Tag Archives: Greg Boyd

Random Thoughts on Peace and Non-Violence

Like a lot of people, today has been an odd day with lots of thoughts floating my skull. It started last night though I knew nothing of the Las Vegas tragedy until this morning.

For me, my thoughts started with Thomas Cahill’s book Sailing The Wine-Dark Seas: Why the Greeks Matter which I was reading. In this book, Cahill notes that one of the most cherished philosophical foundation of Western culture is that war is a natural part of life. As Heraclitus (535-475 BC) once said, “War is the father of all, the king of all.” Plato (427-347 BC) would echo this saying years later with his statement that war is a necessity  “always existing by nature.”

Armed with this philosophical foundation, the Greeks developed a fighting style that could help them conquer the known world under the leadership of Alexander the Great. The Romans would later build on this foundation of war, gifting the Western world with the knowledge on how to kill people with great efficiency – as WW1, WW2, the Cold War, nuclear arms, and the like attest.

This morning on the way to work I found myself at a stop light staring at a “peace” sign made up of rifles with the phrase “There’s no peace without guns” next to it. As I sat there, I couldn’t help but think about the sadness of this saying… though it may make perfect sense to some, it seems counter to the way of Jesus of Nazareth who told his followers to turn the other cheek (Mt 5:38-40), love and bless those who hate them (Mt 5:43-48, Lk 6:27-36), and forgive those who harm them (Lk 23:34, Acts 7:60).

A few minutes after I saw this sticker, a NPR story came on about the Las Vegas shooting – which was the first I had heard about the tragedy….


Growing up I had a temper that went extremely well with my red hair. I would purposely pick fights with my older brother (who would then proceed to beat the snot out of me), friends, and various cousins. Though this temper dampened a bit as I grew older, it was an encounter with Jesus during my teen years that started me on a journey of learning how to control my emotions.

Years later I read Colin Woodard’s book American Nations which brought to light some of my feelings growing up. In this book, Woodard highlights the eleven different cultural nations within the United States. The area I grew up in was called the Greater Appalachia and was settled by folks from the “war-ravaged borderlands of Northern Ireland, northern England, and the Scottish lowlands” (a description that matches my family history perfectly). Immigrants from there areas brought with them a culture of personal sovereignty and individual liberty shaped by a “state of constant danger” and a need to protect their livestock (something cultural anthropologist have noted, especially in comparison with more farm based cultures which thrive in more peaceful areas).

I mention this background as I want you all to know that I understand some of the warrior culture that is rampant in the USA today. It is normal to want to fight back – to be on the winning side. It is also normal to want to hold on to the weapons allowed our forefathers to create this nation of ours. And, if I’m perfectly honest, there is part of me who wants to continue living this way. Only I met Someone who wouldn’t let me continue along that path…

The more I get to know Jesus, the more I realize that what I think is “normal” is really “abnormal.” Reading the four gospel accounts of the life of Jesus changed the way I viewed the world around me as well as how I read the rest of the Bible.

Then there are people like Rick Love, Micael Grenholm, and Brad Jersak who challenge me to think though the way of peace and non-violence. And, not to be forgotten, authors like Brian Zahnd, Greg Boyd, Desmond Tutu, and Alexander Venter provided me with additional puzzle pieces to hold and ponder.

Though I haven’t quite figured out how everything fits together; I do know is that I firmly believe that violence begets violence and revenge is something best left for the Creator. I don’t know what that means for public policy nor what I would do if personally attacked. I just know that I must continue my walk towards pacifism as it seems to be the direction Jesus, the Prince of Peace, is walking.

One day, the Creator promised, there will be no more war, no more death, and no more crying. Until that that day, I will cry with my brothers and sisters who suffer at the hands of mad men and women who think that violence is the way forward.


A Prayer

May the One Who Cries hold all those affect by Las Vegas close by,
May He shed tears of sorrow with them,
May He embrace their pain and give them peace,
May He bring comfort in the midst of unanswerable questions.
Amen.

Is There a Theodicy Built into Kingdom Theology?

The above question was recently posed to me by a friend and it made me stop and think for a bit. Is there something inherent in Kingdom Theology that accounts for the problem of evil (i.e. theodicy)? And if so, what is it? It was – and is – a very good question.

