Archive for category Gospel
Like most Christians who went to church last Sunday, I found myself listening to the familiar story of Jesus healing the blind man in John 9, But for the first time this jarring line leaped out at me:
“His parents said this because they were afraid of the Jews; for the Jews had already agreed that anyone who confessed Jesus to be the Messiah would be put out of the synagogue.” (John 9:22) NRSV
Now, in Protestantland most people are probably reading out of the NIV, which has politically sanitized this verse to say “Jewish leaders” rather than just the “Jews”. But in the ever popular King James bible it is even worse than my NRSV:
“These words spake his parents, because they feared the Jews: for the Jews had agreed already, that if any man did confess that he was Christ, he should be put out of the synagogue.”
Just in case anyone missed it, the Early English authors used the words “the Jews” twice, to ensure that we all understand who the bad guys were. You could almost forget that the blind man and his parents were Jewish too. Or that everyone in this particular passage were Jewish, last but not least, Jesus himself.
Am I nitpicking here? Is this just a bit of trivia? Well, not when you consider that throughout the centuries this is how Jesus, his disciples and his adversaries have been depicted, I don’t think you can deny that this Johannine depiction of “the Jews” has shaped much of the Christian world view. Even to this day, as seen in Mel Gibson’s “Passion of the Christ” or the Millinialist’s championing of Israel for the purpose of advancing Armageddon, antisemitism is thread throughout the fabric of the church. To the detriment of all Christian and, of course, to the detriment of our Jewish neighbors. And to the detriment of world peace.
“Hell is the absence of God”. This is a pithy definition that many Christians find attractive. It shoves under the rug any suggestion that God might have created Hell as a place of eternal torment and punishment for human disobedience. Since God will not force us to love ‘him’, we must make the choice ourselves, or so it goes. And what Christian would not choose the presence of God in Heaven? If God is omnipresent, if “he” is everywhere, then his absence is ‘no where’. Hell is the last death, annihilation. This makes the bitter pill of damnation a bit easier to swallow.
But Jesus is suggesting something else, that God is not in Heaven but may actually spend a lot of time in Hell. Many of his followers readily choose to spend time in Hell, living with and helping those who cannot escape, at least not on their own. Classic examples are Father Damien, Dorothy Day, Albert Schweitzer, Corrie ten Boom, Nelson Mandela and Mother Theresa. Thousands, if not millions, of others, have forfeited comfortable Sunday church meetings, choir practice and Bible study to devote their time and energy in the service of the sick, the poor and the imprisoned. This is where they find God. This is where they lead others to God. Not through pseudo-evangelical proselytizing about Hell and Heaven. Not through fear and intimidation, but through self-sacrifice and love.
The other day I suggested that, to many Evangelicals, both progressive and fundamentalist, if you took away Hell you would take away their vision of Jesus. Hell may even be a more important tenet of the Christian faith than Jesus, because without Hell what is there for Jesus to save us from?
But maybe there’s another way to look at Hell, a way that is not so doctrinaire but more holistic. Maybe the closest we can get to God is in Hell, though not by reflecting on our own pain but through focusing on the pain of others. No gains or rewards, no divine pats on the back. Just encountering the beauty and presence of God in some of the vilest and most horrifying cesspits of the world. Why else would anyone willingly live their lives with those people, in those places? A love of God that I can only imagine.
Perhaps this points us to what Heaven ( or more accurately, the Kingdom of God ) might look like. It’s not a place where we go when we die and it’s not a return of the mythical Garden of Eden. It’s not something God gives to us for being good, but a world that we must earn by working towards eliminating our man-made Hells. Of course, the chances of this happening does not look good, but some amazing people are busy making it happen, one piece at a time.
At that time Jesus and his disciples entered a prosperous land. Hearing of his arrival, many of the people came to hear him speak. Thousands gathered around him.
” I bring you good news. God loves you, all of you. You have no need to fear or worry. Eternal life is yours. Peace and happiness are at hand. “
The crowd began to murmur. They didn’t understand what he was saying.
