Mar 19 2019

Foreword

If I were to write another book, it could be another, even clearer, presentation of the gospel.

If I were to write another book, it would be because my wife told me I should, because the good news is way better than even I thought it was a couple of years ago.

If I were to write another book, this could be the Forward.

Foreword

It is coincidental that here, in mid-Lent, I have just finished reading my fourth book in a row on the atonement, besides listening to various sermons and lectures online. It’s not that unusual for me to lock onto a subject, but I don’t think I’ve ever locked on to something this meaningful and relevant, for it relates to everything (if you happen to be a spiritually-minded person). For that matter, it’s relevant even if you’re not, but that’s a topic for another time. It’s relevant to everything because at the heart of the atonement issue—and the larger issues of life, death and everything—is the nature and character of God.

At this point in my studies, I am more than ever convinced that a majority of evangelicals around the world have been taught things about the atonement—and subsequently the nature of God—which are heretical. In this, I am in line with most of the church throughout history. It is unfortunate that so many church attendees will have to listen to sermons about justice and wrath and how God abandoned Jesus on the cross because He couldn’t look on sin, about how we are all worms saved only because God poured his wrath on Jesus instead of us.

This kind of thinking not only portrays God as being not at all like Jesus (and somewhat schizoid), but pits God against Jesus, antagonist versus victim, dividing the Godhead. This thinking, by the way, came from Calvin, who was forced to this conclusion to make sense of his other heretical ideas.

This is not good news. If anything, this should cause us all to wind up on Easter with a case of PTSD. Even after being saved by the skin of our teeth, we still have to deal with the fact that our God would have crucified us, and will still go on to throw most of the world into hell for all eternity. This is supposed to make us happy? Rejoice! We’re saved, but the rest of the world will burn forever!

With this kind of thinking, it’s no wonder that some of evangelical Christianity (if it can be called that) has turned into a kind of war-mongering hate group, fostering various “us against them” mindsets and acting not at all like Jesus (who, by the way, is not coming back on a white horse to smite anybody).

Thankfully, none of this wrath-based thinking is true. It doesn’t even make sense. (Part of the problem is that words like wrath, ransom, and hell have been mistranslated and the English words mis-defined.) If God was paid off by Jesus, that’s not really forgiveness, is it? If someone else pays off my mortgage, the bank hasn’t forgiven the loan; it was paid in full. Calling it forgiveness is not being very honest. Plus, it makes God into someone other than who Jesus said he was.

The Good News is so much better! Here’s a basic outline of the true story, which (with various nuances) has been believed since the early Church:

• God is exactly like Jesus (the Bible tells us so).

• God is love. Period. (It’s all about the love, ‘bout the love, no wrath…).

• The wrathful God is a myth.

• There is no original sin/guilt. Mankind is not totally depraved. Sin is a plague, and we are victims.

• God never wanted sacrifices.

• Jesus was born (incarnated) to join man back to God.

• Jesus is in the Father, and the Father is in Jesus (they are not like Legos that can be pulled apart).

• God forgave us apart from Jesus’ death. He forgave us without payment or incentive.

• The “shedding of blood” is not needed for forgiveness (context is everything).

• God did not turn away from Jesus; God looks at sin all the time.

• Jesus died to save us from sin (the plague) and death. He basically blew death up from the inside when he rose on Easter.

• Jesus died “for the sins of the world.” Yeah, that’s everyone.

• We don’t become saved to get into heaven or escape hell; we are saved from sin and death so that we can become one with God (at-one-meant).

• God is not sending anyone to hell (which is nothing like Dante described it).

• Jesus is not coming back to destroy anything (forgiveness and wrath don’t mix).

• God is good. Always.

• God is love. Always. No qualifiers.

Now isn’t that so much better? It should be, because this is what the Bible actually teaches, if we really look at it apart from those screwy notions we’ve accepted as truth.

The Good News is that God loves [all of] us and forgives [all of] us because that’s who God is; exactly like Jesus showed us.