(For those unfamiliar with the term ‘theodicy,’ I’ve included a brief overview at the bottom of this post)

If we are talking about generic kingdom of God theology (i.e. inaugurated eschatology), then I would have to say that there isn’t any one theodicy inherit to that theological system. This is because inaugurated eschatology is primary focused on answering the question of when the end-time promises of God will be fulfilled (i.e. is God’s rule and reign here today? Is it delayed? When is it coming, etc.?).

Accordingly, it is possible to add inaugurated eschatology onto whatever theological and/or theodicy worldview you might already have. This is how you get people as diverse as N.T. Wright, Wayne Grudem, Scott McKnight, Derek Morphew, Bill Johnson, Greg Boyd, and R. Alan Street all promoting different views on inaugurated eschatology while using kingdom language.

The definition of Kingdom Theology promoted by myself and others within the Vineyard worldwide movement (e.g. John Wimber, Derek Morphew, Don Williams, Bill Jackson, etc.) is one of ‘enacted inaugurated eschatology.’ This is a theological worldview that starts with the life and ministry of historical Jesus before building out other theological concepts. Meaning that everything is seen through a lens of the here and not yet of the ages. Being ‘enacted’, it is a worldview that requiring one to live out the inaugurated eschatology of the kingdom in every area of life rather than intellectual belief.

Under this definition of Kingdom Theology, I would say that there is a cosmic conflict (or warfare) theodicy presupposition that sees the age to come breaking into this evil age through Jesus’ defeat of sin, evil and death at the cross. As such, the followers of Jesus living in-between the ages are engaged in a war between God and Satan with suffering happening as a result of sin, death, and evil.

With that said, it is possible to layer theodicies on top of one another. For example, one could say that the cosmic conflict seen throughout the ages is part of God’s perfect plan or is exacerbated by free will. Greg Boyd, one of the top openness of God (i.e. Open Theism) proponents, combines the cosmic conflict with the openness of the future to the point they seem inseparable. The Vineyard being the Vineyard, you can find folks within the movement who hold to any of these theodicies along with a few others.

On a personal level, I combine the cosmic conflict theodicy with the consent and participation (i.e. God consents to free will and natural laws while staying personally involved in the world), suffering of God (i.e. Jesus suffers and weeps with us), and faith and trust (i.e. it’s a mystery so just trust Jesus) theodicies.

 


Theodicy Overview

For those who are unfamiliar with the term ‘theodicy’, here is a quick primer of some of the more famous answers to the problem of evil. Note that are lots of others theodicies and a TON of philosophical presuppositions behind the question of evil that I cannot get into here. Some of these overlap each other with folks (like myself) holding to a new of different theodicies at the same time.

 

  • Perfect Plan – Suffering and evil is all part of God’s perfect plan though he is not directly causing any of it. This theodicy is largely held by Calvinist which places a huge emphasis on the complete sovereignty of God (i.e. every action in the world was determined by God before the beginning of the world). However some branches of Arminianism will hold to this theodicy as they see suffering as part as a bigger, larger plan that only God can see.
  • Free Will – This view sees suffering as the result of the free will of humanity though God is still in control of the future. Largely held by Arminian believers who places an emphasis on the free choices of humanity.
  • Cosmic Conflict – There is a war happening in the cosmic realm that affects the physical world in which we live. Also called the “Warfare Theodicy”, this view sees suffering and evil as the result of the battle between Satan and God. As in, bad things happen because of Satan and his demons actively seeking to hurt people.
  • Soul Making – Suffering is seen as a way to grow one’s soul. As in, God allows suffering so that humanity overcome obstacles and improve our souls (e.g. endurance, courage, compassion, etc.). Some version will include the purging of sin from our lives within this theodicy.
  • Openness of God – The future is open with God allowing things to develop according to the actions of created beings. Since the future is open, suffering and evil is the result of free agents interacting with the world. Open Theists would be the primary proponents of this view.
  • Consent and Participation – God consents to free will and natural laws while staying personally involved in the world. I don’t know if “consent and participation” is the scholarly term for this view…but it is the one I’m using. =) The core of this theodicy comes from the Eastern Orthodox Church which has a different view of the fall, original sin, free will and divine omnipotence.
  • Suffering of God – The view that God suffers and weeps with us rather than standing above pain and suffering.
  • Faith and Trust – Suffering in the world is a mystery with no real answer so we are just to trust Jesus. I see the book of Job as a backdrop to this view in that at the very end of the book, God tells Job to trust in him and not to all the other theodicies proposed by his friends. (Granted, the book of Job can also be used to support other theodicies like the cosmic conflict view).