“How is this possible? How do we get this eternal life you speak of ?” they asked.
Smiling, Jesus spread his arms wide. “Just follow me. I am living this life right now. I have come to share with you the Way of eternal life and how to be in tune with God. You may hear all kinds of people on television pitching their self-help programs, but there is good reason there are so many of them. They don’t work. Not for long. But follow me and I can assure you of eternal life.
” OK, so what’s the catch? How much does this cost? What kind of sacrifices do I have to make?” a man asked.
“There is no catch” said Jesus. “This life is free. No fees. No purchase necessary. No sacrifice.”
“Alright”, another shouted. “Tell us. What is this secret?”
“Simple” said Jesus. “Love each other as much as you love yourself and love God with all your heart. The only way to love God is to love others.”
“How do we do that?” someone asked
“Always put the needs of others before your own” Jesus said. ” Visit the sick and imprisoned. Feed the hungry. Clothe the naked. Take in the homeless. And -very importantly – forgive everyone, especially your enemies.”
“That’s crazy!” someone shouted. “We don’t live in some sort of dream world. We have families to take care of – we can’t just bring bums and vagrants into our homes!”
“I have to worry about my kid’s college tuition!” another shouted “I can’t buy clothes for a bunch of slackers. Let ‘em get jobs and buy their own.”
A woman stood up, shaking her fist. “What kind of fuzzy-wuzzy crap is this? Love your enemies?! I guess you expect us to love all those elitist god-haters that want to destroy this great nation? You just want us to open our arms to foreign heathens as they pour into our country, taking our jobs, speaking their own languages, praying to the wrong gods and plotting violent revolution? You’re just a sissy wing-nut that hates his own country!”
The angry crowd turned their backs and began to leave, grumbling and shaking their heads. Nervously, Jesus glanced around. Looking up, he smiled and suddenly jumped on a nearby boulder, waving his arms frantically.
“Wait! Wait!” he cried. “There is another way! A better way! Come back. Give me another chance.”
Most ignored him but some turned back. “This better be good”, they said. They sat down on the grass and waited.
Jesus sat down in the middle of them. ” OK, the other stuff was good, but that was only half the story. This is the real deal. You see, there are these two places called Heaven and Hell….
Posted by Christian Beyer in Bible, biblical literalism, Calvinism, Catholicism, Christianity, Church, Crime and Punishment, Culture, Current Events, damnation, Emerging Church, Ethics, Evil, Faith, Fundamentalism, God, Gospel, grace, Heaven and Hell, Hell, Heresy, Heterodoxy, Jesus, Justice, Morality, Orthodoxy, Protestantism, reformed church, Religion, Religious Right, Religious Tolerance, sacrifice, salvation, Sin, Spirituality, Substitutionary Atonement, Theology, Universalism on March 10, 2011
As long as I can remember my mother has said, “As a Christian you have to believe in Hell but you don’t have to believe anyone is there.” This is her gracious understanding of an essential Christian doctrine. Though she didn’t know it, this understanding is a Christian “heresy” called Universalism, a heresy that says all of us, even non-Christians, will go to Heaven. And it was expressly against Catholic, and most Christian doctrine. But wasn’t she right about one thing: Don’t you have to believe in Hell to be a Christian? This must be the case, if Universalism is a heresy.
Not long ago Rob Bell was in the hot seat with many Evangelicals (and some Catholics) because his recent book, “Love Wins”, suggested that no one goes to Hell. He set the conservative Christian bogs on fire and most of them essentially condemned Bell to hell for not believing in Hell.
The ensuing progressive Christian defense of Bell was great. Many Emerging Church and progressive Christian bloggers busted the chops of people like the Three Johns ( Piper, MacArthur and Hagee) for accusing Bell of Universalism . They rightly criticized the conservative Christian tendency to make Hell such a big part of their theology, to the point where this doctrine obscures a lot of the Gospel message. But, unfortunately, few of them go far enough.
