Category Archives: theology

LGBTQ inclusion – my personal journey

Last week a second mega church came out for full LGBTQ inclusion (You can watch a video of the pastor of Eastlake Community Church in Seattle here – it’s a wonderful video totally worth the watch).

Time magazine recently came out with an article titled How Evangelicals are Changing their Minds on Gay Marriage.

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It’s pretty hard to overstate the importance and effect of the great shift that is going on in the Christian world. Of course it has caused massive debates and splits among families, friends, congregations, and even church denominations.

I was taught that gays and lesbians are living in “sin” and should be confronted with this truth. In my church tradition (and many that I was surrounded by) the LGBTQ community were thought of as another issue and reason for the relativism and decline of morality in American society.

I am fully open and affirming and believe that all LGBTQ people should not only be welcomed in our churches, but their marriages should be blessed and they should be allowed into all levels of leadership within church.

How did I get here?

It’s a long journey but I will try to highlight the major points.

First, I was on a personal journey where I began to ask questions and wrestle through many of the assumptions, doctrines, and worldviews that was passed down to me as a child. I came to very different conclusions on a number of issues which I think lead to an openness to question and wrestle through homosexuality.

Second, I met with a gracious friend who challenged many of the assumptions and reasons given to me as to why homosexuality was wrong. While I knew my journey would eventually take me to engage with this, this shoved it into the forefront and I could not longer ignore or postpone it’s importance.

Third, I read through and researched the half of dozen Scriptures that have been used to teach homosexuality is wrong. I realized several things. Jesus never spoke about homosexuality. The few Scriptures (and it’s amazing how few there are) that are translated into English as homosexuality have nothing to do with two adults in a committed relationship of fidelity. There’s a lot I could go into here, but the first century had no context for a committed, adult, same sex relationship. Sure they had a context for male prostitution, adult men raping young boys (pedophilia), and same sex relations outside of committed relationships most often in the form of an act of worship to a god, but they did not, and could not fathom what we currently know as homosexuality in the 21st century.

Fourth, I took time to listen to those on both sides of the debate (and in many areas in the middle). I did this by reading books, articles, blogs, and listening to the very real struggle of those who have endured years of shame, guilt, and oppression by people including the church. I’m lucky and thankful that I live in a time where information is much more available than has ever previously been. I learned that science shows that same sex attraction is not just a choice (I’m sure I did not willfully choose to be attracted to the opposite sex). I also learned, to my own shame and guilt, of how destructive the church has been to so many esp in the form of reparative  therapy (conversion therapy). I heard story after story of those who were taught that same sex attraction was wrong and tried to fix it, pray against it, and go through months of different counseling and therapy sessions which did not change them. If it really was a choice, why would so many willingly go through hell? It just didn’t make sense.

Lastly, I sought forgiveness for the ways I had been a part of shaming and excluding people from the church. I had done this in many ways, but I know there was at least one person in particular that I treated in a very self-righteous manner.

In the end I concluded that I cannot be certain about a whole lot of things, but I am personally under the conviction that God loves and accepts everyone, including people in the LGBTQ community completely as they are and invites us to do the same. I committed that if I err, I would err on the side of love, compassion, and inclusion since these are the main ways I see God and want to reflect this to others. I also witnessed the ways that God and Scripture were used to shame, guilt, oppress and exclude these people from God’s love, and reflected upon the ways I had been a part of this as well. In all of these ways it just seems to be to be so contrary to the way and teaching of Jesus.

I will not exclude people – this includes anyone who is queer. I will be a part of a church that not only blesses same sex marriages, but also allows anyone in the LGBTQ community into leadership and service at the highest levels of the church. Since this journey started, I have met many wonderful people in the LGBTQ community including fellow seminarians, friends, leaders, and pastors who are doing some wonderful work in the world. If this is you…you inspire me!

In the mean time, I think we should be full of grace to those who differ on this.

