Beyond The Pale

Thoughts on Kingdom, Grace, Culture, and Church

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

3 Things To Consider Before Inviting Your Friend To See Left Behind

LeftBehind_poster_webIn a couple weeks time the Left Behind movie will open in cinemas around the world.  As someone who got “onboard” the Left Behind evangelistic bandwagon 14 years ago when the original version with Kirk Cameron came out (yes I rented out the big screen at a clubhouse and invited many unsaved friends hoping that by watching it they may become “saved”) can I offer 3 things to consider before getting evangelistically excited about the new Left Behind?

Take it as the voice of experience…

 

Left Behind Theology is Bad Theology

News Flash: The Rapture – Tribulation – Anti-Christ theology of the Left Behind series is only about 200 years old!

Theologians are still pondering how the musings and theories of 19th century Plymouth Brethren minister John Darby became the eschatological underpinning of millions of evangelical and charismatic Christians.

But it did…

I was one of them.

Darby’s theology ( later propagated through Biblical translations like Scofield’s Reference Bible)  fostered an escapist attitude among the church that focused the Bride’s attention on escaping the earth rather than renewing it.

Fast forward 200 years to when many Christians increasingly cast themselves in the role of persecuted victim, a theology where Jesus comes back and proclaims we were “right” after all and proceeds to kill everyone else has a certain attractiveness.

The problem is (to paraphrase Brian Zahnd) Jesus is not like that.  Jesus has never been like that.  There has never been a time when Jesus was remotely like that.  Many Christians don’t realize that…but they should.

Summed up, Left Behind theology is bad theology for a number of reasons but chief among them is that it just makes Jesus look bad.

And I don’t care much for that…

 

People won’t get saved watching Left Behind

I was perusing the Left Behind facebook page and one thread had over 30,000 comments talking a lot about the movie being used as a tool for salvation.

Comments such as:

* Can’t wait to see this movie! Hope this movie brings the unsaved to Christ so they don’t get left behind.

* I pray that many get out to see this, to realize what is ahead of they aren’t ready for the coming of Christ.

*  I can’t wait. I am dragging my husband (agnostic) to this so he can SEE what he will be facing someday..

I appreciate the sentiments (hey, I was there once) but seeing a movie doesn’t “save” anyone.  And when fear is used as the tool, that’s about as far away from the salvation Jesus brings as you can get.

And that’s what Left Behind sells.  It sells fear!  As if Jesus can’t woo his bride to himself through unconditional love, he instead has to put a shotgun to people’s head and threaten them with all sorts of catastrophe if they don’t “accept” him.

I’m not saying books, film, and art can’t be used to help reveal who Jesus is to people…

…I’m just saying the Left Behind film doesn’t reveal who Jesus is.

 

Left Behind is about money

Christians are simply being marketed as a group and used to make a number of people a LOT of money.  As a film lover myself I have no issue spending my hard earned cash at the cinema or for a download on iTunes knowing that while I am purchasing a couple hours of entertainment and storytelling some producers and actors are raking it in.

But…

* no one is trying to convince me to bring my friend to see Iron Man 3 because their eternal salvation is at stake.

* no one is trying to sell me a ministry resource kit so I can do a church small group study on Guardians of the Galaxy

* no one is urging me to see the latest disaster movie because it’s all in the Bible and going to come true one day

EVENT-KIT

No, movie producers know that there is a huge market now for Christians who will not only pay to watch movies where they are cast as the persecuted victim who is finally vindicated  (God is Not Dead) but movies where they can be convinced that it is their moral duty to bring as many friends as possible.

The sound you hear is Jesus turning over tables in the market place… 

To sum up

My transition from evangelistic promoter of Left Behind in 2000 to vocal critic in 2014 doesn’t come from deep theological discussions or eschatological arguments.

Not in the slightest…

It’s because I see who Jesus is just a little clearer now than I did then.

I see now that the prince of peace really is The Prince of Peace

Why do I feel so strongly about Left Behind?

Because Jesus deserves so much better…

A Farewell To Mars: Brian Zahnd Announces Christ’s Kingdom To American Christians (but are they willing to join it?)

a-farewell-to-marsIn his new book A Farewell to Mars author Brian Zahnd  indirectly offers the reader a decision  to make straight out of The Matrix;

“Take the Red Pill and you wake up back in your nice little church world believing whatever it is you want to believe” 

or

“Take the Blue Pill and I’ll show you how far down this rabbit hole really goes.”

And this rabbit hole goes deep!

Starting with Cain slaying his brother Abel , Zahnd  pulls back the curtain on the ancient system of this world.

A system built on power and sustained through violence.

A system founded on being “my brother’s murderer” rather than “my brother’s keeper”

A system that lies to itself that such killing is needed in order to advance freedom.

A system that is in constant need of “the other”, a scapegoat , that can be sacrificed to bring unity to the group, tribe, or nation.

A system that will ridicule, persecute, and ultimately sacrifice anyone who refuses to participate in the system.

A system to which the American church is fully complicit.

A World Without Christ

What would society be like today if Jesus had never lived?  What would we consider normal or just the way it is?  How would people view and treat each other?

Zahnd argues that the incarnation of Christ began the process of providing an alternative way of ordering society in opposition to the entrenched power system of the world:

If God can become human, then we must reconsider how we treat other humans.  The incarnation has, without question, made the world a more humane place by raising the dignity of every individual.

