The Core Values

Here is what I’ve been meditating on lately.  Seems like every day I re-read this list multiple times.  I think I’ve almost got it memorized.  Hahaha.

They are the “Core Values” of Pathways Church (Mill Creek, WA) that I have recently accepted a call to help lead.

In fact, it is these values that really drew me to this community.  I love the choice of terms and the almost poetic language in which they are described.  There is honesty, reality, grittiness, hope and beauty described here.  They remind me of the best of what church can be.  And I pray that they are a source of refreshment, hope and inspiration to you as you read them.

Struggle

Personal depth is developed by asking tough questions, by struggling. Those who abandon the struggle either come to believe that they have gained all of the answers or quit caring about those answers altogether. Life is not meant to be lived in either of these extremes. Life is a struggle. Following Jesus does not alleviate our struggle, give us the answer to every question, or enable us to conquer every difficulty of life. But it does make the struggle worth facing by tying it to something greater than ourselves. It is in this wrestling that we learn to trust and draw closer to the heart of God.

Meaning

Because we have been purposefully created, everyone seeks meaning and truth. The desire for purpose is built into us. Satisfaction of this inner hunger will only be found by exploring why we were created. Jesus claimed to give “life to the full.” As we gain an understanding of His teachings from the Scriptures, our eyes are opened to the ultimate meaning of life. This fullness is not only found beyond this life, but it can exist in how we live our lives right now, everyday.

Redemption

To “redeem” is to buy back something that you originally owned. All truth and beauty belong to God. Unfortunately, selfishness, pride, and hatred have twisted and marred much of it. Christ came not only to reclaim individual lives, but all of creation as well. Redemption can occur in the simple beauty of art and creativity, the profound redirection of a life consumed by self, or the overwhelming task of tackling poverty, hunger and sanitation in third-world countries. We partner with Christ to recover the sense of beauty, renewal, and justice which He intended for our lives.

Sacrifice

Here the teachings of Jesus become very unpopular. True love transcends self and ease and therefore requires sacrifice. God first demonstrated that love to us through the sacrifice of His Son, Jesus, on the cross. As an act of worship, and in response, we give our lives, sacrificially, to Him and to those around us. To follow Jesus is to reflect His giving nature; to take more interest in the needs of others than of ourselves.

Community

We struggle, but not alone. We search for meaning, but others walk the path alongside us. We partner with God to redeem creation, but we do so in conjunction with others. We sacrifice of ourselves, but must have others to whom we give. The New Testament is filled with teachings on how we are to live with “one another”. We laugh together and cry together. We celebrate together and grieve together. We were not meant to journey alone.

 

 

 

 

 

Wherever you are tonight, may you find struggle, meaning, redemption, sacrifice and community as a core experience in your faith journey.

Predestined to Hate Rob Bell

Weeks before Rob Bell’s newest book was released the claims of heresy started swirling.  People like Mark Driscoll, John Piper, and Justin Taylor had condemned him while only reading select excerpts or in some cases nothing at all.

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John Piper famously tweeted:  “Farewell, Rob Bell,” apparently insinuating that he was no longer considering him to be a fellow Christian.

And truly, I don’t blame him.  I don’t hold them responsible for this reckless criticism.  How could I?  They were predestined to do it.  It’s not as though they had a choice.  From the beginning of the world, they were fated to do this very thing.  It’s almost as if the words were typed into Twitter on their own.

Love Wins

I just finished reading “Love Wins” for myself yesterday.  And as I read it, I was struck by how orthodox it was.  Having watched the blog and twitter world for the last two weeks I expected to find the reincarnation of Buddha or the Wiccan “Rule of Three” being proclaimed by Rob Bell.

Turns out though, he still believes and follows Jesus.  He believes in His divinity.  And His humanity.  He thinks His sacrifice was the crucial point in human history that reconciled us to God, set us free from sin and defeats evil. He believes He died and came back to life.  He believes only through Christ can we experience true life, healing, salvation and wholeness, and that through him all things hold together.   He believes that what we do on this planet has real consequences, either for good or bad.  He states his belief in the “already-not yet” paradoxical components of heaven and hell.

And he believes in free-will.

Which is actually where I think the real problem lies.

Over and over in the book, Bell asserts that “real love” requires the capacity to deny or reject that love.  Love that is compelled is not truly love.

Much of his theology is based on the rules of this love.  Rules that God himself chooses to play by in order to allow our decisions the reality of significance.  And though he acknowledges our ability to deny it, Bell believes that God will never stop His divine attempts to woo, pursue, and offer us His incredible love.

Rob Bell, author of "Love Wins"

It is the topic of choice then that is on trial for many.  Does Rob Bell believe in hell?  Yes, both in the sense that it exists now and in the age to come.  But he believes God doesn’t SEND people there.  He believes people choose to live in hell now and presumably in the future as well.

What is on trial is not the existence of hell, but the parameters of human freedom and choice.

And by the way, this is not new.  Nor is it universalism.  And I’m sorry to ruin the hype, but it isn’t heresy by a long shot.

This book is controversial because there are many people who do not share the ‘free-will” or “open” view of the human condition.