It is a difficult process to think through and complex in nature, especially if you are like me and were taught homosexuality was wrong all your life. I hope we can lay aside name calling from both sides (e.g. bigot, heretic, anti-christian, homophobic, self-righteous) and allow God’s spirit to work in the lives of our friends. I think we should still push this forward as it is important and causes so much pain and grief, but we should do so with grace and humility and not anger or hatred. If you are on this journey and still not sure what you think, my encouragement to you would be to continue on the journey (it takes time). Explore all angles. Read books, watch interviews, look at science, the Scripture, and the reasoning behind it. Talk to your LGBTQ friends, if you don’t have any, find someone and listen to their story (this above all else, will be the most helpful).

May we have love, grace, and compassion with others as we journey into the future.

What I learned from a Rabbi

As I mentioned in my last post, I spent last week in a class learning from a Jewish Rabbi, a Muslim scholar, and a Christian theologian.

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One aspect that I found most interesting (I was  slightly aware of before) came from the Rabbi.

While Judaism and Christianity have much in common (much of our sacred texts), we have been shaped very differently.

The Rabbi talked in story and narrative as he described Judaism and I realized I am really drawn to this way of teaching (I was reminded that Jesus was a first century Jew and spoke mostly in parables). Afterwards I spoke briefly with him about why Judaism takes such a different approach than Christianity and he talked mostly of the different ways the Hebrew tradition, language, and culture engaged the world and the way Greek tradition, language and culture engaged the world.

I increasingly see how Christianity (most of it at least) has been largely shaped by a Greek, rationalistic and either/or way of thinking. While I’m sure this can be played out in many ways, what most intrigues me is the way it plays out in reading and interpreting our sacred texts.

The Rabbi spoke about the midrash way of reading the Hebrew Bible. In a recent meditation, Richarh Rohr wrote:

“The best Jewish approach to scripture study was called midrash; they struggled with the text, unraveled it, looked at its various possible meanings, and offered a number of interpretations that often balanced and complemented one another. There was never just one meaning, or one certain meaning that eliminated all others.”

I find this so refreshing and insightful!

Much of Christianity has been shaped by Greek thinking and we have approached our sacred texts in such a way as to uncover the “one and only truth” behind it. So we argue and debate, but not in the same way as the Jewish tradition does. While midrash  is flexible and invites exploration and questions that is open to different ways of interpreting the text, much of the Christian tradition is closed, rigid, and invites only certainty, uniformity, and one way of interpretation.

I have bumped up against very conservative/fundamentalist Christians from time to time who do not seem to be able to understand that Scripture must be interpreted. For some, their motto seems to be, “the Bible says it, I believe it, that settles it” (I was actually in a church service where the pastor made this exact quote…wow!).  Some are not aware of their personal lenses and since they cannot separate their lenses from the text it leaves little room for disagreement or different views.

I think there is much we can learn from our Jewish friends as we learn to wrestle with our own sacred texts. I hope and pray that we can find the grace and insight to disagree without labeling others as “heretics” or “outside the faith”. As I have engaged people of different views, both within and outside of my tradition, it has shed light on different ways of seeing that I never would have thought about before. This has been hugely beneficial and I think Judaism has much to teach Christianity concerning this.

Inter-religious dialogue

What do you get when a Muslim scholar, a Jewish Rabbi, and a Christian theologian enter a classroom together?

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I week long of great dialogue, learning, and at some points tension.

I just got back from a week long intensive with more than 50 students from various backgrounds including Christian, Buddhist, Hindu, Muslim, and other. Personally, this was such a great experience and a total privilege to be able to learn from the other students and the professor’s who were all wonderful!

I decided to write a reflection. This is not at all meant to be an exhaustive list of what, why and how to do inter-religious dialogue as there are already so many great resources out there, but is meant to highlight the most important take-a-ways for me personally.

Why

It almost goes without saying, but we must first ask why. Why is inter-religious dialogue important and why are we doing it?

There can be multiple answers to this question, but I realized that the aim of inter-religious dialogue is to better understand others.

There are so many false assumptions (e.g. Muslims are violent, all Buddhist are peaceful) that are torn down and stripped away as one listens to others exactly what and why they hold their beliefs – let’s face it, though we live in a very pluralistic culture most of us are still fairly ignorant of most other beliefs…myself included.

