I am not writing this essay as a specialist in New Testament Studies, but as a critical reader who is trying to make sense of the interesting rapport between the messianic kingship of Jesus and the justification by faith theory. I am a theologian by training. (Perhaps, there is an intellectual decalage between the two theories; we shall see in the subsequent analysis.) However, there was a time in my life, I wanted to become a New Testament scholar. After graduating from seminary, I was accepted into three doctoral programs: University of Aberdeen (Scotland), Bangor University (Wales), and the University of Cape Town (South Africa). I chose to enroll at Bangor University. Thus, I began writing a doctoral dissertation on the concept of “seeing God” in the Gospel of John to obtain a PhD in New Testament Studies, under the supervision of Prof. Catrin H. Williams. After a year and a half of intensive researching and writing, I dropped out of the program to pursue a PhD in Literary Studies at the University of Dallas at Texas. After obtaining the doctoral degree at UTD, I was tempted to go back to complete the degree in New Testament. Nonetheless, I did not pursue this former interest of mine because of the same reason I exited from the program: lack of financial stability. A few years later, I told myself even though I did not complete the PhD in NT, I should at least do a PhD in a related discipline. Thus, I decided to enroll in the PhD program in Systematic Theology and Ethics at the University of Pretoria (South Africa). This degree in theological ethics was close enough to my first love and passion: New Testament Studies. After I finished writing a robust doctoral thesis on an interesting topic in theological anthropology and ethics, I gained the PhD degree in the respective discipline. I celebrated this great accomplishment with my family and friends. Those days have gone; yet my interest in the academic discipline of Biblical Studies remain.

Truthfully, I never abandoned my passion in New Testament Studies. Even though I have written many academic books and articles about the rapport between history, ethics, religion, theology, race, anthropology, and literature. I always try to keep myself informed about the current state of the discipline of New Testament. I do that in various ways: listening to some good podcasts on the subject matter, reading blog posts and articles by experts on Biblical Studies, reading good books by influential writers in the field, and sometimes, I do attempt to engage virtually in meaningful conversations with my friends working in the disciplines of Biblical and Theological Studies.

“Rethinking the Kingship of Jesus and the Gospel of the King”

To fast forward the conversation, in the year 2011, I observed a breakthrough in my understanding of the relationship between the Reformers’ doctrine of justification by faith and the messianic identity and mission of Jesus, as explained in the four Gospels. (For example, N. T. Wright, in many publications, has attempted to bridge this historical and hermeneutical gap between the story of Israel, Jesus’s messiahship, and the Gospel, as could be observed in “Jesus and the Victory of God” (1996), “The New Testament and the People of God” (1992), and the two volumes by the same title: “Paul and the Faithfulness of God” (Parts I and II, published in 2013; Parts III and IV, published in 2013, respectively; other NT thinkers, prior to Wright, have also attempted to perform a reconstructive narrative of the Gospel message in the Gospels and in Paul. N.T. Wright, however, is/has been the most influential figure in contemporary NT scholarship. I did not fully grasp Wright’s 1992 and 1996’s publications and his attempt at historical reconstruction when I was in seminary. It was until after I graduated from seminary in 2006 that I went back to revisit his old claims and new perspectives with a new hermeneutical lens. I knew that my intellectual understanding of Israel’s history, Jesus’s Jewish identity, and the message of the Gospel was evolving and radically transforming. Yet I was not afraid to wear this new pair of glasses to improve my interpretive vision.)

Furthermore, with the publication of two seminal texts on the relationship between the essence of the Christian Gospel and its rapport to the kingship of Jesus—Scott McKnight’s “The King Jesus Gospel,” published in 2011, and N. T. Wright’s “How God Became King,” published in 2012 were game-changing and epoch-making books in the discipline—New Testament studies was set to take a revolutionary hermeneutical turn. Matthew Bates, continuing in the same line of reasoning with Wright and McKnight, was set to bring greater clarity and precision on these matters of great intellectual and hermeneutical concerns, with the publication of two controversial and groundbreaking books: “Salvation by Allegiance Alone: Rethinking Faith, Works, and the Gospel of Jesus the King” (2017), and “Gospel Allegiance: What Faith in Jesus Misses for Salvation in Christ” (2019).

As a result, Pastor Greg Gilbert, a fierce critic among many, in various online essays (see also, (for example, “What is the Gospel?” “Who Is Jesus?), has expressed his own concerns about this “interpretive turn” in contemporary New Testament Studies as well as in contemporary American evangelicalism. He himself is not a New Testament scholar; however, he is a theologian worth reading to for many great reasons. He and others have remarked that this emerging movement is not only challenging centuries of New Testament scholarship; this fresh and radical reading of the Christian salvation and Israel’s story is reversing the Reformers’ justification by faith theory with an alternative concentration on the messianic monarchism of Jesus, what we might call the messianic monarchism theory. Wright, McKnight, and Bates have argued that the Gospel is about paying allegiance to King Jesus, and justification by faith is among the many effects of the Gospel; by contrast, Gilbert gives primacy to the doctrine of justification by faith, the old Reformers’ Gospel theory. For him, the thesis “Jesus is King” is not the Gospel proclaimed by Paul, the Apostles, or the Protestant Reformers. The trinity (Wright, McKnight, and Gates) of the “Jesus is King” theory is indeed shifting the discourse on the subject matter, declaring that the Gospel is about the non-negotiable allegiance to King Jesus against the Reformers’ dictum that the Gospel is about “justification by faith alone.” While the former emphasizes a Christocentric-messianic monarchy Gospel, the latter prioritizes a pistis-centered Gospel. In a recent blog post, Michael Bird helpfully assesses both perspectives on the subject matter.