We live in a time that is currently marked by a significant “resurgence” of the Reformed theology/Calvinists that believe that all things are determined in advance by God.  Or if you prefer to think of it in building terms, that God has a divine blueprint that shows every decision every person will make.  And not only does he know that decision, but that we are in fact created to make that decision.  It isn’t really a “decision” at all, just the appearance of one.

And if you read the reviews closely, I think you’ll find people coming down on this book mostly along those lines:  free-will or determinist.

Heretic! Heretic!

Though the “heretic” rhetoric is flying around more carelessly than radioactivity spewing out of a nuclear meltdown, this isn’t a new battle for these tribes.  This is an age-old disagreement clothed in different garments.

So don’t buy the hype.  Rob Bell isn’t tearing down Christianity or saying that any path you take will lead to eternal life.  He’s not a universalist or a heretic or a “wolf in sheep’s clothing”.  He’s just another guy contributing his voice to a long conversation of well intentioned followers of Jesus trying to make sense of the Divine.

And also, don’t be too hard on the Piper/Driscoll/Taylor clan.  It’s not their fault.  They were predestined to dislike Rob Bell.

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.

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.

A New Kind of Christianity

Books have been boring lately. Well, maybe it’s not the books. But, it just seems like nothing has piqued my interest too much in things I’ve been reading. Until recently…

Author, Brian McLaren

I picked up Brian McLaren’s new book, “A New Kind of Christianity” last week.

And while I usually enjoy reading his books, I found that this new book has put excellent words to thoughts I have been thinking and even blogging about here for quite a while.

I’m still processing some of his thoughts, but i was especially drawn to McLaren’s focus on the supremacy and centrality of Christ in our understanding of God. This is something that I have argued for many times, especially in our discussion of non-violence.

(to read my related post–“God’s Character in Reverse”– click here)

Here is how McLaren explains it:

“The Quaker scholar Elton Trueblood approached the Bible this way. One of Trueblood’s students told me that he often heard his mentor say something like this: “The historic Christian doctrine of the divinity of Christ does not simply mean that Jesus is like God. It is far more radical than that. It means that God is like Jesus.”

"A New Kind of Christian" by Brian McLaren

In other words, the doctrines of the incarnation and deity of Christ are meant to tell us that we cannot start with a pre-determined, set-in-stone idea of God derived from the rest of the Bible, and then extend that to Jesus. Jesus is not intended merely to fit into those pre-determined categories; he is intended instead to explode them, transform them, alter them forever and bring us to a new evolutionary level in our understanding of God. An old definition of God does not define Jesus: the experience of God in Jesus requires a new brand definition or understanding of God.

Trueblood’s insight, in my opinion, is the best single reason to be identified as a believer in Jesus, and it is an unspeakably precious gift that can be offered to people of all faiths. The character of Jesus, we proclaim, provides humanity with a unique and indispensable guide for tracing the development of maturing images and concepts of God across human history and culture. It is the North Star, if you will, to aid all people, whatever their religious background, in their theological pilgrimage. The images of God that most resemble Jesus – whether they originate in the Bible or elsewhere – are the more mature and complete images, and the ones less similar to the character of Jesus would be the more embryonic and incomplete – even though they may be celebrated for being better than the less complete images they replaced.

This is why we cannot simply say that the highest revelation of God is given through the Bible (especially the Bible read as a constitution, or cut and pasted to fit in the Greco-Roman six-line narrative). Rather, we can say that, for Christians, the Bible’s highest value is in revealing Jesus, who gives us the highest, deepest, and most mature view of the character of the living God.”

A New Kind of Christianity, pages 114-115

Very well said. And I don’t think I can over-estimate the importance of this placing of Jesus as the central focus of the question: “what God is actually like.” It is maybe the most singularly critical aspect of our faith that I think we need restored today.

This is a very, very crucial discussion that has implications for all aspects of the Christian life. And, I’m glad to see other people chiming in on this most important component of how we see and understand God. I would highly encourage you to pick up this book today and give it a read. You may not agree with everything, but it will certainly challenge you to stretch your conception of God.

Happy thinking.

Book Review – “ReJesus”

Today I am going to start another dimension to this blog experience.  Not another dimension in the sense that we are going to explore alternative realities of existence, although I did watch the new STAR TREK last night and it was absolutely phenomenal!  (ok, I’m an old school trekkie, I admit it).

star-trek-movieBut, I have been reading my eyeballs out for the past few years and have come across some excellent books that have helped re-shape my thinking about God, humanity, church and life in general.

Often now I as I talk with people someone will say, “wow, that’s crazy!  I never thought of it like that… How did you come to that conclusion?”

Now, on the one hand, I like those questions because it gives me an opportunity to address a whole system of thought that I think needs voiced.  But, on the other hand, so much has shaped me, I sometimes wonder where to begin.

Many of you have also wanted to do some thinking and reading on your own about these same topics and I have tried to recommend some good resources to you as I come across them.

page30_4Along this line, about a month or so ago, I agreed to join a viral-blog group for TheOOZE.com to read and write reviews for new books.   If you have never stopped by TheOOZE.com, I would encourage you to become a regular visitor.

