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.

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    Nov 23 2017

    Why Me? A Thanksgiving Meditation

    Why me, Lord? ~Kris Kristofferson

    “Why me?” is an interesting question. For many, it’s wondering why bad things happen, and I’ve been there, wondering why people close to me die, why I was “chosen” to suffer with diabetes, etc. It’s easy to look around at people living seemingly wonderful lives, and feeling less than blessed.

    But for me, “Why Me?” has taken on a different twist. I am profoundly aware that I have been “blessed” more than I deserve. In spite of health issues, job stress, etc., I am aware that I am a very happy man, and I continue to ask, “Why me?”

    On a global scale, why was I born a white male in the most powerful white male country in America? Why wasn’t I born a minority, or homeless, or in a country plagues by war and disease? I don’t know; it wasn’t my choice.

    Why was I allowed to survive major health battles, and live long enough to see my grandchildren (my father didn’t). Why do I have a job I enjoy, a great wife, and wonderful children?

    Nothing I have done merits me having good things in my life. I’ve done nothing to earn a better place in life than the millions of refugees. I’ve done nothing to earn any special blessings from God.

    And, I definitely don’t believe that God loves more more than anyone else.

    So, I still think, “Why me?”

    It makes me incredibly thankful for what I have, no more so today than any other day. But, today I’m especially thankful for turnkey and stuffing. It doesn’t get much better than this.

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      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.

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        Jun 3 2017

        This I Know 2.01

        I probably should point out that this series of posts is not intentionally autobiographical. (If you haven’t read my last post, I suggest you read that and then come back here.)

        That is, my point is not to talk about me or my life, nor do I believe that you particularly care what it is that I believe and why. My point, rather, is to talk about the Christianity I learned as a child, in contrast to the Christianity I typically see in the news, on Facebook, etc. To do that, I have to talk somewhat autobiographically, so you’ll just have to get past that my own story is just a reference point to address the broader issues of the theology and morality of the Bible.

        Things that informed my early beliefs

        I think it was quite advantageous that I was raised in a liturgical church. Of course every church has some kind of liturgy whether they recognize it or not (it’s simply “what is done” when you’re together as a church). However, many liturgies are essentially devoid of any consistent theology. Lutherans, like Episcopalians/Anglicans, Roman Catholics and the Orthodox, have liturgies which are based on those coming from the earliest church practices. 

        There are essentially two aspects of liturgical worship that important differences to recognize. The first is that the Liturgy is a corporate experience of theology. One of the ancient creeds are recited, the Lord’s Prayer is recited, there are prescribed Bible readings from the Old and New Testaments (and specifically the Gospels),  and hymns are sung that relate to the church season (lent, advent, etc.) or the prescribed Scripture readings.

        The 2nd aspect is the Lectionary, which is a book of prescribed Bible readings for the specific Sunday or event. Not only does this provide a wide variety of Bible readings, but these texts are also used as the basis for the weekly sermon. This does away with the random topic sermons or the “what’s bugging me this week” sermons so common in non-liturgical churches. It also makes the Bible the focus of the message, rather than being used as out of context proof texts to support the Pastor’s ideas. You know what I’m talking about. 

        A third important aspect (yes, I’m aware I said there were 2) that differs from non-liturgical churches is the Lord’s Supper/Eucharist, which is celebrated regularly, and which is the focus of liturgical worship, not the sermon. However, this is more of a theological difference and while I think it’s one of the most important differences, it isn’t really my point of this series, at least not yet.

        The result is that every week I learned theology. I heard it, I recited it, and I sang it. I heard complete Bible passages read with reverence, especially the Gospel reading. And, I heard countless sermons based on those Gospel readings. And, that’s the subject of my next post. 

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