May 3 2019

Jonathan Edwards was a heretic

I have two words to say about Jonathan Edwards’ theology: Bull. Shit.

Apparently Edwards hadn’t read 1 John: “…let us love one another, for love is of God, and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. He that does not love does not know God, for God is love.”

And, he must have missed what God said in the New Testament:

  • Love God, and love your neighbor as yourself.
  • Love your enemies, and bless those who curse you.
  • Who here condemns you? … Neither do I condemn you.
  • Learn what this means: I desire mercy, not sacrifice.
  • Father forgive them, for they don’t know what they’re doing.

Uh… something doesn’t add up

Okay, so–we are to love sinners and show them mercy and kindness, just like Jesus did. All so apparently God can torture them forever after they die.

Just gives you the warm fuzzies, doesn’t it?

Or, is Jesus of a different mind than God the Father? That is, is God schizophrenic?

Think about this angry God teaching for a bit. I’m pretty sure we’ve all encountered it at some point. Many of us were raised with it. Is there any way you can reconcile the “angry god” with Jesus God?


Apr 2 2019

I don’t know why me

(Is that proper English?)

I have a distinct memory was walking around our property (somewhere between the square building in the photo and the larger rectangular building), acutely aware that God loved me unconditionally, and that He was the only one who could love me like that. I knew, without a shadow of a doubt, that no matter what, God would always love me, even if I did something so bad that my friends and even my parents couldn’t. And that was a stretch, as I came from a very loving home.

This does not mean that I believed that I would be rich or that nothing bad would ever happen to me. I wasn’t stupid. And when bad things did happen, I would wonder why and even get angry, but I knew that God loved me, no matter what.

Fear God?

When I hear other people talk of their issues being raised in church, I realize that mine is not a typical story. I have never, ever been afraid of God. Never. I have never had a fear of hell, or of not measuring up to God’s standards. I’ve often been afraid of not measuring up to man’s standards, or even my own, but I’ve always known that I’m OK with God. I’ve never, ever doubted that. He has always been my failsafe.

As you’d expect, many people throughout my life have tried to “put the fear of God in me.” I’ve heard my share of holy roller, hellfire, end-times, holiness and guilt preachers. I was not raised in that kind of environment, but I have been surrounded by evangelicals and fundamentalists since my teens. First it was “The Late Great Planet Earth” then came the Jesus Movement. Growing up Christian in the 60’s And 70’s was a weird time. I had my share of fear and trembling, but it was never the fear of God. I knew that God loved me, and would accept me no matter what.

Why me?

I am aware–perhaps now than ever–that my seemingly innate knowledge of God is not typical, and like Kris Kristofferson, I don’t know “why me?”

I’m not complaining, and definitely not boasting the way some do when they talk about how “blessed” they are. Perhaps I just needed that innate sense of God to survive. What I know is, I didn’t “accept” Jesus or decide to believe in God. I just always did. It was God who accepted me. And as Jesus is quoted as saying in John 10, no one is going to snatch me out of God’s hand. I’m apparently here to stay, because it’s not up to me to persevere (sorry, Calvin). And, of course, I’m not complaining at all. 

So here I am, nearly 64 years old, and my faith in God is essentially the same as when I was 4. Certainly I know more theology (for better or for worse), but what theology has done is to allow me to threw away all of the trash that popular Christianity has tried to dump on me–I have walked through the maze of pop religion (my initial draft said “bullshit” but I toned it down), and found I was still standing in my front yard knowing that God loves me, no matter what.

This I know too

But I know something else: God loves all of you, too, even if you don’t believe it’s possible. He loves you “just the way you are” (was that Billy Joel, or Mr. Rogers?). God loves you even if you can’t love yourself. You may be filled with guilt and shame, just wanting to keep hidden from view. But, I know that God’s love isn’t affected by your feelings, or your actions. Love is God’s essence; it’s impossible for him not to love. 

God has never said, “Love me or go to hell.” It’s just bad preachers who say that. There’s no one dangling over the pit of hell. The Bible doesn’t teach that “God is wrath.” It teaches that God is love.

