Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Seven Things the Holy Spirit Might Be Trying to Tell You

For many of us it can be hard to believe that the Holy Spirit speaks in a way that is real or helpful.
That struggle can be traced to a number of factors: We live in a culture that doesn’t expect God to “show up.”  When we do talk about the work of the Holy Spirit, we use rarified, impenetrable, stained-glass language.  And most of what we expect to hear in listening to the Spirit is couched in such pious jargon that we find it hard to believe that any of it applies directly to us.

I’ve come to the conclusion that often what the Spirit of God has to say to us is far more practical, blunt, and candid.  Here are a few things I’ve heard or that others have reported hearing:

One: Just do something.
Responding to the will of God is not necessarily about doing the one, right, thing —  unless moral considerations are at stake – and even then, there may be more than one faithful choice to make. God trusts us with freedom and creativity. Strike out, trust God’s grace.

Two: Stop blaming me for silly things you’d like to say or believe.
Claiming God’s authority for things we say or do is risky business and likely to do more harm than good.  Practice the humility of admitting that your understanding of God’s will is something well short of infallible.  You do have freedom (see above).  You also need to own your responsibility for the exercise of that freedom.

Three: Don’t wait for a sign.  (see above)
God has used them a few times, but more often than not God’s leading comes from careful attention to the patterns that emerge from faithful, daily living.  Sometimes the extraordinary is exactly that, out of the norm, one-off, signifying nothing.


Saturday, August 22, 2015

Soldiering and the Kingdom of God

                Often those who do not understand Jesus’ teaching as embracing non-violent resistance point to John the Baptist’s answering soldiers’ questions in a way that does not call for them to reject that form of service to the empire. Hence, they reason, soldiering and warfare must be acceptable and faithful ways to serve the kingdom of God as well.

                But I wonder. Imagine with me that such a soldier follows John’s counsel and remains in his position. Then he signs up to follow Jesus too, again on John’s direction. He hears Jesus’ teach and takes it to heart as well. He remembers that Jesus taught his followers that they should carry a soldier’s gear an extra mile beyond the one they could be compelled to carry it. This soldier rightly reason that as a follower of Jesus he should not burden Jewish peasants by forcing them to go that extra mile.

                A fellow soldier observes his mate not exerting his power by not making the Jews go the extra mile.

                “What’s up, buddy? Why not get a Jew to take your load the extra mile? Why wear yourself out?”

                Our soldier mumbles out, “It’s not the right thing to do. Besides, my Lord teaches me not to abuse others and force them to do me bidding.”

                “What’s that? When did that order come down? I must have missed the memo!”

                “No,” our soldier responds, “that teaching didn’t come from the Rome. My Lord is not Caesar.”

                Aghast, his companion cried out, “Well, who is it then?”

                This called attention to the pair and other soldiers came closer to find out what the hubbub was about. “Hey, this guy has another Lord than Caesar! He follows his orders rather than the Big Guy’s. What do you think about that?”

                “Who’s this other “Lord,” one snorts derisively.

                “Jesus of Nazareth,” he replied.

                “Who? Never heard of him? What’s his agenda?”

                Our soldier lays out Jesus’ basic kingdom message, including his call for nonviolence.

                “You’re serious about this, aren’t you? Are you looking to get yourself killed? You’re spouting treason. You know the brass won’t like that, not to mention the emperor!”

                “Yeah, I know. Sometimes I think I just ought to run away and start a new life as Jesus’ follower somewhere else. Part of me just wants to stand my ground and try to legally get out of the army. Don’t know if I can, alive at least. I just know I need not to be doing this anymore.”

                “Good luck, pal. You’re going to need it!”

                Well, we’re just imagining. But something like this may well have happened to soldiers baptized by John into God’s kingdom movement. Surely under the influence of Jesus’ message of nonviolent resistance they would have found themselves in a similar bind. Therefore, I find little force in this particular argument against Jesus’ expectation of nonviolent resistance from his followers.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Why Do We Have To "Bear the Cross" After the Resurrection and Will There Ever Be A Time When We Won't Have To?