Because in their defense of Bell they made it quite clear that they also believed in the doctrine of Hell, they just adapted it to make it more palatable. Most seemed to accept the conventional orthodoxy of a Final Judgment and the potential prospect of Hell (even with little or no scriptural support for it) coupled with the salvic solution of Jesus dying for our sins on the cross, as God’s blood sacrifice, to free us from eternal damnation. Which, to me, flies in the face of what Jesus spends a lot of time telling us about God. As I heard a pastor once say, God is either merciful or God is just, but God cannot be both.
I think one reason why so many Christians are unyielding about Hell, and why the progressives still can’t shake the doctrine off, is that, in reality, Hell is the cornerstone of the Church, not Jesus. Because without Hell, what is there for Jesus to do? What does he save us from?
No Hell = no Jesus. Or at least the Jesus that many Christians claim to believe in, have faith in. Without Hell he loses his job description. He loses his purpose along with the primary meaning he may have for millions of Christians. So the idea that there is no Hell is just too damn frightening to consider.
There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love. 1 John 4:18
Posted by Christian Beyer in Bible, biblical literalism, Christianity, Emerging Church, Evangelism, Faith, Fundamentalism, God, Gospel, Heresy, Heterodoxy, History, Jesus, Orthodoxy, Religion, Religious Right, Religious Tolerance, salvation, Spirituality, Substitutionary Atonement, Theology, tolerance on January 28, 2011
Over on the Wall Street Journal blog, one of the members has (hopefully) started a thread by asking this question:
How do Christians define Christians? What makes you or not a Christian?
I often come across the argument that “said person is not a real Christian”, many tend to use this argument to exclude particulars who happen to shame the religion calling themselves part of it, or act in the name of it.
I think it would be interesting to see, how does every one define it, is it simply believing in a higher authority?. Is it taking every literal word of the bible?. Is it following the “reasonable” aspects of the bible?
Now, so far, only one person has given an answer, and it is one that I suspect the majority of American Christians would agree with:
A Christian is somebody who believes that Christ died on the Cross and shed his blood as the ultimate atonement(replacement for the blood sacrifice of the Old Testament law) for the sins of mankind. They believe that Christ is who He said He is. ie, The Son of God, and therefore God Himself. The concept of the Trinity applies here. God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit. Christ was the product of the immaculate conception. Christ was the fulfillment of Old Testament prophesy. Isaiah 53:3-7 is an example, among others of the prophesy.
The first chapter of John in the New testament, gives a good representation of what Christians believe about Christ.
To be saved (ie a Christian), is nothing more then the realization that man is born into sin, and the acceptance and acknowledgment of the free gift of eternal life(made possible because of Christ sacrifice on the Cross), that is offered to mankind, should they(exhibit their “free will”) except it. It is nothing more then Gods grace being demonstrated through mans faith.
If all of the above needs to be believed in order to be a Christian, then I guess I am not one. Of course, for many reasons I think the above definition, although perhaps “orthodox”, is incorrect.
Over on Ric Booth’s blog there is an interesting conversation taking place about a new organization that John Shore is spear-heading called ThruWAy Christians, particularly their controversial acceptance of gays and lesbians. The stated goal of ThruWAy Christians is to provide moderate Christians with a new forum. As it says on their website: “If you find conservative Christianity too oppressive and exclusionary, and progressive Christianity too theologically tenuous, you’re probably a ThruWay Christian.” Which means that, though I agree with much of the content of their founding document, my theology is much too “tenuous” (something which I am sure the Conservative Christians could accuse the ThruWay people).
Surprisingly, I don’t believe my theology is any weaker than theirs or any one else. It’s different to be sure. Maybe not as orthodox as they would like. And like Christianity, it is evolving. But that doesn’t mean that it is “flimsy, insubstantial or lacking in strength”. This is a charge that the orthodox have always levied at those who had the audacity to question theological authority.
