Tag Archives: church

On (Sadly, Only) the Most Recent Faith Fight

So here we are.

It would seem a certain element of the Christian community has not been content to simply tackle the terrors that lie behind other religions, not fulfilled in merely pointing up the sins of other lifestyles, not satisfied in demonizing our current (or past) political leaders.

No. Now we’re apparently out to eat our own.

And please let me be clear about something before I continue on: I don’t consider myself a “progressive” Christian. I don’t consider myself “conservative” either. Or “fundamentalist”. Or, for that matter, “Catholic”, “Lutheran”, “Methodist”, “Protestant”, “Anglican”, “Armenian”, “Reformed”, “Orthodox”, or any of the other 41,000 (!!) denominations subletting what started out as a simple message to “go and make disciples…”.

I have no opinion on the 1st amendment.

Or, the 2nd.

Or any of them for that matter. (Except, maybe, the 18th. That one was just dumb.)

But this? Church turning against church? Belief undermining belief?

This should not be. Continue reading On (Sadly, Only) the Most Recent Faith Fight

Christianity, Faith & Atheism: A mega-post on The Fate of “Eternal Consequences”

eternal consequencesMy good friend Nate posted a couple comments as a reaction to my recent post “Is Progressive Christianity a Slow Path to Atheism?” (follow the link here)

I told him I was going to answer him in a separate post so we can have a broader discussion among some of you fellow readers. Here’s the comment thread and my answer below:

NATE: This is an issue I’ve thought about a lot, and I suppose it’s one of the reasons that I’m an atheist. I don’t think that progressive Christianity necessarily leads one to atheism, of course, but I definitely see how it serves as a path for some. For me, as I began peeling back those layers that McLaren mentioned, I simply saw no reason to continue believing in the Judeo-Christian god. How could I trust anything the Bible told me when the evidence kept piling up that the Bible was just a collection of commentaries by people who lived a long time ago?

 ME: You said, “How could I trust anything the Bible told me when the evidence kept piling up that the Bible was just a collection of commentaries by people who lived a long time ago?”, which is a great question. What if you were to assume for a moment the reality of a God, and yet held separate the various (human) commentaries, past or present, on Him or His works? Then, piece by piece, you began to put a faith back together (“Oh, this fits here. I see how this fits in. I don’t get this…yet, etc, etc) Why I ask is, the more I read, and learn, of scripture, the more I’m coming to understand the allegorical and “larger picture” teachings that a lot of  primarily the old testament was written to put forth. Obviously I don’t get it all, and quite possibly never will. But I’m coming to understand a greater depth of what all the Bible was MEANT to be, rather than what too many of us, as 21st century Westerners, are trying to make it into. This is in no way meant to say that anything in the bible is not relevant to us in today’s society, but that a lot of what we’ve tried to make of scripture, throughout recent history, simply doesn’t say what we’ve tried to form it into. Your experiences with the CoC is ample evidence of this, IMHO.

 NATE: I think I understand what you’re saying. I don’t see it that way, especially if there really is any kind of eternal stakes involved. But I do understand why some people hold the view you’re suggesting, and I think it’s a far preferable view to fundamentalism.

MY LONGER ANSWER: Hmmm…I’m not sure you quite do understand what I’m saying, and I’m certainly not trying to be flippant here, but let me clarify…

To me, belief is a heart issue, not a knowledge issue. You can’t “knowledge” your way into anything without the heart to back it up. I know of several people who could run circles around me with their biblical knowledge yet I see little evidence that any of it has entered their heart in any meaningful way.

I kinda hate to keep coming back to this, buuuuuuuttttt, this too is one of the fundamental differences between the Eastern and Western mindset: when you’re talking about biblical scripture, you need to understand it from within the context and cultural for which it was written.

As I always say when I mention this Western/Eastern thing, trying to understand it within the context/culture/history of 1st century Jews does not in any way diminish the relevancy to us today in a 21st century Western culture…in fact, most often it enhances it.

