Jesus’ Death and Resurrection – What to Know
This week we approach the celebration of Jesus’ death and resurrection. These event are truly central to the Christian faith and, assuming they are true as I do, central to the story of human history. So I think it’s quite worthwhile to look at some of the significance of these events.
While on the cross, Jesus quotes Psalm 22, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” I have most often heard this interpreted literally; people have said that the fellowship Jesus had with the Father was broken at this moment. And I’ve most often heard it said that God the Father turned his back on Jesus because of the sin which Jesus’ bore. “God is so holy,” the explanation goes, “that he can’t look upon sin.”
I’ve never been comfortable Continue reading
Evangelicalism’s PR Problem: Private Love, Public Condemnation
I recently read a book written from a conservative Christian perspective. The authors’ spend much of the book warning of their perceived dangers of liberal / progressive ideas. I admit I was surprised that their solution to all this was a call to love people. Though I don’t directly share their point of view, I do think what they said about love is essentially spot on. This, what appeared to me to be a dichotomy, caused me to have a significant realization.
A popular Christian phrase is “love the sinner, hate the sin”. Some people cringe at this phrase already, at least in part for the reason I’ll get to in just a moment. But it does try to capture the balance between “truth and grace”. In other words, we’re supposed to love not condemn Continue reading
Problems With Focusing on Sin
I once heard a preacher in a sermon briefly mentioned the corresponding dangers of legalism and license (or sometimes referred to as libertinism). The latter is the fallacy of thinking we have freedom to act any way we choose because of God’s grace and forgiveness. It seems as though this preacher understood legalism to be the idea of works (our actions) leading to salvation. In other words, it’s the idea that if we follow the rules we can become good enough to be acceptable to God. The preacher correctly rejected this.
However I believe legalism goes beyond this. It struck me as a bit ironic that, after going over this, much of the rest of the sermon was about all the things we need to do. Unfortunately, I’ve discovered that Continue reading
The Gospel is Jesus
The Gospel is a topic I’ve addressed on a couple of occasions. But it is important enough to revisit. I have some new insights since I last wrote about it. Many of us are aware that “gospel” means good news. This is true, but there is more to it that just this. One specific and important use of the term “gospel” was to announce a new emperor of the Roman Empire. Messengers were sent (apostles) to proclaim (preach) the gospel (good news) of a new emperor. This was to be good news because the emperor was good (or at least claimed himself to be). He was also called lord, savior and the one who establishes peace. Because the emperor was good, the empire would be good too.
Sound familiar? Jesus is called these things. And it isn’t a mistake. Continue reading
Christianity 100: Defining Love
It seems like love is misunderstood. I don’t think this is a news flash really. I believe that love is a central, foundational part of the Christian faith. However, I run into many people who seem to almost regret that love is included at all. One author nearly said that love wasn’t biblical. I’ve heard several friends say something along the lines of “We need more (fill in the blank), as opposed to love.” The only thing I can figure from this is that many people have a real misunderstanding of what love is.
To be fair, we use the word love in many different ways. For example, in Greek there are four or so words for the different types of things for which we use the one word “love”. This doesn’t help in understanding love. My guess is Continue reading
“Heaven”—A Beatiful Horizon
It’s been brought to my attention more than once how the common vision of heaven is far from the picture we get from careful study of the Bible. The popular ideas of heaven have us floating on clouds like we imagine angels do (which also aren’t very biblical in many cases). Or if not this extreme, at least we think of heaven as an existence in some spiritual realm. What if I told you that followers of Jesus won’t spend eternity in heaven? Does that shock you? Do you know that this is what the Bible tells us?
I found it interesting how N.T. Wright points out that in America, we seem to be much more interested in debating the nature of hell than we are heaven. I think that’s because the gospel of evangelicalism is that Jesus saves us from Continue reading
Are “Dones” a Major Warning Sign for the Church?
Not long ago Thom Schultz published an article called “The Rise of the Dones“. This article, which has received a lot of attention, is brief and doesn’t contain a lot of meat. Yet I believe Schultz is getting at something important. Unfortunately, I’m not sure he does a great job of communicating why the “dones” are leaving church and what they are doing once they leave. I also feel that “done” may be a poor term which reinforces some misconceptions.
People have been leaving church for quite some time now. There has been a significant increase (as I understand it) of people who are religiously unaffiliated. This group has been labeled “nones”, as in no religious affiliation. The terms “done” is obviously a play on this. Unfortunately, Continue reading
Do You Know What is Biblical?
Evangelicals talk about being biblical a lot. Do you know what is and isn’t biblical? I find that many Christians don’t actually know the Bible that well. Too often when a Christian talks about biblical, what they actually have in mind is something which they heard a speaker or author say is biblical. On top of this, many evangelicals have the view that everyone else is against us and therefore we need to fight others in order to support our beliefs. So some Christians are ready to fight to the proverbial death over something which they were only taught is biblical and important, but isn’t something they know to be biblical from having read and understood the Bible for themselves. My point in writing this is to encourage and remind us all Continue reading
Why Don’t Intelligent People Believe in Christianity?
