The Call to Controversy

Need something stimulating to think about?

You could hardly go wrong with Brian McLaren’s new book, “A New Kind of Christianity.”

This book is certainly continuing to stir up not only healthy dialogue about important topics of faith, but also controversy in the Christian arena. It seems that there is very little middle-ground of opinion in regards to this book. People tend to either love it or hate it. And like it or not, in Christian circles this book looks to be THE “most talked-about” read of the year.

So, why endorse something that is the source of such controversy? Well, for several reasons:

1) WE NEED TO BE AWARE OF THE DISCUSSION.

Lots of people will be talking about this book and the questions that it raises. And make no mistake, they are important questions, no matter what you think are the correct answers. These are the questions of 21st century Christianity; questions of both those inside and outside the mainstream church today. Whether you realize it or not, you will be a part of this discussion. In fact, your voice will help shape this discussion.

And let me suggest that you actually read what is being stated by this intriguing side of the discussion. I have and will continue to read many disparaging comments and blogs about Brian McLaren’s view from people who disagree with his answers, which by the way is just part of the healthy dialogue. But, what is not healthy is that many of the people on the opposite side of the debate have not actually read McLaren’s books.

“That Brian McLaren has really gone off the deep end. I think he’s dangerous.”
“Have you read his book?”
“No, but I’ve heard he said such and such.”

Brian McLaren

Maybe we ought to be a bit more informed as we enter this discussion. Whether it is McLaren or MacArthur, maybe we should actually LISTEN to what they have to say and the context in which they say it before we criticize them. In fact, while you may disagree with either person in many areas, you may find some common ground as well. Or perhaps even more importantly, you may disagree with the conclusions, but may find a respectful appreciation for the spirit of the person and their questions.

In a recent interview, McLaren makes a case for this in responding to the way people easily dismiss his questions as “liberal” without considering his possibly more complex stance:

“I wouldn’t want to overlook the many ways in which my proposals differ from traditional liberal theology. My attitudes and commitments regarding Jesus, the Holy Spirit, scripture, spiritual experience, institutionalism, personal commitment and conversion, evangelism and discipleship, and many other subjects make many of my liberal friends think of me as conservative. Sometimes I wonder if evangelicals simply use the word “liberal” as a way to say, “Let’s stop listening to this person. He’s too different from us, and so is not worth our time and attention.” I hope that’s not the case, but sometimes, this is what I feel like when evangelicals use “the L word.”

For me, liberal is not automatically a bad word. If liberal means free from tyranny, I’m for it. If liberal means generous, I’m for it. If liberal means believing that our best days are ahead of us, I’m for it. If liberal means welcoming honest questions and giving honest scholarship a fair hearing, I’m for it. If, on the other hand, liberal means without restraint, or careless about tradition, or dismissive of scripture, or institutional and lukewarm regarding commitment to Christ, and so on, then I wouldn’t want to be associated with that. And we could say parallel things about the word conservative.”

Huh, maybe he’s not as crazy as people say. But, that’s not important. You don’t have to agree with McLaren, but maybe we should give him a fair-hearing (or rather reading). It may be that he is not as “off-the-deep-end” as we think. Or even if he is, that he is at least still committed to the best of his mental and reasoning ability to Jesus, if only incorrect.

2) WE NEED TO BE THINKERS

What I like best about this book is that it forces us to wrestle with concepts we take for granted and THINK. Controversy can only exist where people are seriously grasping and thinking and reasoning. And in that way, a healthy dose of controversy is probably very good for the modern church.

I work with high school students on a regular basis, and by far my greatest goal in my time with them is not to give them all the answers. Do I want them to have good answers? Of course. But more importantly, I want them to learn HOW to question, HOW to find good answers. I want to help them learn HOW to THINK. Many more questions will come up in their lives long after I am gone, and I’d rather they learned how to critically think about those questions sure-to-come in the future rather than just have some spoon-fed responses from me about the ones they are asking right now.