If the resurrection of Jesus is the victory over sin, death, and the devil, why is the cross still so significant in following Jesus? Shouldn’t it be left behind as an object of veneration and gratitude for all Jesus accomplished on it and resurrection victory be the mode of life this side of that great event? Yet much we read in New Testament about following Jesus remains ordered around the cross. Why is this?

Two things about this seem important to me. The first is the reality that the church lives in the time between Christ’s resurrection (victory; D-Day to use World War II imagery) and his return (V-Day). In that period in between the two (like the year between D-Day and V-Day in the war) fighting continues even though the outcome of the war has been determined. This being the case, the cross remains central for the church because the cross is the way we fight our battles!

A second thing is that the resurrection serves as God’s validation and vindication of Jesus’ way of life as God’s own. This means that as we grow more and more to be like Jesus, cross-bearing in a fallen world will be more and more our way of life as well. In truth, cross-bearing is the way of God’s life in a fallen world. We grow evermore into it rather than leaving it behind. Cruciform living is the shape the life God gives us takes in a world where that kind of life in contested or rejected.

But what about the life to come? Will we still be “bearing the cross” then? Yes and no, I think. We could put it like this: We will still live the other-focused, selfless way in the next life but minus the contestation and resistance. It’s the same life as the cross-bearing life just in a very different context. In the church we ought to able to experience some measure of this kind of life even in the here and now. But it’s the same life, “eternal life,” which as the Gospel of John is at pains to remind us, is the quality of God’s life lived here and now as well as in the future.

So, we won’t always have a cross to bear, but we will always live the life that lead to it for Jesus and his followers here on earth. Once the resistance and rejection of such a way of life is gone, it will simply be the way everyone lives caring for and serving one another throughout the ages. And surprise of surprises, in the last verse of the last vision of the book of Revelation this way of living is called “reigning,” which will be our life and vocation throughout eternity (Rev.22:5)!

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Wise Words on Biblical Interpretation

  1. Some people assume that accepting the authority of Scripture requires a literal reading of the text. In other words, sometimes people confuse attachment to reading the Bible in a certain way (or, more technically, commitment to a certain hermeneutic) with acknowledging the authority of Scripture.
  2. Reading the Bible means interpreting the Bible. Some passages are clearly more difficult to interpret than others, but whenever we read we are interpreting.
  3. Interpretation is not up to each individual. It is not merely subjective or always relative to each reader. And yet interpretation is an art and not a science. Equally faithful people can arrive at differing interpretations.
  4. Passages of the Bible are laden with what Paul Ricoeur called surplus meaning. There is always more than what any one of us happen to find at any particular time, so we need to hear from each other.
  5. The Word of God is Jesus. Jesus is the perfect revelation of God. We encounter Jesus through the words of the Bible, but this is an interpretive process. Whatever we read in the Bible should be read through the lens of Jesus.
  6. Acknowledging the authority of Scripture is not a simple matter of reading a manual and following the instructions contained in it. Instead, we acknowledge the authority of Scripture by submitting to what we hear God telling us through it.
  7. Biblical texts are historically distant texts written in ancient languages. In addition to facing the challenges of translation, interpretation requires an imaginative leap into a historical, cultural, and social context not our own. We must first see what a passage could have meant to the original readers before we discern together what God is saying to us with that passage in our very different context.
  8. Meaning arises from context. We do violence to the Biblical text—and most likely to other people—when we use passages ripped from their context for our own argumentative, polemical, or ideological purposes. The definitive context is the birth, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Not Your Every Sunday Confession of Faith (But Maybe It Should Be)

Dorothee Sölle shared the confession of faith below at an event on October 1, 1968 in Cologne. It drew no small amount of critique (including at least one charge of heresy). It illustrates well her axiom that theological statements are also political ones.


I believe in God
who created the world not ready made
like a thing that must forever stay what it is
who does not govern according to eternal laws
that have perpetual validity
nor according to natural orders
of poor and rich,
experts and ignoramuses,
people who dominate and people subjected.
I believe in God
who desires the counter-argument of the living
and the alteration of every condition
through our work
through our politics.
I believe in Jesus Christ
who was right when he
“as an individual who can’t do anything”
just like us
worked to alter every condition
and came to grief in so doing
Looking to him I discern
how our intelligence is crippled,
our imagination suffocates,
and our exertion is in vain
because we do not live as he did
Every day I am afraid
that he died for nothing
because he is buried in our churches,
because we have betrayed his revolution
in our obedience to and fear
of the authorities.
I believe in Jesus Christ
who is resurrected into our life
so that we shall be free
from prejudice and presumptuousness
from fear and hate
and push his revolution onward
and toward his reign
I believe in the Spirit
who came into the world with Jesus,
in the communion of all peoples
and our responsibility for what will become of our earth:
a valley of tears, hunger, and violence
or the city of God.
I believe in the just peace
that can be created,
in the possibility of meaningful life
for all humankind,
in the future of this world of God.