In his first letter to the church at Corinth, Paul tells them, “The message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing.” (1:18) It’s true, if you take a step back and look at it, it is crazy—claiming to follow an executed criminal, and saying that he’s not actually dead. And that’s just the beginning: we claim his was mother was a virgin and that he lives in us, etc. All of this are things that doesn’t happen. I don’t believe that faith is anti-intellectual, however mere logic won’t lead one to Christ.
In the modern era, when science and reason became the bastions of truth (as opposed to the church), the church at first fought against them. However, after a certain amount of time, some Christians believed that science and Continue reading
Truth Is Not a Process, Belief Is
Update: I submitted this blog to the “Bridging the Divides” syncroblog. I feel the following concept is important for having respectful dialog with those with whom we disagree.
We all have beliefs about various things. This is fine. However, some people expect everyone to agree with them. Or in other words, they expect everyone should share their beliefs. The thought process is like this: “(I believe) this is true, so everyone else must acknowledge it is true also.” This is a problem.
I think people confuse truth and belief. The truth is true unconditionally, no matter what. But our beliefs are in flux. Truth doesn’t need our belief nor anyone else’s in order to be true. Our belief however is a process, a journey. We aren’t born Continue reading
A Brief History of Christianity in America
(Note: this is an abbreviated and therefore very simplified version of the history of the western church as I understand it. While I believe my general understanding to be correct, I am not an expert and may have inaccuracy in certain details.)
To begin our understanding of Christianity in America, we must go all the way back to the Roman Empire. For centuries, conquering states often pressured territories under their control to worship the Gods of the conquering state. In other words, there was one official religion of the state and if you lived in a land under its control, you were expected to practice this religion. Initially, Christianity was at odds with the Roman Empire for this reason. But around the forth and fifth centuries, Continue reading
Greg Boyd on the Bible
This is so good that I wanted to share it:
The earliest disciples didn’t believe in Jesus because their Scripture (the OT) proved to them that he was the Son of God. They were rather convinced by Jesus’ claims, his unique life of love, his distinctive authority, his unprecedented miracles, his self-sacrificial death, and especially his resurrection. Once they believed in Jesus, they then looked for him and found him in their scripture. But they never would have been convinced that Jesus was Lord had they started with scripture alone.
Unfortunately, most evangelicals today are taught to do the exact opposite. They base their faith in Jesus’ Lordship (as well as everything else) on their belief that the Bible is the inspired Word Continue reading
Shrewd As Snakes: Spiritual Abuse
I have heard of spiritual abuse but haven’t had a clear idea what it was or wasn’t. However, after reading these two articles today: “Poets Will Save the Church” and “‘Don’t Talk About It’: Reflections on Spiritual Abuse“, I believe I have a significantly better definition for it. Spiritual abuse is using God, the bible, and/or religious language and teaching to control, manipulate, and/or heap guilt, shame, and condemnation on one or more people.
This is a difficult and tricky subject I believe. While other types of abuse have the potential to be unclear, I think that spiritual abuse tends to be one of the most difficult to identify. Perhaps it need not be this way, but I think a significant portion of religion is closer to this than Continue reading
Dealing with Sin: The Context for Confession and Confrontation
I chose to look at these topics together since they are interrelated—they both regard dealing with sin. Confession is done by the sinner, and confrontation by someone else. (Here I am discussing personal confession and not corporate confession.)
It seems to me that many Christians, especially in evangelicalism, are very interested in pointing out people’s sin. So I am pretty surprised that I have so far only found one to two passages in the New Testament regarding this. One of these is found in James 5:19-20: “My brothers and sisters, if one of you should wander from the truth and someone should bring that person back, remember this: Whoever turns a sinner from the error of their way will save them from death and cover over a Continue reading
Interpretation of the Bible
Most Protestants, especially evangelicals, talk about being biblical. The problem is, the bible is contained in language, and language requires interpretation into meaning. While any given language has a generally agreed upon set of meanings for various words, phrases, and sentence structures, there is some play in the interpretation from the language into the overall meaning.
A study of communication reveals three primary parts: translation of an idea from a source into some medium (we’ll assume the medium of language for our discussion here) whereby the message can be transported to a recipient, who must in turn interpret it back into an idea. Both of these translations are imperfect, therefore the recipient can receive a message to Continue reading
Defending “the Truth”
There is significant division among Christians. The main dividing line today (as I see it) is in our beliefs in how we engage with non-Christians. How does God want us to engage with the world? What message does he want us to communicate through our actions and words? These are important questions because they are a fundamental part of being a community of Christ followers.