The good folks over at ThruWAy Christian are not really challenging conservative Christian theological authority, though. They are only challenging the conservative interpretations of certain scriptures that they believe lead to intolerant and mean spirited attitudes and behavior. But I would suggest that the overarching theology that both the moderates and the conservatives still hold in common ( much of which has been condensed by the commenter from the WSJ blog and jives with the first line of ThruWay’s creed ) is actually what drives this intolerance. And has for centuries.
I ‘ve found that it is nearly impossible for Christian moderates to engage Fundamentalists in any meaningful dialog that might result in a change of perception on the part of either, so I’ve given up on it myself. If this is the goal of the folks at ThruWAy, well then, have at it. But if they would be open-minded enough to engage some Christians whose convictions are not quite as solid, substantial or strong as theirs then perhaps they might find that ‘progressive’ is not such a bad word after all.
I guess it’s becoming a holiday tradition for me to make spicy chocolate crunch, since this is the second year in a row that I’ve done it. Pretty astounding for me to stick with anything that long.
So I wrapped up a package of candy and topped it off with a Fuentes cigar tied with a red ribbon, to take over to my next door neighbor’s house. Walking up their front steps, I considered how to greet them, as they are devout Muslims. I decided that this year I was going to go against my better instincts and say “Merry Christmas”. For the past 3 or 4 years I’ve been a staunch advocate of the “Happy Holidays” approach.
When Asan opened the door he beat me to the punch with his own hearty “Merry Christmas”! And why not? It’s an American custom, a tradition that really has little to do with religion anymore. The Christmas season has always been about the universal ideal of “peace on Earth, good will towards men”. That is, until some mean old Christians went and ruined it.
No one used to worry about offending anyone with “Merry Christmas”. I used to work for a reformed Jewish fellow and we made no bones about the season being about Christmas. Hanukkah fell in their somewhere, but it surely wasn’t a Hanukkah season. We put a tree up in the restaurant lobby every year and, yes, there was a menorah on the mantle. We both enjoyed the season and we both enjoyed the business that the season generated. I never gave my personal greetings much thought, but probably gave equal time to Christmas, the Holidays and New Year.
But then some overly sensitive, paranoid and doctrinaire Christians became offended by the lack of “Christ” in the Christmas season (as if Christ hadn’t been upstaged by Santa Clause since long before WWII). They mounted a national campaign designed to regain uncontested control of the holidays. Coming from their lips “Merry Christmas” was no longer a heartfelt greeting meant to wish people joy and happiness, it was now a challenge like “I dare you to knock this frankincense off my shoulder!” Or the Christian equivalent of the Black Power salute: a symbol of defiance in the face of ‘secularists’ and solidarity among the ‘faithful’. Where is the grace in that?
All of a sudden it became difficult for the rest of us to wish people a merry Christmas. These zealous Christians had created an air of tension where there was none before. It wasn’t the ‘secularists’ or the rare militant atheist who made the Christmas greeting into a politically incorrect statement – it was the result of needy, insecure Christians demanding that everyone confirm their religious tradition. In their fervent devotion to the idealized story of the birth of a baby God they effectively buried the adult Jesus’ message beneath the sands of a mythical Bethlehem.
But not quite. I find it heartening, when a devout Muslim man is able to share the true spirit of Christmas with a jaded, cynical Christian like myself, without compromising his own faith in the process.
Assalamu alaikum wa rahmatullah!
Some time ago I posted the most popular blog I’ve ever done (not that any are all that popular, by most standards – and it only continues to get so many hits because of the interest so many people seem to have with the title). While putting together the pictures of Jesus on the yesterday’s post, I was tempted to revisit the Black Jesus, but believe that this is an entirely different issue than what I was addressing with the ‘avatars’ (although I do believe that the head shot of Jesus I used is a type of avatar in itself, with its cherubic northern European features).