Many Christians will be very upset that I say such things, as they’ve been motivated their whole lives by a fear of hell and judgments and they think it’s somehow dangerous to believe that God is not one part love and one part wrath. Or, they think it’s at least unfortunate that those people we don’t love won’t be torched by God in the afterlife.

The thing is… 

The think about believing in a loving God is that it means that God actually does love Muslims, and LGBTQ+ people, and all of those refugee people. And, he loves them just as much as he loves us.

Whoa.

So, I guess we’ll need to talk some more about this.


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 (if I were to write another book, these are topics that I would explore in depth):

• 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 as invented by Augustine/Calvin. Mankind is not totally depraved. Sin is a plague, and we are victims.

• God never wanted sacrifices. (This was news to me, but a couple of later OT writers—and Jesus—make this point.)

• 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. (There’s no forgiveness if payment was required.)

• God did not turn away from Jesus because of sin; God looks at sin all the time. The verses in Habakkuk need to be read in context, which actually is making the point that God does indeed tolerate sin. 

• 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-ment is an English word made up by translators to try to capture this meaning).

• 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). Revelation is not meant to be read literally. And those looking forward to future violence are more apt to tolerate it on Earth now.  

• 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.


Jul 3 2016

Grace is still the thing

Recently I attended a local church service and heard a sermon on sex that was bad on so many levels–structurally, logically, factually, and theologically.  (The entire experience was redeemed by the worship band having done possibly the best arrangement of “Be Thou My Vision” that I have ever heard.) And, to wrap it all up, the pastor ended with an exhortation to resist sexual sins by “exercising your holiness option.”  

Excuse me?  Then he said it again; I hadn’t mis-heard. “Exercise your holiness option.”  It was like they had a booster switch they could flip to throw them into light speed. 

So now we have another whole slough of errors.  First, I recognized that he was using the bad English definition of “holy” as meaning pure or sinless, rather than the definition of the Greek word, which essentially means “different.” It makes sense for God to say, “Be different as I am different,” rather than “Be sinless as I am sinless.”  But, the latter is the interpretation I usually hear.   

Can we choose to be sinless?  I think the vast majority of theologians would answer “no.”  We can desire to be sinless (I myself desire to be sinless, sometimes),  but if the Bible is to be believed, getting there is beyond our grasp. The two main schools of thought are that 1) we can cooperate with God to become more Godlike; and 2) our wills are bound by our sinful nature and we depend entirely on God’s grace.

Paul, as well as Jesus (read through John),  seem to lean towards the latter.  I completely reject the Calvinist doctrine of total depravity as mischaracterizing both God and humanity.  We are created in God’s image, destined for glory.  “Total depravity” doesn’t fit into that picture.  If you read through the Gospel of John, you may be struck by the fact that Jesus treats sin the same as a physical disease.  Just as our bodies are subject to failure, we are also afflicted by the disease of sin.  Not totally depraved, but afflicted and in need of grace and healing.   

Paul made it clear that sanctification (holiness to some), just as with salvation, is a product of grace. In Galatians 3:3, he asks rhetorically, “Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?”  To the church in Corinth, he writes, “And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.” (2 Corinthians 3:18). Sanctification, “holiness,” theosis, or becoming more Christ-like–whichever term you prefer–is a product of grace, of God’s direct work in us. It is not a matter of “exercising the holiness option.”

Grace matters.  It is still a concept which many churches prefer to hold at arm’s length, as a church under grace tends refuses to fit in nice, neat boxes. 

A few years ago, I took what I had found to be the best teaching on grace I had ever encountered and turned it into a book, The Gospel Uncensored. I still believe this to be the best book on grace that I’ve seen.  It’s fairly short, easy to read, and directly to the point, primarily using Paul’s letter to the Galatians as the outline.  People have told me how it’s changed their lives, how it’s their favorite book, and that they periodically re-read it.  It’s that good (you can trust me, my name is on the cover).  

There is no “holiness option.” The only 2 options are self-righteousness, and grace.  I highly recommend grace.