Suffering According to Jesus

jesus icon sufferingJesus was no stranger to suffering.

Not only did Jesus experience all the typical pain of life (hunger, pain, sickness, death of friends and family), he also lived under an oppressive regime which commonly used violence to keep the masses under control. In 6 C.E. when Jesus was about 10 years old, the Roman army killed Judas of Galilee and lined the roads around Sepphoris (4 short miles from Nazareth) with the corpses of 2,000 crucified men. Growing up so close to Sepphoris, it’s a safe bet that Jesus would have heard about the deaths. He might of even had family members or, at the very least, known people whose family was directly involved in the rebellion.

Knowing that Jesus experienced the hardship of life (harder, I would say, than myself or many others here in the USA), it worth paying attention to what he says about suffering. As in, does he consider pain and suffering to be part of the divine plan of God? A method of purification or a teaching moment? Or does he offering some other reason as to why pain and suffering happens?

In what is now the fifth post in a series about the “Sovereignty of God” I would like to look how Jesus on this topic. (For those just now joining, you can find the first four posts here, here, here and here.) I know this is a HUGE topic so please forgive me if I seem to skim over things. My goal is to look at the overall message of Jesus to capture the jest of his viewpoint.

War Zone

In reading the four Gospels, one thing that stands out is Jesus’ battle with the forces of evil. He is constantly driving out demons and rebuking the forces of nature. Sadly a lot of modern folks in the West skip over these parts as they don’t believe in the supernatural. Rather they think that these verses are remnants of a lesser culture where people believe in all kinds of false things. To these folks, the main point of the Gospels is Jesus’ teachings about love, acceptance and ethics.

However if we are to take the Scriptures seriously, we must admit that this world in which we live has an invisible supernatural element to it (a view, BTW, that majority of the world throughout the ages has held). In his book God at War, Greg Boyd gives a convincing argument that the Scriptures were written with the believe that God is at war with evil, pain, and death. This means that Jesus’ actions of healing the sick and casting out demons were not philosophical actions, but rather battles against the forces of evil.

As such, we can then safely say that Jesus didn’t view sickness, pain, suffering or any other form of evil as being part of God’s divine plan. They were not teaching moments or ways of purifying the soul. Rather they are things that are contrary to the heart of God and should, therefore, be attacked and driving out. (This, by the way, is not to say that all forms of sickness and pain is caused by demons as some may say. Rather the point of this is that Jesus is at war with evil rather than using evil as a tool.)

The Red-Letters

Below are some verse in which Jesus talks about the problem of suffering:

There were some present at that very time who told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. And he [Jesus] answered them, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them: do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.” -Luke 13:1-5 (ESV)

This passage shows that there were people in the 1st century (like today) that though that death, pain, and suffering was connect to how righteous one was. In other words, those who did not sin were spared pain/suffering while those who did sin experienced such items.

Jesus fights this mentally head on by informing the questioners that sin played no part in the suffering/pain/death experienced by these folks. Rather it was human freedom (Pilate’s massacre) and natural law (falling tower) that caused the death/pain/suffering. This is huge as Jesus could have said that the pain/suffering/death was all part of God’s divine plan and that folks just needed to trust God. Yet, Jesus – God himself, I might remind you – didn’t tell them that.

Now there is a passage that some will use to claim that Jesus did say that God causes sickness for his glory. However that passage (John 9:1-7) isn’t as clear cut as some would like. But first the passage in question:

As he passed by, he saw a man blind from birth. And his disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Jesus answered, “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him. We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming, when no one can work. As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” Having said these things, he spit on the ground and made mud with the saliva. Then he anointed the man’s eyes with the mud and said to him, “Go, wash in the pool of Siloam” (which means Sent). So he went and washed and came back seeing. – John 9:1-7 (ESV)

At first glance it looks like the “God-is-using-sickness” crowd has won. However things are not always as they seem. As most of you know, the Gospel of John was originally written in 1st century Greek. Translators then translate the words into English so that we common people can read them. These translators, no matter how hard they try, are biased people (like all of us) who hold to certain theological views. Most of the time these views don’t really matter as the passages are fairly straight forward. However there are times when there are times when the there is no direct ancient Greek to modern English word. It is during those times that one’s personal theology and worldview effects how one translates the Scriptures.