“The Personal Inquiry: Questions about the King Jesus Gospel”

Moreover, because of my intellectual curiosity, on a recent post written by Bates, I attempted to get some clarity on the subject matter by asking a threefold question:

  1. Did Jesus “become” King in order to offer salvation to all who would believe in his name and pay allegiance to him as King and Redeemer?
  2. Did Jesus “the Christ” receive kingship because he makes available salvation to all who would believe in him as “the Christ”–not as “the King”?
  3. Could it be that the Messiah, even before his enthronement as King upon his exaltation to heaven, preexisted both as the King-Redeemer/Savior-King, and thus eventually fulfilled the dual but inseparable function as King and Savior?

Because I did not get a response for my questions, I decided to do the research myself and answer my own questions (by any means, am I writing as a specialist in New Testament Studies) in the subsequent paragraph below.

I suppose to call Jesus the “King of Israel” would have made some sense to the people of Jesus’ s day because the Jewish people were waiting for a King to function as a political leader and to deliver them from Roman imperialism and colonial oppression (avant la lettre). Jewish contemporaries of Jesus were thinking politically when they called “Jesus the King of the Jews.” By doing so, they expressed a strong political motivation in their resistance toward the Empire and colonial domination. After all, their ancestors have been historical victims of imperial violence and terror– including the Egyptian, Babylonian, Persian, Greek Empires, etc. For Jesus’ s contemporaries, to be a king was to assume a political position and governance. The political urgency of the day in Jesus’s time made his activities very suspicious and politically driven—as understood by various religious sects and political groups of the day. A Messiah, who was not a political leader, was not cool and even disappointing for many “colonial Jews” and the Jewish “diasporic populations.”

Suppose the Messiah was both a King (political) and spiritual leader (religion), would that be understood as a decalage? Can you have a Messiah-King, not a Messiah-Spiritual Reformer, or vice versa? Was it necessary for the Messiah to assume both a political and religious function concurrently? In our Western mindset, these are some of the apparent difficulties the New Testament writers attempted to reconcile in their writings–especially the four Gospels and Paul’s Letters. For the Western mind, it is a hard task to undergo; by contrast, for the Jewish mind, the Messiah-King was just a common religious and political tradition and a much-anticipated reality for the Jews in Jesus’ s day.

Traditionally, it is not really a difficulty when we examine the culture, customs, and the mindset of the people of the Ancient Near East. For the most part, it was expected for the appointed king to be the spiritual leader of his people, even in the so-called “pagan nations.” Yet a spiritual leader was not always a king. Such connecting role was anticipated by the people, and the one who will be enthroned as king understood that his dual function as king and spiritual leader was inseparable (For several centuries in the West, some Western kings played both parallel roles. This is also a common practice in African traditional culture. African traditional culture is closer to the culture and practices of the Bible as compared to Western cultural practices and political governance) The King-Spiritual leader was a common practice and parallel function in the Ancient Near Eastern Civilizations. Both the Jews and Romans as well as their surrounding countries and distant neighbors of Jesus’s times shared this mutual mindset and custom. Hence, Jesus’s disciples and followers, as well as the religious and political leaders, who were appointed by the Roman Empire, anticipated the Jewish Messiah to be a political leader (King) and religious figure (i.e. reformer, savior, redeemer, deliverer). This attitude is not a practical problem in the Gospel narratives and other writings of the New Testament, especially in Paul’s Letters.

Nonetheless, a revolution of the mind would occur in the imagination of the New Testament’s writers. What did exactly happen? Two things happened that radicalized their understanding of the person and works of Jesus, and the rapport between religion and politics in their society.

The first issue had to do with Jesus’s realization of the physical kingdom of Israel in his lifetime. The second matter had to do Jesus’s ostensible failure to inaugurate the physical kingdom of Israel under the current rule of the Roman Empire. Both phenomena would change the New Testament writers’ understanding, especially the twelve disciples, of the messianic mission of Jesus and the kingdom of God Jesus proclaimed, through his preaching and teaching, came to inaugurate in the time of imperial domination.

Let us now go to the first point, as noted above. Jesus’s disciples and those who were observing closely his activities believed there was a possibility that Jesus would be the one to restore the kingdom of Israel; in other words, he would become the anticipated Jewish King and the new spiritual reformer of both colonial and diasporic Jews. They cultivated this imminent hope because of the persuasive and attractive message of the impending kingdom and political leadership Jesus himself announced. One of the reasons many Jews became devoted followers and disciples of Jesus lied in Jesus’s message of hope and restoration connected with the imminent kingdom of God that will challenge and even reverse the present Roman imperial rule—inaugurating a new and alternative kingly leadership and ultimately the political emancipation of the colonial, exiled, and diasporic Jews. Paradoxically, the people anticipated that through the Messiah, the God of Israel will become King again (See Luke 1:46-55, 68-80; 2:22-38), and this would happen in their lifetime.

“The Great Shock”

Unfortunately, the disciples of Jesus would experience a great shock when they came to understand that the kingdom of Israel was not going to be inaugurated in Jesus’s lifetime. This realization came into fruition when Jesus was eventually arrested by the agents of the Empire, put to trial by the officials of the Empire, declared guilty— for crimes connected with “kingship claims” (associated with Roman politics) and “blasphemy” (associated with the Jewish religion)—by the political representatives of the Empire, and ultimately was crucified by the soldiers of the Empire. The warranted violations were linked to religion and politics. The execution of Jesus was a cultural and political buzz in the Roman empire.

