Beyond The Pale

Thoughts on Kingdom, Grace, Culture, and Church

Beyond The Pale - Thoughts on Kingdom, Grace, Culture, and Church

5 Reasons Jesus Was Rejected…And Why We Would Reject Him Again


I think as Christians we often look back at the rejection of Jesus by the religious rulers and people of the time and shake our heads in disbelief.  How could they have done that?  Were they crazy? They had the Son of God right there in front of them and they not only rejected him, they had him killed.

But if he had come today, with our present “Christian system” would we be any different? Would we embrace him…or cast him out?

Sure, if he showed up, we would be all excited at first; but once Jesus began to speak, disrupting our very notions of God, tradition, culture, and morality, I rather suspect we would reject him in much the same way as our brothers and sisters did 2000 years ago.

So here are 5 reasons Jesus was rejected…and would probably be rejected again!

1) Jesus didn’t always side with the Bible

Jesus valued the scriptures, quoted them often, and even began his ministry by publicly reading from the Book of Isaiah…


he was not a Bible literalist.

Jesus would often would give an interpretation quite at odds with the religious understanding of the day, and that didn’t go over so well.  Whether it was on issues of the Sabbath, ceremonial cleansing, sacrifice, or morality Jesus would often say, “The Bible says this but I am telling you that…

Jesus arriving today would find the “way” we often use the Bible at odds with his Way.  As he did 2000 years ago he would teach us his “Way” to correct our “way” and many would, in turn, reject the Living Word for the written word.

2)  Jesus embraced the “outcast”

Jesus was constantly raising eyebrows by the company he tended to keep. The poor, the disenfranchised, the ones who were not benefitting from “the system” were the ones Christ was proclaiming that the Kingdom of God was made for. The religious establishment were aggravated with his constant siding with the people they themselves wanted to have nothing to do with.


Systems, whether religious, economic, or cultural, sustain themselves by having a clear delineation line between “us” and “them”.  Jesus was regularly going to “them” (Gentiles, Samaritans, and  ”law” breakers) and saying they were now part of “us”.

And are we any different in the modern church?  What if Jesus had encounters today that mirrored the encounters that infuriated religious folk 2000 years ago

How would we feel about Jesus:

* having dinner with politicians (right wing or left wing) that we despise? (Luke 19)

* happily receiving a homemade cake from a gay baker (Luke 7:36-40)

* seeking out and affirming a man who had been kicked out of a church (John 9: 34-37)

Although we like to assume we would react differently, I rather think we would largely remain judgemental and convinced Jesus was hanging out with the “wrong” sort.

3) Jesus wasn’t what they were hoping for

Everyone is a little guilty of creating God in their own image.  We want him to behave in a certain way; affirming what we affirm and rejecting what we reject.

We all do it to greater or lesser degrees and I stand guilty of it as well.

The people of Israel in Christ’s time were no different.  They wanted the promised Messiah…but they wanted him on their terms.  In their minds the Messiah was going to champion the Jewish religion, crush Israel’s enemies, and usher in a lasting rule under Jewish nationalism.

But Jesus, it turned out, was not a good fit for that job description.  He instead came championing the Kingdom of Heaven, embracing Israel’s enemies, and promising a lasting rule under Himself and his “Way”.

That didn’t go over so well…

If Christ were to come today we would welcome him with open arms…

…but once he began affirming his “Way” rather than ours I rather suspect we would give him the “left foot of fellowship” just like he received so many years ago.

4) Instead of answering plainly, Jesus told stories.

Jesus was asked a lot of questions…and he gave a lot of cryptic answers. Sometimes it was just because it was a “bad” question.  Sometimes it was the malicious intent of the inquisitor, but often it was simply because the Kingdom of God is best explained as a story.


People love stories. Difficult concepts can be better understood with a well told story. So Jesus told stories.

In fact, Jesus avoided getting bogged down in religious arguments and clarifying faith statements by answering theological questions with, “A man had two sons, and he said to the first son…”

This really irritated the religious folk who wanted to know where he stood on certain moral and faith based issues.  Presently there is a lot of argument going on within the church on the acceptance of “gay” Christians and whether a person can be “gay” and “Christian”.  People on both sides of this issue are certain how Jesus would respond.  But if Christ was around today and we asked him to weigh in on this controversial topic asking him to plainly say yes or no I think he would say something like,

“Ok, a business owner had two sons, and he said to the first son…” 

And many of us wouldn’t be any more happy today with that response than the folk were 2000 years ago.

5) Jesus was a threat to the temple system

By the time Jesus arrived, the religious system was running like clockwork. There were priests, offerings, worship, and sacrifices and many people had a vested interest and identity rooted in that system.

Then Jesus showed up.