What a coincidence when today my news feed led me to this excellent article by Yoknyam Dabale over on Black Star News. He does a much better job communicating the point I so sloppily made in my story about the “Black Jesus”:
I would say, the Black Christ is an attempt from African Christians to make Christ relevant; they wished to experience Christ in their own language and in the image in which God created them, along side acknowledging Christ’s presence among those who don’t look like them. One must understand that, this Jesus of Nazareth that the gospel talks about is no “White man”, the reason why the White, pale Jesus is pervasive is due to the fact that, as a friend nicely expressed, “those in power define who your God is and what that god must look like”, through the work of colonization/globalization and world mission, Western Christians enforced Christ as a “White man”, that legacy still have a presence amongst Africans.
Those who are opposed to portraying Jesus as a Black man must not be aware of the history of Christianity on the continent of Africa. In order for Jesus Christ to be presence amongst all people, He should not be a distant White man who seems very disconnected with the reality of the African world.
Again, why do some ‘traditional’ Christians critique some Africans,who like to see Christ as a black man, when they have no problem portraying him is a non-Jewish white European with Western values? We (and this means just about everyone who even considers Jesus today, theist or not) has co-opted Jesus and remade him into whatever our personal experiences, our personal world views and the doctrines of dead men have cooked up. The majority of Christians certainly are either unaware or indifferent to the historical Yeshua (who we know very little about).
I don’t think there is much wrong in having distinct personal images of Christ – I seriously doubt if there is any other way to contemplate anything linked to the divine – but perhaps Christians should seriously consider their religion’s own relativistic qualities before they criticize others for not adhering to the ‘truth’, whether it be about Jesus’ skin color or the theologies of other faith traditions.
It’s that simple. Because that means that you just haven’t gotten the point of the Gospel.
I remember talking with some friends about a member of our church, an old gentleman who had just passed away at a fairly advanced age. He had been a member of the church for a very long time, longer than any of us had been members. A bit standoffish, more than a little grumpy, he was the type of fellow who didn’t invite folks to get to know him very well.
One of my friends said that he regretted not getting to know this man, that he hadn’t taken the time to sit with him, especially in the last few days of his life. He regretted never having asked the man if he was ‘saved’. My other friends heartily agreed.
I was fairly blown away by this. In fact, I remember this conversation as the beginning of the end of my romance with Fundamentalism. It was the first time that I realized how different my understanding of the Gospel was from theirs.
What was the point of asking an old man, that you never bothered to know over the years, what his beliefs were on his death bed? What did the question really mean and what would he have said anyway? I think that what this question really meant was “Do you believe in precisely what I believe? Because if you don’t then you will go to hell”. I think my friends would have no problem admitting that.
I won’t bother explaining why I think that this is wrong. If you get it, then you get it. If you don’t, we’ll, then you won’t.
No too long ago I was an angry Christian. Long before that I was an angry Conservative – because I was raised by an angry Conservative. It could just as easily have been the other way around, there are plenty of angry Liberals out there. No one seems to have a monopoly on this emotion and it’s usually accompanied by indignation and self-righteousness with a liberal dose of superiority. Being on the correct side of the issues allowed me to feel anger towards all those who not only did not understand but who, in my mind, were deliberately trying to sabotage the world. Of course this is in hindsight. At the time I didn’t realize how angry I was. I was just so definitely right about everything.
I’ve always been impressed with Dallas Willard’s take on Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. In the “Divine Conspiracy” Willard says that most of Jesus’ message here boils down to this: there is no room for anger in the Kingdom of God. You’d think that this was pretty obvious. But many times I’ve been surprised to hear peace-loving Christians object to the idea. After all, they say, there is such a thing as righteous anger.
Was there ever an example of an angry person who didn’t feel righteous ? I don’t know about you, but when I’m angry it’s not because I think I’m wrong but because I’ve been wronged. I’m usually the only one who has gotten things right. When the smoke has cleared, that’s usually not the case.