In addition, the death of Jesus would create tremendous mental doubt, psychological reorientation, and internal conflict among his committed followers because Jesus did not become king and more importantly, the King of Israel, as anticipated and promised. Yet the bodily resurrection of Jesus, as reported in the Gospels, would generate a new psychology and theological orientation about the correlation between the spiritual leadership (messianic) and the nature of the kingdom (political) Jesus proclaimed in his pre-resurrection teachings. These historical reports can be found in the writings of the New Testament (especially in Paul’s letters, written in the 50s, then in the four Gospels, written from the 60s to 90s) written many years after the death and resurrection of Jesus.

Now, let us turn to the second point, as previously mentioned. Because Jesus failed to inaugurate the physical kingdom of Israel at the time the Romans were ruling, those who wrote the books of the New Testament would begin to reframe their previous understanding of the kingdom Jesus announced during his pre-resurrection life. The post-resurrection New Testament writings attempted to reconcile two matters of great importance in Jewish history and to a larger extent in human history, chiefly Jesus’s role as Savior-King and Jesus’s function as Political Leader and Religious Reformer. Observably, first, the language of the Texts changed, from Jesus being the spiritual leader and reformer (pre-resurrection title) to its current status as “Savior of the world” (post-resurrection title), not just the Savior of the Jewish people. The rhetoric of the Texts also changed, from Jesus being the King of Israel (or “King of the Jesus” in the Gospel of John, for example: a pre-resurrection title) to Jesus the cosmic King (also, a post-resurrection title).

To put it another way, the New Testament writers theologically reconceptualized the function of the post-resurrection Jesus as a cosmic (spiritual and political) leader and hero encompassing both realms: the natural world and the supernatural world. By virtue of his resurrection that demonstrates his power over the sphere of the dead and victory over sin and darkness ( 1 Corinthians 15; Ephesians 1:15-23; 2:1-10; 3:1-13), Jesus is presented as the Cosmic Savior-Redeemer of all people (Romans 1:1-6; Colossians 1:1-23, 2:1-15; Hebrews 1). (In the most practical way, they did not, however, inform us about the implication of the risen Christ for life under the Roman empire since the Jews and followers of Jesus still did not have a physical kingdom—even after the resurrection of Jesus the Messiah. The Kingdom of Israel was not physically restored in the immediate post-resurrection times.) How did then the New Testament writers rethink the kingship of Jesus?

Let us consider six different proposals. First, they reinterpreted the nature and content of the kingdom Jesus announced in several ways (keep in mind the political kingdom was not realized in Jesus’s time. Jesus died and was translated into heaven. His early death deferred the practical fulfillment of the physical kingdom under the Roman rule, a watershed moment that has strengthened the Roman Empire and prolonged Jewish deliverance from Roman oppression and colonization.). (1) The writers of the New Testament, both eyewitness disciples and the friends of followers of Jesus, rethought about the Kingdom of God as an apocalyptic future event. They interpreted that Jesus will inaugurate an earthly kingdom when he returns on earth for a second time; (2) They construed the kingdom of God spatially and metaphysically. Jesus is the cosmic King over both the physical and metaphysical world or space; (3) They gave a spiritual meaning to the sermons and preaching, which they himself wrote, reported, and interpreted, of Jesus, associated with the nature and workings of the kingdom; (4) They viewed the kingdom in two ways: a physical kingdom and a non-physical kingdom; (5) They understood both the resurrection and ascension of Jesus as one inseparable epic event in Israel’s history, leading to the ensuing divine enthronement of Jesus as the true promised (divine) Messiah-King of Israel; and (6) They reinterpreted the kingship of Jesus in light of their understanding of the kingship of Yahweh, as narrated in the Hebrew Scriptures, the Israel’s God, whom they claimed share a divine identity and monarchical kingdom with Jesus “The Christ.”

Furthermore, these New Testament imaginations, articulations, and claims (see # 1-6) are not devoid of what the Hebrew Scriptures assert about the Messiah, his identity, and mission. In other words, the New Testament writers have gotten a better understanding of Jesus and the kingdom he boasted about not simply from what Jesus has taught and done in his pre-resurrection experience; in the post-resurrection moments as they were writing their respective books and letters and continuing the works of Jesus in various geo-political locations, they began to read the life and mission of Jesus backwards through the lens of the Hebrew Scriptures (see Richard Hays, “Reading Backwards: Figural Christology and the Fourfold Gospel Witness,” and “Reading Scripture in Light of the Resurrection”) to think afresh about his true identity and the precise workings of Israel’s kingdom. That was such an intellectual and spiritual exercise! In a nutshell, the post-resurrection New Testament writings clearly indicate the followers of Jesus overwhelmingly anticipated the future coming of the King of Israel who will restore the physical kingdom of Israel in the world. Yet the scope of this anticipated kingdom is eschatological and apocalyptic.

“The King Jesus Gospel Makes Sense
or Jesus is King is Good News for all”

After articulating these various perspectives or viewpoints at this point in our conversation, let us now respond directly to the previous questions that drove this intellectual impulse or inquiry:

1) Did Jesus “become” King in order to offer salvation to all who would believe in his name and pay allegiance to him as King and Redeemer? In other words, did he receive the title “King” because of the salvific benefits he provided through his death and resurrection? In this perspective, salvation is not separated from his kingship; they must be viewed or studied in relation or connection to each other;

Response: It seems to me the New Testament writers do not understand the salvation Jesus offers as a phenomenon that is dependent exclusively upon his enthronement as King or Messiah-King. Thus, one might say that the title “King” is not the result (or contingent upon) of the salvific advantages of the Messiah’s death and resurrection. The Messiah did not die in order to become King or a monarch. The Messiah died sacrificially to offer universal salvation and for the glory of God. In this case, it is salvation without kingship. Jesus (The Christ) did not have to become a king to make salvation available and/or possible to all people.