It is my personal conviction that violence would be greatly diminished if we better understood others. The fact that there are people from various religions (Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Hindu, Buddhist, other) all working for peace, human flourishing and dignity, and environmental issues has been so encouraging for me!

Not about conversion

Proselytizing has absolutely no place in inter-religious dialogue. If one party is there to try to convert the other, this will make inter-religious dialogue impossible because we will debate instead of dialogue.

  • Debate – where one tries to win an argument or convince the other(s) they are wrong – often emotional and heated.
  • Dialogue – where one tries to better understand the other, their beliefs and why they hold them. They listen and ask questions without the need to say they are wrong.

Be true to who you are

While inter-religious dialogue cannot happen when one is there to “convert” the other, it is also not productive when the goal is consensus. This was one area that I really grew in. The goal is not to unpack all the areas we agree on alone.

If you think about it this makes sense. If you’re comparing two or more books, yet only compare all the areas they are similar, no one will really see how they are different and unique. In order to better understand others, we must be able to see the areas we disagree or where we see things differently – this is essential and we should not shy away from it. We can still get along and learn from others without agreeing on everything as long as their is mutual respect.

 We all have our own lenses

Even when in dialogue, we must realize that we have certain lenses which we see the world through. Some of us have very negative experiences of other religions. Some of us have only positive experiences. Some of us have no experience of other religions or have only read about other religions.

We should be upfront in admitting our own biases and lenses the best we are able (I’m certain we do not see them all) and be open to having those lenses shaped or formed differently.

There is diversity within each religion

The more I have interacted with people of other faiths, the more this has become apparent – it’s true within my religion as well.

Just because one Muslim states their beliefs does not mean that all Muslims think that way. Now, there are some places of crossover, but we must be slow to assume just because we talked to a few Muslims we understand the Islamic tradition in its entirety.

One of my professor’s shared that it’s not enough to know which religions are at the table (i.e. Christians, Jews, Muslims etc), but to know which Christians, which Muslims, and which Jews – there is wide diversity within each…I think this was another major growth for me.

No one person can speak for an entire religion, the best we can do is to speak about our own religious tradition through the lenses we have.

We become better followers of our own religious tradition

As we better understand others, we better understand ourselves. Also, I have often found places of blindness, false assumptions, or areas where a completely different perspective has enhanced my faith journey – if we just talk to those who agree with us we greatly limit ourselves.

Every time we engage in inter-religious dialogue, in formal or informal ways, we gain experience and wisdom. This is both true of dialogue with other religions, but even of those who see differently within one’s own tradition.

Inter-religious dialogue enhances intra-religious dialogue.

By talking with people of other faiths who believe differently than I and who see things from a different perspective, it has helped me talk with people within my own tradition – Christianity.

The majority of my dialogue is within Christianity – I think it’s unfortunate that we polarize so many issues all while trying to kick the other out (I recently had someone tell me I was not a Christian because I did not believe all the things they did in the way they did…they wanted to debate and not dialogue and it also shows how easy it is to become insulated within a small religious sub culture).

I was raised believing a small stream within the Christian river was Christianity – the older I get the more I see that there is vast differences (historical and present) within my own tradition.

These differences include: evolution, whether the Bible is perfect, whether someday God will suck a small select few of people away from the earth, who is saved and what that even means, what heaven and hell actually are, is there truth in other religions and if so to what extent – the list could go on and on.

My interaction with other traditions is still very limited and I am still very ignorant about a great many things, but the more I talk with others, the more open and full of grace I become. It also makes it easier to work with others for what really matters – the healing and peace of the world!

I end with a quote from Richar Rohr,

“The ecumenical character and future of religion is becoming rather obvious. Either religion moves beyond its tribal past or it has no chance of ‘saving the world’!”

 

 

The Bible Tells Me So – what is the Bible and how do we read it?

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Confession – I am a huge Peter Enns fanatic! I love his blog, his books, and the bioLogos website were he often writes puts out some fantastic stuff on science and faith!

His book The Evolution of Adam came out in 2012 and gave me a relief from an internal inconsistency, namely, how to read the Adam & Eve story in light of evolution.