Of course I can hear the skeptics howl!  They will point out that the world has seen plenty of atrocities since the advent of Christ.  Indeed.  But what skeptics often fail to realize is that it is precisely because of Calvary that we call these things atrocities  and not normalcy.  Without the life of Christ, would we call massacres and genocide atrocities, or would we call them just the way things are?

Brian Zahnd – A Farewell to Mars,  Loc 545

Because of the life and death that Christ demonstrated we can now look at the  injustices, poverty, and horrors this world produces and say, “That is not the way it is supposed to be.”

Zahnd suggests that there is now, through Jesus,  an alternative way of looking at the world.  An alternative that is an antidote to the empires and power structures that seek to shape humanity and culture to their will.

God Bless America?

In interviews Brian Zahnd has admitted this is a deeply personal book for him to write.  He confesses and chronicles his own history as a church pastor complicit in the system of scapegoating and violence.

bible-american-flag1

Zahnd admits to cringing now at some of the sermons he preached after 9/11. Sermons which galvanized his flock with talk about America’s enemy…the other…the scapegoat!

The brothers we are obliged to slay in order to defend freedom!

Zahnd writes:

a few years later when I encountered Jesus in a fresh way, when I began to take the “words in red” seriously, when I repented for my war prayers and war sermons, when I began preaching peace sermons, then the criticism came…People left the church over my “new direction.”

My new direction was that I began to take the Sermon on the Mount seriously.  My new direction was that I began to see the Kingdom of Christ as God’s alternative society.  My new direction was to believe that peacemakers are the children of God.  And I learned a bitter lesson.  I learned it was much easier to unite people around a Jesus who hates our enemies and blesses our wars than it is to unite people around a Jesus who calls us to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us…Believing in a war waging Messiah is easy.  Believing in the Prince of Peace is hard.

Brian Zahnd- A Farewell to Mars,  Loc 1058

For American Christians these are hard words.  Our churches are adorned with  flags, patriotism, and chants of God Bless America!  Honestly, how many of us are able to “pledge allegiance to flag of the United States of America”, because deep down we don’t really believe the Kingdom of God actually exists.

What do you do though on that day you realize that Christ’s Kingdom does exist and it is founded on, and advancing, a system in direct opposition to the one you just pledged allegiance to?

Zahnd has a suggestion…and it’s Jesus!

A t this point you may be thinking I can’t do this.  I can’t re-think everything I’ve ever believed about patriotism and war, and freedom, and manifest destiny and “God Bless America.” …it may not be easy, but it’s not that hard either-as long as you are willing to reexamine everything in the light of Christ.  Once you extricate Jesus from the subservience to a nationalistic agenda, you can rethink everything…

Brian Zahnd- A Farewell to Mars Loc 255

Hard words that fly in the face of almost everything we’ve been taught.  Words I still wrestle with.  Words that I wish I didn’t have to face because if I’m honest… a portion of me still wants the war raging Messiah…the Avenging Christ!

Peace through the sword!

It’s all I’ve ever known.

red-pill-blue-pill

But Jesus promises a better “way” and its to him and that system that I make my allegiance.

In A Farewell to Mars Brian Zahnd stands with hands extended offering two options.  You can

*  ignore what you have read, go back to your church world, and continue to be a cheerleader and chaplain to a system that has wrecked havoc on humanity since Cain slew Abel

or

*  begin to take the words of Jesus seriously and be a part of an alternative system that Christ established with his birth, death, and resurrection.  A system of compassion reenforced by mercy and forgiveness which stands in opposition to the ancient system of this world which is power established through violence.

The decision is yours!

Peace,

Steve

5 Theological Topics Making (Some) Christians Very Nervous

Hot-Under-the-Collar-1It’s a general rule of thumb that in mixed company it’s best not to talk about religion or politics.  On the religion side it’s also best to keep your theological discussions for Sunday mornings or during weeknight Bible studies where you can find yourself surrounded with the faithful and like minded.

But not so much anymore…

Positions on a number of theological topics that had once seemed ironclad can now no longer be assumed.  Here are 5 hot topic theological issues facing Western Christianity whose reexamining is making (some) Christians “hot under the collar”:

1. Hell

Could a loving God really send people to hell?  Put another way could a God who identifies himself as love itself cosign a segment of his creation to an eternity of conscious torment?

“Yes!” says much of Christianity, “because he isn’t just love.  He’s also

Holy

Just

Righteous

“Besides, God doesn’t send us to hell…we send ourselves by not accepting Jesus”

…so says the argument.

But a new theological debate has exploded on the scene in recent years challenging those notions and suggesting a number of kinder, gentler alternatives. Books like Rob Bell’s Love Wins and documentaries like Kevin Miller’s Hellbound dare to suggest that God might be even more wonderful, and what Jesus accomplished on the cross more beautiful, than we had first imagined.

…and that is making (some) Christians nervous.

Theological Warning: Suggesting God is “over the top loving” is hazardous to one’s ministerial status and may get the user labeled a “heretic”. Use with caution!