Ironically, many high schoolers I know are better at wrestling with questions and learning to think than a lot of adults. And maybe that is a bigger problem in our churches today than we’d care to admit. We just don’t think for ourselves. We’ve accepted long-held answers (many of which might be correct, by the way) to many old questions (some of which people aren’t asking anymore) without ever thinking it through ourselves. We are lazy. Lazy theologically. Lazy mentally.

This has direct consequences for our witness to the world. Because while we are busy being content with answers to questions we’ve never genuinely asked ourselves, the rest of the world is actively and honestly seeking answers. The church is irrelevant because by and large we can’t speak authentically to these questions. We appear to be a second-hand, consignment store of truth because we are primarily selling the “hand-me-down responses” of generations before us rather than doing the hard work of wrestling with the deeper questions and making sense of them in this time and context for ourselves.

Consider just these few questions: How is the Bible unique and why should it apply to my life? What makes the Bible authoritative in my life? How do I know it is the “Word of God?” What does it mean that it was “inspired?” What in the Bible is culturally-conditioned for people at the time of it’s writing and what is a universal-truth that applies to me? How do I know the difference? Can I know the difference? Is there a difference?

While just the tip of the proverbial ice-berg, these questions alone go a long way in helping answer modern dilemmas such as human sexuality, the character of God, the purpose of Jesus, social justice, and other ethical considerations.

Some will agree with the conclusions of the author and others will not. But no matter what you think of McLaren’s answers, what is undisputable is that these questions need to be asked. Or rather, these questions are already being asked by many people (friends, family, co-workers) around us. McLaren is not by far the first person to ask these questions, but he is suggesting that rather than dismissing the people who ask them maybe we ought to spend some time struggling with them as well and as a community “led by the Spirit” recalibrating the answers to this time and in our current context.

As McLaren says:

“That’s why, in the end, I hope people will actually read the book with an open heart and mind. I’m not expecting that anyone will agree with everything — that’s not my point. But I am hoping that people will be stimulated to think, and maybe even to dream of better possibilities … so the Christianity of the future can continue to learn and grow and not simply repeat the past or be stuck in the present.”

Is it dangerous to read a book that challenges things that you believe and causes you to ask some rather unsettling questions about your core beliefs? Possibly. But far more dangerous for the church today is not reading these books and not asking these inquiries.

So go ahead and risk it. It’s okay to hang up the “under-construction: please come back later” sign on your theology for the weekend. Pick up the book and let it mess you up a little bit. Be okay to let the questions move you to a place of uncertainty for a while. Inhale the ambiguity and breathe deep the tension of inquisition.

It may be that once the smoke and fog has cleared you find yourself with some “real” answers. Or at the very least, a greater understanding & compassion for and a stronger, more respected voice into the life of seekers around you.

It could be the church will be healthier for the controversy.

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McLaren Q2: The Authority of the Bible

How many Owner’s Manuals have you actually read all the way through?

Yea, me either.  In fact, I’ve got a whole drawer full of owner’s manuals that we keep in case we need them.  If it was up to me, I would have thrown most of them away long ago.  But, my wife is much smarter and more thorough than I am and keeps them filed in case the dishwasher ever breaks down and we need the document that tells us how to fix it. (Not that I could do it anyway).

So, they sit in a file.  They don’t help me with my day-to-day life.  Most days I forget they are even there.  They are just kind of an emergency reference I can pull fix-it info from if things don’t go as planned with appliances I take for granted.

In a similar way, I often treat my Bible that way too.  As a teenager, many well-meaning people told me that my Bible was like the Owner’s Manual of my life.  It told me what to do, what not to do and how to fix what was wrong.  And while there is certainly some direction in these areas, I have discovered in reading the book that its description as a Manual is quite poor.  The collection of material in Scripture is much more complex than this.

