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.

“Letter from MISSISSIPPI” – (#3)

[Letter #3 from MISSISSIPPI – Part 6  of “A Conversation between Seattle and Mississippi”, a chronicle of honest discussion between two friends.]

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Hello again SEATTLE,

I hope you had a great Thanksgiving!

Sitting in church listening and thinking, I have come up with more thoughts for you on this conversation.

First, I have also experienced the desire to let people know that not all Christians are like “that.”  I’ve spent time and energy trying to convince some people of that, and finally realized that as long as I believed the Bible was exclusively true, and not just a nice story, they thought of me like “that” anyway.  So I guess I have gotten burned by that type of motivation….I also came to realize that pride was at least part of it.  “If you knew ME you might have a better view of Christians, I’m not THAT kind of (ignorant, stupid, prejudiced, kooky, crazy, homophobic, racist, redneck, protesting, abortion-clinic-blowing-up, hateful or judgmental) Christian.”  I really thought that those adjectives were the problem. And for some people, maybe they are.  Let’s make sure we aren’t doing the damage ourselves, however, by misrepresenting our brothers and sisters as actually being this way, if they are not…(dishonest protest picture).

Second, I mentioned that Jesus promised the world would hate us.  Not that we should seek that out from the world, but that we shouldn’t have a problem with the world hating us or hating Jesus because of us.  It’s just not true that “we must be doing something wrong if people hate us.” In fact, considering what Jesus promises, a more appropriate question would be, are we following him with integrity if no one hates us?

You interpret “the world” to mean other Christians. This gets into a really common attitude today.  People love to say that Christ’s biggest enemies were the religious people of his day…implying therefore, if He came back today, WE would be his enemies.  Todd Agnew’s popular song, “My Jesus” says: my Jesus would never be accepted in my church / The blood and dirt on His feet might stain the carpet / But He reaches for the hurting and despises the proud / I think He’d prefer Beale Street [bars/nightclubs] to the stained glass crowd….

Back then “religious” people were completely different than they are today.  They were an orthodox group with special status…not just any common person could believe and become “religious” the way they do today.  For the most part, those who are “religious” by today’s definition are not modern-day Pharisees, but rather his disciples!  His disciples were sinners who changed their entire lives after encountering him.  The “sinners” he loved too much, gathered around to hear him speak the good news.  They loved and believed in him.

The Pharisees’ problem was not that Jesus loved too much, it was his message that sinners-become-disciples had equal or greater spiritual status than the Pharisees.  The prodigal son who comes home and the man who begins work at the 11th hour receive equal rewards as lifelong rule-keepers.  Rather than the pious and self-righteous, pure-blood Jews who had always been in charge, every day “sinners” had equal access to eternal life.  This offended those in charge, because they wanted to be saved for what they were doing, not for believing in Jesus.  My point is that Jesus will be hated by those who do not believe in him, whether they are sinners or happen to call themselves “religious.”

I also think you made a false statement about the world we live in.  You said, “If people who DID believe thought Jesus loved too much, how much more those who don’t believe?”  First, like I said, I don’t think it was those who believed, and I don’t think it was loving too much, it was not wanting everyone who believed in Christ to be saved.  But, my real problem with this statement is that it misrepresents our culture.  Tolerance, acceptance and affirmation are the gods of our age.  I would be shocked if “the world” would ever hate anyone for loving too much today.  So I really just don’t think that’s what Jesus is talking about here.

Finally, I thought about Sodom & Gomorrah and Lot’s attitude there, and that he was praised as a righteous man…He did not engage or accept the culture there.  In fact he was accused of “judging” them simply for not wanting to aid them in their sin.  You mentioned Jonah…whatever other points might be made, the message he was sent by God to preach to total strangers was, repent or be destroyed.  That was the message, and it worked!  Even though he didn’t love them first or at all, even though they had no relationship with him and no reason to listen to him.  Verbal violence?  God was pleased that he was able to spare Ninevah (I am sure they were thrilled too) and that would not have been possible if not for Jonah’s message.  In Revelation and the letters to the churches, tolerating the sinful, immoral and idolatrous among them is an incredible offense against Jesus; not tolerating or even hating the wicked is seen as a virtue!  In Romans 1, Paul talks about people knowing that sins deserve death but that they not only continued sinning but also approved of those who did, implying that something other than approval was needed.