John 9:3 is one of those passages. Translators who hold to a “God controls everything” viewpoint (which is the most dominant view of things) tend to translate the Greek with a view that God caused the man’s blindness for the express purpose of giving himself glory. However there is another way of translating this verse that fits better with the overall passage. Here’s two examples:

Jesus said, “You’re asking the wrong question. You’re looking for someone to blame. There is no such cause-effect here. Look instead for what God can do. We need to be energetically at work for the One who sent me here, working while the sun shines. When night falls, the workday is over. For as long as I am in the world, there is plenty of light. I am the world’s Light.” –The Message

“Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” “Neither this man nor his parents sinned,” Jesus answered, “but let the works of God be displayed in him. We must work the works of Him who sent me while it is day…” – truthortradition.com, relying on the works of Greg Boyd and others

Under this alternative translation, John 9:3 goes from Jesus telling folks that God caused the man’s blindness to Jesus fighting the blindness as something that does not fit within God’s plan. This view, in my option, fits better within the overall story of Jesus as a God at war with the pain and suffering of a fallen world.

Conclusion

In looking at the life and ministry of Jesus, I see a God who is fighting against pain, suffering, death and evil rather than one who is using it for his purpose. I know this view doesn’t fit within the typically “God-is-in-control-of-everything” view of the Sovereignty of God. However I do think it fits within the consent and participation view of God’s Sovereignty – a view, I might add that is as ancient, if not more so, than the “God-in-total-control” view.

I also know that some of you might look at the above and say “Josh may have a point with the Gospels, but I know that St. Paul says…” To those folks, I will say that I try to read the read the Scriptures through the lens of Jesus rather than Jesus through the lens of St. Paul or any other author. This means that when I’m in doubt, I will always go back to the words and action of Jesus as he is the “image of the invisible God” (Colossians 1:15). And when I do so, I find a God who is a war with evil not a God who is using evil as a pawn. Hence why I reject the “God-in- total-control” view of life and embrace the consent and participation view of God’s Sovereignty.

Is God to Blame?

is god to blame greg boydCalvinism versus Arminianism is one of the biggest debates within the Protestant world with gallons of ink and blood being spilled over the past five-hundred years. While I tend to be on the Arminianism side of that debate, I have also come to the conclusion that the debate itself has outlived its usefulness and should be put to rest. In my last post, I summarized a bit of the Eastern Orthodox approach to the issue as seen through the writings of Brad Jersak. Today I would like to talk about open theism as seen through Greg Boyd’s book “Is God To Blame? Beyond Pat Answers to the Problem of Suffering.” 

Greg Boyd is a Mennonite pastor at the Woodland Hills Church in St. Paul, MN and a leading proponent of the Christus Victor view of the atonement. He is also a major proponent of open theism which challenges Calvinism and variations of Arminianism. While I know Greg has other books about open theism, I decided to read his “Is God to Blame?” for two reasons. First and foremost was the fact that I found the book on sale for a dollar and, well, who can pass up a deal like that?!  🙂  Secondly, this book deals with the application of open theism rather than just focusing on the theoretical. Being an applied theologian, I quite like books that seek to put into practice the theories proposed by theological studies.  As Elder Paisios the Athonite once said, “The goal of reading is the application, in our lives, of what we read.” 🙂

As the title suggests, the focus of Greg’s book “Is God to Blame?” is providing an alternative to the problem of suffering normally proposed by theologians and pastors. Namely, a lot of well-meaning folks in the world today hold to a view of God which states that he knows and controls every little thing in the universe. This “blueprint” view of God states that God, as the sovereign King of Kings, knows, controls and/or predestines what I’m going to type before I type it. This is a God who is not only concerned with spiritual salvation, but with every action done by each person on earth throughout history – not to mention all the animals, plants, weather, etc. Accordingly, everything that happens in life – including hurtful actions such as rape, war, murder, etc. – happens for a reason with God either allowing or controlling the events.