What’s more, this view of the Bible has lead to me treating it like a Manual. Most often, I’ve left it filed in the drawer, inapplicable to my daily life, ready to pull out and scan for a nugget of “fix-it” advice when necessary.  Too easily the manual is left unread or if finally read, read poorly, too simplistically and ripped out its natural context and applied incorrectly.

In this second interview with www.theooze.tv, Brian McLaren speaks briefly about how we might re-frame our view of Scripture.  Instead of the metaphor of a Manual, he employs the picture of a legal-document (or constitution), which is another common well-meaning but misguided view of the Bible.

Just another addition to his new book, “A New Kind of Christianity.” A good source of enough thought-provoking material to open a dialogue.  Watch the video and leave a comment to join the conversation.

McLaren Q1: The Narrative Question

Looking for a good, open conversation about faith?

Well, our friends at the conversation-starting website: www.theooze.tv are currently doing a video series with Brian McLaren about his new book: “A New Kind of Christianity: Ten Questions that are Transforming the Faith”.

Each video features McLaren discussing one of the specific questions raised in his book.  And, due to the subject matter, I’m sure there will be much conversation generated! And really that is the goal.  There may be more than one thing that you find yourself at odds with him about, but according to McLaren himself, these questions:

“are not intended as a smash in tennis, delivered forcefully with a lot of topspin, in an effort to win the game and create a loser. Rather, they are offered as a gentle serve or lob; their primary goal is to start the interplay, to get things rolling, to invite your reply. Remember, our goal is not debate and division yielding hate or a new state, but rather questioning that leads to conversation and friendship on the new quest.”
(Brian McLaren)

So, here is the first of these videos.  It discusses briefly, McLaren’s first few chapters on the “storyline” of the Bible and how to properly frame our picture of Jesus.  Give it a quick view (less than 5 minutes) and feel free to comment here on your thoughts or go to www.theooze.tv and watch them all as they become available.

Restoring the Conversation

Recently I was approached by a friend who shares an opposite viewpoint on violence than I do and he was expressing some concerns about my steadfast belief that violence in all its forms is outside the reality of the kingdom of God.

And as he shared his concerns, he made one statement that has propelled me to greater research:  “That (viewpoint) isn’t what we teach here (at this church).”

no creed but christNow, to give you some context, I am a part of a non-denominational Christian church that has “no creed but Christ” and is a link in a long chain of churches that has held to the ideal that “we are Christians only, but not the only Christians.”

We are a movement that has held certain things we have considered essential to faith in Christ fiercely, but made allowance and grace for various other viewpoints on the periphery of these things to exist and be discussed in the life of the body.

It is, in my mind, a beautiful ideal and a marvelous history.  And though I believe we have not been totally (or in some cases even mostly) successful in achieving this ideal, it is a goal that I think is noble and reflects Jesus’ desire that we “be one” as a unified body made up of diverse and unique individuals.

Now these “Restoration churches,” as we call them, have tried to achieve this ideal by “restoring” the things we find in the early church.   The basic idea is that Christians can find unity together from various ecclesial backgrounds by escaping (as much as possible) the telephone game diversions in church history through returning to the “ancient reset-buttonorder of things” or The SOURCE (Jesus) and the early church.

It is an attempt to “restore” or “reset” to the biblical origins of church and abandon the many other traditions, creeds and theological constraints that people have evolved throughout history to designate people as either “in” or “out” of their particular brand of church club.

The forefathers of this movement believed that the body of Christ could exist in unity, despite different views of end times, atonement, predestination/free-will and many other tests of membership that groups throughout history have employed, by uniting around one simple statement, “Jesus is Lord.”

In short, these “restoration pioneers” made great sacrifice and dedicated their lives to allowing the conversation that we are having today.  I believe it was their intent and belief that the body of Christ is best when it talks, stretches, converses and grows in difficult issues, but always while maintaining the “spirit of unity”.

Now, some today would say that conversations like this one do harm to the church by causing division.   But, in response, I believe my church tradition would say that it is this very diversity that when approached in love and mutual respect is what makes the body of Christ so unique in this world; that it is one of the defining characteristics of the true kingdom of God.