- See more at:

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Seven Further Things You Might Believe Are True About Christianity But Are NOT!

1.    An Inspired Bible does Not entail an inerrant Bible. 

Inspiration tells us the Bible comes from God and reliably communicates his message to humanity. It does not dictate how God communicates his truth. Can God not use errors and idiots to speak his word to us? Asses and Assholes? Legends and myths? In other words, how God speaks his inspired word has to be determined inductively from the kinds of materials, sources, and speakers we find in it. Not deductively from a claim that if God is perfectly true, therefore his Word is perfectly true, true being understood as in a modernist historical and scientific sense (neither of which, ironically, were true of the times in which the Bible was written).  

2.    The Gospels are NOT historical accounts that give us a chronological rehearsal of Jesus’ life and ministry. 

Why do we have four gospels, then? And why do they not agree at numerous points? Were three or all four of them simply poor historians? No, they were first century historian-biographer-theologians rather than modern ones. Their way of doing history was much more thematic and focuses on the lessons to be learned from various characters, especially the chief ones. Chronology was not primary value; education and instruction was. The gospels are organized by each evangelist to serve these purposes in laying out their view of the meaning and significance of Jesus. This doesn’t mean the gospels do not contain reliable history. I believe they do. It means that this is not their main purpose so it should not be ours in interpreting them. And we should interpret them, as best we can, in line with the first century practices of their authors. 

3.    Jesus was NOT a Christian! 

He was the climax and culmination of God’s long story with Israel. Jesus was the fulfillment of God’s Genesis 12:1-3 promises that God would have, would bless and protect, and would bless the rest of the world through a people from Abraham and Sarah.  That’s the plot line of the biblical story. Jesus alone was the one faithful Israelite who kept faith with God and thus brought all these promises to fulfilment. As the post-resurrection heirs of Abraham, called Christ-Ones (or Christians), we live in and out Christ’s victory as a continuation of Christ’s fulfilment of these promise becoming to the Jewish people, experiencing his blessing and protection, and spreading the blessings of God throughout the world. Jesus founded the Christian movement as the Jewish Messiah he was but he was not a Christian. 

4.    Prophecy is NOT primarily “history written ahead of time.” 

Prophecy is much more like an invitation to those who hear it. If they continue the direction they are going, they will receive God’s judgment. But they are not so fated. The prophecy is an invitation to turn away from the judgment-directed path they are presently on (see Jeremiah 18:5-11). Prophecy doesn’t declare what will inevitably happen regardless of human response. It invites the kind of response which will keep them from falling foul of judgment. If they don’t so respond, then judgment it will be. Even the lurid visions of Revelation are not pictures of what is destined to happen. But pictures of what will befall an empire like Rome if they do not change their ways. 

5.    The Rapture, as popularly conceived, is NOT a biblical doctrine. 

1 Thessalonians 4 is about Christ’s return to receive his royal courtiers in the air with him who will then accompany him to earth to take up his royal rule and establish God’s kingdom finally and fully.  

6.    America is NOT now nor ever has been a “Christian” nation. 

Since the resurrection of Jesus there can be no such thing as a “Christian” nation that is not named “Church.” The land of promise in the Old Testament (Canaan) has in the New Testament been fulfilled in the “world” (Romans 4:13). The church as God’s “new Israel” (Jews and Gentiles united in one body) are sent to all the world to establish colonies of God’s kingdom across the globe. The purpose Old Testament Israel was to serve as God’s agent in spreading his blessings to the world has been assumed by the church (see #3 above). And the church is to exist in every country and nation in the world but not as that country or nation. Claims about “Christian” America are a category mistake that we should leave behind. 