* He disrupted and denounced the  commercial elements (Matthew 12:12-13),

* He proclaimed himself to be the temple God would utilize to connect with humankind (John 2:19)

* He abolished the priesthood being the gatekeepers to God by effectively making everyone a priest (1 Peter 2:9) 

Today’s church system bears a striking resemblance to the temple system of old.  We have temples (church buildings), priests (pastors), a temple tax (tithes), and regular sacrifices (time, money etc.)

Not that all these things are “bad” in and of themselves.  I participate in many aspects of this “system” myself.  But if Jesus came today, I ask myself often,  “how much of this “system” would he disrupt and how many of our vested interests would he overturn?”  We’re kidding ourselves if we think he would just remain quiet and endorse our “temple”.

And when he called into question the things we had been taught were essential to our faith would we embrace him…or reject him?

Now thats a good question?  And the answer is, “The owner of car dealership had two sons, and he said to the first son…”



Monster God or Monster Man? Michael Brown & Brian Zahnd Debate The Cross


If you grew up in a Western style evangelical or charismatic church circles you probably view how Christ took away our sins on the cross in a certain way. That God required a payment, a sacrifice, for our sins against him.  We were not worthy to pay that debt so Christ, in his love for us, goes to the cross and experiences shame, torture, and ultimately death on our behalf.  He does this to cover and remove our sin so that when the Father sees us, he really sees his Son Jesus and his wrath is no longer on us.

This “theory” of atonement (how Jesus removed our sins) is called Penal Substitutionary Atonement.  There was a legal punishment that was meant for us and Jesus “substituted” himself on our behalf allowing us to go free.

For me this kinda made sense since it was pretty much the only story we had. And generally the narrative is told with a focus on the incredible love Christ had for us and little emphasis was paid to the requirement of the Father.

But is it really “Good News”?  What does it reveal about the nature of God? Does God really require violence to satiate his wrath?

Recently Pastor Brian Zahnd debated theologian Michael Brown on this very issue.  The debate was entitled “Monster God or Monster Man” and explores whether the Penal Substitutionary Atonement (PSA) theory many of us came to Christ through in fact gives us a distorted picture of God.  Michael Brown to his credit gives a strong argument defending PSA and although I disagree with him the discussion is a wonderful example of two brothers wrestling over a very sensitive issue with respect for one another.

In Memoriam: Leonard Nimoy 1931-2015


A couple days ago a friend posted a news article saying actor Leonard Nimoy had been admitted to the hospital for chest pains.  I remember thinking, “At 83, he won’t be with us too much longer.”

Sure enough last night I got the news Nimoy had passed away due to heart complications when the first R.I.P. post appeared on Facebook.  Suddenly a flood of tribute posts began appearing on my news feed.  I must say since 2007 when I first joined Facebook I have never seen so many tributes for a celebrity who had died than for Leonard Nimoy.

And here is the kicker…

The tributes and accolades were coming from all sides of the political and religious spectrum. Right-wing, Left-wing, Republican, Democrat, Christian, Jewish, and Atheist; in regular life these passionate voices may differ on whether President Obama is Savior or Satan, but upon hearing of Nimoy’s death they all paused for moment, laid down their swords and paid honor to a man who had been so much part of their life.

For me, I can’t remember a time of my life that Leonard Nimoy and Mr. Spock were not part of.  Star Trek was what we watched as a family growing up.  Leonard Nimoy’s Mr. Spock was always with me and taught a boyhood Steve Hackman:

* an understanding of friendship and the responsibilities involved when someone calls you “friend”

* a love of science! Spock showed us the wonder of exploring the universe; not with a gun, but with a tricorder! 

* the confidence that we didn’t have to be afraid of the dark.  Sure, there was probably an acid spewing Horta there; but it really just wanted to be our friend.

* the understanding that an attitude of “non-violence” could be cool

* the desire to see others “Live Long and Prosper”

nimoy 3

Leonard Nimoy was a Renaissance man in real life and was known for, among other talents, his poetry. The last words he wrote were on the love he has learned and his desire to share it:

You and I have Learned

You and I have learned

The song of love

and we sing it well

The song is ageless

Passed on

Heart to heart

By those

Who have Seen

What We See

And Known

What we know

And lovers who have

Sung before

Our love is ours

To have


To share

The miracle is this

The more we share…

The more

We have

Thank you Leonard Nimoy.  Enter your rest and I’ll see you when we wake!



Top Eleven Doctor Who Quotes That Sound Like Something Jesus Would Say!

Doctor who1

Beyond the Pale readers should be made aware of the fact that that I am in BIG Doctor Who fan.  You know, the T.V. show about a 900 year old alien who travels through space and time in a phone box with a “sonic” screwdriver and friends.