 

2. Rapture / Eschatology

As a kid I had a T-shirt that said, In Case Of Rapture This T-Shirt Will Be Empty.  Cheesy I admit yet it captured the essence of the theological reality many Evangelical / Charismatic Christians adhere to:

The world is doomed and soon Jesus will return to snatch his faithful away just before everything on Earth goes to “hell in a hand basket”.

rapture

With that theology however the gospel message is weakened and wrongly viewed as a lifeboat to rescue people off a sinking ship…with the ship being destroyed in the end.

But theologians like N.T. Wright, writing in  Surprised by Hope , suggests that “end times” theology has distorted the Good News that we are meant to announce.  Wright’s claim is that God is in the business of creating and restoring…not destroying.  Everything that needed to be destroyed (i.e. the work of the devil) was accomplished at the Cross by Jesus Christ 2000 years ago.

Now we get to be part of the restoration plan in preparation for Christ’s return as sovereign and King.

…and that is making (some) Christians nervous.

Theological Side affects:  Adoption of this theology may free the user from any more church sponsored Left Behind movie nights.  Apply generously! 

 

3. Women in Leadership

Women are the engine of church life!  Ask any pastor and they are sure to respond that it’s the females in their churches that tend to keep things afloat.  And yet the pastor you ask that question of will undoubtedly be male.

The glass ceiling in the corporate world pales in comparison to the glass ceiling in the church.

In many Christian circles women are either forbidden to preach or have a number of restrictions placed on them which males do not.  I was once asked to attend an womans Bible study luncheon.  Strangely I was not invited to speak to the group;  I was only invited to be in attendance and provide the male “spiritual covering” for the woman who was intended to speak.

Ouch!

Fortunately not only are progressive female Christian leaders like Nadia Bolz-Weber and Rachel Held Evans helping us re-think  gender theology, but even men from more conservative circles like Charisma magazine editor J. Lee Grady are trumpeting that;

“in Christ there is neither male nor female”

…and that is making (some) Christians nervous.

Theological Warning: Absolutely none!  (At least none that I’m willing to suggest with my wife standing behind me)

 

4. Biblical Infallibility

For Roman Catholics the Pope has always been deemed infallible!  When Protestants dumped the Pope however, they needed a new infallible to replace him.

They found it in the Bible.

Sola Scriptura!

Now not only was scripture  God inspired and “useful for teaching, correcting, rebuking, and training in righteousness” (2 Tim 3:16)

it was elevated to be “the Word” and  synonymous with Jesus himself!

bible2

But a lot of theologians are giving this a re-think and this position is articulated beautifully by Pastor Brian Zahnd in his post Scripture As Witness To The Word:

The Bible is the word of God that bears witness to the Word of God — Jesus Christ.

The Logos-Word became flesh — not a book.

Jesus is God. The Bible is not.

The Bible did not create the Heavens and Earth — the Word (Christ) did.

We worship Jesus; we do not worship the Bible.

The Bible is not a member of the Trinity.

The Bible is not God. Jesus is God.

The Bible is not perfect. (There are parts of it we now regard as obsolete; e.g. Levitical codes.)

Christ is the perfection of God as a human being.

What the Bible does infallibly is point us to Jesus Christ.

There is one mediator between God and man…and it’s not the Bible.

The Bible is the inspired witness to the true Word of God who is Jesus Christ.

…and that is making (some) Christians nervous.

Warning: Adoption of this theology into your Christian faith may cause others to view you as more sane.  Use liberally! 

 

5. Homosexuality

Is there a more polarizing theological shift happening in the church today than the issue of homosexuality and gay marriage?

There is not…

For to long though our gay Christian brothers and sisters have had to hide in the shadows of their church circles,  smiling weakly as they were forced to endure homophobic jokes and rants in silence.

Those that didn’t remain silent were either shuttled off to ministries focused on “praying away the gay” or left the church altogether feeling there was no place for them there.

But there is an undercurrent of theological change focused on affirmation and inclusion.  More and more pastors and Christian leaders no longer wish to be a stumbling block to gay believers relationship to Jesus Christ.

AlanChambersExodusViaExodus

Even Alan Chambers who led the “Pray away the Gay” Exodus Ministries publicly apologized last year to the gay community and admitted that the techniques of their “gay” rehabilitation were manipulative and destructive.

It’s a difficult issue for many Christians but if a choice is to be made let it be made on the side of grace and compassion and not judgement and exile.

I believe that is the choice Jesus would have us make…

…and that is making (some) Christians nervous.

Warning: Application of this theology may cause a sudden drop in speaking engagement invitations.  Consultation with your spouse and financial planner is advised!

Well there you have it.  Five theological topics that are guaranteed to have a number of your Christian friends getting hot under the collar.

Advisory: When sharing this post, be gracious and compassionate

Peace,

Steve

 

The “Cloud” Is Moving But Is The Church Ready To Move With It?

In 22 years of marriage my wife Tammy and I have lived in 8moving-house2 different locations. We have moved from Hong Kong, to Colorado, to China, and then back to Hong Kong. In the process we have learned not to accumulate too much unnecessary “stuff” in our lives and can be surprisingly brutal when it comes to parting with “treasures” at those times that we find ourselves on the move again.

And we will move again…

 

Israel on the Move

In the book of Numbers the Israelites were in a similar lifestyle arrangement.

They were constantly on the move…

Having been delivered from captivity in Egypt they found themselves following the presence of God in the form of a cloud out in the desert.