2) Did Jesus “the Christ” receive kingship because he makes available salvation to all who would believe in him as “the Christ”–not as “the King”? From this viewpoint, kingship is only a reward because of the salvation the Messiah offers to humanity; hence, kingship is not necessarily connected to salvation or vice versa;

Response: Through a careful reading of Apostle Paul’s thought (also, the disciples’ sermons in Acts, especially Peter’s) on the subject matter, the Messiah was resurrected (the Gospels) and thus enthroned (i.e. Matthew, Acts, Ephesians, Romans, Hebrews) as King by virtue of the work he has accomplished through his substitutionary death and atonement. (the Ancient Near Eastern literature is full of folktales and myths that celebrate the hero-king who dies to save his people from their enemy and oppression; this is also a common tradition in African traditional culture. This tradition is almost absent in modern Western societies.) In this perspective, the enthronement of Jesus the Christ as King (both as Israel’s king and world’s king) is the causal effect of his triumphal resurrection. The enthronement or kingship here is a reward-based (messianic) merit, what we might phrase “messianic meritocracy” or “monarchical meritocracy” (even the “messianic monarchical meritocracy” theory). In this sense, the Messiah became King. Here, salvation is connected to messiahship and kingdom; the resurrection of Jesus is a bold testimony of his messianic mission joined together with his kingly identity (Luke 1:32–33). Thus, those who believe in his name must profess him both as King and Messiah. In this angle, the Gospel is understood as exclusive allegiance to Jesus the King by virtue of genuine saving faith in the King who delivers. Accordingly, Jesus the King is really the good news of the Gospel. The gospel cannot be anything else but the gospel of King Jesus, which brings us to a parallel claim: kingship is necessarily connected to King Jesus’s salvation, and correspondingly salvation is linked to King Jesus’s royal identity. In sum, salvation belongs to the King, and the kingdom is the possession of the messianic King. This understanding requires an imperative allegiance to King Jesus from those who deliberately confess his kingship and intentionally participate in his Gospel.

3) Could it be that the Messiah, even before his enthronement as King upon his exaltation to heaven, preexisted both as the King-Redeemer/Savior-King, and thus eventually fulfilled the dual but inseparable function as King and Savior?

Response: At the very beginning of this conversation, we mentioned that in the Ancient Near Eastern Civilizations, political leadership in the form of kingship, for example, was linked to spiritual leadership. It is important to reiterate that whenever we note the word “king,” we are referring to a political position and we are entering into the realm of politics, royalty, or monarchy. Kingship has to do with providing leadership and domination, and spiritual orientation and guidance (see 1 and 2 Kings, and 1 and 2 Chronicles; a good book on the subject, which I really enjoyed reading, is Joshua Jipp’s Christ is King: Paul’s Royal Ideology”). In the Hebrew Scriptures, especially in the (post-) exilic literature, the prophets announced the coming of Israel’s Deliverer, whose dual role was exclusively political and spiritual (i.e. Daniel 10; Isaiah 7 and 9). This political leader is a preexistent King who will come as Messiah ( as observed in both Daniel and Isaiah; a powerful work that attempts to establish connections and parallels between the writings of the Hebrew Bible and the writings of the New Testament is “The Preexistent Son: Recovering the Christologies of Matthew, Mark, and Luke” by Simon J. Gathercole) to deliver the people of God from their sins (Matthew 1:21-23, 2:1-23; Luke 1:26-33) and political oppression. Accordingly, the preexistent King-Redeemer is also the Savior-King who fulfilled the dual and inseparable function as King, Redeemer, and Savior. Because the Messiah is King, he has the power to restore political order; he is against political totalitarianism and terrorism and will one day effect universal political peace and recreate the world anew. What interesting is that the kingship of Jesus the Christ is both a political and spiritual position in the same way his messiahship entails both spiritual and political deliverance from any form of political subjugation and spiritual bankruptcy. Perhaps, we should use term divine monarchical messianism to describe this joint Christocentric leadership and governance.

“Conclusion in Six Statements”

