John Mark, Forgiven

We Baptists would agree with Catholic Canon Law when it proscribes baby names “foreign to Christian sentiment.” So ‘Jezebel’ and ‘Judas’ are out of bounds. No right-minded parents would touch those names with a stick. Unfortunately, my namesake, Mark, has a black mark on his record, and it’s only by the grace of God, and the godly forgiveness of the apostles and disciples, that this young disciple was given opportunity to up his game to the point that my parents felt free to enter it on my birth certificate. 

John Mark (aka Mark per his surname) dishonored himself in Pamphylia by bailing out on the First Missionary Journey. The Bible just says he headed back to Jerusalem (Acts 13:13). Maybe he got homesick and ran home to mama’s cooking; or didn’t appreciate the tone of Paul’s wakeup call one morning; or didn’t think Paul should be giving instructions to his cousin Barnabas; or tired of foreign dialects; or was unnerved by the “nuclear” exchange with Elymas (“I didn’t sign up for this!”). Whatever it was, most of us can identify with letting folks down because we’re “sleepy, dopey, grumpy, or bashful” or “wimpy, lazy, piggy, whiny, spacey, surly, onery, nasty, or unready.”

Subsequently, Paul vetoed Barnabas’s plan to bring the kid along on a second trip (Acts 15:38). So that was that, done and done. But was it? Apparently not, for in Colossians, we find him at Paul’s side, being commended to others (Colossian 4:10). And in Paul’s last letter, written from prison in Rome, he urges, “Get Mark and bring him with you, because he is helpful to me in my ministry” (2 Timothy 4:11). Helpful, indeed, for he’d go on to pen a Gospel and have the Apostle Peter call him “my son.” (1 Peter 5:13).

 So, was Paul wrong to block Mark from the Second Missionary Journey? Where was the forgiveness? And for that matter, is the Bible an unforgiving book for leaving Demas and Diotrephes out in the cold? No, since forgiveness is not obliviousness; it’s a process that can begin with wariness, even as it sheds resentment and rancor (aphiemi) and as it extends grace and pursues reconciliation (charizomai), albeit mindful of civil and ecclesiastical restrictions. Forgiveness is good for the soul that releases gratuitous bitterness, and it’s also good for the Kingdom as evidence of genuine discipleship—in the forgiver and forgiven—comes to light.  

Dr. Mark Coppenger, retired professor of philosophy at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and a former professor at Wheaton has given us an excellent study of how God’s lordship in creation lays the groundwork for aesthetics. Mark is an effective writer and author, an engaging teacher, has served in numerous positions of service among Southern Baptists at the national and state levels and also been pastor of churches. He is the author of a new book entitled If Christianity is So Good, Why are Christians so Bad? Also, he is an author/editor of a book highly pertinent to the topic of this Journal, Apologetical Aesthetics. Since the triune God is Creator and Sustainer and Owner of the earth, it is impossible that every aspect of it not reflect some element of his glory. The existence of everything is dependent on him and his power, intelligence, beauty, purpose, and glory. The study of aesthetics is the investigation of principles underlying our perception of beauty and awe. This could be applied to art, music, poetry, physics, chemistry, or the mere pleasure of standing in awe of natural things. Mark has given a narrative of how aesthetics has its foundation in the realty that “the earth is the Lord’s, and the fullness thereof.” He has shown the confluence of nature and art in how the beauty, symmetry, threatening danger, and power of the one inspires the other. His article itself is an engagement with aesthetics of language.
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