 When the Cloud lifted above the Tent, the People of Israel marched out; and when the Cloud descended the people camped…As long as the Cloud was over The Dwelling, they camped. Even when the Cloud hovered over The Dwelling for many days, they honored God’s command and wouldn’t march. They stayed in camp, obedient to God’s command, as long as the Cloud was over The Dwelling, but the moment God issued orders they marched.

If the Cloud stayed only from sunset to daybreak and then lifted at daybreak, they marched. Night or day, it made no difference—when the Cloud lifted, they marched. It made no difference whether the Cloud hovered over The Dwelling for two days or a month or a year, as long as the Cloud was there, they were there. And when the Cloud went up, they got up and marched. They camped at God’s command and they marched at God’s command.

Numbers 9:17-23 (The Message Bible)

cloud_over_tabernacle

Now I can imagine if you only camped a night and the cloud moved you’d be ready to go right away.  You wouldn’t have even really unpacked at all.

But what if the cloud hadn’t moved for a month?

By then you’d have figured out where the good watering holes are.  You’d figured where to set your chair at a certain time of day not to get too hot or cold. You would have begun to get comfortable…

What if the cloud hadn’t moved in a year?

By then you would have made that temporary dwelling tent a little more permanent.  Maybe an extra room added on?  You would have perhaps built a hammock to catch the cool breeze you know always picks up at a certain time in the afternoon or taught your child how to fish in the pond near your tent.

You would have built a home…

And then the cloud suddenly lifts …

…God is moving!

And you have a decision to make.  Do you stay…or do you go?

Do you break down the semi-permanent structures you erected while you were camped in order to follow God? Do you give away that big comfy chair that you loved so much while bivouacked but would be totally dead weight while on the move?

Do you give up:

* familiarity

* security

* comfort

in order to be led by God?

Do you stay…or do you go?

 

The Cloud is still Moving

We may not have a physical cloud to follow but God’s presence is moving today every bit as much as it did for the Israelites all those years ago. I’d like to think that when God’s cloud moved back then there had been a lot of excitement.

I imagine there was…

…I can also imagine there were a lot of groans!

“Are you kidding me! I finally got everything settled just the way I like it and now God decides to move? What’s wrong with this place?  God led us herehere seems good enough?  Look at all the good things we have and all that we have accomplished here.

I don’t want to move!

I could see a lot of agitation by those who were settled in the present arrangement towards those that we excited about moving on. People who are enthusiastically packing their bags and willing to follow where God is leading can be very irritating to those sitting in a big religious comfy chair!

woman-moving-abroad

Pastor Brian Zahnd echos this “fork in the road” decision that is looming for the church in a recent article :

Western Christianity is at a critical juncture. Those who care deeply about the church are aware of this. Things are not as they once were. Things are changing. Dramatically so. Even if we don’t understand what is happening, we can certainly feel it…

…There is a sense in which we have come to the end of the line—not the end of the line for Christianity, but the end of the line for the track we have been on. We are like people on a subway who have taken a particular train as far as it will go. We now find ourselves sitting in the terminus. We have two choices. We can sit on a train that is going nowhere, or we can disembark and find our way through the confusing labyrinth of the terminus and locate the proper platform to catch the train which will take us farther down the line.

Brian Zahnd- “End of the Line”

 

Conclusion

I love the place I am currently living.  We have lived in our little 1000 sq. foot Hong Kong apartment now for 4 years, 3 months and 6 days. We have good friends and a tight knit community.   I have a small balcony on the 21st floor where I can sit in the evenings and watch the large ocean container ships stream by across the channel below. Its relaxing and I love it!

But I know I will not always have it.

At some point the cloud will move and it will be time for us to pack again.  Knowing this makes me all the more appreciative of what I have now.  And it makes me realize what is really important.

See, when we move, stuff will get thrown out!  So I try not to get to attached to “stuff” because that “stuff” may have to go.  The only guaranteed thing that remains during a move is my family.

Our relationship…

Our togetherness…

Yes, there is stress during a move and tempers can flare.  There has never been for us a “stress-free” move!  What we have come to realize though is the more “stuff” that has to be jettisoned, the more stress.

Likewise a “move” is coming for the church; and it’s causing a bit of stress!  A lot of people are clinging to semi-permanant structures and stuff that won’t be able to come with

…and its causing some strife and stress.

What we have to remember though is its the family that is important!

The world will know we are Christ’s disciples by the love we have for each other.

As we make this “move” let’s remember to have grace for all our family members;

both those who are excited about the next leg of the journey…and those who aren’t!

When the “Good News” Becomes “Good” Again!

Paper Fortune Teller

Two years ago I had a paradigm shift in my faith when I read Brian Zahnd’s Beauty Will Save The World.  As I wrote then “I suddenly had my ‘spiritual mojo’ back!”  In hindsight now I realize that for years my theology was often times at odds with my faith.  It created a dissonance in my Christian walk which made me quite happy to remain sitting quiet in the back of a church service as opposed to up front teaching.

But Zahnd’s book was quickly followed by as slew of  other like minded writers; N.T Wright, Greg Boyd, Rob Bell, Peter Rollins, Paul Ellis, Nadia Bolz-Weber, Jay Bakker, Mike Lloyd.  These teachers, and a handful of others, helped me to see God’s plan for his sons, daughters, and this world were far bigger and better than my previous theology had perceived.