Traditionally this view of the sovereignty of God has held by proponents of Calvinism. However there are also Arminian theologians and pastors who agree with this blueprint worldview – the main difference between the two groups being on the extent of freedom granted by God to humanity (i.e. a little bit or none). Some Arminians, I must note, hold to a view that God foreknows the future, but does not orchestrate the future.  Accordingly, these folks would not fall into the blueprint worldview challenged by Greg’s book.

In lieu of the blueprint worldview, Greg proposes a view in which God grants freedom to humanity to make choices and act contrary to that which God would prefer. After all, how could there be love if the lover has no choice but to love? Love is only love if the lover has a choice to walk away but doesn’t choose do to so.

While people will typically agree that love requires a choice, they also get nervous about a world in which everything is possible. Deep inside we want to know that someone or something has control as we want to believe that everything that happens has a reason. If things just happened with no reason, then life would be meaningless with no hope of redemption. (this is one of the problems with atheism, but that’s a different topic). In order to keep things in order, we must create a God who has everything under control.

I say “create a God” because the Scriptures allow for another view of God that falls outside the blueprint world. Namely the Scriptures allows for a God who intimately involved with his creation on a personal level and allows his creation to change his mind. Just look at God’s interactions with Abraham and Moses. Both of these forefathers of the faith wrestled with God and challenged his actions. Rather than telling them to shut up, God encouraged the debate and even agreed to change his plans.

Now before you quote Malachi 3:6 at me (i.e. “For I the Lord do not change…”) and burn me at the stake, allow me to explain. God himself doesn’t change – nor does he give up on his promises. He is always the same God today, yesterday and tomorrow. However just because he is the same God, it doesn’t mean that his actions within history can’t change. After all, he was the one who broke into history and changed everything (i.e. Jesus).

forest pathIn his book, Greg explores the concept of how we came to see God as a God who never changes (i.e. the view has its roots in Greek philosophy). And then sets forth a view of God who is like a great chess player who knows every possible move on the board and can foresee what his proponent is going to do. And, just like in a chess game, the moves which God makes are in direct reaction to the moves that we humans, as free agents, make. Only God, being infinitely smarter than us, can take into account every possible variable in all of creation – the movement of a butterfly in that country, a human choice here, the solar actions of a star over there, etc. – before making a move.

In other words, God’s overall desire and goal will come to pass. We humans may derail or slow down the process, but it will happen. The forces of evil, something Greg does talk about as well, may also try to stop God’s plans – and perhaps may even slow them down – but in the end God will win. Period.

This view of God has the potential to change how we view our lives and comfort people who are struggling. Rather than blaming God for the crap of the world, we can recognize that there is an evil being out there trying to destroy humanity and that we humans all have the choice on whether or not we are going to follow good or evil. We also don’t go around telling people whose young son was murder or raped or stolen that everything happens for a reason. Rather we cry with them. We mourn with them.

We know that God himself entered into the pain of this world and suffered with us. He didn’t stay away, hidden safely away in his castle in the sky. Rather he came into our broken, crappy world so that we would have a savior/friend/God who knew what it is like. And we also know that God will win with pain, evil, sin and death being destroyed.

Some people might not like this view of life. And that’s ok. For me, though, I think there is something of value in Greg’s view of open theism. It fits well with my view take on the atonement and the Kingdom of God as well as with my typical pastoral approach to life. Don’t get me wrong, I still have questions about open theism. At the moment, if you pushed it, I would have to say that I typically see God as being outside of time which allows for him to foresee what is going to happen without having to control every detail. Open theism, as I understand it, still places God within time rather than outside of time – which is a major issue to me since I see time as being something created… but that is another post for another time. 😀

In conclusion, I would definitely recommend reading Greg Boyd’s book  “Is God To Blame? Beyond Pat Answers to the Problem of Suffering.”  At 197 pages, it isn’t that long – but, do be warned, it is a heavy read as it is dealing with a complex issue. As the title says, it is a book that goes “beyond pat answers” into the deep waters of the mystery of life.