  1. The various quests for the historical Jesus (the original quest for the historical Jesus began in 1906 with the monumental work, “The Quest of the Historical Jesus” of Albert Schweitzer) contributed to the westernization of Jesus and the undermining of his Jewishness (Immanuel Kant was probably the first Western thinker to initiate this intellectual decentering of Jesus’s Jewishness; see J Kameron Carter, “Race: A Theological Account” for a critical analysis of Kant’s western ideological reading of Jesus’s life and thought). The more Jesus is read from a Western lens by neglecting his Middle-Eastern background, the further the interpreter will be removed from the customs and traditions that shaped his identity, work, and his message. This will also impact one’s understanding of the Gospel and its relationship with kingship.
  2. The personal salvation theory (i.e. individual justification by faith or personal salvation) in modern Evangelicalism has been heavily influenced by modernity’s stress on the rights of the individual and the celebration of the individual’s success or achievement. This philosophy works effectively with the American dream ideology, which emphasizes the mobility and triumph of the individual in society. Modern American evangelicals, however, have theologized the philosophy of Western individualism into the personal salvation theory. Post-modernity’s accent on the freedom of the individual is another philosophical tradition in the West that undermines exclusive allegiance to King Jesus in contemporary (American) evangelicalism and churches. This theory has caused a great intellectual damage in contemporary biblical and theological hermeneutics as well as a theological decalage in evangelization and conversion stories in our churches. Furthermore, it undermines the urgent summon to biblical discipleship inseparable from the exclusive allegiance and commitment to King Jesus.
  3. The declaration “Jesus is King” creates a psychological distance between the biblical world and the western world, the biblical mindset and the western mindset. The political system and revolution, initiated in the so-called period of “High Enlightenment” and the “Age of Reason” in Western societies, resulted in the abandonment of the monarchial rule for the democratic governance. Political ideologies, articulated during that era in the writings of Western political scientists and philosophers, would substantially influence the King Jesus Gospel, particularly in the area of textual interpretation pertaining to the essence of the Gospel and the nature of the Messiah’s monarchical rule (1 Corinthians 15). As a result, the new attitude toward the democratic order in rejection of the monarchical system would undermine the significant correlation between the identity of Jesus as a monarch and justification by faith alone—a theological confession that was already promoted by the Protestant Reformers in the sixteenth century. Western biblical scholars and theologians did not want to confront Jesus the Monarch-King because of their bad experience with Western monarchs and kings. Thus, their political conviction would influence not only their theological conviction, more importantly, the true essence of the Gospel of King Jesus, rested in the complete allegiance to him as King. The great decalage lied, from the Middle to High Modernity periods, in the realm of the political and the sphere of the theological, political theory and theological hermeneutics.
  4. Hence, it has become a mental convenience for modern Christian interpreters to connect the personal salvation to justification by faith then to link the gospel of salvation to the kingship of Jesus. To say “Jesus is the King” might intimidate the American and the European Christian whose current political system prioritizes representative or liberal democracy not perpetual monarchy. In this sense, politically speaking, the idea of the kingship of Jesus is not good news for the modern American or the Western person because Jesus’s monarchical rule not only calls for the reversal of the current political order and the world-order systems. This bold thesis (“Jesus is the King”) makes a clarion call to declare the kingship of Jesus (which is the essence of the Gospel story) expressed in personal and ecclesiastical allegiance and faithful commitment to king Jesus.
  5. Arguably, the Gospel is intimately connected to the Kingship of Jesus and the exclusive allegiance that Jesus is King, resulting in forgiveness of and deliverance from sins and justification by faith. In other words, forgiveness, deliverance, justification, and peace with God among the other grand benefits of the Gospel are the ensuing effects of the King Jesus Gospel. Justification by faith alone does not lead to salvation in Jesus; rather, it is allegiance to Jesus as King and Savior or Savior-King, resulting in justification—the effect of the Christocentric allegiance—that delivers. The cost of biblical discipleship requires the complete abandonment of one’s self and former allegiances to cling to and follow King Jesus as Master. Further, in the Ancient Near Eastern Civilizations, it was customary for the king of the nation to demand total allegiance to him and that allegiance was exclusive and non-negotiable (See the book of Daniel for King Nebuchadnezzar’s inclusive request for faithful loyalty to him, as well as the book of Exodus, in which King Pharaoh’s nonnegotiable demand of allegiance from both the Egyptians and the Israelite’s slave population is established; the books of Kings and Chronicles are full of examples in which the kings insisted on comprehensive allegiance from the people they ruled.).
  6. The proclamation “Jesus Is King” is unquestionably the good news of the Gospel of the King. It is the only gospel that liberates, sanctifies, and justifies; it is the Gospel of the King that challenges both the spiritual and politic order of modernity and post-modernity.

I close this essay with this moving and theological prayer entitled “That’s My King,” which Rev. Dr. Shadrack Meshach Lockridge (1913-2000) delivered in 1976:

My King was born King.
The Bible says He’s a Seven Way King.
He’s the King of the Jews — that’s a racial King.
He’s the King of Israel — that’s a national King.
He’s the King of righteousness.
He’s the King of the ages.
He’s the King of Heaven.
He’s the King of glory.
He’s the King of kings
and He is the Lord of lords.
Now that’s my King. Well I wonder if you know Him.

Do you know Him?
Don’t try to mislead me.
Do you know my King?
David said the Heavens declare the glory of God,
and the firmament showeth His handiwork.
My King is the only one whom there are no means of measure can define His limitless love.
No far seeing telescope can bring into visibility the coastline of His shoreless supplies.

No barriers can hinder Him from pouring out His blessing.
Well, well,
He’s enduringly strong.
He’s entirely sincere.
He’s eternally steadfast.
He’s immortally graceful.
He’s imperially powerful.
He’s impartially merciful.
That’s my King.

He’s God’s Son.
He’s the sinner’s savior.
He’s the centerpiece of civilization.
He stands alone in Himself.
He’s august.
He’s unique.
He’s unparalleled.
He’s unprecedented.
He’s supreme.
He’s pre-eminent.

Well, He’s the loftiest idea in literature.
He’s the highest personality in philosophy.
He’s the supreme problem in higher criticism.
He’s the fundamental doctrine of true theology.
He’s the cardinal necessity of spiritual religion.
That’s my King.

He’s the miracle of the age.
He’s the superlative of everything good that you choose to call Him.
Well, He’s the only one able to supply all of our needs simultaneously.

He supplies strength for the weak.
He’s available for the tempted and the tried.
He sympathizes and He saves.
He’s strong God and He guides.
He heals the sick.
He cleanses the lepers.
He forgives sinners.
He discharges debtors.
He delivers the captives.
He defends the feeble.
He blesses the young.
He serves the unfortunate.
He regards the aged.
He rewards the diligent and He beautifies the meek.

Do you know Him?
Well, my King is a King of knowledge.
He’s the wellspring of wisdom.
He’s the doorway of deliverance.
He’s the pathway of peace.
He’s the roadway of righteousness.
He’s the highway of holiness.
He’s the gateway of glory.
He’s the Master of the mighty.
He’s the Captain of the conquerors.
He’s the Head of the heroes.
He’s the Leader of the legislators.
He’s the Overseer of the overcomers.
He’s the Governor of governors.
He’s the Prince of princes.
He’s the King of kings and He’s the Lord of lords.
That’s my King. Yeah. Yeah.
That’s my King. My King, yeah.

His office is manifold.
His promise is sure.
His light is matchless.
His goodness is limitless.
His mercy is everlasting.
His love never changes.
His word is enough.
His grace is sufficient.
His reign is righteous.
His yoke is easy and His burden is light.