Those of you who really know me know that I love to read and write and so it seemed like the natural thing to do.
As I have been reading, I have found several books to be not only interesting for me personally, but the type of thing I’d love to pass on to you, if you have the same desire to continually rethink your relationship with God and this life.

So, today is my first real review.  My hope is that I will be able to convey some of the content and purpose of these works in a way that might help you decide whether it might be a helpful read for you as well.

I sincerely believe that we are in the midst of great transition in the life of humanity on this planet and in the church, especially in the West.  The more of us that are rethinking the issues of what it means to follow in the life of Jesus in this context, the better.

So happy reading and thinking!  And as you read and think, please leave a comment and contribute your own “review” to the rest of our community.

Oh, and do yourself a favor and go watch STAR TREK!

Buy your STAR TREK tickets on Fandango here!

Buy your STAR TREK tickets on Fandango here!

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Today, I want to look briefly at a book called, “ReJesus” by Alan Hirsch and Michael Frost.

rejesusFor those of you who are unfamiliar with these names, you should definitely pick this book up because they are among the most articulate and well-thought-out voices in the “missional theology” discussion today.  I would highly recommend nearly anything from either of these two authors to give perspective and depth to whatever you have heard called, “missional”.

At under 200-pages, I expected ReJesus to be a rather quick read.  I expected to find a popularized, easy-to-read summary of what it means to be missional.

But, while the book is clearly written and very understandable, it was anything but a quick read.  I found myself reading paragraphs over and over, not because the authors didn’t write clearly, but because there were so many thoughts to explore and rethink in every sentence.

This work is clearly more than a popularized summary of what it means to be missional.  This is a concisely written missional theology manifesto.  It has depth of thought and intentionality that went beyond my expectations.

ReJesus is a book aimed at redeveloping Christology as the center of the modern church.   Or as they state it,

“to reinstate the central role of Jesus in the ongoing spiritual life of the faith and in the life and mission of God’s people… it is an attempt to recalibrate the mission of the church around the person and work of Jesus.”

Michael Frost

Michael Frost

The critique of the writers is that the church has, over many centuries, gotten sidetracked from the person of Jesus to a system of morality, liturgy, ritual and theology/philosophy.   Hirsch and Frost both argue that though these other things may not be necessarily bad, that our first call is to follow the life pattern of Jesus.

In this return to making Jesus central they challenge us to re-evaluate how our personal relationship to Jesus should look, how our church organization should function and work, what our preaching should focus on, and the type of things we teach and model that should prized.  It is a call to ACT and LIVE like Christ, not simply WORSHIP and THEOLOGIZE about him.

In one very excellent chapter, they even challenge our personal picture of Jesus in light of the gospels.  We are taken on a journey through the art that has depicted Jesus over the many centuries to see the impact that it has had on forming our perception of him.

Alan Hirsch

Alan Hirsch

This is an excellent book.  It draws heavily on critiques of Christendom from Soren Kierkegaard and Jacques Ellul (who wrote another excellent book titled, “The Subversion of Christianity”).   It is full of quotes from both of these excellent thinkers  and is obviously heavily influenced by their work.  Both Kierkegaard and Ellul are brilliant but difficult to read, so this book may be a good source to make sense of their ideas without the extra effort.

In the end, this is a book I would highly recommend for anyone wanting to seriously wrestle with the issues that church faces in today’s culture.  I would caution that it is not an “easy read,” so if you’re looking for something a little more popular, look elsewhere.  But, for those of you who wanna dig in, get dirty and start thinking, this is the book for you.

MY RATING:  3.5 out of 5 stars

Personality Highlight – Soren Kierkegaard

“My mission is to introduce Christianity into Christendom.”

kierkegaardLike Jesus attacking Pharisaism, Soren Kierkegaard came out swinging against every phoney form of institutionalized Christianity.

“An apostle proclaims truth, an auditor is responsible for discovering counterfeits,” wrote this nineteenth-century Danish philosopher and theologian.  He saw it as his mission to be an auditor of Christendom, an institution he charged with sanitizing Jesus and makeing light of his message.

Denmark’s state church, he wrote, was “just about as genuine as tea made from a bit of paper which once lay in a drawer beside another bit of paper which had once been used to wrap up a few dried tea leaves from which tea had already been made three times.”

One of the fathers of existentialism, this remarkably complex and intelligent man underwent a profound spiritual transformation at the age of thirty-five and thereafter sought to apply some of his existential ideas to Christianity and thus reintroduce his nation to Jesus.  Individuals, not the state, Kierkegaard argued, needed to make a “leap of faith” in order to enter into authentic Christianity.

As a little Jesus, he hoped that his attacks against the banality of institutional religion would anger Danish Christians enough to make them re-examine their relationship to Jesus.

(taken from “ReJesus” by Alan Hirsch and Michael Frost)

While I don’t agree with everything that Kierkegaard wrote and said, I love his spirit and passion for reform.  One wonders if we could use a few more people to take up his mantle in this culture and at this time to call us away from our religious idolatry and back to Jesus.

Think about it….

“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

“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