A More Christlike God: Thoughts on Brad Jersak’s book

a more christlike god brad jersakI read it twice. Within three months.

This, I might add, is a VERY rare thing for me as I typically only read a book once. And those books which I do re-read, I usually re-read them after a few years. So to say that I read Brad Jersak’s book “A More Christlike God: A More Beautiful Gospel” twice within three months is saying a lot.

Granted if I’m being completed honest, I must admit that it was the prospect of meeting Brad in person that prompted me to re-read the book. Brad was scheduled to be my one of my professors at St. Stephen’s University this past October and I wanted to be able to ask him some questions about his book. And yes, the books was required reading by Brad along with N.T. Wright’s “Simply Jesus: A New Vision of Who He Was, What He Did, and Why He Matters.” (You HAVE to love classes that require you to read the books you would read on your on! No more self-justifications of the cost – instead it is all wrapped up in the “education” bucket of the budget!!) 😀

Before talking about the book itself, it is helpful to know a bit more about Dr. Brad Jersak. As mentioned already, Brad is an adjunct faculty member at St. Stephen’s University in Canada. He also teaches New Testament and Patristics classes at Westminster Theological Centre in the United Kingdom in addition to serving as the senior editor of Plain Truth Ministries. His faith journey includes growing up within the Baptist General Conference before becoming a church planter/pastor within the Conference of Mennonites in BC, Canada. After years hanging out with the Mennonites, Brad shifted gears and joined the Eastern Orthodox Church where he has been chrismated and ordained as a Reader in the Orthodox Church (OCA) for the All Saints Monastery in Dewdney (Canada).

Brad’s Eastern Orthodox connections are very important as his book “A More Christlike God” is packed full of concepts gleaned from our Eastern Orthodox brothers and sisters. The book was also, as I found out talking to him this past October, was reviewed and approved by several Eastern Orthodox theologians. The book also received endorsements from a surprising wide range of Protestant and Roman Catholic Church authors, ministers, and priests including Father Richard Rohr, Eugene Peterson, Brian McLaren, William Paul Young, Frank Schaeffer, and Brian Zahnd.

The primary focus of the book is fairly simple – mainly that the best picture we have of God is Jesus and, as such, we should allow Jesus to influence the way in which we see God and read the Bible. While this premise sounds simple, the sad reality is that a lot of us have based our view of God on things other than Jesus. Whereas St. Paul says that Jesus is the “the image of the invisible God” [Co 1:15], we tend to split the Triune God up into three parts with a different image for each part. We have the punishing judge Father God, the nice Son (Jesus) and the crazy unknown Spirit…or we have the deadbeat dad God or perhaps the genie in the bottle God who we can influence through doing or praying the right things.

Writing from an Eastern Orthodox viewpoint, Brad challenges these different misconceptions of God while offering a picture of a loving God based upon the person of Jesus. This focus on the cruciform God (i.e. God on the cross) effectually challenges the a lot of the common theological concepts we in the Protestant world take for granted. For example, whereas the Protestant world is focused on the Calvinism/Arminianism debate of sovereignty of God and human participation, Brad offers a uniquely Eastern Orthodox viewpoint in which God consents to freedom but also engages in participation within creation.

Reading – and later talking to Brad – about this alternative to the dualism of the Protestant world was a breath of fresh air for me. A few years ago I came to the conclusion that the Calvinism/Arminianism debate had outlived its usefulness and was no longer helpful. However I was having troubles coming up with a theological alternative that I could fully embrace. And why I’m fine with living in the mystery of not knowing, I knew that my position as a pastor/teacher would require a deeper understanding of the issue so that I could help others walk the path. While I was able to find an alternative in the writings of Greg Boyd (i.e. open theism), I was having a hard time finding anything on the topic from the Eastern Orthodox side of the family (a group with which I have had a longtime love affair). The book “A More Christlike God” filled that vacuum for me – and taught me that I had in fact already been exposed to the Eastern Orthodox view on the matter, I just didn’t recognize the argument as it was buried under implicit language typical of those from the East. 😕

celtic cross sunsetConnected with the sovereignty of God and human participation topic are the issues of the atonement (i.e. what happened on the cross?) and the wrath of God. While anyone of these topics could have been a book within itself, Brad seamlessly weaves all three issues into his book while keeping the focus on Jesus and the cruciform God. I especially liked his selection on the atonement as breaks down the weakness with the penal substitutionary atonement view of most Protestants while highlighting the value of the victory of God over satan, evil, sin and death. But then again I’ve been a proponent of the Christus Victor atonement view for quite some time. 🙂