Intolerance for sin seems to be biblical….but it’s pretty much the worst thing you could display in our culture. So I think that’s a pretty good reason why the world might hate us. I never said we should be hateful or that we should not love sinners, but I don’t think that we should turn against other Christians who feel called to speak the truth.  We don’t know that someone might not be saved that way.  Who’s to say that but God?  One of my old churches decided to not try to bring anyone to church but just offer free water or carwashes on Saturday so they could be loving like Jesus.  That’s good for the church members, but I’m sure it won’t help anyone else’s soul.  And frankly, as long as there is just 1 wacky church out there to make the news, our PR with the world is never going to be improved anyway.  That seems to be the wrong tree to be barking up.

Like I said, I’m not condoning hate and I do realize there are hateful Christians out there.  I’m also not saying that having these meaningful, loving relationships with the lost is wrong.  I don’t think that, I think it’s awesome.  I’m glad there are Christians out there doing that but I am also glad there are Christians out there willing to speak the truth in a culture where that is one of the only things considered to be “wrong.”  It’s a shame that believers are hating you for what you’re doing, but I also think it’s a shame that believers have joined the world in hating the others for their message.  Because I think that’s what we are all supposed to be about, in a united way, now more than ever.

Many more thoughts to follow…. I have started rereading the NT through this lens.  It is strange that I would consider something so important and basic, a new way of thinking.  But for me, a lot of these questions and considerations really are new.  I suppose what is new, is the postmodern statement that protest without relationship is verbal violence, along with the presumption that publicly speaking truth is “protest.” But whatever the prompting, I think the question is important and deserves to have time spent on it!  So, thanks again.

MISSISSIPPI

“Letter from SEATTLE” – (response #2)

[Response #2 from SEATTLE – Part 5 of “A Conversation between Seattle and Mississippi”, a chronicle of honest discussion between two friends.]

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Hey, MISSISSIPPI:

Hahahahaha!  You respond so quickly!  It takes me weeks to have time to sit down and write an email like that, and before I wake up you have written back. =)  So, I thought I would continue the dialogue—a little quicker myself.

And I think you must have been watching me write the last email because I really was smiling and laughing half the time!  Of course, it was late at night and I get a little delirious when I’m tired.   Well, and Jay Leno and Conan were on, so that makes me laugh too.

But, I also do appreciate a good friendly conversation that isn’t communicated through anger, meanness or general insensitivity.  If you only saw some of the emails and comments that come my way!  I don’t even show them to my wife, most of the time, because they are so full of anger and intensity.  And sadly, they often come from “Christian” brothers and sisters.

I really believe that these are the types of civil and open conversations that more Christians should be having with each other.   And I sincerely appreciate your views and the attitude with which you communicate them.

In regards to your last email, I think we probably agree in more areas than we realize.  For instance, I agree that at times we will be persecuted by people for standing up for what is right.  As you correctly stated, Jesus promises us that the world will hate us as it hated him.   And in that regard, I am OK with not being popular or liked.  Trust me, I have to have some thick skin to write blogs like that!  As much as you might think there are many who would cheer that blog, there are three times more that would like to dis-fellowship me for it.   I simply choose not to post their emails or comments because they are too rude and at times vulgar.

Here is the rub for me, though.  I believe Jesus was willing to be hated and I should too.  However, I just want to make sure that I am hated for the things that Jesus was hated for.  I want to “stand-up” for what Jesus stood for.   And as I read through the gospels, I can’t think of a single time that Jesus was hated because of his proclamation of repentance to people that were notorious sinners, unbelievers, non-religious or of other religious persuasion.  His methods seemed different when it came to outsiders.  He didn’t shy away from the problem, but he didn’t seem to start with behavior modification or correction either.   I do think Jesus wants repentance, but I can’t find any story there that is similar in method to the [mega-pastor] event.  Jesus lived love, and out of that love, spoke healing truth into people’s lives.  His message was about the “Kingdom” available to all, not simply adjusting your behavior.