But what about Jesus’ anger in the Temple? Tossing over the tables and swinging the knotted rope? Well, if you think that Jesus was genuinely angered by the mercantile scene in the Temple then you aren’t giving him much credit. He surely knew what to expect when he got there and he knew what his actions would provoke. It wasn’t an angry outburst – it was a calculated ploy. Yet this one episode has become the proof we use to justify our own ‘righteous’ anger. “If the cause is a good one, well, then it’s OK to lose one’s temper” (the ends justify the means). Even moderate Christians continue to slip on this banana peel.
Christian fundamentalist have a theology that embraces the idea of an angry Yahweh, who demands violent justice, partnered with an angry End Times Jesus who is going to punish all those who “have it coming”. Although we have Jesus’ teachings on peace, love, mercy and self-sacrifice he left us a loop-hole that we just love to jump through, over and over. Hence our outrage over sexual promiscuity, welfare mothers, gays and lesbians, the removal of school prayers, false prophets and the rise of Islam. (Of course Muslim fundamentalists are just as angry, as are the recent crop of fundamentalist atheists.) There is something about ‘fundamentalism’ – this idea that there are only certain ‘absolute’ truths and anyone who can’t see them is terribly flawed – that lends itself to anger.
The most prominent religious fundamentalist in the news today is not a Muslim or Bible Belt Evangelical but a reactionary Roman Catholic: Mel Gibson. And, as is usually the case with religious fundamentalists, it is anger that has thrust him into this part of the public spotlight.
The gossip commentators, bloggers and talking heads accusing Mel Gibson of being a drunken racist bigot, an anti-Semite and a misogynist are really missing the point. Anyone who has listened to the recent tapes and read any of his earlier unfortunate comments can see that Mel is really pissed off about something. He is boiling mad. Which, I’ve been told, can lead some people to strong drink. (Thank God I don’ t have THAT problem). I’m sure that at the time Mel thought his anger was justifiable. (Which, if you check the underbelly of the blogosphere, you will find a lot other people think so as well.)
When Gibson released “The Passion of the Christ” I was nearly ecstatic. Like most neo-Evangelicals, I loved the movie, it struck me deeply (and it still does, but that’s another story). I excitedly anticipated the millions it would convert to Christianity (they never did). I was excited that an expressly counter-secular- culture film could be so successful at the box offices ( and that, artistically, would be miles above the cinematic dreck that preceded it). And I was proud of Gibson, who bucked the system and testified to the world how he was saved by Jesus Christ. But I wonder if his Christ (and mine, at the time) was really able to save anyone.
Over the next six years Gibson has displayed a pattern of angry self-destruction. I doubt if he really hates as much as many people think he does. I really doubt that he believes all the terrible things that he has said. After sobering up, I’m sure he regretted them. But there is no doubt that he is angry, probably just as angry (if not more so) than he was before his religious conversion. I don’t know what Mel is angry about, but why does it seem as if his faith has not helped him here?
What happened when he became ‘born again’? Did Gibson really change? For that matter, has anyone who ‘turned his or her life over’ to an angry God really changed? Or could it be that, comfortable in the hands of a God who is angry at all the same things we are, we have no reason to change? Because it is anger, along with fear, that allows little room for the transformative power of love in our lives. Anger management – righteous anger – allows us to live with this monkey on our back rather than finding a way to toss it off. And for Christians that is the Way of Jesus.
(As an aside: where are all Mel’s old Evangelical supporters now? Not a peep out of ‘em. What ever happened to forgiveness and mercy and grace?)
History has brought us to the point where the Christian message is thought to be essentially concerned only with how to deal with sin: with wrongdoing or wrong-being and its effects . . . The current gospel then becomes a ‘gospel of sin management.’ Transformation of life and character is no part of the redemptive message.
Anger indulged, instead of simply waived off, always has in it an element of self-righteousness and vanity. Find a person who has embraced anger, and you find a person with a wounded ego.
Dallas Willard – “The Divine Conspiracy”