Most recently he has come out with a new book titled The Bible Tells Me So…Why Defending Scripture Has Made Us Unable To Read It. While I am suppose to be researching and writing an exegetical paper for my Hebrew Bible seminary class, I am distracted as I started to read this book (story of my life!).

When it comes to understanding the Old Testament, there are few scholars who make it more easily accessible than Enns. If you have struggled with science and faith as I have, he is an invaluable resource!

So I was raised in a tradition where the Bible was taken literally – meaning there was an actual garden with a literal Adam and Eve and a talking snake who was actually Satan (an evil fallen angel). Now, I want to be careful because there are many people I know that believe this and I want to be clear it is not my intention to  debate in a way that tries to change their minds (experience tells me this is ineffective and actually harmful to some). My intent is to reflect on this book while I intertwine my personal journey…who knows it may help someone who is going through something similar.

If you have struggled with an understanding that the Bible is to be taken literally, the Bible is inerrant, or everything in the Bible is historical fact, than this is a great book for you.

If you become angry and feel the need to argue the Bible should be taken literally, than you should probably not continue reading because this does not apply to you.

Here’s the intro to his new book.

“The human qualities of the raw materials show through. Naivety, error, contradiction, even (as in the cursing Psalms) wickedness are not removed.” – C.S. Lewis

To start off Enns makes it clear that he values the Bible and that the Bible is, “the main way for Christians today to learn about God…”.[1] It’s interesting to me that many people who do not read the Bible literally are often accused of not taking it seriously (myself included) and yet this is the dominant way the Bible has been read throughout history. It just seems foolish to argue that because someone does not read the Bible literally they do not take the Bible seriously. In fact, I would argue just the opposite is true.

Enns writes, “Many Christians have been taught that the Bible is Truth downloaded from heaven, God’s rulebook, a heavenly instructional manual…deviate from the script and God will come crashing down on you with full force”.[2] This is precisely the way I was taught to read the Bible (Bible – Basic Instructions Before Leaving Earth), but while working my way through undergrad at an Evangelical Liberal Arts College this began to make less and less sense to me. It’s not that I was convinced of something else, it was actually that I became less and less convinced the more I heard the arguments for this view – I found them lacking (I wish I had something else, but that took time).

This may sound all well and great, but let me tell you it was like having the ground ripped out from under you…I didn’t have anything to replace it with and was forced into a free-fall (I know I am not alone in this experience and unfortunately some people never recover).

Enns continues, “this view of the Bible does not come from the Bible but from an anxiety over protecting the Bible and so regulating the faith of those who read it”. [3] In other words, the Bible does not claim to be a rulebook, blueprint, scientific or historical textbook and to think otherwise is to prop the Bible up so high it will fall – therein lies my greatest concern with this view.

Many well meaning people believe the Bible to be without error because it was written by God. The problem with this view is that there are differing perspectives, dialogues and debates within, and it becomes clear that it was written through the eyes of an ancient way of understanding the world (e.g. three tier universe, warrior deity, when science couldn’t explain something people were considered demon possessed). Most modern critical scholars easily admits this.

Here’s the problem if

A – the Bible is presented as perfect because God wrote it

B – since the Bible has inconsistencies, contradictions, and ancient ways of seeing the world then

C – God becomes untrustworthy, barbaric, archaic, irrelevant and outdated (I think many have arrived at this very conclusion)

(A+B=C)

Judgment Of God

Enns talks about the first two books of the Bible (Genesis and Exodus) and writes, “If we read these sorts of episodes outside of the Bible, from another ancient culture, we wouldn’t blink an eye. We’d know right away we were dealing with the kinds of stories people wrote long ago and far away, not things that happened, and certainly nothing to invest too much of ourselves in”.[4] Several years ago, while a Biblical Studies major, this became ever so clear to me.

But, what does that leave us with?

“Other parts of the Bible are shocking to read, even barbaric…God either orders a lot of killing or does it himself” (I only use the exclusive masculine pronoun here because it is a quote). “If we read this anywhere else, we would call it genocide”.[5]

– more on this topic later but I cannot begin to explain how this sent me on a tailspin that took a couple years to recover from. This struggle was one of the darkest times of my life…but that’s for another time.