Honestly, I really want to have those conversations with people around me that are hurting.  And I do engage in those conversations.  In all my relationships with people that don’t follow Christ, I am longing toward one-day (in some cases sooner, others later) sharing the truth as I see it in God’s word that can set them free from oppression, self-indulgence, greed, hostility, loneliness, and despair.  But, with so many of them I can’t start there or they’ll never hear it.  I have to earn that right to speak into their life.

I approach it that way (and hopefully some of my other nut job Christian friends do too) not because I’m ashamed of the message, but because I’m not ashamed to love them regardless of whether or not they ever believe it.

Also, I agree that there are those apparently following Christ who appear “ashamed” of the relationship and of any standard that God calls us to.  Whether this is more so now than at other times, I don’t know.  It seems that truly following Christ has always been counter-cultural and the temptation exists to make His radical claims more palatable.

This, of course, is unnecessary.  And those that distance themselves from the difficult parts of Jesus’ teaching in order to make Jesus sound more acceptable to hearers are not only fooling themselves, but really deceiving those they intend to attract.  And at any rate, I think there are many well-meaning people that are lumped into this category that actually believe more of what I have described above than just “shame” in following Christ.

And, I’m not saying that there aren’t ever going to be times that non-believers disagree with us and even antagonize us for it.  I think that happens too and we should be OK with it.  But I think that happens for similar reasons when the world sees us caring for people it casts-off (i.e. drug dealers, sex offenders, terrorists, etc.).  If people who DID BELIEVE think that Jesus loved too much, how much more those that don’t believe?

Interestingly, though, when Jesus talks about being hated, the reference—I believe—is more the religious people around them than the non-religious.  In Jesus’ own context it was the religious leaders that always hated him.  It was they who killed him.  Not because he preached so much propositional truth, but because he loved too much. Or, if preaching, because he preached the truth about love.

In that way, I think [the mega-pastor] (if the illustrated scenario you described was accurate) misunderstood sacrifice.   He could have still been unpopular in his belief on homosexuality (I think that is fine, in fact, theologically we agree), but found an equally unpopular way (in Jesus’ sense) of loving outsiders.  Instead, it felt to me like he was willing to be unpopular with the world to in some small way be more popular with his church friends.

Now I’M being dangerous because I’m guessing at his motives!  And maybe I’m mistaking his motives (which isn’t really my point anyway—I’m not criticizing his motives, he might be a fine man, just his methods that I don’t think are consistent with Jesus), but if he did feel like a prophet, he’d do well to remember that is was God’s people that were angry with the prophets, not outsiders.  They existed, primarily, to reform God’s people, not convert others.  (the only exception I can think of here is Jonah, and without going into another long email, I think the circumstances illustrate a similar point).

In terms of media, I think you are right here as well.  They do often cast all Christians in one-boat as a bunch of wackos.   Of course media has an agenda too.  And very often they do choose the worst to represent us all.  And in that way, they share part of the blame of the perception of Christians today.  Although, I think we’d be wise to own up to our own fair share responsibility.   The Church does do some weird things sometimes!  LOL.

But, this comes down to several things for me too.  1)  There is a difference, I think, between the “cultural Christianity” in America today and real Authentic Jesus-following stuff.   The “cultural Christianity” (CC) is what makes the news.  It’s the people that say they are Christian, go to church occasionally, but live lives that look nothing like Christ.  Christianity isn’t so much a lifestyle to them, but a cultural definition of who they are.  However, whenever there is something to protest (and I’m not lumping [mega-pastor] in with this group) that is different than their American-Christian worldview, they are the first to speak up.  Not so much based on conviction about Christ’s transformation in their life or the world, but out of a sense of pride in their worldview they’ve always known being right.  These are the people that news agency’s love because they are full of hypocrisy, contradictions and have volatile sound-bites.

Then, there are the many good and devoted followers of Jesus in this country that really live what they preach and love God deeply.   And it is this group that I think you rightly pointed out are doing a great many things in their churches and communities that doesn’t make the TV.  And to these people I am deeply indebted and extremely proud.