Yep, that show

In fact it’s been fun for Gabriel (my son) and I to watch my wife Tammy’s transition from ambivalence bordering on contempt to full blown fan of The Doctor as well.  The transition occurred over 5 stages that went something like this:

Stage 1: “No way are we watching Doctor Who tonight!”

Stage 2: “If you guys want to watch Doctor Who, I can do something else.”

Stage 3: “I suppose if there is nothing else on, we can watch Doctor Who.”

Stage 4: “Hey, what if we watch Doctor Who tonight.”

Stage 5: “I LOVE Doctor Who!  Don’t you dare watch any episodes while I’m gone!”

Yep, she has been assimilated! :)

doctor who2

There are a lot of things I like about the Doctor Who.  The stories, the characters, the witty dialogue and fantastic locations.  But what I really enjoy is the “Christ” like arch type The Doctor represents.  I’m always drawn to “Christ” figures in stories. (Superman, Aslan etc.)

So, in honor of the upcoming regeneration (resurrection?) of The Doctor I thought I would list my Top Eleven Doctor Who quotes that Sound Like Something Jesus Would Say!

Drum roll please…

11. The Doctor: You betrayed me.  You betrayed my trust, you betrayed our friendship, you betrayed everything I ever stood for. (Angry) You let me down!

Clara: Then why are you helping me?

The Doctor: (In disbelief) Why?  (Walks toward Clara) Do you think I care for you so little that betraying me would make a difference?


10.  “Big flashy things have my name written all over them. Well… not yet, give me time and a crayon.” The Doctor


9.  Jackson Lake: Please Doctor…Help Me?

The Doctor: Ah, two words I never refuse.


8. “Rose…before I go, I just want to tell you: you were fantastic.  Absolutely fantastic.  And do you know what? (pause)  So was I!” The 9th Doctor’s final words before regenerating into the 10th Doctor


7. “My experience is that there is, surprisingly, always hope!” – The Doctor


6. “Good men don’t need rules.” – The Doctor


5. “Picture the biggest ship you’ve ever seen.  Are you picturing it? (yes) Good, now forget it because this ship is infinite.” – The Doctor explaining the dimensions of his ship the T.A.R.D.I.S


4. The Doctor: Didn’t anyone ever tell you? There’s one thing you never put in a trap if you’re smart. If you value your continued existence, if you have any plans about seeing tomorrow, there’s one thing you never, ever put in a trap.

Angel Bob: And what would that be, sir?

The Doctor: Me.  – (I always thought this is something Jesus could have said on the cross)


3. “People assume that time is a strict progression of cause to effect, but *actually* from a non-linear, non-subjective viewpoint – it’s more like a big ball of wibbly wobbly… time-y wimey… stuff.”- The Doctor explaining “time”



2.   Rose: Look at you, beaming away like you’re Father Christmas!

     The Doctor: Who says I’m not, red-bicycle-when-you-were-twelve?

     Rose: [shocked] What?

     The Doctor: And everybody lives, Rose! Everybody lives! I need    more days like this! Go on, ask me anything; I’m on fire!


and the number 1 best Doctor Who sounding like Jesus quote:

1.  You are forgiven. Always and completely forgiven. – The Doctor

There you have it.  If you have never watched Doctor Who before…there is no better time to begin.

An Affirmation For Brandan Robertson


Evangelicals are gaining quite a reputation as of late for being a tribe that eats its own.

Case in point, the recent flurry surrounding speaker and writer Brandan Robertson.

Brandan Robertson is an Evangelical Christian.

Brandan Robertson is also Queer and advocates for LGBTQ equality.

You can see where this was heading…

Apparently Destiny Image did as well.

Destiny Image, a major Christian publisher whose authors include notable “A-listers” such as T.D. Jakes and Bill Johnson, dropped Brandan’s debut book Nomad citing the fact that many Christian bookstores would probably refuse to buy it.

Now, a lot has been written about this issue.  You can check it out here or here

But I didn’t want to rehash the details per se.  I just wanted to do a little post affirming Brandan Robertson.  He’s just took a major kick in the teeth from his own, and probably needs a few friends right now.

So let me say…

I like Brandan.  I can’t claim to know him personally beyond a couple Facebook messages but I can say his earlier podcast interviews with notable folk such as N.T. Wright, Shane Claiborne, Kevin Miller, and Bob Goff were instrumental in the the journey my faith has taken since 2012.  His own journey from conservative Moody Bible Institute into a Christianity steeped in Grace has been a real encouragement to this 40 something pastor going through a similar transition.