The part of the book that I have the hardest time with is when Brad seeks to un-wrath God in the both the Old and New Testament. For those who have read the Scriptures know that there are some parts of the Bible (mostly in the Old Testament) that are extremely hard to understand. Why and how could a God who claims to be love (1 John 4:8) command the total genocide of various people groups? It doesn’t make sense… which is why one of the first heresies in the church was the view that the God of the OT is different than Jesus and the God of the NT. However the early church mothers and fathers were quite clear that the God of the OT is the same God of the NT – and this God is seen the most clear in the person of Jesus. Brad puts it this way in his book:

“[T]he Bible itself takes us on a progressive, cruciform pilgrimage from primitive literal understandings of wrath, where God appears to burn with anger and react violently, to a metaphorical reading of wrath, in which God consents – gives us over – to the self-destructive consequences of our own willful defiance. The cruciform God will not and cannot, by love’s nature, coerce us to obey. God grants us the dignity (and discomfort) of ‘finding our own bottom’ (to use 12-step recovery terminology), the end of which is willing surrender to the arms of grace. In the Bible, the shorthand for this process is ‘wrath.’” [page 185]

I must admit I’m still pondering about the full ramification of this definition of wrath as the concept has some very powerful consequences in how we read the Scriptures, see God and live life. Yet I think it is an issue we need to think about as we live in an age of war, fear and revenge. Regardless of the consequences, the one thing I do know is that if we are going to error in how we see God, let us let us error on the side of Jesus and love.

“I [Jesus] say to you who hear, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. To one who strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also, and from one who takes away your cloak do not withhold your tunic either. Give to everyone who begs from you, and from one who takes away your goods do not demand them back. And as you wish that others would do to you, do so to them.” –Luke 6:27-31

Magic in the Bible and Christian America!

phil vischer podcastOh my!! Phil Vischer’s newest podcast is mind blowing!!!  Wow! I’m telling you right now, it is worth watching!

The first topic Phil, Skye Jethani, and Christian Taylor tackle is magic in the Bible – and man do they nail it! In fact, I would say that if you only have 16 minutes, you need to watch the first 16 minutes of this podcast as they hit some GREAT points!

The remaining 27 minutes is spent talking about a recent New York Times article which suggest that  “‘Christian America’ is not just a modern idea, but a modern idea invented by corporate America!” The article was written by Kevin M. Kruse, a professor of history at Princeton, who recently released a book entitled “One Nation Under God: How Corporate America Invented Christian America” (which, BTW, I have not read.)

While this topic may be controversial among citizens of the United States, I also firmly believe that we need to know our history. Things are a lot more complicated and twisted then we tend to want to believe. In the podcast Phil, Skye and Christian do a great job at trying to make sense of the twists and turns of history while acknowledging how hard it is. The fact remains that each of us may draw different conclusions from history, which is fine as long as we know what happened and love/care for those who draw different conclusions. 🙂

How’s that for a teaser? Have fun watching the video.

Also, if the topic of “Christian America” is of interest to you – I would recommend reading Greg Boyd’s “The Myth of a Christian Nation How the Quest for Political Power Is Destroying the Church.”

Hating and Loving The National Day of Prayer

day of prayerI have a confession to make… I, as a follower of Jesus and a pastor, have love-hate relationship with the National Day of Prayer… I know that believers and pastors all over this country are making a big deal about this day… especially has it happened to land a few weeks after the Boston bombings and a day after the news broke that the Pentagon is thinking about stopping soldiers from sharing their religious beliefs.

Yet…yet…yet…. Sigh….

Part of me knows that anytime folks gather together in prayer it is a good thing… I also know that followers of Jesus are to love and bless everyone around them: their family, friends, enemies, leaders, co-workers, and anyone in-between.