Now, I know for me personally, when I am found agreeing with the media about the Christian stereotype, it is not because I’m ashamed of what that latter group believes and lives, or that I find it easier to perpetuate the media’s skewed perceptions.   But, rather, it is my agreement that the former group IS fraudulent and in many ways destructive.   I want people to see through that type of commitment anyway.

Which brings me to the second point . . . 2) I often spend a great deal of time criticizing the former group because I have to convince people today that not all Christians are like that.   To convince them that there are many followers-of-Jesus found in group 2 that are consistent, truthful and worthy of admiration.   It’s why I often don’t even use the name “Christian” for myself anymore (because it is culturally associated with CC), but use something else, such as “follower-of-Christ.”

My thought is that many people our age have noticed this difference as well.  Now, no doubt there are some that simply want to hide from difficulty, as you suggest, and it is easier for them to agree with mainstream thoughts about Christians.  And shame on them.

But a great deal more may simply be trying to make the point that Christianity is not a cultural garment to be worn when convenient, but is a life-altering commitment that invades every moment of your life.   It may be that this language we hear is an attempt at making that distinction in post-Christian culture that thinks they’ve heard everything there is to know about Jesus already—even though they probably haven’t.

Can it go overboard?  Probably.  I think it is a tough line to walk.   You are trying to build credibility, while still showing the good that exists in the bride of Christ.   Maybe I don’t always walk it correctly myself.  But, I really do try hard.   And I’m sure people of both good and bad motives go overboard in this area and that is regrettable.

At any rate, while not all helpful or purely motivated, some of what I hear today actually gives me hope that things can be better, not worse.

Ok.  Long enough for email #2.   See you got me all thinking today, when I should be working!  LOL.

Grace and peace,

SEATTLE

“Letter from MISSISSIPPI” – (#2)

[Letter #2 from MISSISSIPPI – Part 4  of “A Conversation between Seattle and Mississippi”, a chronicle of honest discussion between two friends.]

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Hey SEATTLE,

Superb response!!  So good to hear back from you.  I love how much time you spent responding and how thoughtful and helpful to me this is.  I agree with you about the attitude of humility, and this is something I can learn from….of course.

I’m relieved to know that picture wasn’t from the actual protest and wasn’t actually a picture of real Christians protesting.  Putting it in your blog about Hutch is really misleading (I’m glad it wasn’t you) and it illustrates my feelings pretty well.  I do agree that there was likely a better way for him to go about this.  But for the sake of argument, let’s say that he didn’t do this to make himself feel good or hold on to any rights but because he prayed about it and genuinely thought his message needed to be heard by a hurting, lost world.  Maybe more as a prophet. The picture which is not even from a real event, somehow ends up illustrating his message. Fair?  No.  But maybe that is the very picture of what Jesus did, in laying down his personal rights to popularity, to being liked or loved, to not being a target for persecution and murder; I think he had to lay down those rights in order to speak the truth to people who didn’t want to hear it. Yes, he did it lovingly and through sacrifice but his message of repentance was never absent.

I think being persecuted for speaking truth is also a Christ-like way of laying your personal rights down, not keeping silent about the truth so people will look more favorably on you and your beliefs.  I just don’t think we can be caught up in how we might be represented in the media, in a world that is hostile to Christ.  If you’re angry at the picture of Christians that gets portrayed in the media, you should actually be angry with the media.  They ignore all the good that churches and Christians do and focus on the few cases they can find that misrepresent Christ; or they distort the actions of genuine Christians themselves, kind of like that fake protesting picture being shown in the context of Hutch’s protest.  But since Christ was treated no better, maybe we shouldn’t be angry at all—maybe we should expect others to see us this way and continue on faithfully, not bending our message to suit the fancy of those who are convicted by it and don’t wish to be.