Well. I wish I could describe Him to you,
but He’s indescribable.
He’s indescribable. Yeah!
He’s incomprehensible.
He’s invincible.
He’s irresistible.
I’m trying to tell you,
the heavens of heavens cannot contain Him,
let alone a man explain Him.
You can’t get Him out of your mind.
You can’t get Him off of your hand.
You can’t outlive Him and you can’t live without Him.
Well, Pharisees couldn’t stand Him,
but they found out they couldn’t stop Him.
Pilate couldn’t find any fault in Him.
The witnesses couldn’t get their testimonies to agree.
Herod couldn’t kill Him.
Death couldn’t handle Him and the grave couldn’t hold Him.
That’s my King. Yeah!
He always has been and He always will be.
I’m talking about He had no predecessor
and He’ll have no successor.
There was nobody before Him
and there’ll be nobody after Him.
You can’t impeach Him
and He’s not gonna resign.
That’s my King! That’s my King!
Thine, Thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory.

Well, all the power belongs to my King.
We’re around here talking about black power and white power and green power,
but it’s God’s power. Thine is the power.
And the glory.
We try to get prestige and honor and glory for ourselves,
but the glory is all His. Yes.
Thine is the Kingdom
and the power and the glory,
forever and ever
and ever
and ever.
How long is that?
And ever and ever and ever and ever.
And when you get through with all of the forevers,
then, Amen.”

Review on Studies on Haitian Vodou!

I was pleased to read an honest and engaging review of the two fantastic books on Haitian Vodou that my dear friend Dr. Nixon Shaba-lom Cleophat and I coedited:

“Celucien L. Joseph & Nixon S. Cleophat (eds.), Vodou in Haitian Memory: The Idea and Representation of Vodou in Hatian Imagination. Lanham MD: Lexington Books, 2016. xx + 228 pp. (Cloth US$ 90.00) — Celucien L. Joseph & Nixon S. Cleophat (eds.), Vodou in the Haitian Experience: A Black Atlantic Perspective. Lanham MD: Lexington Books, 2016. xii + 276 pp. (Cloth US$ 95.00)” by Alessandra Benedicty (Thank you, Dr. Benedicty!)

***Dr. Alessandra Benedicty-Kokken has written perhaps the most theoretical and sophisticated work on Haitian Vodou in the past two years, with a special focus on the experience of trance or spirit possession in Vodou:

“Spirit Possession in French, Haitian, and Vodou Thought: An Intellectual History” (Lexington Books (November 12, 2014).

Click on the link below to read the review:


“Summer Reading List for Young Adults”

A Summer Reading List for Young Adults

  1. Neil Degrasse Tyson, “Astrophysics for Young People in a Hurry”
  2. Min Jin Lee, “Pachinko”
  3. Yanick Lahens, “Moonbath”
  4. Andrew Sean Greer, “Less: A Novel”
  5. Chinua Achebee, “Things Fall Apart”
  6. Paul Kalanithi, “When Breath Becomes Air”
  7. Elizabeth Acevedo, “The Poet X: A Novel”
  8. James Baldwin, “If Beale Street Could Talk”
  9. Imani Perry, “Breath: A Letter to my Sons”
  10. Rupi Kaur, “Milk and Money”

*** Select five books from the list to have a delightful reading📚summer in the world of great books. If you’re like me, I would just read all ten books to have a more productive and amazing summer time.

Happy Reading 📚!

What is Christianity?

What is Christianity?

Christianity is a lifestyle. Christianity is how you treat people with love, compassion, care, understanding, and empathy. Christianity is the Jesus’ way to be in solidarity with the poor and the oppressed. It is also to hate all falsehood, human oppression and exploitation, and all forms of injustice that dehumanize people and reduce them to non-beings. Being a Christian means more than reciting a prayer to accept Jesus as your Lord and Savior. It is how you respond to and treat people who are different from you, even those who reject your Jesus, your Christianity, and your God. Christianity is more than words or head knowledge. It t is action. It is reconciliation. It is peace. It is unity. It is hope. It is love. Christianity is love for people because God is love and God loves all people.

“On God, Love, and True Religion” (Part I)

“On God, Love, and True Religion” (Part I)

The Thing that most fascinates me in life is not success, sex or money (although they are important incentives in my life), but God’s relentless and loving presence in human quest for him through religion and spirituality.

(Allow me to state this parenthetical statement: I understand very well that all religious traditions do not teach the same doctrine nor every form of spirituality is parallel to each other. For example, Christianity proclaims the divinity of Jesus Christ and claims that Jesus is the only way to God, whereas Islam confesses Mohammad as the Final Prophet of Allah. Vodou and Hinduism teach there are multiple ways to God through the Lwa and gods or the Vodou lwa and gods in Hinduism are various expressions and manifestations of one true God. Some religious scholars parallel various religious traditions with their geographical locations and cultures. For example, in Africa, one finds African traditional religion; in Asia, one encounters Taoism, Confucianism, Buddhism, Hinduism, etc. In the Arab world, one meets Islam, and in Europe, one finds Christianity. [this perspective on religion and geography has been challenged by various scholars and thinkers] Hence, the distinction between world’s religions is evident. The interesting thing is that our world embraces religious pluralism, cultural relativism, heterogeneous narrative, and epistemological difference. Nonetheless, what remains a paradox for many people, as it pertains to religion, are the following questions:

1) Are all religions true?
2) Do they all (religious paths) lead people to God?
3) Do the people from different religious systems or traditions worship the same God?
4) Does God approve all religions of the world?
5) How does one know which religion is true and not a deviation from God’s original plan for humanity?