7.    Christ is NOT Jesus’ last name! 

Christ means Messiah and identifies Jesus as such. It is doubtful that it ever fully lost that connotation for early Christians. I believe we ought to translate Christ with Messiah wherever we find it in the New Testament. We need to be continually reminded of the Jewishness and Jewish context so necessary for rightly understanding Jesus and nothing says this as directly as identifying Jesus as Jesus Messiah or Messiah Jesus.

Monday, August 3, 2015

Seven More Things You May Think Are True About Christianity But Are NOT.

1.    The Bible’s God does NOT seek or enjoy punishing human beings (Lam.3:33)! 

The “God with a Scowl” of such recent infamy is not the Christian deity. That “god” is creation of pagan thought, unworthy of either deity or humanity. The Christian God, on the other hand, is wholly love, implacably love. He will exercise “tough” love as discipline, as necessary but this love is always aimed at our restoration and growth. 

2.    The Bible’s God is NOT uninterested or unaffected by our prayers. 

Though it is popular to claim that prayer is good for the one who prays (and this certainly true), that God neither wants, or responds to our prayers is false. In fact, the chief good prayer does for the pray-er is to enter into a mystery – a relationship with a God who is not all uninterested in us and our perspective on things, our needs and wants. And one who does respond and under whose sovereign our lives and history itself unfolds differently if we pray than if we do not. 

3.    It is NOT improper, unspiritual, or blasphemous to question God, raise a lament over how things seem to be going, rage over the unfairness of it all, and even demand that God keep his promises when he seems to have let that ball drop.
     In one of her novels Toni Morrison has a character say, “It’s not that I don’t believe that God exists. It’s just that I don’t trust his judgment sometimes.” We’ve all been there, right? And if the Bible is any guide almost any response to situations or seasons in our lives that God seems indifferent or hostile up to, is acceptable, even faithful, for us to express to God. I suspect that God loves it when his people show their relationship to him matters enough to show it, whatever it is.
4.    It is NOT true that we are saved without works. 

We are not saved by our works, as if we have earned it. But we are also not saved without works either. Well, technically we are, but those who arrive at the pearly gates with nothing to show for their lives here, well, Paul indicates that not something you want to happen (1 Cor.3:10-15). If we’re not saved by works, nor without works, then we must be saved for works. That’s the purpose or goal of salvation – that we can again become response-able for that for which we are responsible to do.  

5.    It is NOT true that Jesus came only to save us from our sins. 

Think about for a second. If the above were true that would mean sin was a necessary part of God’s plan and essential to providing a reason for the coming of the Savior. See the problem. If Jesus came only to save us from our sins, then our sins were necessary for him to come and do his saving work. No, Jesus didn’t come only to save us from our sins. He came to do what he always intended to do – come among as one of us to fulfill God’s eternal plan of drawing as close to his creatures as possible to share eternal fellowship with us here on earth. He was always go to come. Our sin complexified his work in coming but did not derail God’s original plan and Jesus incorporated taking care of the problem of sin into his mission to draw near to us and draw us near to the Father in fellowship to last into the ages.  

6.    Jesus’ Second Coming is NOT his return in glory to finally and fully establish God’s Kingdom. 

Nope, that’s his third coming. Pentecost is his second coming in the gift of his Spirit to us. 

7.    However much you might Jesus was like God, he was NOT! 

Christian faith claims just the opposite – how much God is like Jesus. If you want to know what God is like, don’t turn to pagan projections like the “God with a Scowl” (above). Turn to Jesus and there you will see God (Jn.14:8-9). The Jesus-likeness of God is the fundamental tenet of Christian theology.

Missional Church is Nothing But ...


Missional church is nothing but a Sunday morning service with some justice projects added on.
I don’t agree with this statement at all. I do not think this describes what missional church is. Nonetheless, during my travels, a majority of my encounters with self described missional churches can be described in this way. There is a massive disconnect between the practices traditionally described as church – including Sunday morning worship – and life in the neighborhood and communities where we live, where we engage the mission of God as a people.