Suddenly “Mediocre News” became “Good News” again!

 

The Political Church

I realized much of the American Christian model, when everything is stripped away, is sharing pretty mediocre news with people… and, understandably, getting pretty mediocre results.  In America, by and large, the church sacrificed its prophetic voice years ago for political influence and in the process  successfully alienated a generation of young people on the horizon.

faith

We bemoaned the secularization of society blaming the atheists, humanists, and gays for it when in fact, the greatest catalyst for America’s turn from Christianity has been the behavior of it’s church.

* The church saw Jesus as a culture to be defended rather than a love to be shared

* The church chose a political team to support rather than supporting the duly elected

* The church became the behavior referees better known for calling a “foul” than announcing “Good News”

And as the church increasingly becomes more irrelevant and ignored by the average American, we are now becoming experts in claiming “persecution” and “victim” status.  Our “rights” are suddenly being violated.

Think for a moment where we would be if Jesus had started claiming his rights were being violated?  Hard to even imagine…

Instead when Christ was offered political power by the devil (in the wilderness) or by the people (to make him King) he rejected it both times.

Sadly the church has not!

 

Theology, Faith…and Hell

Then there is hell.  There is a funny meme going around Facebook showing Jesus at the door knocking.  It says:

Knock Knock…Jesus5

Who’s there?

It’s Jesus, let me in!

Why?

I have to save you…

From what?

From what I’m going to do to you if you don’t let me in.

—————————————————————–

Now, that is a little cheeky but it highlights the underpinning of mainstream evangelical Christianity;  the threat of eternal damnation.  What better sales motivation is there than “If you don’t buy our product…you’ll burn in hell!”

How many people have “received” Jesus with a metaphorical shotgun to their head?  How can we share an unconditional love that is rooted in fear?

I can’t!

Because then it isn’t love…

Conclusion

So you can see my dilemma.  My mouth couldn’t speak anymore. I suspected my “good news” wasn’t all together that good.  When I got asked to speak somewhere I made a polite excuse why I was unavailable.  I preferred instead to hang out in the back row of Sunday service remaining incognito.

Now…you can’t shut me up.  I have GOOD NEWS to share again.

God loves you…you are his child, and you don’t have to be afraid!

I speak anywhere…anytime.  If I’m on vacation and get asked to speak…I speak.  Just this week I got asked to share at a young adults event.  I don’t know anything about it but I just said, “Yes!”  What I do know is there will be people there that need to know how much God loves them.

Funny how I changed when the “Good News” became “Good” again!

 

 

 

 

 

If Jesus Is The Word Where Does That Leave The Bible?

bible-11The Apostle John had a gift for describing what we may call in the 21st  century “the Big Picture.”  Rather than start his account of Christ’s life with a genealogy (Matthew) or with a historical narrative (Luke), John begins his gospel with an cosmological understanding of what had occurred that even Douglas Adams could appreciate;

* that God created everything in existence

* that very same God had just entered the world as a mortal man.

* that the God who became man was the keeper of Life and Light and darkness could not stand against Him

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.  He was with God in the beginning.  Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.  In him was life,and that life was the light of all mankind.  The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome

John 1: 1-5

In light of this incredible declaration by John many Christian’s initial association with “the Word” is not Jesus…but the Bible!

Understand that for years I had been taught, and later taught others, that the Bible was the Word of God!   Jesus and the Bible were interchangeable!  When someone said they were “studying the Word” we knew they meant the Bible, not Jesus!

And if Jesus is infallible, well the Bible must be as well!

In Catholicism, there is a dogma of “papal infallibility” whereby the pope holds and defines doctrine for their church.  However with the Protestant Reformation  a new authority or “infallibility” was needed.

The Bible

Sola Scriptura! 

Infallible.

Examine many evangelical churches Statements of Faith and it is quite likely that the Bible is not simply the highest textual authority for guiding and governing Christianity.

It is inerrant!

inerrancy1.jpg.scaled500-300x210

Hey, I LOVE the Bible.  I have a very high view of scripture and believe it to be inspired by the Holy Spirit.   The scriptures points to and reveals Christ.

Having said that though the following would seem quite ridiculous to me:

In the beginning was the Bible, and the Bible was with God, and the Bible was God.  Scripture was with God in the beginning.  Through the Bible all things were made; without the Bible nothing was made that has been made.  In the Bible was life,and that life was the light of all mankind.  The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome.

Brian Zahnd writes a great blog piece on the topic and says:

The Bible is the word of God that bears witness to the Word of God — Jesus Christ.

The Logos-Word became flesh — not a book.

Jesus is God. The Bible is not.

The Bible did not create the Heavens and Earth — the Word (Christ) did.

We worship Jesus; we do not worship the Bible.

The Bible is not a member of the Trinity.

The Bible is not God. Jesus is God.

The Bible is not perfect. (There are parts of it we now regard as obsolete; e.g. Levitical codes.)

Christ is the perfection of God as a human being.

What the Bible does infallibly is point us to Jesus Christ.

There is one mediator between God and man…and it’s not the Bible.

The Bible is the inspired witness to the true Word of God who is Jesus Christ.

Brian Zahnd – Scripture as Witness to the Word of God. 

I use the the Bible to understand and know The Word but these days I’m careful not to confuse one with the other!