I also admire Brandan.  He has a love for the Evangelicals that I’m sure leaves a lot of his friend’s scratching their heads but he has a loyalty and a compassion which is quite admirable, especially as the feelings don’t appear mutual  He maintains his blog on the Patheos “evangelical” channel rather than the “progressive” one and seems committed to being a voice from inside the Evangelical “family”.

As he notes in a piece for Huffington Post however that commitment comes with a price:

Time and time again, I have found myself sitting across the table from Evangelical mentors, leaders, and friends as they have explained that because of my perspectives on this singular issue, I was no longer a part of the Evangelical fold. That I could no longer be a part of my community, or school, or network, because I believed that God blesses same-sex relationships. And here again I sat, being told that because of my sexual identity and support for equality, Christian booksellers were banning me from publishing.

Like Jesus, Brandan comes to his own, but his own do not receive him (John 1:11)

Brandan learned the hard way if you don’t conform theologically, you are quickly cast out.  Funny how we Christians make such a big issue out of Statements of Faith yet Jesus never required anything of his disciples other than a willingness to “Follow Me”.  Ironically Jesus tended to seek out people who had been rejected by the religious leaders of the day:

Jesus heard that they (the religious leaders) had thrown him out, and when he found him he said, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?”

“Who is he, sir?” the man asked. “Tell me so that I may believe in him.”

Jesus said, “You have now seen him; in fact, he is the one speaking with you.”

Then the man said, “Lord, I believe,” and he worshiped him.

John 9:35-37

Brandan Robertson is following in the Way taught by our Lord…and following that Way comes with a price.  It often means experiencing the rejection of people we thought were brothers and sisters and sometimes even worse, by mentoring fathers.

So let me say:

Brandan, after the tears, frustration, and disappointment this setback brings, know this; there are a lot of people who need to hear your voice.  Your voice that tells the rejected, the confused, and the cast out that their Lord loves them, accepts them, and receives them just as they are.  That they are invited to “Follow Him”

You have Good News to bring!  So keep your heart soft, joy on your lips, and a spring in your step.  Know that there are many of us on the sidelines rooting for you!

Yes, the evangelicals have crucified yet another of their own but when people like Brandan Robertson follow Christ, resurrections end up becoming the final word.





Weekend Distractions: My Academy Award Predictions 2015


It’s Oscar time again and this is the first year since returning to Hong Kong that the Academy Awards fall on Chinese New Year holiday.  Because the awards are on Monday morning in Hong Kong due to the time difference this spares me the decision of whether to:

* take a vacation day and watch the show live

* go on a news and social media blackout all day and watch the evening rebroadcast

However while a Monday morning does put a cramp in my annual “Oscar Party” (which we used to do in Boulder) it in no way puts a cramp on my Oscar predictions.  So my 2015 Oscar picks are:

Best Picture: Conventional wisdom says the contest is between Birdman and Boyhood.  For me though if you take out the incredible 12 year shooting schedule watching people age for real, there was just not enough story “meat” on Boyhood’s bones.  Plus with the largest Academy voting block being actors I’m going to side with thespian narcissism and suggest the gold will go to Birdman and its story of an actor’s comeback and staging a Broadway play.  I enjoyed all the Best Picture nominees this year except Foxcatcher which bored me to no end.  The bio pics were good but to “by the numbers.”  Personally the best film of the pack for me was either The Grand Budapest Hotel or Whiplash.

Should win: The Grand Budapest Hotel (or Whiplash)

Will win: Birdman


Best Director:  This will be the closest race of the evening.  It could go either to Alejandro Inarritu’s Birdman whose single shot filmaking was visually compelling or Richard Linklater’s 12 year in the making Boyhood.  I’ll probably be wrong but I’m thinking voters will split the Director and Picture categories and ultimately give the gold to Linklater.

Should Win: Richard Linklater

Will Win: Richard Linklater


Best Actress: Julianne Moore is up for her 5th Oscar but she’s never won. Her riveting performance as an Alzheimers victim in the film Still Alice will be the Academy’s chance to give Moore the gold.  (Although Rosamund Pike in Gone Girl scarred the bejeebees out of me.)

Should Win: Julianne Moore

Will Win:  Julianne Moore


Best Actor: Eddie Redmayne’s portrayal of the wheel chair bound Stephen Hawking was stunning to watch.  To watch him capture the physical deterioration of Hawking is Oscar worthy but I think there may be an upset here with the Academy honoring Michael Keaton’s comeback.

Should Win: Eddie Redmayne

Will Win: Michael Keaton


Best Supporting Actress:  Patricia Arquette’s performance as a mother making a life for her family as a single mother will be the winner here.  Hands down!