I think this construal of church (Sunday morning services + some add on justice projects) is bad because:

It makes justice into a project. When we organize endeavors from the center to reach places of overt need, injustices in our neighborhoods, places of violence and hurt, we inevitably turn people into a project. We gather our people around a cause, we raise resources and then we swoop in to help a problem (we have deemed a problem) and then we leave shortly thereafter. We go back to the comfort of our homes with little if any day to day contact. We might have offered some temporary relief. We might even feel better about ourselves. But we have in effect separated ourselves from people. We have enforced our diagnosis on ‘them.’ We have in effect created a wider distinction between the haves and the have-nots. We have not entered people’s lives and come alongside them, indeed becoming a part of their lives and allowing them to become part of ours. We distance ourselves from the poor. Everything I have learned about justice indicates this works against the way God wants to change the world.


Sunday, August 2, 2015

Evangelical Christianity’s Love Affair With Ronda Rousey Reveals Its Hypocrisy


Feb 18, 2015; Glendale, CA, USA;  Ronda Rousey talks about her upcoming championship fight during media day for UFC 184 at Glendale Fighting Club. Mandatory Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports ORG XMIT: USATSI-221624 ORIG FILE ID:  20150218_gma_aj4_027.jpg

For a while now, I’ve witnessed my Evangelical Christian brothers and sisters bowing at the sacred altar of Ronda Rousey.

I’ve watched them genuflect in reverence at her growing legacy of domination in her field.

I’ve seen their breathless adoration and effusive social media praise as they speak of her now-expected savage dispatch of her latest opponent.

I’ve watched their enthusiastic public invitations to pay-per-view church parties where Rousey and others will do the work of beating and bruising one another into submission.

And this week I’ve once again witnessed their giddy exhilaration in the wake of another of her brutal displays of physical dominance over another woman.

I’m always surprised (and entertained) at how out of character this is for these fanboys and girls, since I know them so very well.

You see, these are many of the same folks who spend the rest of their daily lives as the self-ordained Morality Police; always lifting up the “authority of Scripture” and leveling great consternation and judgment at those whose choices they’ve decided are morally corrupt.


Saturday, August 1, 2015

Becoming Personal


“Person” is among the most difficult words in the classical Christian vocabulary. It is difficult on the one hand because the word has a common meaning in modern parlance that is not the same meaning as its classical one. And it is difficult on the other hand even when all of its later meanings and associations are stripped away – because what it seeks to express is simply a very difficult concept.
 Most of what the world understands as “person” is either a description of the “ego” or of a legal concept. But Person (I will capitalize it for use in its classical form) is not at all the same thing as the ego. In the ego, we describe a set of feelings, choices, memory, desires, etc. that are unique. It is, in its most true form, turned in on itself. The ego is “me for myself.”
For many people, when they think of life after death, they imagine some continuation of the ego. Indeed, many of our thoughts about heaven seem problematic precisely because they seem to contradict the needs of the ego.
“Will there be golf in heaven?” The joke begins.
“Well, there’s good news and bad news,” the angel answers. “The good news is that there is indeed golf in heaven and the courses are beyond description. The bad news is that your tee time is tomorrow at two.”
Such jokes could easily be multiplied – for we imagine heaven (and life after death) to be somehow the fulfillment of our desires and wishes. An existence organized around our wishes, desires and memories is not, however, the meaning of Person.
Person is an “organizing principle,” the center around which and by which our existence is defined. But its character is strikingly contrary to the ego.

The Dones, Rob Bell, and the Future of Progressive (and Evangelical) Christianity


Photo: Brett Thatcher, Creative Commons 4.0 via #InstaBLAM
Photo: Brett Thatcher, Creative Commons 4.0 via #InstaBLAM
A few days ago I wrote a piece on my personal blog about “Graduating.”
It was partly a reflection on the story of Rob Bell and how it resonates with my own. It was also about the “Dones” and “post-church” category and how I identify not with the category itself, but with certain elements of the category even as I carve out my own path ahead.

I am “done” – with evangelical church as usual. I’m done with any ministry obligation to that category and identity. I can’t do it anymore, and neither can my family.
In that sense, I am graduating.
That said, there is a flip side to the equation, and one that makes this promotion an emotional and spiritual move up rather than merely an ideological move left. Really, I find myself just as disinterested in being a good progressive as I am in being a good evangelical. This is a moving forward in that strange lane sometimes called the messy middle.