I’m not so worried about the slippery slope, or keeping intact a culture that recognizes the moral truths that have produced a wonderful society.  I understand that Christianity has thrived more in cultures that are hostile to it.  My thinking is all about how and what Christians are saying about the truth.  Are we ashamed to be recipients of his grace, to know the One way and the One truth? Are we ashamed of the privilege and blessing of being saved, of telling others they need saving too? Are we ashamed of the material blessings God has given us, as we have lived faithful, generous, disciplined lives, and as we use it to bless others in ways that no other group of people does?  I hear this “Christian guilt” everywhere I turn and have a hard time squaring it with Scripture. “I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes;” Rom. 1:16

It seems that more often than not especially with Christians our age, there is a public bashing of Christianity, and of those who would preach the Word or call sin what it is, and many of us are changing the message or watering it down because the world sees it as intolerant.  The world feels condemned in the presence of truth, but truth is not the problem.  The world WILL see our message in a very negative way if we are at all true to it.  Jesus promises exactly that.  We have to be true to the Word and let that be seen by the world—as much as they may then hate us, or Jesus for it (He promises us that too).  Only then will the hurting lost people who are actually looking for an answer, see any difference between our message and that of the world’s message of moral relativism.  To do otherwise is to hide our light under a bushel.  Obviously, there are more and less effective ways of doing this but I have to say I am weary of hearing Christians say that we should apologize to non Christians and never ever tell them the truth about their lives.  I’m not saying we should cast stones by any means, but we go so far as to agree with the lies the media is spreading about who we are!  Talk about doing something because it makes us feel good…I’m pretty sure no one is going to want to throw rocks at our heads or crucify us for such statements.

Anyway, that’s my concern and where I’m coming from.  I hear what you’re saying too & have read Miller, Claiborne, Camp, Wallis etc.  I have really enjoyed this dialogue b/c usually people get kind of uptight, over serious or angry and I can almost hear your laughter and smile coming across through cyberspace. God has blessed you with a beautiful compassion for the lost and hurting in our world and no doubt, if all Christians were like you then I do think our message would have a lot more weight.  I do.  So, you have been a really good example and given me a lot to think about with your blog and email.  Thanks so much for taking the time to read all this and respond.  I will be thinking about what you have said and pray about my understanding of these times and our role in them.

Have a great Thanksgiving!

MISSISSIPPI

“Letter from SEATTLE” – (response #1)

[Response #1 from SEATTLE – Part 3 of “A Conversation between Seattle and Mississippi”, a chronicle of honest discussion between two friends.]

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Hey, MISSISSIPPI:

Thanks for your note!  It is just great to hear from you guys.  Tania showed me some pictures of your kids and I can’t believe how big they have gotten.  Crazy!

Sorry it has taken me so long to respond.  My life is a little hectic right now.  Ministry is going completely awesome, but between all the work there and learning to be a dad it feels like I don’t have time to just sit down and “be” sometimes.

Anyway, your response was a little involved and in order to take it seriously, I needed a little bit of time to answer.  This is really the first time I have sat down since I first read it, and had time to respond.   So, all that to say, sorry it took so long. ☺

In regards to your concerns, I suppose I have a few thoughts.   First, I think I understand where you are coming from in being confused with apparently opposing points-of-view.   In fact, that is why I think these discussions are so important and that our views should be held with a degree of humility.  These are very complicated issues, involving real people and not abstract theology.

I have read a great deal on the issue of homosexuality (from a biblical perspective and otherwise) from many different authors from many different backgrounds.  And in that reading and research of my own, I have probably found myself more confused, not less.   There are genuinely good reasons that people argue over this stuff.  I used to think that the matter was rather cut and dry (homosexuality in all forms is sin), and like you, I assumed that those who argued against it were more motivated by political agenda than honest struggle with God’s truth.   However, I now think it is more difficult than that.

This argument exists in large part because there are legitimate reasons (at least in my mind) for disagreement.  For instance, there are word choices that the Apostle Paul could have chosen that would have made it much more clear (i.e. in Romans 1 and 1 Cor. 6:9-10, etc.), but unfortunately he didn’t.  And the Greek words he did use carry more ambiguity than I am comfortable with.   I encourage you to look into it yourself, of course, but I’ll be the first to admit that I end up more “confused” for the research, to use your terminology.

All that said and despite what I consider legitimate dissension, here is where I come out personally on this issue…  I still believe that as best as I can tell, homosexuality in all its forms is normatively sinful.  Hahahahaha!   And you thought I was going all crazy on you!

Anyways, there are lots of reasons for me ending up here, but this response will be long enough as is.  LOL.