Should Win: Patricia Arquette

Will Win: Patricia Arquette


Best Supporting Actor: It’s true I would give an award to Robert Duvall every single year…but this year Whiplash’s J.K Simmons filled us with fear and loathing as a music conductor who emotionally abuses his star pupil to coax and even higher standard of performance.

Should Win: J.K. Simmons

Will Win: J.K. Simmons

Rob Bell & 9 Things Evangelicals Should Never Do: A Response To R.C. Sproul


Bloggers love Rob Bell and Mark Driscoll.  Whenever either of them do anything whatsoever all we  have to do is write a blog post commenting on their latest statement, decision, or action and sit back and watch as the “hits” roll in.

I generally avoid the temptation to wade in to these waters too often as I want Beyond the Pale to be a site focused on ideas and theology that challenges the Christian community in a positive way and not a gossip rag.  (Yes, I can say with some pride there has been not one post on Tony Jones here at Beyond the Pale despite the viewership that market offered.)

But when I read R.C. Sproul’s take down of Rob Bell over the latter’s recent appearance with Oprah Winfrey…well…

…it’s a weekend and I have time.

So based on R.C. Sproul’s stinging indictment here are 9 things an evangelical in good standing should never do:

1) Suggest God loves too much

According to R.C. Sproul Rob Bell’s rode to perdition started with the latter’s 2011 book Love Wins where Bell suggested that in the end the love God has for us just may be the final word.  Although we make decisions all the time that produce hell for ourselves and those around us, could a God who is love itself condemn a majority of his creation to eternal conscious torment?  Bell suggested perhaps not.

Rob Bell says “God is Love”

R.C. Sproul reminds us a good evangelical says, “God is Love, but…”


2) Have too wide of audience outside the church

True evangelicals are not supposed to have visibility of note much outside the evangelical fold.  Doing so immediately invokes suspicion. (See Joel Osteen or Rick Warren)  When Rob Bell resigned as pastor of Mars Hill Church in 2011 he was was supposed to quietly fade from the evangelical radar.

Instead he did the opposite…

He became bigger, brighter, and more influential than ever.

To succeed after leaving evangelical leaders have declared you a “wolf” and “heretic” exposes the evangelical leadership for the emperor without clothes that it really is.

A big “no-no” for evangelicals…


3) Be seen with Oprah Winfrey

Ok, little secret; Evangelical leaders hate Oprah Winfrey.

(Note: this is not to be confused with much of the evangelical flock that actually love Oprah; further highlighting the disconnect between the two)

See, Oprah is kind, generous, thoughtful and people love her…and this really irritates evangelical leaders because it threatens their role as the gatekeepers for people’s spiritual development and threatens their motto:

“Evangelicalism is the Way, the Truth, and the Life and the only way to God, happiness, and fulfillment in life is to attend our churches and read our books”

People have the audacity to bypass the evangelical high priests and listen to Oprah instead of them 

Read Sproul’s post.  He is not promoting Christ’s Way or teachings.  Sproul is instead defending the evangelical fold of which he is a respected “gatekeeper”… …and Oprah is a threat to that gatekeeper position.


4) Suggest in practice that the Bible isn’t the 4th member of the Godhood

Ok, admittedly no evangelical leader will proclaim that the Bible is a member of the Godhood…but that doesn’t mean they won’t make that notion a foundation of evangelicalism in practice.

Evangelical leaders like to intertwine the Word of God (Jesus) with the word of God (Bible) so often and effortlessly that they become one and the same. Suddenly questioning what a man wrote to a church 2000 years ago becomes synonymous with questioning God himself.

R.C. Sproul’s biggest condemnation for Rob Bell is the accusation that he is “hostile” to the Word of God

But because God speaks, because God will not be silenced, because when we push against the Word of God which is an immovable rock, sooner or later we will find ourselves cursing the Word of God, and spitting on it. And that is where Rob Bell has found himself.

I thought Jesus was the immovable rock? Or is it the Bible?  See, it’s easier when you just make the Bible part of the Godhood…inerrant…infallible

Then everything will be crystal clear…really!


5) Refer to the epistles as “Letters from 2000 years ago”

By referring to sections of the Bible as “letters from 2000 years ago” Bell committed the evangelical error in #4 of not paying the proper homage to the scriptures.  But since they are, in affect, “letters from 2000 years ago” R.C. Sproul had to add the inference that Bell meant they were “irrelevant”.

If you are ever unsure of what you mean theologically, never fear, many evangelical leaders stand ready to tell you, and others, what you really meant.



6) Have a different Biblical interpretation

Evangelicals have pretty much colonized every Biblical verse with an “orthodox” interpretation.  Suggest a different interpretation or viewpoint and it matters not if you love God, love people, love Jesus… you are in danger of being a heretic, or worse,  Rob Bell!