There are two main camps: love and truth. Conservatives and fundamentalist hold that standing up for the “truth” is the Christian’s most important task. This is the Christian’s witness. The church is the pillar of God’s “truth” in the world. Our “salt and light” is to declare the “truth” and to guide the world toward that “truth”.
A problem with this is that, in Continue reading
Shrewd as Snakes – Work to Please God
I personally don’t like to spend much time being critical. (If I criticize, it’s usually in the context of contrasting one thing in order to try and communicate something better.) I’d much rather focus on what I perceive to be true, good, and right instead. My thought is if we focus on these things, the focus and emphasis on wrong things will naturally diminish. However, I have decided it would be good to highlight some things which are bad and yet are easily missed if not pointed out. I am calling this series “shrewd as snakes” (inspired by Matthew 10:16).
The first thing I want to point out is a very prevalent misunderstanding of Christianity. It seems that we’re naturally born with a sense that there is something higher than Continue reading
Book Review: Singled Out, Part 2
(In this second part of the review, I summarize the paradigm contained in the book Singled Out.)
It would be difficult to argue that “love” (romance) and sex aren’t the primary values in our culture today (only challenged by money and power). We know virtually everyone deeply desires to be loved, and we believe the highest love is that of romance, with the highest expression of love generally being sexual intimacy. Therefore, the key to fulfilling one’s longings is the hope of romantic and sexual relationship. Romance and sex are fine and good in their proper place, however as Christians, we must believe that what we really need is not romance and sex, but love and community. This is the key thesis.
In addition to the above, a Continue reading
Can Non-Jews Be Christians?
The first major controversy in Christianity was whether or not non-Jews could become Christians. We read about this in Acts 15 and Paul wrote his letter to the Galatian churches in response to this. I haven’t felt that I completely grasped this controversy in the past. There is a focus on following the Mosaic Law, and it has typically been framed (in Protestantism at least) as “salvation by works”. In other words, Christian leaders have taught that some Jews were arguing that salvation came through action—doing “good” as spelled out in the Law. In this view, Paul contrasts their claims by arguing that salvation comes through faith alone. (Hmmmm… that sounds very Protestant.)
But if this is true, why is the major, almost Continue reading
Being the Church
Keith Giles recently hosted a roundtable discussion on his podcast. His guests included John Zens, Neil Cole, Herb Montgomery, and Kent Williamson. This discussion was so good that I’ve listened to it a handful of times already. I highly recommend you take time to listen to it as well. Here are some of the key points I took from the discussion:
- Focus on Jesus.
- Church has a DNA, three areas which should be balanced:
- Divine truth — Jesus (up / relationship with Christ)
- Nurturing relationships (in / community)
- Apostolic mission (out / outreach / service / evangelism)
- Seek Jesus’ guidance.
- The church is to be a spiritual family on a mission together.
- Listen to Jesus.
- Church meetings aren’t so much the place to receive connection to Christ as Continue reading
Rethinking the American Dream: The Failure of “The Pursuit of Happiness”
I don’t know about you, but the impression I have is that the “American Dream” is mainly about building your own personal fortune. (This doesn’t mean you’ll consider yourself rich, it just means that you are working on increasing your personal wealth.) I believe in this country this is what people think the pursuit of happiness is about. However, gaining wealth may actually decrease your happiness.
Having enough income to provide for one’s needs and create some amount of financial stability and security has a significant affect on one’s happiness. However, once the basics are taken care of, increased income quickly fails to bring increased happiness.1,2
Overall, there is ample evidence to clearly show that one factor is the most significant in determining our happiness, and it Continue reading
Book Review: Pagan Christianity?
WARNING!: This is a most important book that most christians shouldn’t read. If you have your faith and beliefs all figured out, feel confident in the truth and enjoy being involved in your church, then don’t read this book! If you happen to be a pastor or on staff at a church and value your life, then definitely DON’T READ THIS BOOK!!! It’s not that you will be more in danger of being killed, but you will almost certainly have your conscious challenged and possibly have your life turned upside down because of it.
Seriously, I’m warning you. This is like Neo meeting Morpheus for the first time in The Matrix. This is a red pill vs. blue pill moment. If you have any doubts, stop reading this blog, don’t read this book, don’t read anything Continue reading
Men vs. Women – Can We Help Each Other Out?
Men and women are often segregated, perhaps not as much in our culture as in many others, but it’s still there. And, ironically enough, it seems that there is more segregation in evangelical Christianity than in the rest of the culture. I say that ironic because it seems that Christ broke down these barriers. He talked to women and generally let women into the man’s world of that time. And Paul later says “there is no male or female…” (Galatians 3:28).
I recently shared a link to an article about how women are portrayed in the media. I’m aware of the over-sexulization of our culture, and I’ve heard similar things on occasion before. But as a guy it’s easy to forget or not think it’s that big of a problem. But I recently heard some of Continue reading