Enns ends (try saying that three times fast) with a statement and two challenging questions, “The God of the universe often comes across like a tribal warlord”.[6] Yes, interesting how God comes across like other violent deities in the ancient Near Eastern world, almost like they were influenced by other cultures. Has this bothered anyone else?

So I leave you with the two questions Enns left at the end of the first chapter and these are basically the two questions that haunted me for months while I struggled to find answers.

  • “What are we supposed to do with a Bible like this?”
  • “What are we supposed to do with a God like this?”

 

 

[1] Peter Enns, The Bible Tells Me So (New York: HarperCollins, 2014), 3.

[2] Ibid, 3.

[3] Ibid, 4.

[4] Ibid, 4.

[5] Ibid, 6.

[6] Ibid, 6.

How do we handle historical inaccuracies within the Bible?

The majority of modern critical scholarship openly admits the historical inaccuracies and inconsistencies within the Bible.

In my Hebrew Bible class (which I absolutely love!) we are given a question we are to respond to in an essay form. Several weeks ago we were asked this question and below is my response.

– I plan to do an addendum in the future which deals more specifically with the question of how/if God commands genocide. (That addendum can be found here)

Note – in respect to my Professor who is a Jewish Scholar, I do not spell out the Hebrew name for God  – Yahweh (YHWH).

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Today’s question is “given the differences between the biblical books of Joshua and Judges and historical account of that period,  how then do we read Joshua or Judges as sacred scripture?”

This week we read through Joshua and Judges which tell of Israel’s conquest of the land of Canaan under Joshua and Israel’s time in the land until Samuel.[1] Even from the outset, it is clear that the Joshua narrative begins with the Israelite belief that YHWH has given the land of Canaan to the Israelites.[2] As the Israelites cross the Jordan, YHWH miraculously provides a dry path for them to walk across[3] and YHWH divinely intervenes by bringing down the powerful walls of Jericho[4]. Next, Israel defeats the city of Ai[5] and then turns toward the Gibeanites who trick the Israelites into a peace treaty[6], and finally bring the city of Hazor to complete ruin[7]. Repeatedly, the Joshua narrative describes these conquests as a divine mandate in which the Israelites completely annihilate everyone[8]. Joshua 11 best summarizes this conquest by stating:

“There was not a town that made peace with the Israelites, except the Hivites, the inhabitants of Gibeon; all were taken in battle. For it was the Lord’s doing to harden their hearts so that they would come against Israel in battle, in order that they might be utterly destroyed, and might receive no mercy, but be exterminated, just as the Lord had commanded Moses.”[9]

What is most interesting about the Canaanite conquest in the Joshua narrative is that the following narrative found in Judges opens by stating, “After the death of Joshua, the Israelites inquired of the Lord, ‘Who shall go up first for us against the Canaanites, to fight against them?’”[10]

Clearly the Canaanites were not completely wiped out as the Joshua narrative suggests.

Not only are there biblical inconsistencies but there are also historical inaccuracies. First, it is now well known that the Israelite nation grew out of the Canaanite population and were greatly influenced by this culture.[11]

Second, the archeological evidence shows that Jericho, Ai, and Gibeon were all uninhabited during the time the Israelites entered into the land of Canaan around 1200 BCE.[12]

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Concerning this one scholar wrote, “…the observation that the historical portrayal of the complete conquest of the land of Israel and the destruction of the Canaanite population is simply not true”.[13]

Should we throw out this narrative since archeological evidence, as well as biblical inconsistences, show it is historically inaccurate?

If we were to throw this out, as some may suggest, I think we would be falsely assuming that truth can only be found when it is conveyed with perfect historical accuracy. I’m not sure the author of Joshua was all that concerned with perfect historical recollection. One historian writes, “The theological messages that the biblical writers sought to convey are so thoroughly intermeshed with their perceptions of history that it is difficult to separate one from the other”.[14] When it comes to the Joshua narrative in particular, and any part of the Hebrew Bible in general, when the narrative does not align with historical and archeological evidence, we should ask what the main theological message of the narrative was – this is key.