However, even though this is my conviction (and what I will stand up for and teach), I have learned to hold that conviction with as much humility as I can.  Philosophers speak of a term, “epistemological humility.”  It means being humble about what you think you know and believe, because history it seems is full of well-meaning people who were passionately convinced on many issues (slavery or women’s rights to name just two), but on the wrong side of justice as we look back at them now.

And so, I live in this weird world where I hold to my convictions and teach them unapologetically, but try not to hold them so tightly that they define me more by what I’m against than what I am for.

Interestingly enough, most of my non-Christian friends already knew the troubling spots about homosexuality in the Bible before I did.  And, in my experience, they have become much more open to my understanding of homosexuality since I became humble in my dialogue with them about it.   It‘s as if they trust what I have to say more now that they perceive that I’m not just proverbially “drinking the Kool-Aid” of Christianity, but willing to think critically and openly.

And in that sense, I have learned to be a little less scared of the “slippery slope” theology that I think you expressed in your response.   It’s that feeling that Christians today buy into little things that might seem harmless; things the culture tells them is ok, but in the end is a slow start to a fast decline in the righteous path of God.

Now, I do feel scared about that at times.  But more often than not it is about things that are much more subtle, and in my mind, much more dangerous.  Things like consumerism, misplaced patriotism that becomes synonymous with faith in God, or spiritual pride.  That could be a whole response in itself!  LOL.

And to some degree I think issues like homosexuality are like that as well.  It concerns me greatly that a person would simply accept homosexuality as a normative behavior without wrestling with God’s word.  But it also concerns me that someone would condemn it without doing the same diligent work.   We tend to be lazy.   Lazy in our study of God’s Word and lazy in our dialogue with God and each other about what that Word might mean.  And in that sense, I think there are a lot of people out there that are sliding into either total relativism or total elitism, and I believe both slopes are equally slippery.

In terms of [The Mega-Pastor], I suppose I was a bit hard on him.   I looked into the graphic that you mentioned.   I actually didn’t put that in the blog myself;  I had an assistant who did that for me (I’m not all that tech savvy).  FYI — That photo isn’t from the [mega-pastor] protest, but is apparently a famous parody of those types of protests.  And in that way, I agree it may be misleading.  [Note to reader:  I have left it posted as it was for the purpose of this conversation].

In any event, I talked with people close to [the mega-pastor] and I think I understand his point-of-view in holding the protest.  I understand that he is protesting not the event but it’s placement in the educational system.

My problem with the protest was not with his concerns but with his methods.  There is definitely some pro-gay agenda to that event.  No doubt.  But several things are important here, 1) it is an event put on by students, not adults coming in to “indoctrinate” them.   Had it been a planned school event, hosted by the district or its employees, I think [mega-pastor] would have a better argument.   And 2) the effective end to his method was all my non-Christian friends (and everyone in Seattle) seeing Christians standing up for what they are AGAINST again.  All they saw was Christians protesting gay people.   And in that way, [mega-pastor] could have been right—and even won the battle—but because of his methods, lost the war for those people’s hearts.

Now, maybe that isn’t what [mega-pastor] wanted to communicate, but I don’t think that really matters.  That IS WHAT WAS COMMUNICATED.

So, how would I respond better?  I’m not sure.  I’m thinking it through for this year.  But, what I think would be more powerful is for Christians to EARN the right to speak into these students lives by showing up and RALLYING around the parts of it that they can support—such as the protection of the weak and vulnerable.   And even if they know there is an underlying gay agenda, to show up and demonstrate that they are FOR things like love, compassion, and grace too.

It’s an issue of language.  [Mega-pastor] didn’t speak a language that reached those students or that community.  He held a protest that made him and his followers FEEL GOOD about themselves and their convictions, but in the end, it didn’t reach a single person (that I know of) with a life-changing opportunity of faith in God.   He stood up for his rights, when he should have laid them down.  He asserted his beliefs by force, when he could have sacrificed his time and pride with unconditional love.

And in that way, I do believe that an act can be “violent” without actually being “violent.”  Well, maybe that’s not the real problem.  Maybe it was simply that it didn’t demonstrate “ultimate Jesus-like love.”