Often in discussions with evangelicals you will hear the phrase, “But the Bible clearly says…”  However the hundreds of different denominations of Christendom might lead us to humbly acknowledge that things are not always as clear as we claim.


7) Still have an evangelical audience after evangelical leaders have declared you a “wolf”

When evangelical leaders proclaim one of their “fallen” a “wolf” that means evangelicals are supposed to stop listening to them.  Trouble is evangelicals keep listening to him, buying his books, and attending his sold out talks! It drives evangelical leaders, like R.C. Sproul, crazy!

(Cue: Renting of garments)

I can only guess this is how the Pharissees responded when they saw the Jewish audiences flocking to Jesus.  People are drawn to Life…and Rob Bell speaks a lot of Life!



8) Take the teachings of Christ and attempt to make them as meaningful for a 21st century Western culture as they were for a 1st century Middle Eastern culture.

Evangelicals are supposed to remain quiet when making the theological gymnastics necessary for applying certain scripture for today. Head coverings, women speakers, slavery etc.  Let’s face it, the Bible was written in a time when people would stone a lady (but not a man) for adultery.  Yes, her community was ready to pick up large stones and throw them at her until she was dead.

Jesus comes along and shows a better way forward.  One that brings life, redemption, and wholeness rather than judgement, condemnation, and death. Rob Bell is attempting to do the same thing…

…and is getting the same response from the religious community that Jesus did!


9) Be “liked”

Evangelical leaders are not supposed to be “liked”.  Lets face it, nobody “likes” John Piper, Mark Driscoll, John MacArthur.  These men are defenders of Truth and hold the scorn they receive as a badge of honor of a job well done.

Rob Bell has an attribute that drives men like this crazy…

…people like him!

And this is unforgivable!

R.C. Sproul has a parting word of warning for Rob Bell at the end of his post.  He says:

What Rob Bell thinks of gay marriage, I’m not concerned about. What the Bible says about it, that’s the truth. The immovable, unshakeable truth, that will still be here and still be true when Rob Bell’s body is rotting in his grave, and unless he repents, when his soul is just beginning to suffer the wrath of God for all eternity.

So for R.C. the wrath of God is laid upon a man whose theology is declared to wrong on an issue of Sproul’s interpretation?  As my brother often says, “a person’s position on hell tells us much more about the person than of God”.

And that statement pretty much says everything I need to know about Mr. Sproul!



American Sniper: Why Christians Want Their Jesus To Be Chris Kyle

American sniper

American Sniper, the Clint Eastwood film starring Bradley Cooper as Navy Seal Chris Kyle, has been the topic de jour among many bloggers since its recent premier. My Facebook feed has been littered with diverse opinion on the film with some championing Kyle’s service to his country and his 160 confirmed kills, while others deride the glorification of a man with so much blood on his hands.

Me?  I kept quiet…until I saw the film. (Advice I recommend for everyone by the way)

And now that I have I have to say as a film buff the movie is truly worthy of a Best Picture Oscar.  Clint Eastwood has delivered a riveting story that had me experiencing a roller-coaster of emotions and questioning my own moral compass throughout. Much to the chagrin of my more progressive friends, American Sniper is not “right wing red meat” but instead a nuanced study of America’s wartime mentality and the high cost paid by one of it’s most patriotic warriors.

And Kyle is patriotic…he’s the poster boy for it.  A big, strong, Texan driven by a desire to protect his people and country.

And he’s good

Which is part of the problem!


Two Trees to Chose From

The moral dilemma central to American Sniper is whether Kyle is justified in killing men, women, and even children in cold blood in order to save and protect others.

Is it…ok?

This has been the ongoing question ever since humankind chose to eat from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good & Evil (Gen. 3:6)  rather than the Tree of Life (Gen. 2:9)

We know how that story went and within a generation one man was crushing his brother’s head because of his own notions of right and wrong.

Our motivations were no longer centered on what brought life but instead on demarcating spheres of good and evil.  And with that transaction a blurring of the lines between the two occur.  Although Chris Kyle performs admirably in protecting members of his tribe…

…a good thing…

…every cold blooded head shot he takes…

…an evil thing…

…chips away a little bit at his soul.

This conundrum will continue for as long as we choose to couch our worldview in terms of good & evil rather than life! 

People tend to forget that so much of what we do in the name of goodness is still waged on cursed ground with a really high body count.


Jesus however showed us the path away from the tree whose fruit wrecks destruction even in the name of good back to the tree which leads to life.  It’s a path which, arguably, even Jesus suggested is far more difficult to follow.

Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is broad that leads to destruction, and there are many who enter through it. For the gate is small and the way is narrow that leads to life, and there are few who find it.