One easy way to help uncover what the theological message concerning the specific narrative in question is to find out when and why this narrative was written. Concerning historical narratives Dr. Sweeney writes, “History was not written simply to provide an account of the past; it is written so that both its writers and readers can reflect on and learn from the past in order to build a better future”.[15]

It seems the Joshua narrative was not written primarily to give a perfect historical account of Canaanite conquest, but was written to answer the question, “why are we, as the nation of Israel and the people of YHWH, in exile?”

Much of the Joshua and Judges narratives were written to show YHWH’s fidelity throughout Israel’s history. The people who were living in exile were certainly wrestling with the question of why – something we consistently wrestle with when we endure hardship today. By reflecting upon their history as shown in the Joshua and Judges narratives, Israel was reminded that YHWH was always faithful and that the nation of Israel prospered when they were faithful to YHWH, but were faced with difficult circumstances when they were unfaithful to YHWH.

How then should we as modern readers understand the Joshua and Judges narratives?

We should read these narratives in light of the theological message which include the questions of why and when they were written. If we get hung up on the historic and archeological inconsistencies (or on arguing against archeology and science) it only encourages us to miss the main message which is still applicable today.

The message suggests that if we face difficult situations it is not because of YHWH’s infidelity. YHWH is always faithful.

 

 

[1] Marvin A. Sweeney, Tanak: A Theological and Critical Introduction to the Jewish Bible (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2012), 179, 193.

[2] Joshua 1:11, 2:9, 2:14 etc.

[3] Joshua 3 & 4.

[4] Joshua 6.

[5] Joshua 7 & 8.

[6] Joshua 9 & 10.

[7] Joshua 11:11-14.

[8] For Jericho see Joshua 6:21; for Ai see Joshua 8:22-24; for Libnah and Lachish see Joshua 10:32, 35, 37, 40; for Hazor see Joshua 11:11-14.

[9] Joshua 11:19-20 NRSV.

[10] Judges 1:1 NRSV.

[11] Marvin A. Sweeney, Tanak: A Theological and Critical Introduction to the Jewish Bible (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2012), 182.

[12] Ibid, 183.

[13] Ibid, 182.

[14] Steven L. McKenzie & Stephen R. Haynes, To Each Its Own Meaning (Louisville: Westminister John Knox Press, 1999), 21.

[15] Marvin A. Sweeney, Tanak: A Theological and Critical Introduction to the Jewish Bible (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2012), 172.

The Good News – part 3

So what is the good news ?

I believe that the good news is an announcement of who you already are; a beloved child of God.

It has everything to do with the last three words Jesus uttered on the cross.

It is finished.

It’s really easy to begin to sense if the good news is what you have to do, say, confess, believe or if it is something that has already been given (grace is always a gift) and you simply receive – it is finished, it has been taken care of. In 1 John 3 it says, “Dear friends, now we are God’s children…” As Richard Rohr puts it, “You are already a child of God, equipped with everything you need to begin resonating with the divine”.[1]

I believe this is true of every person, even those who would never darken the doors of a church and who may not consider themselves a Christian. I think this is true of all people, of all ethnicities, of all religions, of all genders, of all sexual orientations. One doesn’t need to find the right religion, church, or belief system in order for this to be true.

Now, my upbringing would push back at this as say that it makes the death of Jesus pointless and cheap. As a Christian I still see the point, value, and cost of the cross. Some say that Jesus died for my sins, I wonder if it is not more accurate to say that Jesus died because of my sins.

It is clear that the first Christians used language and imagery that made sense – sacrifice, ransom, payment, debt etc because that is how they understood the world to be. I don’t see a God who demands payment for sins while being born into a broken world. I do not see a cigar chopping loan shark who demands a pound of flesh in order to offer forgiveness. I do not see a God who inflicts pain and ultimately kills God’s Son – God’s one and only Son on top of it.

What do I see?

I see a God who is willing to endure hell instead of sending me there. I see a nonviolent, self-sacrificing, unconditionally loving God who was not pounding the nails into the hands of Jesus, but who was hanging on that cross some two thousand years ago because that is who God is – surely the cost was great! God endured hell for us and now we better understand who God is.

Now I heard a friend quote a sentence that I believe originated from Richard Rohr, and it has changed my life since.