Yes, unity is the ideal.  But unity is not achieved by taking a single theological cookie-cutter to clone the individuals of our body or by refusing to challenge each other to better model the life and teaching of Jesus.  Unity is not preserved in “turning off our brains” and skirting difficult issues. Unity is what we commit to and fight for as we share the burden of stretching and growing in the likeness of Christ.

conversationIn this regard, the enemy of true unity is not discussions like these, but a spirit-of-disunity within these discussions and a loyalty to any human rationalization or construct that takes priority over what we find in Jesus and the early church.

Most historically, this is what “my” church teaches.  And seemingly, it is as relevant today as it was in the 1800’s on the American frontier.

So, as we continue to think about this difficult topic and submit ourselves to God who is constantly working to move us to greater depth of understanding and participation in His kingdom, keep in mind that it may be discussions like this that help move us closer in that direction.  May the voice of God arise out of the murmur and discussion of His people!

Here’s what is coming next:

1)    What the “Restoration” church fathers thought about violence
2)    What to make of the nation of Israel’s war and violence in the Old Testament
3)    What is a Christian’s responsibility to government?
4)    So what?  Why is this particular discussion important?

The middle two topics will be addressed by two phenomenal guest bloggers (I can’t wait to tell you who they are!), so make sure and check back on their excellent insights!

In grace and for peace…

Divided in Discussion, United in Prayer

Military260Should we recognize “Armed Forces Day” in our church worship services?

What place does the community of God have with human armed conflict?

That was the question that we faced this week.   Apparently, AFD is this Saturday, and Memorial Day is, of course, soon upon us too.   So the question is, how much should we recognize military action in church context?

I doubt we were unified on our answer.   LOL!   It seems that many of us come from very divergent perspectives on the place and appropriateness of war and violence for Christians.  And so, a lengthy discussion ensued.

I thought I would mention it here in the blog, however, because I think I have learned a lot through this interaction.  And hopefully there is something you can learn here too, or contribute to this conversation.

I was already in the process of putting together a work on “non-violence” in preparation for Memorial Day and this discussion allowed me to purposely interact with my peers and colleagues and learn much more.

Over the next several days, I will be sharing with you some of my own conclusions on violence and war, based on how I understand Jesus, but I’d like to start today by sharing what I learned from just the act of discussing this issue this week with people I care deeply about.

1) I love my church! The great thing about the church I am a part of is that we have many divergent views on many topics, but we are committed to loving each other anyway.   I know of very few places in the world where people can feel safe to genuinely disagree on complex issues and still feel acceptance and love.

Often the church is criticized as a place where differing opinions are not welcome.  There is a sense that you must “check your brain at the door” and just go along with the party line when it comes to church.  And while I have seen places that this is true, church at its best is open to discussion and exploration and genuine conversation that seeks to understand God and our life with God better.

To those that are skeptical of church for this reason, I would like to encourage you that there are communities that are open to your dialogue.  These difficult issues can be what divide us.  Especially in church.  And yet, in the context of my community, I found it a wonderful chance to explore the reasoning and understanding of different views and grow in the process.   Thank you to my friends, Paul and Dave and others who chimed in and contributed their wonderful assessments and convictions!

It is discussions like this one this week that remind me of why I love being a part of the body that I am.  The Apostle Paul calls us to “be devoted to one another” or to stand by each other through thick and thin.  And in this interaction, I have seen yet again that our body models this call extremely well.  Cheers to you, brothers and sisters!

prayer2)  Whether pacifists or “just war” proponents, we all agree that we should support and pray for the people from our body that are currently surrounded by and engaged in violence.

And in the end, maybe that is what matters.  We may disagree about war, national violence, or the extent to which we should participate in our country’s defense of itself and ideals, but at the conclusion all of us love and care deeply about those in our body that are in danger (physically, mentally/emotionally, spiritually) due to war and violence.