Yet on the other side I really, really, really dislike the way in patriotism for one’s country has embedded itself into Christianity. Sadly enough in some places patriotism and Christianity merged together so much that to talk bad about one’s country is an insult against God and vis a versa. Oh, by the way the USA is not the only place where this has happened. History tells us of many, many countries where this mis-view of the following Jesus has gained control.

The simple fact remains that there has never been a “Christian nation” on planet earth.

Yes, there have been nations who have based some of their laws or customs on principles found in the Bible – but that does not make them a “Christian nation.”

To be a “Christian” is to give yourself 100% to Jesus the Christ. It is follow His example in all things. It is to love and forgive your enemies – to turn the other check; to heal the sick; preach that the Kingdom of God is at hand; it is to die so that others may live. And, well, quite frankly, there has never been a nation or a government that has embodied the character and actions of Jesus.

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Jumping Over Jesus

jumping_jesus_on_a_pogo_stickI was listening to Greg Boyd’s latest sermon today when he mentioned that I agree wholeheartedly with.  He said that most Christians have a tendency to “jump over Jesus” when reading the Old Testament – meaning, that they don’t read the Old Testament through the lens of Jesus. Granted, folks do this to the New Testament as well – jumping over Jesus in favor of the more prolific St. Paul.

The problem is that ALL of Scriptures points to Jesus (Luke 24:27, 44, John 5:39, 1 Peter 1:10-12, 2 Tim 3:14-15, Rom 1:1-3, ). And if they point to Jesus, then perhaps we should read them in light of Jesus’ actions and teachings….

In other words, don’t go quoting Psalm 109 in which David prays that his enemy will experience all kinds of pain when you get mad at someone. Instead, you need to remember Jesus’ words to love and bless your enemies (Luke 6:27-36).

Furthermore, we need to be careful about reading the Bible as a flat book as if everything in it carries the same weight no matter when it is found. The Bible is telling the story of God and, as such, we need to read each verse within the context of the larger story as well as within the paragraph, book, genre, history and culture in which it was written. This will help us from making mistakes like using verses within the book of Job to support concepts that God Himself condemns at the end of the Job! (something that I, very sadly, have seen more than once!!)

Jesus is the beginning and end; He is THE center figure within history and we would do good to view EVERYTHING – the scriptures, our life, our culture, our family, etc. – through Him.

As Greg Boyd said, “If my theology conflicts with Jesus, Jesus wins.”

Let us stop jumping over Jesus and start doing what He told us to do.

A Few Thought Provoking Items

I was going to write a tad more about each of these items…but time restrains have forced me into doing something shorter.  😕

Beatitudes Teaching By Greg Boyd

I was introduced to Greg Boyd this summer through a blog book give away. Since then I have seen his name pop up over and over and over again…so last week I decided to check out his sermons (he is the pastor of Woodland Hills church in St. Paul, MN).  And wow! I was totally blown away by his teaching and understanding of what it means to follow Jesus in this crazy world.

Greg’s sermon from  Oct 14th (“The Salt and Light Revolution”) was an amazing introduction into a series he just started on the Beatitudes. Two things really stood out to me in this sermon:

1) Salt has to stay into contact with the food in order to change it (i.e. Jesus followers are to be ‘in the world’ but not ‘of the world’ – practically meaning that Jesus follower are to have non-Jesus-follower friends as well as Jesus follower friends, just like Jesus did).

2) The Beatitudes are not something we are to strive for – but rather something that come naturally as it describes who we are.

The second sermon in the series is called “The Dependent and Those Who Mourn” and is great message on giving up everything and radically following Jesus. Greg also spends some time talking about the anti-homosexual marriage law that Minnesota is soon to be voting on – only he did so in a way that is totally different than what you would like. Greg did not agree with or disagree with the proposed law – instead he reminded the church that the biggest sin (and the most talked about) in the Bible is greed and selfishness. So instead of trying to pick out the stick in our brothers eye, we should be dealing with the log in our own eye. In other words (in my words, not Greg’s), let us stop trying to force non-Jesus followers to live by the guidelines given to us by the Holy Spirit. Jesus told us to love and bless everyone (friends and enemies alike) while healing the sick, cleaning the leapers, preaching the Kingdom of God, casting out demons and raising the dead  – perhaps we should focus DOING that….

Continue reading A Few Thought Provoking Items