Listen, I know this is counter-intuitive.  It seems like exactly the opposite of what we should do when culture presses in on us.  It seems like we should fight back.  It seems like we should protest and pass legislation and speak loudly.   It seems ridiculous to be right but not ask for your rights.

But, I’m absolutely convinced that even though it makes no sense, it is the way of Jesus.   I think what Jesus came to teach us is that the “power-over” model of persuasion belongs to the world and not us.  In some strange way, it is the “power-under” model of love and sacrifice that wins the day.  That love wins.  Not protest.  I mean, that was Jesus’ own life model, wasn’t it?   He didn’t protest prostitutes, he loved them and forgave them.  He didn’t pass laws on greedy tax collectors, he went and ate dinner with them.   He didn’t even fight back when he was accused on trumped up charges, He choose instead to die for those who brought the charges.

Somehow, I think we have bought into the model of the world and tried to fit Jesus into it, rather than just follow the example of Christ.   And when we do that, we may very well win the battle for being “right”, but lose the hearts and souls of many people as collateral damage.

Anyway, that is a long answer to your questions, I know.  But you did ask, and I would feel bad blowing you off with some trite answers rather than the thoughts of my heart.  I only hope that I have clearly answered what you were really asking.

At any rate, it is discussions like this that I think Christians would be best served having right now.  Especially in light of new California laws and retaliations.   It may be that we have much to still learn in how to live with this righteousness “not our own.”

Give my best to your family.  I pray that you all are still enjoying Mississippi and of course that you will decide it isn’t for you and move back to Seattle!  Have a great Thanksgiving!

Grace and peace,

SEATTLE.

A Conversation Between Seattle & Mississippi

I have to sing a song to spell MISSISSIPPI correctly.  Just seems like there are a few too many “S’s” in there, doesn’t it?   But, I’m sure it is a beautiful state.  And anyway, I received a facebook message from a friend who lives there a few weeks ago.

It was great to hear from a friend I hadn’t communicated with in a while.  Isn’t Facebook great?  Ahhh, cheers to you, facebook people!

But, it started an ongoing conversation that has been one of the more rewarding and fascinating conversations that I have had in a long while.   One that I think is too valuable to keep to ourselves.

And so, with her permission, I have decided to let you over-hear our conversation.  Now, you should know from the beginning, that we don’t agree on a few things.   And I think that will become obvious as you read.  But, you should also know that we DO agree on a great deal.  Not the least of which is our love of God, our love of people and our commitment to friendship.

You should also know that though we have different perspectives on some things, I highly regard and respect her both as a person and a thinker.  And whether you agree with my perspective or hers or neither, I hope that you respect our friendship as well.

And lastly, you should know that the conversation you are about to listen in on, is a dialogue in process.  Though I can’t totally speak for her, I can say that God is continually reforming my thoughts on these areas and that where I am today may evolve by tomorrow.  And in that way, you are not reading our hard and fast thoughts, but our attempts to discover what we believe out loud, in conversation, with each other.  It is more vulnerable that way, but more rewarding, I think.

And so, I will post our comments back and forth to each other over the next few days.  “Letters from Seattle” will represent me.   “Letter from Mississippi” will represent her.   And it is our prayer that no matter where you come out on these issues, that it would cause you to think, to stretch, to grow, and to maybe start your own conversation.  Or in some way join into ours by leaving a respectful comment here.

Maybe the time for distasteful arguments is done and the time for constructive and respectful conversations is finally here.   God, may it be so.

To have the proper context, however, you must have read an earlier blog I wrote several months back.  And so I have re-posted it below.  I will follow with the first “Letter from Mississippi” in a few days.

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Mega-Pastors can be Mega-Wrong

I think i’ve discovered why the church can too often be found on the wrong side of major issues. In fact, how it can many times be found on the exact opposite side of even God on major issues . . . Church Leaders.

I drove home from the gay bath house last week [see my previous blogs about Gay Bathhouse] and came home to a startling news story. Well, it was actually just a news teaser for the 11-o’clock news that night during a commercial break during “The Office.” But, nonetheless, it startled me.

“Mega Church Pastor Protests High School Students.”