More Thoughts on John Piper, God, And “Dexter”

John piperDoes pastor and theologian John Piper worship a different God than the one I do? That was the question I unpacked a couple posts back when I suggested that, based on some comments made by Piper, the God he worshiped looked more like the T.V. serial killer Dexter than Jesus.

As vexed as I was by the statements made by Piper such as,

“It’s right for God to slaughter women and children anytime he pleases.  God gives life and he takes life.  Everybody who dies, dies because God wills that they die. So everyday God is taking life.  He will take 50,000 lives today.”

I still had this bad feeling inside about suggesting we worshiped “different Gods”.  I have always been one who strived to pull the Body of Christ together despite theological differences.  I don’t care so much about opposing ideas on baptism, communion, or eschatology;  show me somebody who loves Jesus and I’ll show you someone I share the Lord’s Table with.

Then I received an e-mail from a friend about the post:

I have been pondering on this idea of how Piper
worships a different God…

I think this is a really tricky one… I guess he appears a different God
(because so harsh/horrible/ungood), but I hope it is the same one… because
I used to be quite conservative…, and I have
old friends who still like Piper.

And I think if we start saying that people with beliefs we find hard have a
different God, then we’d have to start writing off a good chunk of the
historical church. I am sure that is not what you meant, but I think it is a
somewhat perilous trajectory

He’s right!  It is a perilous trajectory…

Dividing the Body

During the 2012 American presidential election I remember being bothered that whenever President Obama would mention his Christian faith, many in the evangelical community would question, “Well, what God is he talking about?” and suggest that it was a “different God.”

I remember thinking how dangerous it is to divide the Body of Christ; to break the communion of the Lord’s Table with another person who claims Jesus as King.  Now I was doing the exact same thing!

I shared with another friend (yes this post solicited some e-mails) how I try to avoid singling out Christian leaders by name preferring to be more general when critiquing elements within the church.  But something stirred up in me when I saw that video of Piper saying how it may please God to slaughter women and children.

It would never please God!

And the last thing the world needs to hear is a respected minister of the Gospel revealing God as a cold heartless monster who is, nevertheless, capable of random acts of compassion on occasion.

As I suggested…When Piper describes God’s nature it looks more like Dexter than Jesus.

So although I would have to say Piper is my brother in Christ, I feel I must take issue with him in this area:

John Piper says: “It’s right for God to slaughter women and children anytime he pleases.”

jesus-with-children-2309-234x300

Jesus says: “Don’t push these children away. Don’t ever get between them and me. These children are at the very center of life in the kingdom.” Matt 10:13

John Piper says: God gives life and he takes life. 

Jesus says: “First things first. Your business is life, not death. And life is urgent: Announce God’s kingdom!” (Luke 9:60 in a parable on how his disciples are supposed to act)

John Piper says: Everybody who dies, dies because God wills that they die.”

Jesus says: “Put your sword back where it belongs. All who use swords are destroyed by swords.” Matt 26:52

John Piper says: “He (God) will take 50,000 lives today.”

Jesus says: “The thief (Satan) comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” John 10:10

 

Can We Know What God is REALLY Like?

Admittedly the Bible does have some conflicting verses which challenge the “goodness” of God. But Jesus came to clean up ALL those misconceptions.

Righteous Father, the world has never known you,
But I have known you, and these disciples know
That you sent me on this mission.
I have made your very being known to them—
Who you are and what you do—
And continue to make it known,
So that your love for me
Might be in them
Exactly as I am in them.

John 17: 25-26

We never really knew God.  The Old Testament writers never really knew God.  Jesus came to make God known to us.  Jesus and the Father are One so when we see how Jesus treats humanity, we know how God in heaven treats humanity.  (John 14: 8-11)

Replacing “God” with “Jesus” in John Piper’s statements reveal them for the absurdity they are:

“It’s right for Jesus to slaughter women and children anytime he pleases.  Jesus gives life and he takes life.  Everybody who dies, dies because Jesus wills that they die. So everyday Jesus is taking life.  Jesus will take 50,000 lives today.”

dexter1

To paraphrase and tweak Brian Zahnd’s quote from the last post:

God is not like Dexter!  God has never been like Dexter.  There has never been a time when God was like Dexter.  We haven’t always known that…

…but now we do!

 

John Piper’s God Looks More Like “Dexter” than Jesus

dexter

After reading my post yesterday on the great lengths God will go to for his children my brother Andy commented:

I just did a post about a John Piper video that is making a resurgence on the web… and I have come to a conclusion – You and he do not worship the same god. What do you do with a guy like Piper?

That had me curious.  Did one of the most famous theologians in America and I really worship different gods?

So I watched the video my brother shared.  In it Piper is answering a question about why it was OK for God to kill women and children in the Old Testament.

My thought was, “Well that should be a quick answer…it’s not OK”.

Apparently John Piper thinks otherwise.

Says Piper:

“It’s right for God to slaughter women and children anytime he pleases.  God gives life and he takes life.  Everybody who dies, dies because God wills that they die. So everyday God is taking life.  He will take 50,000 lives today.”

Piper goes on for five more minutes in a similar vein getting further and further away from the God who was revealed through Jesus Christ.