And I know you’re probably going to ask why, in the 21st century, we have not been given the tools to understand scripture within the 1st century context and if these tools haven’t been passed down how are we to believe the bible is in any way “inspired”?

Well, I see the answer as something like this: There’s a marked difference, at least to me, between “inspiration” and “legacy”. We have been given an overall crappy legacy by our religious forefathers, with a scant few exceptions. Faith is not difficult. Belief is not difficult.

Religion is hard!

Jesus says, “Believe in me. Believe also in the one who sent me.”

Then came the disciples.

Then came Paul.

Then came the Catholic Church.

Then came the Inquisitions.

Then came the Reformation.

Then came the Protestants.

Then came the Calvinists.

Then came the Hobbesists.

Then came Uncle Jimmy’s First Cousin Bubba’s Best Friend Leon’s………….

Ad infinitum. Ad nauseam.

All of a sudden we’re many, many steps removed from the simplicity of what Jesus originally called us to do: Love God. Love others. Tell the “good news”. Make disciples.

And you can’t “knowledge” someone into discipleship either. You can only do this by giving them—showing them—something that they feel compelled to emulate, something they may or may not already have, something they simply may or may not have yet discovered within themselves.

We rush so quickly to glean the “knowledge” of a thing—in this case scriptural understanding—we miss the deeper subtleties that often lead to a deeper faith.

Take the missive, “love your neighbor as yourself.” Seems simple enough, but there are layers and layers of subtlety within those five words. What is love? How do I show love? Who do I show it to? Who is my neighbor? “What does it mean to love myself?

Discussion. Tension. Wrestling. Ultimately…growth.  Faith and belief are not static entities. They change, they grow, they refine.

The problem this represents for the Western mindset is that we are creatures of habit: we glean knowledge, we master it, we feel we “get” it, and therefore it can never change from what we’ve understood it to be. Ever!

EVEREVEREVER!!!

Any kind of change in perspective, especially when it comes with something involving “eternal consequences”, freaks us out!  (THOSE PEOPLE are not my neighbor!!)

Yet this often continual change of perspective is at the very heart of what the original writers of biblical texts were trying to accomplish. When you have someone, anyone, on either side of the discussion who refuses to budge in their perspective because they’re simply, “right, dammit!”, where is the growth? Where is the opportunity for true discussion? For the airing of differences?

For the gratitude of diversity?

Knowledge means nothing to God without the leading of the heart.

I originally typed “following of the heart” but that didn’t ring true to me. The heart needs to lead the knowledge. This is the beginning of discernment, and everything stems from an acceptance that there is, in fact, a God.

The path of understanding shouldn’t lead to God.

God should lead you on the path of understanding.

THIS is what I was saying.

Some Questions Arising From My Recent Post on the John MacArthur Controversy

Anthony Baker, from Therecoveringlegalist.com, had some excellent questions for me following my post on “A Response to the John MacArthur Controversy…”

I answered him in a commentary reply, but I wanted to expand on these answers just a bit and allow for others to wrestle with them as well, and to chime in if the Spirit moves.

Thank you, Anthony, for the great, probing, questions:

First, I must say that I am very concerned with the glee and anticipation of evangelical Christianity falling by the wayside, fundamental or not. I tend to wonder what others consider the options to be? Is it only the legalists and the Pharisees that are being ushered off the cliff with rejoicing? Or, is there really a problem with proactive Christianity as a whole? Do I hear the voices of biblical grace, or is it simply the post-modern, pluralistic mindset calling all to dance at the funeral of dogma?

Are there no other options for the future of Christianity other than evangelic or fundamentalism? Do you not see any other options, thoughts, or ideas?