I think we will all be praying even more diligently for these brothers and sisters over the next few weeks, in part possibly because of this conversation.  I know I will.  And I will be encouraging those around me to spend more time praying .

I would encourage you to spend some time praying for people that you know that are serving in the military this weekend as well.

Pray for their physical safety, of course.  Pray that they will return home to have full lives away from such violence.

Pray for their emotional/mental health.  We have all seen the devastating effect on the human psyche (especially in recent news stories of military suicides and post-traumatic stress issues) that violence-seen or participated-in creates.

personaluse2_9050019~A-Makeshift-Peace-Sign-of-Flowers-Lies-on-Top-John-Lennon-s-Strawberry-Fields-Memorial-PostersPray for their spiritual health as they wrestle with things they’ve seen, things they’ve been called to do and the terrible side of humanity that they have been exposed to.

Also, join me in praying for PEACE.  While it seems that eradicating the planet of violence is impossible, I believe that all things are possible with God.  Pray with me that we may sow seeds of PEACE and that because of the message of Christ our world will change.  Pray that our sons, daughters, brothers, sisters, husbands, wives, and friends will no longer need to leave us to go to war.  Pray that nations will beat their weapons into plowshares.   Pray for PEACE.

In the next few days we’ll look at some Scripture and the message of Jesus to discuss the place of violence and war in the life of a follower of Jesus.  We will be thinking about whether Christians should involve themselves in various types of violence: national violence (military service), self-defense (if attacked by another), in protection of another that is being attacked, or various other situations.

Hopefully it will be helpful and create broader discussion.  I’ll probably break it into a three-part blog series.  So, check back and feel free to leave a comment and join the conversation.

‘Till then, Grace and peace…

Love Connection – Passage 3/29/09

So, we wrapped up our series, “Love Connection” this last Sunday night.  And in one way, I’m kinda sad to see it go.  Even though it has taken a bit of work, it has been fun entering an on-going dialogue here through student’s text questions.
I have been very impressed by the intelligent and honest questions that have been texted in each night.  And more than a little humbled to be given opportunity to respond to some of your deepest questions about such an important issue.

love-connection-jpg1We have FIVE final questions from this last Sunday, and I will be responding to THREE of them in today’s post followed by the last TWO tomorrow.

But, even as we bring this conversation to a close, I pray that we would not leave this discussion to drift off into the wind.  My prayer is that this new generation would take to heart a more revolutionary way to do relationships.  I pray that the relationships and friendships and marriages of these high school students would be more whole and complete and fulfilling than those same relationships of their parents.

And so, may we care more about others than ourselves.  May we look only to God for ultimate fulfillment and never another human being.  May we live with compassion, honesty, integrity and purity in our relationships with each other.   And in that, may we find true love and healing.

Here are the questions from this weekend’s PASSAGE message.


Question #1:
At the beginning of your message all I got out of it was that it is okay to rebel against almost everything.  Is that what you were trying to say?

Wow . . . clearly I need to get my point across better.  LOL.  I was NOT trying to say that you should rebel against EVERYTHING.  What I was saying was that Christians tend to cave-in and go with the major cultural assumptions of the day as much as anyone.

So, when it comes to relationships, we (more often than not) believe the common cultural myths about “soul-mates” or that love is a feeling you fall into, or that sex is just a meaningless physical act like playing chess.  And on and on . . .

We don’t approach relationships and romantic love any different than the rest of the people in this culture because we don’t THINK anything different about it than they do.   We believe the same myths of love that everyone else does!

flower childMy point at the beginning of the message is that it we should pick up the “rebellious spirit” of the 1960’s “flower children” and as people who follow Christ be willing to be counter-cultural.  Instead of mindlessly buying into what our cultural tells us love is about, we should approach relationships with the radical “choice” and “sacrifice” oriented love of Jesus.

Interesting thing about this rebellion, though, is it isn’t about force but love.  We rebel against the world’s definition of love by loving people better; by putting them first.  We become the most rebellious by becoming the most loving.