 

 

Jonathan Edwards Legacy

John Piper’s views on God’s nature did not form in a vacuum. Rather it has been shaped by the theological legacy of America’s Great Awakening 270 years ago.  The Great Awakening was a religious revival that has had a lasting impact on modern American Christianity.  It stressed a deep need for personal salvation and the consequences of a failure to respond to Christ.

Probably the most famous sermon out of the Great Awakening is Jonathan Edwards’ Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God.

crisis_pic1

The title says it all.  Yes, according to Edwards God is very angry indeed!

The God that holds you over the Pit of Hell,
much as one holds a Spider, or some loathsome Insect, over the Fire, abho

rs you, and is dreadfully
provoked; his Wrath towards you burns like Fire;
he looks upon you as worthy of nothing else, but

to be cast into the Fire; he is of purer Eyes than to
bear to have you in his Sight; you are ten thousand
Times so abominable in his Eyes as the most hateful venomous Serpent is in ours. You haveoffended

him infinitely more than ever a stubborn Rebel did
his Prince: and yet ‘tis nothing but his Hand that
holds you from falling into the Fire every Moment

Excerpt: “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God”

 

God abhors you!

God sees you like a loathsome insect!

God holds you over a consuming fire every moment!

Oh, and by the way…God also loves you…

Can you see why John Piper, and for that matter, a large section of American Christianity, appears schizophrenic to the rest of us?  They are trying to reconcile a psychotic serial killer and the Prince of Peace.  The result?

John Piper doesn’t worship God…he worships Dexter!

 

When God Looks Like Dexter

Dexter is a TV show about a police forensic specialist named Dexter… who is also a serial killer.  Dexter is aware of his brutal need to kill so he has constructed a series of rules (the law?) of who he is allowed to murder. Essentially he has created a way to methodically kill other murderers and “bad guys” allowing the release he needs to satiate his murderous nature and thus maintain the facade of a normal life.

Like Piper’s God, Dexter is capable of acts of incredible compassion…and incredible savagery.  The only problem is of course…

…he’s insane!

Honestly, I was only able to watch 6 or 7 episodes of the hit show despite many friend’s recommendations.  I struggled with that type of gratuitous violence, as well as the nasty feeling that came from rooting for a serial killer.

I found myself having the same nasty feeling watching Piper describe his God!

 

When God Looks Like Jesus
If we were still living in the Old Covenant, before Jesus appeared, Piper’s description of God could be more accepted…and forgivable.

Why?

Because people didn’t know God.  They hadn’t seen him and he had not revealed himself fully.  People got glimpses of what God might be like but at best they were like guessing shadow puppets on the wall.  But when Jesus showed up everything changed.

The Light had come into the world and we were invited to see God  for who he is with absolute clarity.

And guess what?  He didn’t look like Dexter at all!

No one has ever seen God, but the one and only Son, who is himself God and is in closest relationship with the Father, has made him known.

John 1: 18-19

Instead of a God who takes life, Jesus reveals a God who gives Life!

Instead of a God who sees humanity as loathsome insects, Jesus reveals a God who calls us his children!

Instead of a God who holds you over the fire, Jesus reveals a God who holds you close to his heart!

father-and-son

As Brian Zahnd says:

God is like Jesus!  God has always been like Jesus.  There has never been a time when God was not like Jesus.  We haven’t always known that…

…but now we do!

Instead of revealing to the Body of Christ the nature of God through Jesus Christ, John Piper clings to a shadowy image of God found in the Old Testament when even John the Apostle implies that no one really knew or saw him clearly.

I have to use the verse I mentioned yesterday simply because it is such a contrast to the image of God projected by Jonathan Edwards, John Piper, Mark Driscoll, and much of the church with a “reformed” theology as their foundation:

See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!

1 John 3:1

The Father’s lavish love for his children trumps “an Angry God” anytime!

When the church’s understanding of God comes more from Dexter than Jesus, well, we shouldn’t then wonder why the world sees the church as insane.

This Easter Which Messiah would YOU Choose?

barabbas

Barabbas

On that first Easter week more than 2000 years ago, many of us are  familiar with the moment where the Roman governor Pontius Pilate, in keeping with the Passover tradition of releasing one prisoner back to the people, offered the choice of freeing either Jesus of Nazareth or Barabbas.  Most people, however,  don’t know what Barabbas’ first name was.

It was Jesus!

Even more startling is the meaning of Barabbas.  “Bar” means “son of” and “abba” is of course, father.

Barabbas was Jesus, Son of the Father!

Barabbas was also a local hero who had led a riot that had killed Romans.

In this moment Jerusalem had a choice to make.  Would they choose to release:

* Jesus of Nazareth, who arrived as a prince of peace into the city just days before, not on a triumphal warhorse, but humbly on the colt of a donkey.

or

* Jesus, Son of the Father, who had already shown he was ready to pick up a sword to vindicate Israel and drive Rome from the Holy City.

Earlier in the week we see that Jerusalem was ready to back Jesus of Nazareth.  But this Jesus didn’t seem to care to much about the Roman occupation of Jerusalem. In fact, he barely mentioned Rome at all!  Instead he placed great importance about the state of people’s hearts…and, incredibly, seemed to see a relationship with God being beyond Israel to the nations of the Earth.

But Jerusalem had plans for their Messiah!  They were looking for a King of War…

and instead he came as a Prince of Peace.