Matthew 7:13,14

It’s the path Christ took himself when he refused to slay his enemy and instead chose to forgive them.

It’s the path that involves sacrificing ourselves rather than our brothers and sisters.

It’s a path that means letting go of tribal identity and identifying instead with the one who shed himself of identities linked to a cursed system.

Chris Kyle was a good man who defended his tribe but in the end, perpetuated a cycle of violence mankind has been locked in since Cain & Abel.

Jesus Christ was a life man who saved and is saving all tribes and showed us how this never ending cycle of violence can be broken once and for all.

The problem is the American church would, by an large, want Jesus to be a little more like Chris Kyle.  But take heart America, Israel in 30 AD was hoping Jesus was a bit more like Chris Kyle as well…

…and they got the Son of God instead!

And that leads to a much better ending story!



The Divine Magician: or How To Make Real Life Appear By Smashing The “Sacred Object”

Divine Magician

In grad school I took a class once called The Politics of Ideas.  On the first day the professor warned us that each class period he would take us all into the metaphorical abyss where we would be un-moored from everything we thought we knew and understood to be real, “but don’t worry,” he added, “before the bell rings I will pull you out again into the sunlight and stable ground.”

Peter Rollins offers no such assurances!

In his new book The Divine Magician: The Disappearance of Religion and the Discovery of Faith Rollins takes aim at the “sacred object” which always lies just beyond our reach yet draws us like moths to the flame with it’s promises of wholeness and completeness.  Whether that “sacred object” is Forbidden Fruit, The Holy of Holies, or even God himself, The Divine Magician will call into question your motivations for pursuit and assumptions of what you will eventually find when you finally peek behind the curtain.

Using the 3 essential parts of a magician’s trick, the Pledge, the Turn, and the Prestige, Rollins argues that this “trick” is actually a convention that continually echoes in the lives of all people.

We feel incomplete!

We lack wholeness!

We are depressed!

Then there is always something that promises to take away that pain whether it be a new relationship, a new job, a large pizza with everything, or even God. This “sacred object” is presented to us like the Pledge of a magician who waves the large silver coin to his audience.  In life of course two things can happen in our pursuit of this object promising wholeness.

* we fail to obtain the “sacred object” and live with the misery of feeling an ongoing “lack” in our lives


* we obtain the object (job, lover, faithful church attendance) and discover it actually didn’t complete us as promised.

The ancient story of Adam & Eve then offers a mythical description of how sacred objects are formed and how their very formation creates within us a sense of painful longing.  We (falsely) believe that the sacred-object can offer us wholeness and lasting pleasure; but in actuality, it is responsible for birthing our dissatisfaction.

The Divine Magician- pg 22

This disappearance of the “sacred object” is the Turn whereby the magician makes the silver coin, not unlike our hopes and dreams, vanish into thin air.

Peter Rollins tells the story of the Roman General Gnaeus Pompeius Magnus who in 63 BC stepped behind the temple curtain in Jerusalem only to discover “the sanctuary was empty and the Holy of Holies untenanted”.

There was nothing there…

What had been just been beyond the reach of the people of Israel and placed behind a curtain of prohibition was revealed to be nothing at all.

It’s this disappearance (the Turn) of the “object”  that can destabilize a person into depression or force them to ultimately create a false system (religious or otherwise) that keeps the illusion of the object in place and the subsequent depression at bay.  Hence the reason, for example, fundamentalists react in the way they often do:

Fundamentalist communities are not threatened by the liberal claim that they believe to much, for this plays into the very fantasy that sustains them.  The threatening move in such communities lies in the other direction; in exposing how they don’t believe enough.  Why? Because it is only as they fully accept their beliefs without unbelief that they are faced with the powerlessness and even horror of those beliefs.  It is only then that beliefs themselves might crumble into dust.

The Divine Magician – Pg 153

Rollins suggests the goal of the the Pledge and the Turn however are not to leave us in this empty state, but to prepare us for the Prestige; the reappearance of the object.  But the reappearance of said object, not unlike the resurrected Christ, comes in a form we often don’t immediately recognize.  And the traits of this “re-apparated object” differ from the earlier “object of desire”. Rather than give an illusionary wholeness, this “Prestige” frees us from the ongoing need to seek wholeness at all.

Christianity should not be thought of as the means of bridging a gap.  This event is nothing less than the smashing of the whole chasm / bridge idea that Gnostic spiritualities buy into.  The liberation that this narrative expresses does not offer us the fullness we seek, but rather frees us from the need to seek fullness.

The Divine Magician – Pg 85


In the end, Rollins conclusion is that working through this three part system by engaging in practices that cause disruption to the illusions we create provide an opportunity for us to live a life worth living.  The tell tale sign of this worth while life is not the affirmations we cling to but the evidence in how we interact with our environment:

The evidence of “forgiveness of sin” is not found in profession of belief, but in a life freed from self destructive pursuits, scapegoating, and violence.