Jun 5 2017

This I Know 2.02 — Preaching from the Gospels

As I mentioned in my last post, one of the great things about liturgical churches is that they typically rely on the predetermined Scripture readings for their preaching texts. This gives them the option of a sermon based on the Old Testament text, the Epistles, or the Gospels. Growing up, I heard a lot of great sermons from the Gospels. In the 40 or so years following my evangelical wanderings, I can recall very few such sermons, aside from Christmas and Lent/Easter. I’m sure there were some others (there had to be, right?), but none that I remember as well as those I heard in my youth. (Think of that; I actually listened and remembered a lot of what I heard…)

From my experience over the last 40 or so years hanging out with non-liturgicals (let’s just call them evangelicals), it seems that evangelicals don’t really like to preach from the Gospels, unless it’s to preach about hell or the end times (usually out of context). To me, it makes sense. For one thing, it seems easier to fit the Epistles into a Western, modern mindset.  Paul, the most prolific of the NT writers, wrote very logically, and addressed a lot of issues which could be made pertinent to the local church. Although, Paul is not a modern writer and is more Jewish than many people realize, so there’s also context issues in many interpretations of his teaching.

The Gospels, on the other hand, are not as thematically organized and are more Jewish in their storytelling. They deal a lot with Jewish culture and politics, and are so rooted in time and place that it’s perhaps harder to translate into Modern America.

But wait–on one hand you have a bunch of letters by someone who only met Jesus after he had died and resurrected. On the other hand, you have 4 books full of the actual teachings of Jesus. What do you think you’d rather hear about? What is more important to understand?

I always pick Jesus. The author of Hebrews even starts out by telling us that Jesus is the only pure image of God that we have. And John starts out his Gospel by saying the same thing. Everything else, OT and Epistles, should be read having a good knowledge of Jesus. But, unfortunately it’s often the other way around in evangelical churches (yes, I’m generalizing… I can’t address each church individually…). My perception, based again on my years of experience, is that often people interpret Jesus through their understanding of Paul (or occasionally the OT, which causes LOTS of problems). The result is a lot of very bad theology.

Another thing about preaching on Jesus’ life and teachings is that it’s very hard to get around what Jesus says, like “Give what you have to the poor” or “always take the lowest seat” or even “do your good deeds in secret.” This is all so unAmerican that it just doesn’t sell well. We could go on: “I don’t condemn you.” “Be healed.” “Love your neighbor as yourself.” As many of his disciples said, “This is a hard teaching. Who can accept it?” (John 6:60).

The Christianity I learned as a child was based on the stories about Jesus, and his parables and teachings. This is how I learned who God was, by understanding the nature of Jesus. Going forward, it is my intention to go through some of the major teachings in the Gospel that still influence me.


May 26 2017

This I Know 2.0

About 8 years ago I started writing a series titled This I Know, revisiting the things I learned as a child that I still believe today. The title, if you haven’t guess, comes from the song Jesus Love Me, which just happens to be my foundational belief. Everything I know and understand about God, life, the universe and everything (going one better than Douglas Adams) is based on this presupposition.

As an aside (which I tend to do a lot), I believe we are all presuppositional. That is, we all operate on certain foundational beliefs that are invisible to us for the most part, forming a sort of basic operating system. Philosophers tend to be more aware of their presuppositions than others, because that’s typically what they think about for fun. Some deny that they are presuppositional, but (no humor intended) that’s because of their presuppositions. Yeah, that response tends to drive them crazy…

Anyway, I don’t go around all day focused on the fact that God loves me, because I’d never get any work done. But, how I look at everything, how I react to people, how I live my life, assumes that God loves me and that he is looking out for me–not that he shows me preferential treatment–but that I am important and have individual value. I can say “life is good” because the fact that God loves me is foundational to everything else.

Now, Descartes claimed that all knowledge comes from knowledge of the self–I think, therefore I am. However, I wonder if knowing that God knows me (and cares for me) is more instinctive, and therefore known at a deeper level than a mental awareness of self. Just a thought.

The Lutheran in Me

I was raised Lutheran, which is a darn good way to be raised. That means from an early age I was not corrupted with crazy notions like the rapture or double predestination. I said one of the creeds every Sunday, heard the pronouncement of absolution (forgiveness), and heard a lot of sermons based on the Gospels (the Lectionary is truly a gift). Basically, going to church was a theology lesson. And, Lutherans believe that God loves us, and therefore we should love others because God loves them, too. Pretty simple.

As I think back to what I was taught about who God was and what it meant to be Godly or Christlike, I realize how very little that has in common with contemporary Evangelical teaching. Seriously, it’s like a different religion. I don’t even recognize the Gospel in a lot of what I hear from folks like Franklin Graham or Jim Dobson.