Jesus did not come to change the mind of God about humanity, he came to change the mind of humanity about God.

The last sentence deserves a second read.

One thing I find so compelling about the Christian tradition is this idea of incarnation – that the divine and human can be found in one place. What is so beautiful about Jesus is that Jesus reflects the image of God…at least that’s what the Christian tradition teaches. So in a world where religion had often become about status, prestige, and control, a Jewish rabbi came along and created a revolution that changed the whole thing. Now people no longer had to enter into that system, no one needed to offer a sacrifice in order to think they were right with God, no one needed to go through a gruesome ritual where they sliced a piece of their foreskin off, no one needed to be bound up in all the laws which benefited the wealthy at the expense of the poor, but instead offered freedom by throwing away any distinctions imposed.

Now there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave or free, male or female, (neither heterosexual nor homosexual, neither American nor Iraqi, neither white nor black, neither rich nor poor) for you are all one in Christ Jesus. The distinctions we as humans make are not distinctions God makes. God sees all of humanity as loved, cherished, and accepted exactly as we are and we do not need to change a thing for God to love us – while we were still sinners…

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So where is the hard part? Where is the challenge and the struggle?

The invitation is simple yet so very difficult.

We are invited to receive this gift that we are loved and that there are no distinctions made. Grace is freely given to all (therein lies the offense of the cross ). The challenge then is the invitation that follows –  to enter into this way of being and seeing in the world. We are invited to see that all our loved. We are invited to see that any distinctions we make do not make anyone less loved or accepted. We are invited to look past the outer appearances into a deeper Reality and to be as Jesus – self sacrificial, unconditionally loving, full of grace, mercy, justice, nonviolence, forgiveness, and compassion toward all.

So the good news is really good news for all, but it invites us to see with new eyes and to enter into a new way of being.

If you’re like me, this is an extremely difficult task which is why I have found it necessary to rely on Something greater than myself, namely God.

 

 

[1] Richard Rohr, The Naked Now: Learning to See as the Mystics See (New York: The Crossroad Publishing Company, 2013), 104.

Part 2. Is this good news?

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Last week I posted what I was taught the good news was growing up. I summarized by saying:

I believed that everyone has sinned and thus was separated from God, yet God sent God’s one and only Son, Jesus, to die on the cross for my sin so that when I die I can go to heaven instead of being tortured for all eternity. (more about hell in a future post)

Before I begin to talk about what I believe the good news really is, let me share the process I went through as I deconstructed this.

First, this belief has a theological name – penal substitution atonement.

Now I could get all theological, but that’s not my intent. Basically this understand of the good news (more specifically atonement) was not the dominant understand for the first 1,000 years of Christianity!

The dominant view for most church fathers was what has been called the Christus Victor or ransom theory (these may have several nuances between them). This understanding is that through the death and resurrection of Jesus, Christ was victorious over death.

This dominant view began to shift to the ransom theory and later the penal substitutionary theory. (For a list of the different theories click here. If your interested in exploring more of the nuances, especially a more recent understanding using mimetic theory click here.)

Here’s what I’m getting at. I realized that my belief of the gospel had a name, and it was not the dominant view for over 1,000 years of the church. Also I began to realize that there are multiple different ways to interpret the death of Jesus. This opened up a whole new world for me as I began to explore the different theories and understandings of why Jesus came and what His death means.

As a theology student, I quickly realized that one can prove just about anything using the Bible (e.g. slavery, domination, genocide,). I also began to slowly see (and this took a little time) that it isn’t what the Bible says, but about how one interprets the Bible. I personally call these the lenses people use  (more on this in a future post but this is huge!).

Now in the Bible you can find different metaphors that speak about the work of Jesus on the cross. You can find metaphors of sacrifice, ransom, reconciling all things, freeing guilty sinners, a victorious battle, and redemption of something lost. So which one is correct?

“For these first Christians, something massive and universe-changing had happened through the cross, and they set out to communicate the significance and power of it to their audiences in language their audiences would understand. And so they looked at the world around them, identifying examples, pictures, experiences, and metaphors that their listeners and readers would have already been familiar with…”[1]

This makes sense doesn’t it? If you live in a time where the religious sacrificial system is central and you are involved in the process, then an announcement that Jesus was the final sacrifice and you don’t need any more sacrifices is revolutionary and freeing!