Jesus knew the choice Jerusalem would make on that fateful day:

 And when he drew near and saw the city, he wept over it, saying, “Would that you, even you, had known on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes. For the days will come upon you, when your enemies will set up a barricade around you and surround you and hem you in on every side and tear you down to the ground, you and your children within you. And they will not leave one stone upon another in you, because you did not know the time of your visitation.”

Luke 19:41-44

Jesus offered them peace.  But deep down, they didn’t want peace.

  • They wanted a messiah that would prove they were right!
  • They wanted a messiah that would defeat their enemies!
  • They wanted a messiah that would show the world that God was on their side!

The crowd made their choice:

We want Jesus, Son of the Father, the false Messiah.

And what should be done with the King of Kings, the Prince of Peace, the Alpha and the Omega…the “I AM”?

Jerusalem responded with one voice, “Crucify Him”! (Luke 23: 13-23)

Jesus wept for Jerusalem!

Jesus wept for Jerusalem!

So what about today?

When I hear (some) Christians talk today, I can’t help but notice the similarity in temperament with those citizens of Jerusalem so long ago.  They want Jesus to come again…but they have a certain agenda for him when he gets here.

Like the Jewish people who felt oppressed by the Romans, many Christians in the West increasingly see their values at odds the society around them.  One Christian in America I know even wrote to me, “the Barbarians are at the Gates”.

This is not good!

When Christians develop a “siege mentality” like Jerusalem did so long ago, their interests become parochial, political, and very self-serving.  They wave palms for Jesus on Sunday morning but secretly hope when he returns he will “kick a little butt” (so to speak).

  • They wanted a (returning) messiah that will prove they were right!
  • They wanted a (returning) messiah that will defeat their enemies!
  • They wanted a (returning) messiah that will show the world that God was on their side!

But that first Easter Sunday the Son of God declared that he was on no one’s “side”.  Instead, through his sacrifice, he would draw all men and women to his side. (John 12:32)

But that second list looks a lot like the first list.  Have we really changed?  Have we learned?

Given the choice between Jesus of Nazareth or Jesus, Son of the Father…I wonder which messiah Christians today would choose?

(Just want to note I was inspired to do this post after hearing a great teaching by Pastor Brian Zahnd which can be found here )

7 “Proofs” That God Exists!

proof

In Brian Zahnd’s book “Beauty Will Save the World” Zahnd suggests that Christianity has lost much of its shine and beauty in its endless pursuit of:

Apologetics: Defending Christianity and attempting to “prove” God

Ethics: Christians have appointed themselves the behavior police of not only the church, but the world.

The tragedy is that the focus on these two “missions” camouflage the  inherent beauty (Jesus) of Christianity.  A “Beauty that will Save the World”.

And isn’t that the problem Christianity is facing now?  We spend an inordinate amount of time on “ministries” that have little to nothing to do with the instructions our Lord gave us.  He told us to:

* Love God

* Love those around us beginning with our enemies.

Then Jesus tells us to go everywhere and share with everyone the good news (gospel) that they are FREE!  That they are invited into a new way of ordering society based on love, mercy, justice, and forgiveness.

Somehow though that message has got a little muddled as we somehow feel it’s our duty to defend God (who needs neither defending or to be proved) or to enforce our perceived norms on people around us (and convincing ourselves its just our “loving” them)

So I was watching a “Christian” TV show that came on in Hong Kong a couple days ago.  It was an American pentecostal minister and the title of the sermon was something like “7 Proofs that God Exists”.  I am always intrigued when these shows come on the “free to air” Hong Kong channels.  The cultural layers separating Hong Kong “urban Internationals” and American southern Pentecostals would have to make for an interesting sociology study.  In fact some Hong Kongers probably don’t “get it” and just figure it’s just one of those crazy American reality comedy shows.

Well, I was rushing to get out the door but had my curiosity aroused enough to stick around to see what he was going to say to “prove” God.  I was able to catch the first 3:

1) Creation Demands a Creator

2) Life Demands a Life giver

3) Laws Demand a Lawgiver

Really?  These are “proofs”.  To a 21st century audience you are going to claim these propositions prove the existence of God?

proof 3

Now I’m not suggesting these are not great things to contemplate as a Christian.  As a believer and as I mediate on God and study the Bible these statements are certainly worthy of further reflection to underpin my faith.

But I would certainly not use them on someone who didn’t believe in God as a tool to get them to now suddenly believe in God.

Point of fact, I don’t see a lot of Bible space given to “proving God” (A little Romans Chapter 1 comes to mind).  It just doesn’t seem like “proving God’s existence” was something we were supposed to give a lot of energy too.

But there are a number of things Christ says we should be giving some energy to.  Things that just may help “prove” God!

But Ok, So if its proof we need I got Seven “proofs” to get us started:

* Be kind to someone who doesn’t like you
* Speak nice about someone who talks behind your back
* Spend time listening to someone share their heart when they have no positive networking potential for you whatsoever.
* Doing an extra task at work for another even if its “unfair”.
* Find a neighbor who is out of work and show up with a few bags of groceries and something for the kids.
* Let someone who is in a hurry go before you
* Be a genuine friend to someone who doesn’t share your religious, political, or cultural beliefs.

So there is my seven “proofs” of God’s existence.  Believe me, if more people lived this way A LOT more people would believe in God.