Anyway, I encourage you to think through your past, present and future romantic relationships.  Do you find connection only skin deep?  Do you put the needs and dreams of your date above yourself?  Do you participate in healthy aspects of affection and abstain from damaging aspects in order to protect the other person?  Are you looking for happiness and fulfillment in another person or in God?”

How you answer these questions will reveal whether you are stuck in “The Matrix” of our culture’s assumptions of love, or whether you are choosing to participate in the revolution and restoration of relationships that Jesus came to empower.  I pray that you would choose the revolution.


Question #2:
Are you telling us to be gay?

Hahahaha….. (ROFL)

Honestly, I have no idea what this question is referencing.  I’m almost positive that I never said the word, “gay” or “homosexual” or anything referring to that orientation and/or behavior.

However, you texted it in and so I’m staying faithful to post your questions.  I wish I knew the context of what you are asking, and if you’d like to comment and clarify I would be happy to answer more appropriately.

But, just to answer the question as is, let me respond by saying . . . “No.”


Question #3:
If a lot of your friends are beginning to lose their virginity and you are almost the only left still a virgin, is it bad if you are feeling like you should do it too just so you can be on the same emotional level and know how they are feeling?

This is a really good question and probably more of an important one than most people are willing to admit.  I think that if we are being honest that a lot of our relationship decisions get made based on the coercive pull of “the norm” around us rather than what we believe is best for the relationship.

So, what do we do?  Well, let me at least respond with several thoughts.

First, it is not bad that you feel like you want to do it too in order to fit in.  When it comes right down to it, I doubt if hardly any of us like being the person “left out” or “not included.”  It is the feeling of loneliness; of missing out.  And it isn’t a fun feeling to have.

And, it isn’t wrong to feel that way.  It isn’t bad to feel like you want to be “included” in a community.  You were created by God to be included in a group of people.  You were, as we have said, made for authentic relationship.  And the feelings of being left out are real, they do hurt, and it is ok to feel that way.

However, even though you are entitled to those feelings, I don’t think it benefits you to go along with whatever it takes to make them go away.

chastity underwearSecondly, even though you feel like it, you aren’t the “only one” left out there that is still a virgin.  In fact, over the last few years, lots of studies have shown that the statistics of high school students waiting until later to have sex is going up.  One recent study showed that 40% of all high school students will graduate without even having had an intimate date!

So, you are not as much of a minority as you might think.  However, I know it feels like you are.  The reason is that very few people go around parading the fact that they are virgins (its usually more embarrassing due to cultural pressures), and so you don’t hear about the people that are waiting.  What you hear are the more vocal group that isn’t waiting and then you assume that everyone MUST be a part of this group.

In fact, though I don’t know your friends, I wouldn’t even be surprised to learn that some of them are maybe embellishing the truth a bit about their sex lives.  I know, crazy huh?  High school students lying about getting laid more than they really are!!  How could that be true?  ☺

But lastly, I think we find ourselves back at the question of “The Matrix”.  Do you go along blindly with what everyone else has been culturally conditioned to believe just so that you can fit in, even at the expense of your own personal happiness and the happiness of the person you end up having sex with?

That seems like a very steep price to pay for having another topic of conversation with your friends.

Perhaps, rather than “jumping off a cliff because your friends do it so you can have something to talk about on the way down,” you could find ways to love your friends better and in more sacrificial ways.  Maybe the way Jesus wants to redeem broken relationships in your friends’ lives is through you.  Maybe their greatest shot at having real romance and love is through your example in how you deal with the romances in your life with integrity and your loving compassion of them.

You see, I know you can’t relate to their sexual experience yet.  But they can’t relate now to yours (speaking of a lack of experience) either.  At any time, you can become like them.  But they can never become like you again.

the matrix (morpheus)And so, maybe your perspective helps them see relationships differently.  Maybe you can be like Morpheus in “The Matrix” and help them see what they couldn’t about love because all they knew was what they were culturally programmed to see.