The Divine Magician – pg 83

The Divine Magician is possibly Peter Rollins most accessible book.  He mixes theology and philosophy effortlessly and utilizes his natural gift of storytelling in a way that makes his work attainable to readers across a spectrum of educational or religious backgrounds.

I’ve suggested before Peter Rollin’s writing is far from the “happy clappy” certainty of most Christian literature and a new reader may feel uncomfortable at the honest probing of sacred assumptions he is prone to do, but I’ve come to the realization that if I’m not getting Peter Rollins in my spiritual diet, I am not eating a balanced meal.

Take my advice and read The Divine Magician now



Mike Huckabee & Gay Weddings: or How Not To Be A Christian “Tribesman”

wedding cake thinkstock

Presidential hopeful Mike Huckabee defended Christians who refused services (like baking wedding cakes) to the gay community based on their convictions saying, “it’s like forcing Jews to serve bacon-wrapped shrimp in their deli. Both foods are violations of Jewish kosher rules.”

Now, I’ve already suggested that Christians owning commercial businesses should offer their goods and services to all without prejudice.  Besides the fact that it’s the law of the land (at least in America) I’m pretty sure Jesus would be happy with that strategy as well.  If you have a clothes shop you can sell a shirt to a Muslim, if you are a plumber you can unclog an atheist’s drain, and if you are a baker you should bake a cake for your customer be they gay or straight.

Huckabee’s statement though inadvertently betrays the real reason Christianity is going through a bit of a crisis right now; Christians have gone from being “people of the Way” to people of a particular “tribe”.

The followers of Christ that were supposed to identify with Jesus by shedding themselves of other tribal identities:

For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.  Galatians 3:28

have ended up becoming just another tribe amongst many!

Why Tribes?

People love tribes!  Whether we rally around a flag, a religion, or a sports team we love the comraderaie offered by a shared passion for or against certain things.

It’s in our DNA!


Huckabee likens Christianity to Judaism saying both have accepted “rules”.  He is suggesting that homosexuality is against the rules of the “tribe” and Christians shouldn’t be mocked or persecuted for holding to these long established “rules”.

There is just one small problem with that logic though…

Christianity has no rules per se.  That’s why the Apostle Paul kept getting stoned, imprisoned, and run out of town;  he traveled around the known world saying things like:

“All things are lawful for me,” but not all things are helpful. “All things are lawful for me,” but I will not be dominated by anything.

1 Cor. 6:12

Paul was telling a people whose whole tribal identity rested on “the law” that God was saying ALL things are lawful.  (As you can imagine, that didn’t go over so well)

And here is what is crazy;  ’all things are lawful‘ is foundational to Christianity and and yet it totally freaks Christians out!


It’s too destabilising!  It’s too overwhelming!  So to help us  God used the Law like training wheels you use while learning to ride a bike.  It helped us keep our balance while we developed our riding skills and our understanding of the natural rhythms of the road;  but in order to really enjoy riding a bike, to really get the most out of the journey,  you eventually have to take the training wheels off! 

Belief vs Behaviour

God has always desired that his law be written on our heart (Psalm 40:8) but Christians, like their Jewish brethren before them, prefer the law on tablets where everyone can see them.  It makes it much easier to validate ourselves while condemning others.  The aim of Christianity as a tribal identity then has the affect of of putting our focus on “affirmed beliefs” rather than outward behaviour.


This can be seen in the example of the Evangelical Christian baker who affirms the belief that homosexuality is a sin.  He applauds himself at denying his baking skills for a gay couple’s wedding and uses that denial as a type of trophy. He has succeeded in confirming his membership in the Christian tribe by affirming it’s belief system despite the fact that the behaviour towards another human is in affect “anti-Christ”.

Theologian and Philosopher Peter Rollins explains this rational insightfully:

Christianity, as a religious system, does not aim to transform the way we behave, buy strives to mold and shape the content of our beliefs.  What is judged here to be of prime importance is the actual belief that one affirms.  So that those who agree are deemed “saved”, and those who disagree are at best heretics, or at worst, “lost”

The Divine Magician- Loc 1740

“The Way” that Jesus brought was one free of tribal identities.  It’s members would not be known by flags, rituals, laws, or rules but by one trait and one trait only…

“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. ”By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.”

If a Roman soldier commands you to carry his bag 1 mile, carry it 2 miles!

If a homeless person asks for your shirt, give him your coat as well!

If a gay man asks you to bake a cake for his wedding, do so, and wish him well!

By this you will know you are his disciple and not a tribesman!