If you think that because of sin you are separated from God and a price must be paid in order to set you free, than to say Jesus has paid that price is revolutionary and freeing!

If you think in terms of a cosmic battle between a good divine being (God) and an evil being (Satan) and someone declares that battle is over and good has overcome evil it would be good news!

So the first followers of Jesus were taking images, metaphors, and pictures that were very real and relevant to the people in their day to say that something amazing has happened through Jesus?

Yes!

So the question isn’t which one is right and which one is wrong, but a better question is to ask what images, metaphors, and pictures are real and relevant to people today?

Next post I will share briefly what I think the good news is, but to give you a little taste it has everything to do with the last three words uttered by Jesus on the cross.

 

 

 

[1] Rob Bell, Love Wins (New York: Harper One, 2011), 128.

 

Is this good news?

I grew up in a tradition where I was taught and believed that the good news (we called it the gospel) was that everyone has sinned and thus was separated from God, yet God sent God’s one and only Son, Jesus, to die on the cross for my sin so that when I die I can go to heaven instead of being tortured for all eternity.

Now this is problematic on many levels, but to put it simply it’s not really good news for the following reasons:

1 – It begins with sin management

First, the story of the Bible begins in Genesis 1 where God creates and calls everything good. Where is the action? Here! Notice there is nothing about heaven, an afterlife, and most especially going somewhere else…the action is all here, on earth.

Second, sin (ie anything that is destructive) does not come into the story until Genesis 3.[1] If you start in Genesis 3 it becomes about sin management. Like every story one should begin in the beginning.

2 – It is primarily concerned about the afterlife

Notice the good news (gospel) I was taught is primarily concerned about escaping this world and going somewhere else – this has most definitely led to all kinds of destructive behaviors most recognizably the lack of environmentalism among many Christians. Thankfully the importance of earth care is gaining traction in theology and in faith communities around the world.

Back to the afterlife. As mentioned above the story begins here, on earth, with no mention of anything out there somewhere else.

Where does the story end?

In the book of Revelation (one of the most difficult to interpret and probably the most misinterpreted book of the Bible) we get this beautiful picture of a holy city, Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven as a picture of heaven coming to earth.[2]

In what has traditionally been called The Lords Prayer Jesus taught his followers to ask that God’s kingdom and will be done here as it is in heaven.

See a pattern?

The movement of the story is always about heaven coming down here and not us going up there.

3 – It paints a horrific picture of God!

This is one of my biggest struggles and concerns with the way I was taught the good news. This good news paints a picture of God who cannot stand to be around us (God’s good creation?) and needs  blood  in order to forgive. Now the imagery of sacrifice is sprinkled all throughout the Scriptures, but it seems to be the need of the people and not God (more on this topic later).

Now to the main point

God needs to send God’s one and only Son who must be tortured and killed in order for God to forgive? Many have already pointed out the multiple ways this understanding can be destructive, but it does raise many difficult questions and points to a divine child abuser who treats His/Her son in a way no sane parent would deem humane.

I am currently finishing a very good book by Richard Rohr titled The Naked Now where he raises two important points about this topic

  1. “The individual Christian is told to love unconditionally, but the God who commands this is depicted as having a very conditional and quite exclusive love himself or herself! The believer is told to love his enemies, but ‘God’ clearly does not; in fact, God punishes them for all eternity.”[3]
  2. “Even my less-than-saintly friends, the ordinary Joe’s on the block, would usually give a guy a break, overlook some mistakes, and even on their worst days would not imagine torturing people who do not like them, worship them, or believe in them. ‘God’ ends up looking rather petty, needy, narcissistic, and easily offended”.[4]

So what then is the good news?

 

[1] For a great teaching on this subject click here

[2] Revelations 21.

[3] Richard Rohr, The Naked Now: Learning to See as the Mystics See (New York: The Crossroad Publishing Company, 2013), 80.

[4] Ibid, 81.