Also, you use words like “glee”, “anticipation”, “rejoicing”, and “dancing at the funeral” about those who you deem as seeing an imminent end to the evangelic or fundamental mindset. Though I grant you that a small percentage within the more progressive outlook would likely feel these emotions, I don’t know of any reasonable Christian, no matter their views, who would feel this way about anyone whose beliefs may differ even though those views may be losing hold on the majority opinion. If mine, or anyone else I have sited, now or in the past, have made it appear as if I am gleeful or rejoicing to see this more conservative thinking being called out, I apologize, though I do not retract the need to call these (in my humble opinion) antiquated opinions out, if for no other reason than the harm that they do, and for the sheer lack of grace, humility and mercy shown by those opinions.

Whether or not this is the intention of those stating that opinion, I have no idea, but this is the way it tends to come across…especially to those about whom they are so callously speaking. This is not “speaking the truth in love”. The speaker does not get to decide whether or not what is said is loving. The hearer makes that decision, simple as that. And if the hearer does not “feel the love”, maybe it’s time we—all of us Christians—change our approach.

I suppose this would be my own personal offering of “another option”.

…the quote of Benjamin Corey (linked here) does nothing to put 1 Corinthians in the proper context. All he does is water down, if not muddy what should have been perfectly clear: blatant, unrepentant sin cannot be allowed to run rampant, nor celebrated, within the church.

Personally, I felt that this was exactly the point Corey brought forth: blatant, unrepentant sin cannot be allowed to run rampant—the entire laundry list, not just one, and it’s time to stop the cherry-picking.

It’s rather easy to pull out one particular sin-du-jour, if only because  it is currently socially acceptable to do so, while not giving equal due to any of the other sins Paul points up as well. Not to mention, speaking of context, the sexual immorality that Paul speaks of in 1 Corinthians 5 has nothing to do with homosexuality.

I do not state the previous sentences lightly, but it bears repeating; it is socially acceptable, in today’s conservative Christian circles, even demanded and applauded, to single out this one sin and therefore ostracize an entire group of people. This should not be. This is not our job, even under the tired banner of “speaking the truth in love” as I said previously.

I suppose another “option” I would put forth is to, instead, invite people inside—all people, regardless of sin nature or past history—make room in the pews, invite them to a communal meal, develop a meaningful, heartfelt relationship, and let the Holy Spirit do His work—on both of you/us. That’s His job, and He’s rather good at it if we, well intended Christians, would simply get out of the way and let Him work. If Christians are going to throw around phrases like “we’re all sinners”, and “every sin is equal in the sight of the Lord”, and “none of us are any ‘better’”, then this should be the practical interpretation of those phrases.

Further, what do we know of anyone’s struggles, emotional or physical, and who are we to paint those struggles on a placard and hang it around the neck of someone with whom we disagree? And yes, I’m speaking to both sides of the proverbial fence here. We all wrestle with our own, often carefully hidden, sin habits. What if a well-meaning body of believers came together and cast you out after the seventh “failure” to turn away, unknowing that it would have been the eighth time that would have brought you “home”? How many times are we asked, by Jesus, to forgive? Seven times?

Trying to relate how Jesus was hated because He was the one who actually ate with sinners is completely (1000%) off the mark, completely out of context.

I would respectfully disagree here as well. Matthew 11 has Jesus saying:

18 For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, ‘He has a demon.’ 19 The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Here is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners.’ But wisdom is proved right by her deeds.”

And, Matthew 9 says (probably one of the dinners Jesus was speaking of):

10 Then it happened that as Jesus was reclining at the table in the house, behold, many tax collectors and sinners came and were dining with Jesus and His disciples. 11 When the Pharisees saw this, they said to His disciples, “Why is your Teacher eating with the tax collectors and sinners?”

They may not have “hated” him, but they certainly questioned his choice of company and methodology (which sounds eerily similar to the conservative/progressive debate today).

And, what were the “sinners” sins? It never says, and my own belief is that it doesn’t say because that’s not the point. The point was Jesus’ example, as you have said, freely associating with the least of these (at least in society’s eyes) “in order draw them to Himself”. And here, you and I would be in agreement, which is in what I, too, said previously: invite them to a communal meal, develop a meaningful, heartfelt relationship, and let the Holy Spirit do His work. “…when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed…”