  1. Does it matter what religion one chooses to embrace?
  2. Is it okay to blend various religious traditions and rituals?
  3. What if all religions have it wrong?
  4. What if all religions are different manifestations of human delusion about God?
  5. What if there is only one true religion?
  6. What if Jesus is the only way to God?

By religion, I seek to convey the idea of God’s loving movement and disruptive intervention in cultures and religions of the world to draw people to himself and to create a new and distinctive human race that will honor him and spread his name. This particular perspective on religion does celebrate cultural diversity and value various religious traditions. Nonetheless, it does insist that God transcends our religious imagination.

True religion is also a way to experience and receive divine love, grace, and care. True religion boasts in God’s solidarity with humanity and the oppressed of the world; correspondingly, it forces us to depend daily upon God to provide orientation, wisdom, and guidance in this life of despair and hostility.

True religion promotes human interdependence, reciprocity, and solidarity with one another—as men and women who are created in the Imago Dei.

Food for the Soul!

“The Presence of Truth: On the Logic and Nature of Pure Reason and Reasonable Faith”

“The Presence of Truth: On the Logic and Nature of Pure Reason and Reasonable Faith”

I still believe one can be a good person of faith, in my case, a Christian, and a good and critical scholar. While pure reason makes room for intellectual curiosity, a reasonable faith should welcome the rigorous process of intellectual adventure and experimentation.

Faith can seek understanding in the academic world (the life of the mind) and the academic world can benefit greatly from the life of faith. One does not have to compromise his or faith in the academia in order to gain status or reputation. Comparatively, one should not kill reason to redeem faith or rehabilitate religious piety.

The life of the mind can be nourished from multiple and not only from one source of truth and understanding. It is against pure reason to continue to sustain the notion that the academia is the only venue that fosters a rigorous human intellect and leads to a revolution of the mind.
The life of the mind should not be devoid of passion and the intersectionality of knowledge.

Similarly, the life of faith, grounded on an ethics of liberation and human flourishing in all aspects of life, possesses inherent attributes to revolutionize human relations and make us more human and compassionate toward one another. A reasonable faith can be construed as a habit of the mind that forges a strong rapport between two realms: faith and reason. Both must depend on each other to make us more reasonable, logical, relational, interpersonal, and more compassionate. The life of faith should not be devoid of reason and the interdisciplinary nature of human piety.

A faith that is strong is a faith that aims to find truth in all places of wisdom even when the discovered truth challenges one’s beliefs and brings a level of discomfortability to the life of faith. Reason is not the sole sphere of knowledge nor is it the only source of wisdom. One should seek knowledge and understanding in all credible repositories even if it that journey may lead to a radical reorientation of one’s intellect and a revolutionary reinvention of the self.

Truth should be the catalyst to bind the life of the mind and the life of faith.

My Two New Books Have Been Released!

In the midst of the coronavirus crisis, good news is still a possibility associated with joy. Hence, I am pleased to announce the publication of two new books with #wipfandstock publishers:

“Theologizing in Black: On Africana Theological Ethics and Anthropology” (April 15, 2020)

***The sequel to this book is tentatively titled “The Being of God in Africana Theological and Philosophical Tradition.” I’m excited about this new terrain of research and writing.


“Revolutionary Change and Democratic Religion:

Christianity, Vodou, and Secularism” (April 15, 2020)

Both texts can be ordered online.

***I would like to thank those who have written endorsements for both texts. I appreciate your rigor, encouraging words, & constructive feedback.

Happy reading!



Click on the link below to order your copy

***The sequel to this book is tentatively titled “The Being of God in Africana Theological and Philosophical Tradition.” I’m excited about this new terrain of research and writing.


“The Problem of the ‘Christian unity’ language in Christian (Evangelical) Culture”

“The Problem of the ‘Christian unity’ language in Christian (Evangelical) Culture”

Christian unity does not guarantee cosmic peace, political stability, and earthly comfort. Why do some Christians in this culture like to talk about unity in Christ and harmony in the body of Christ, but refuse to discuss the pressing issues that lead to disunity and disharmony in the Church and society? What are the contributing factors associated with this mental state of fear and Christian disengagement with these urgent matters?

Arguably, unity is a costly adventure and humble attitude. Like unity, harmony is sacrificial and an intentional doing. Unity will not come until Christians actively get engaged in genuine and honest conversations, such as the social, class, political, economic, cultural, racial, gender, sexual, ideological, etc. issues that have divided the body of Christ, dehumanized delinquent children and single mothers, and marginalized the poor, the needy, the racialized populations, the undocumented immigrant populations in this country, etc.

Christian unity is not a smoke screen for Christians to hide their dangerous political ideologies and choices, theological tribalism, and moral superiority. We should not think of Christian harmony as a safety net to cover up the sin of racism and xenophobia, and prejudice toward the undocumented immigrant and the religious other. Rather, it predicates upon the willingness to be changed and the openness to be challenged.

Harmony requires the discipline of listening to other’s pain and suffering, as well as their stories and their histories. The concepts of unity and harmony in the church and in society are associated with the biblical concept of justice and Christian discipleship. This is an overwhelming issue in the Gospels, the letters of Paul, especially in the Prophets.