Another aside: Martin Luther actually coined the term “evangelical” (in German, of course) to refer to his movement within and without the Roman Catholic Church. I am actually rather offended that today’s so-called evangelicals have hijacked and perverted the term.

What the Future Holds

Over the years I have attempted to revive the “This I Know” series, but have always become side-tracked. It’s my hope that I can actually revive it now, revisiting the Christianity I was taught, and still hold to, because I think it’s so vary needed. We’ll see.

 


Jun 19 2015

This I Know 2.0 – An Unapologetic Apologetic 

Over my nearly 60 years of life, I have had only a handful of revelations that have had a lasting impact on me. I can recall specific details about each experience and by and large they were fairly mundane, but the specific epiphanies would change how I saw things from that point on. I mention this only to provide a little background on one I had perhaps 5 years ago.

As with the others, this was not a Damascus Road experience; rather, it was more of an Emmaus Road revelation, like having a mist lifted so that you see more clearly where you are already walking. And, as much of my brilliant thoughts do, it came while I was thinking about something entirely unrelated.

My revelation was simply this: I still believed in the same God I believed in as a child.  

That’s it. 

It may seem underwhelming to you, but 5 years or so later, I am still aware of this reality. It is now foundational to who I am. 

Now, this doesn’t mean that I have simply maintained my death-grip on my childhood beliefs, because that’s not true. My theology has changed over the years – several times, in fact. I have been around the block, so to speak, more laps than most. While I, out of youth and ignorance, was impacted by various pop theologies and trends over the years, I have maintained my simple belief in God, and that Jesus loves me, this I know. I have rejected more doctrines and beliefs throughout my life than many people have ever encountered. Many were illogical in some form or other, some were stupid, and a few were just bat-shit crazy (that’s a common theological term). 

In spite of traveling in and out of various evangelical, charismatic, sometimes wacky, ancient liturgical, emergent, and often boring intellectual Christian churches and groups, in spite of moving from moderate to conservative to something else, and in spite of being led through a morass of theological trends, I believe in the same God I believed in as a child. 

I’ve had many, many people try to talk me out of it. I’ve been dispensationalized, fundamentalated, legalized, charismatized, jeopardized, and tribulated. I’ve gutted my library of trash theology more than once. And in the end, I believe in the same God I believed in as a child. 

Now, smart atheists will tell me this proves that religion is a product of our environment, that if I grew up believing in Some Other God, that’s who I’d believe in today. Granted, exposure is an obvious factor in belief. Paul says this himself in Romans 10:14, “How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them?” However, I know many, many people who believe differently today than they did as children. Tons. So, I’d have to say that while I truly appreciate the fact that I was raised a Christian, I’d have to say that what I believe today is not because of what I believed as a child (I believed in Santa Claus then, too).  

Now, I have heard and read many testimonies of people who have rejected the beliefs they were raised with, and as a result they have concluded that they don’t believe in God. Some of them even have blogs where they love to talk about what they no longer believe. This unbelief in God is an understandable leap of logic, I guess, but generally I find that it’s lazy as well as illogical. I hear these stories and think, So what? I reject those things, too, but that doesn’t mean I don’t believe in God. You don’t reject all pizza because you don’t like anchovies.  

So back to the profundity of my revelation, specifically related to current belief and unbelief trends. When people are leaving the church and faith in droves, is it perhaps because they were never taught the truth about God in the first place? When the illogic and absurdity and hype and the control-freakism of religious traditions come crashing down, is there anything left to believe in?  

For me, there was. I rejected dispensationalism and God was the same. I rejected legalism and God was the same. I rejected penal substitutionary atonement and God was the same. I rejected literalism and God was the same. I rejected wacko-ism and God was the same. And in fact, not only was God the same, but it was specifically because God was the same that I rejected these errant beliefs.   

If I had to pick a theme song, I think it would be Sting’s If I Ever Lose My Faith. My faith is not in science or progress, or in a church, or theology, or, as odd as it sounds, even in the Bible. My faith is not in a political system or the definition of marriage. I don’t care if evolution is true or if there’s life on other planets. My faith is in God and the truth of the Gospel, that Jesus loves me, this I know. The same God, and same Gospel, I was taught as a child.