And regardless of what your friends choose to do, you have a lifetime of love with someone you will be much closer to for much longer to protect.  Feeling out-of-place is difficult.  I totally sympathize with you.  But trust me.  In this case, it is totally worth it.

That pain won’t last forever.  You’ll get married and know what they are talking about eventually.  Or they’ll accept you as you are.  Or you’ll get new friends.  But either way, think long-term.  Short term happiness is a bad trade for long-term trouble.

“Letter from SEATTLE” – (response #3)

[Response #3 from SEATTLE – Part 7 of “A Conversation between Seattle and Mississippi”, a chronicle of honest discussion between two friends.]

………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………….

Dear M-I-S-S-I-S-S-I-P-P-I Melissa:  (Hey, correct spelling and alliteration!)

Hahahaha!!   Now shouldn’t you have been listening or praying or singing at the church service the other day, not writing emails in your head!  LOL.  You crack me up.  You are a theology junkie!  Maybe we both need a 12-step recovery program…LOL

Now on to your response . . . I think we might be going around in circles here a bit.  I don’t totally disagree with what you are saying.  In fact, I find myself nodding my head as I read.   These are my only clarifications:

Clarification #1:

I definitely think that part of what Jesus is saying here includes non-believers.  My point was simply that Jesus said that the world would hate us as it hated him, and the majority of those that hated Jesus were the religious crowd.  I think that idea is definitely implied in Jesus’ statement here (that would have been who the disciples thought of instantly), although his use of the word “world” certainly encompasses more than that.

And, though admittedly there are some differences in Jewish religion of the 1st century and Christianity today (though I don’t agree with all the differences that you propose), I definitely think it still applies to us in both ways today.   While I agree that the religious leaders didn’t approve of or follow Jesus as the Messiah, they DID claim to follow God.  And there are many, I believe, that claim to follow God today that when it comes right down to it are a bit uncomfortable with the radical life and teachings of Jesus.  At least they live that way.  The difference may be that the Pharisees never claimed to follow Jesus and many today do, but obviously saying you follow Jesus and actually following Him are very different things.   In that way, there may be many more similarities than you might think.

In fact, I don’t think it takes much imagination to say there are many today that could be described by your words:  “Pious and self-righteous, pure blood [Christians] who had always been in charge” offended by “sinners with equal access to eternal life” . . . “because they wanted to be saved for what they were doing, not for believing in Jesus.”   (arrangement mine)

Now, I’m not trying to label anyone into that category, because really it is a matter of the heart.  I simply think there are certain parallels.  Certainly there are people, like me, that often get caught up in religion rather than following Christ.   It is as much a struggle for me as any Pharisee of old.  Religion is dangerous at all times.  In Jesus’ time.  And in our time.

What concerns me is that some people read that statement of Jesus and take it not as a caution of the logical outcome of His radical message (of course many will reject it), but as a mandate for their methodology.  So you hear things like, “Well, Jesus said we would be hated, so we’ll do whatever it takes for them to hate us the most.”  And while those sentiments carry the noble feeling of doing our “religious duty,” I’m afraid they are a very poor way of understanding Jesus’ final prayer for his people, which ends with his desire that the “world” may know Him because of their “LOVE” for each other.   (John 17)

I believe Jesus is saying that the natural conclusion is that so-called believers and unbelievers will hate us if we truly follow him, not that we should do everything in our power TO BE hated by people.   It isn’t a badge of honor or a litmus test of some kind, it is simply a reality of living a radical Jesus life.

And so in this clarification, I totally agree with your last line of that point, “Jesus will be hated by those who do not believe in him, whether they are sinners or happen to call themselves ‘religious.’”

Clarification #2:

Look, I’m not saying we should agree with pop culture that says sin isn’t sin.  Taking a stance on what we believe to be sin is important.  And while I’m for critically thinking and making sure we are labeling sin correctly, I don’t think we should just tell people that whatever they do is ok by God.