For example, Jesus, the founder of Christianity and the spiritual head of the Christian church, was a controversial figure. Regularly, he would engage in verbal fights and heated arguments with the people in the church (i.e. the temple), the Pharisees, the Sadducees, and other individuals in society that had both religious and political influence in the culture—over pressing social, political, and religious issues that bore tremendous effects on people’s living conditions and future—especially the marginalized groups, the vulnerable, and the poor populations. Jesus actively preached and taught on both spiritual and societal matters. He did not say, “Folks: we are all Jews, let’s get along. We are all children of Abraham and let us just worship the God of Israel, our common Father and Creator.” He made sure his audience and those who did not want to listen to him know that social and political issues mattered to God; the triumph of the Kingdom of God and justice in society mattered to God; and the spiritual life and salvation of all people were also vital concerns to God. While Jesus gave priority to the reign and justice of God in the world, he was equally attentive to how problems of (moral and ethical) injustice and inequity, systems and structures, and unequal distribution of wealth were affecting the poor and the disadvantaged in his own society. Followers of Christ are called to imitate him, to love people like him, to act like him, and to have the mind and spirit of Christ. Jesus defended the weak and the poor in society; correspondingly, he has called his followers to do likewise.

Second, Paul, the most influential religious figure in the Jesus Movement and the second most controversial figure in the history of early Christianity after Jesus, was attentive to moral, ethical, and spiritual matters. For example, in his letters to the Christian churches in Galatia and Corinth, he directly addressed some of the major concerns of his culture, and the urgent factors that were affecting the church and human flourishing and the common good in society; they included the problems of poverty and hunger, sexual morality, gender ethics, political issues and ideologies, cultural differences and ideologies, ethnic pride and privilege, racial tribalism and preference, equality and equity in society, divorce, marriage, death, war, etc. Like Jesus, Paul did not just say to the Galatian and Corinthian Christians: “Folks, we are just ‘one in Christ.’ Let’s just focus on saving the soul of the lost, and forget about existential problems in society.”

Finally, it is important to note that both Jesus and Paul were also preaching and teaching about unity in the church and harmony among the people of God. Correspondingly, both religious figures were calling both men and women, and boys and girls to get right with God and to live justly before God and in harmony with their neighbor. Yet both of them understood clearly that some earthly forces in addition to spiritual matters were affecting the human experience and flourishing in the world—contributing to a history of pain and suffering, a catalogue of alienation and dehumanization, and a life of despair and bankruptcy.

The question that lies before the individual Christian and the American church is as follows:

What is God calling you to do? What is Christ calling the American church to do?

As a follower of Christ, Christians are morally responsible to inquire about the contemporary societal forces—public policies, state laws, county laws, etc.—that are detrimental to the welfare of their neighbor and other political decisions and choices that are impacting the living conditions of the marginalized, the homeless, the needy, the racialized, the politically-alienated, and the economically-disadvantaged populations in their community, city, and country. If the individual Christian keeps avoiding these complex issues, perhaps, he or she does not understand the transforming power of the Gospel in politics, society, and in the public sphere. If the Christian church in America is silent on those crucial matters, she is probably not imitating Christ and walking in his footsteps.

Christian unity is an active force in society that could potentially contribute to both holistic transformation and spiritual renewal of the people in culture. It is a discipline that requires the process of nurturing and reinvention; it makes a clarion call upon us for moral redirection and a christocentric orientation toward God and one’s neighbor. As Dietrich Bonhoeffer warned us, “There is no way to peace along the way of safety. For peace must be dared, it is itself the great venture and cuan never be safe. Peace is the opposite of security.” In the same line of thought, unity in the body of Christ or harmony among the people of God in society is not a project that seeks to preserve individual safety, status, privilege, and national pride. Christian unity calls for the urgent death of Christian nationalism, American exceptionalism, and ethnocentrism. It renounces all the external forces and privileges that become a hindrance to be committed totally to King Jesus and to serve in compassion and act in justice toward one’s neighbor. It is a call to self-denial and total obedience for the sake of imitating and following Jesus in this life. Christian unity does not guarantee cosmic peace, worldly treasures, and earthly comfort; nonetheless, like Christian compassion, it does seek the best interest of one’s neighbor and empowers individuals to act in a manner that promotes the dignity of the most vulnerable and to care for the marginalized groups in society.

“What Germany and Haiti Have in Common: The Christian Church in Germany and Haiti, and The Great Moral Paradox of the Christian West”

Happy Wednesday, Folks!!!

“What Germany and Haiti Have in Common: The Christian Church in Germany and Haiti, and The Great Moral Paradox of the Christian West”

From the late 1930 to 1940s, in Germany, many German churches and theologians supported Nazism and Hitler faithfully, leading to the annihilation of thousands of Jews. Comparatively, from the 1950s to 1970s, in Haiti, the Christian church, both Protestant and Catholic expressions, supported the Duvalier Regime relentlessly and many members of the clergy were in fact macoutes (boogeyman), leading to the execution of thousands of Haitians. (During the heyday of Hitler, many Jews traveled to Haiti to escape Nazism and were welcomed with Haitian citizenship.)

Interestingly, one of the great moral paradoxes in Church history in the West is that Christians have been supporters of dictators, totalitarian leaders, fascist leaders, slave masters, slave traffickers, and individuals who have committed horrendous crimes against humanity. In fact, some of them are/were christian dictators, christian totalitarian leaders, christian fascists, christian slave masters, christian slave traffickers, etc.

Jesus was correct when he warned his disciples,

“Not everyone who calls out to me, ‘Lord! Lord!’ will enter the Kingdom of Heaven. Only those who actually do the will of my Father in heaven will enter” (Matthew 7:21).

“Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven” (Matthew 6:1).

He even denounced the evil practices of “church leaders” and the “theologians of the church” by declaring:

“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean. 28 In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness” (Matthew 23:27-28).

“Beware of the teachers of the law. They like to walk around in flowing robes and love to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces and have the most important seats in the synagogues and the places of honor at banquets. 47 They devour widows’ houses and for a show make lengthy prayers. These men will be punished most severely” (Luke 20:46-47).

*** Do not follow Jesus at a distance; rather be a faithful imitator of Christ, have the mind of Christ, and let the spirit of Christ dwell in you!