Headlines like that tend to catch my eye. So, i tuned into the local Seattle newschannel website to read up on what it was all about–after “The Office” was over, obviously.

The basic story was that each year, high schools in my area (and probably elsewhere) celebrate a day called “day of silence.” It is an event sponsored by the “gay, straight alliance” that encourages students to not talk all day in order to bring awareness to and solidarity with potentially gay students among them that are treated poorly, made fun of and often don’t have a credible voice.

A local mega-church pastor, who lived in the community of one such high school, decided to organize a protest of the event. So, in front of many news cameras, he called for 1,000 members of his church and other Christians to come down and picket and protest outside of the school for the whole day, chanting their anti-gay views and “correcting” the sin of a few through the personalized and compassionate forum of a billboard sign.

Now, in one sense, i realize that “day of silence” probably has a pro-gay agenda to it. But, as i read the article, i couldn’t help but wonder, “what is so wrong about not wanting gay students to be made fun of, physically abused or emotionally taunted?” In that regard, as a follower of Christ, i whole heartedly agree with the sentiment of the day. And on any level, what does picketing a bunch of high schoolers really accomplish?

My problem was i had just come home from sitting inside a very promiscous gay bath house in Seattle, where i had been sitting with my friend Rick handing out condoms and information to everyone who walked in. We didn’t personally know any of the guys that came in that night. We didn’t have any signs. We weren’t chanting anything. We simply handed out latex.

And as i sat at home reading the news story, the dichotomy of events perplexed me. On the one hand there was a mega church pastor that many people know, calling for Christians to protest teenagers attempting to humanize homosexual people that are often treated otherwise. And on the other hand, there was an everyday Christian that nobody knows, living with AIDS, sitting in a place most don’t know about and would never want to go to, handing out medical prevention (though not perfect) to oppressed adult addicts.

Both men agree homosexuality is not God’s ideal. The issue isn’t the morality of the lifestyle, but of the morality of our response. And because morality is a fuzzy term, let me define it this way. At issue is not whether Jesus approves of homosexuality as God’s ideal, but how Jesus would respond to people that are homosexual.

And in this case, the Mega-Pastor is Mega-WRONG. What the MP (mega-pastor) fails to realize is that protest without relationship is simply verbal violence. What the MP doesn’t understand is that compassion for people who don’t agree with you is “loving your neighbor as yourself.” What the MP has mistakenly accepted is that if you yell loud enough Jesus’ voice will be heard, when Jesus himself yells only at the religious pharisees and whispers grace to the sinner.

And what this reminds me is that, apparently, you can have everything RIGHT in your theology, but not be RIGHT. You can worship God in all the RIGHT ways, but not be RIGHT.

And as far as i can tell, Jesus never organized a protest of anything (unless you count his little tirade against the religious leaders in the temple), he simply went and ate and spent time with people who’s lives missed the mark of God’s ideal, calling them to something more fulfilling. He loved them to “abundant life.” There was no place for protest.

And so, Rick sits in Seattle at a gay bath house. No signs. No chants. He hopes that he is making a difference. Is a condom the answer to the problem? No. The problem is much more complex that what simple latex can fix. There are emotional, spiritual and mental issues that must be addressed. A holistic answer is needed.

But in the vaccuum of that answer, it is the only thing Rick knows to do. And so he does it.

It makes me wish that when people thought of Christians they thought of people like Rick rather than the blow hards that get all the news headlines like our local mega-pastor last week.

It makes me think that if Jesus were here today, he’d probably look more like the average guy, Rick, than the news bite mega-pastor any way.

I often ridicule Christians, mostly because we are such an easy target. But, i really don’t think all Christians are bad. I am one. Or that church is bad. I’m a part of one.

But, what scares me is that there is a vocal minority giving my faith a bad name. No, not my faith, my God. People hear words like they did last week and think that they are God’s sentiment or God’s words. And they never have been. The mega-pastor is simply wrong.

So, here is to you, out-spoken mega-church pastor. I’m pleading with you. Please examine your response to people with the life of Jesus before you speak and act in ways that shame Him and us.

I’ll even keep using the name “Christian,” if you’ll start acting like one.