For instance, there are many people who don’t choose to believe in Christ that also don’t appreciate my stance on the nature of homosexuality.  And I’m sure I’m not popular in those circles either.

You see, I know the “world” is going to at times hate me.  And that is ok.  I just want to make sure that they hate me not because of my attitude but because of the radical message of Jesus.   The truth does divide people.  I get that.  I just want to make sure it is the truth that is doing the dividing and not me.

Again, my problem with [megapastor] is not his truth, but his methods.   Do people need truth?  Absolutely.  But I think most people need relationship to really experience truth.  Remember, Jesus said he was Truth.  But he wasn’t some cold, philosophical concept of truth.  He wasn’t truth on a sign.  He wasn’t truth in a government’s law.

He was Incarnational Truth.  Relational Truth.

Truth, as defined by the life of Jesus, is more than “I’m right” and “you’re wrong”.   It is Truth that becomes flesh and lives in our mess and dies for people who will never deserve it and many that will never accept it.   It is Truth in relationship.   It doesn’t compromise, but it doesn’t demean or coerce either.   It is a Truth that woos like a lover, not compels like a tyrant.

And so in the end, I may love people, fight for people and invest in people, but they may still choose to hate the message of Jesus that I believe in.  And maybe me because of it.   I’m totally ok with that.  Wide path, narrow path.   I just don’t want any of my actions to unnecessarily cause rejection.  If they reject Jesus, fine.   I just don’t want my methods to be why.  If any part of the message of life being accepted by them relies on me as the messenger, I want to err on the side of love not protest.

Now, should churches be doing more than a carwash and food drives?  Of course!  I’m a preacher!  I think people need God’s word.  But, I think we have divorced the social components of the gospel from the propositional truth components.   We tend to break down into camps of either one or the other, when Jesus seemed to hold on to both.   And it is the extremism (of either side) that I think becomes dangerous and leads to lazy spirituality or capricious elitism.

And so, in my mind, I feel as though we agree a great deal here.  Hopefully you agree! ☺  I’m all for calling sin what it is.  Humanity needs to know where it is broken, so it can be healed.  And, I’m for staying the course on those convictions through cultural pressure.

My only clarifications here are that we think very carefully about the methods we use in offering these truths to people who are free to choose to ignore them.   And then be OK to live in a world where many will not agree with us though we give our own lives to show them.   That we would be so committed to bringing Truth to people that we would sacrifice even our own rights or lives to bring them to Him, not simply take the easy way out (from my perspective) and protest them.

Power-under.  Not power-over.

As far as your last line about being united, I agree with that as well.  I don’t hate [megapastor].  I don’t even know him personally.  And I hope I don’t come off that way.    In reality, I’ve thought a lot about that and I do choose to love him.   To be a consistent lover of people, like Jesus, I’m called to love the brothers and sisters I disagree with as much as I love the people I think they often turn off.   Like it or not, right or wrong, they are my family.  And you can choose your friends, but you’re stuck with your family.  ☺

However, while I love them, I will still question their methods, their theology and their understanding of God’s grace.  For it was within these ranks that Jesus reserves his challenges and questions.   And beyond the pattern of His life, it is those letters to the churches in Revelation and the words in 1 Corinthians (among others) that compel me to do so.  For these are words directed towards believers and the correction we are to make within the community of Christ.

“I have written you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people—not at all meaning the people of this world who are immoral . . . [but] with anyone who calls himself a brother but is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or a slanderer, a drunkard or a swindler.” 1 Corinthians 5:9-11 (NIV)

Apparently, Paul saved his moral criticism for the believers as well, rather than outsiders.

Okey, doke….

Now, I gotta go cause my wife is making dinner and I told her that I would be home 30 minutes ago.   And yes, I probably could stand to miss a meal here and there, but if I get home in time I’ll be able to watch my daughter put banana chunks in her hair while she eats and who would wanna miss that?

Grace and Peace,

SEATTLE