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A Depth of Learning for a Depth of Fellowship

Is there a formula for successful Christian community? What I wanted as a young Christian, and could not find, was a fellowship of disciples which could learn and flourish together.  The inner fellowship of three, the group of twelve, the seventy, and the mentor who would impart a depth of learning and experience—we all want to experience an abiding depth of love in an intimate group. We want to do life together!  So, what prevents this from happening? Continue reading “A Depth of Learning for a Depth of Fellowship”

Why Ploughshares Bible Institute?

Disenchantment.

If I had to describe my experience in getting my education (I have a BA in Biblical Research and an MA in Theology) and what I had once thought it would bring me in one word, I think “disenchantment” is the one which sums it up the best. Why? Continue reading “Why Ploughshares Bible Institute?”

The President’s Two Bodies: “We the People” and Donald Trump

The infantile, imbecilic, morally degenerate, or simply very ordinary individual can be a monarch as the office itself has a life of its own which the mere mortal marks. Though he or she may suffer complete dementia, his or her body animates and localizes what was often presumed to be an eternal order of law and power. This power is precisely carnal – of the flesh – as opposed to the realm of the spirit.  It is a biopolitical power in that it depends upon and makes itself evident in the carnal dimension. Thus, the king cannot break the law as he embodies the law. He is not subject to the law but creates subjects in both a political and physical/personal sense.  The royal power to discipline, punish, penetrate, demarcate, and procreate, whether by judicial decree, military might, or sexual prowess, is, by definition, physical. It is pure biopolitics in that it is synonymous with an incarnate power. Royal power does not just depend on physical spectacle, it is this spectacle marked out in the realm of the flesh: the more spectacular the more powerful. The question is what happens to this pure power of the law, connected to the royal body, in a democratic society? Where the people are collectively sovereign can the rule of law be dispersed in the corporate body or does the sublime royal body tend to protrude through some individual – an “organ” of state?[1] Continue reading “The President’s Two Bodies: “We the People” and Donald Trump”

Can Christ Save Us from “Christianity?”

David B. Hart, in introducing his translation of the New Testament, describes a faith so strange that what we now call “Christianity” only vaguely resembles the original.[1] He claims that due to poor translation, theological misdirection, and a failure to grasp key terms, that we have missed that the first Christians were extremists. In pursuit of an alternative society and kingdom, they rejected society, “not only in its degenerate but its decent and reasonable form.” Hart uses the example of the contrast of modern Christian notions of personal wealth and what the New Testament actually says, to demonstrate how far removed we are from first century teaching.  Wealth per se is not evil, in the typical modern understanding, only its misuse or the wrong orientation to it.  We are so attuned to this misinterpretation, according to Hart, that we know exactly where to turn and what verses support it.  Yet, it is precisely from among these verses that he unfurls his irresistible case: The New Testament teaches that personal wealth is intrinsically evil. He concludes, after several pages of demonstrating the point, “the biblical texts are so unambiguous on this matter that it requires an almost heroic defiance of the obvious to fail to grasp their import.”[2]  Continue reading “Can Christ Save Us from “Christianity?””

Beyond Complementarianism, Slavery, and Bigotry, to Truth

The great reversal instituted by Christ is expressed in the New Testament as the move from law to grace, from shadow to substance, or from promise to fulfillment.  John describes it in cosmic terms as the displacement of one world for another and Paul describes it as the displacement of the principalities and powers and the dominion to which we were all once subject.  He works it out in detail in his description of how we are freed from the law in Christ.  The metaphors used to describe this are adoption into a new family, redemption from slavery, entering a new kingdom, or being made righteous.  The language of marriage, new birth, and transfer of citizenship gets at the impact of this reversal. I would argue that what is being described is not a series of reversals worked out in different realms but one great reversal which applies to every realm. To miss it at the universal level will mean a misunderstanding of the particulars. There might still be male/female, slave/free, and Jew/Gentile, from the perspective and logic of the world but in the Church these categories mean something different. The slave is now the position to be sought, Jew is no longer an exclusive but a universal category, and female or bride describes those joined to Christ. Gender, class, and ethnicity, are not dissolved but a different logic applies and an alternative grammar transforms their meaning.  If one has missed this deep grammatical shift (and it is missed and obscured both by the closed economy of this world and a theology grounded in this economy) it is to miss the transvaluation (in Nietzsche’s phrase) of Christianity. Continue reading “Beyond Complementarianism, Slavery, and Bigotry, to Truth”

Is Christian Complementarianism Helping Fuel The Abuse Reflected In #Me Too?

Harvey Weinstein, Hugh Hefner, Donald Trump –  the list of prominent men who abuse women could be added to from every walk of life: comedians, athletes, political figures, and of course prominent religious figures.  Harvey’s brother describes him as an abusive bully who regularly insulted and hurt those around him.  He said he is unrepentant for his actions and is incapable of remorse.  The figure that came to mind with Bob Weinstein’s description of his brother was the administrator at the college where Faith and I worked.  His open misogyny and abuse of power will continue, as with Harvey Weinstein, because grievance and complaint were squelched by the institution.  While his forte was not private sexual assault but open cruelty and abuse, the wall of silence is the same. Continue reading “Is Christian Complementarianism Helping Fuel The Abuse Reflected In #Me Too?”

Halting the Brain Drain by Creating Space to Think

The brain drain within conservative Protestantism is a trend with which those in a position to know are well aware.[1] There are many factors which may lead to this disaffection: reduction of worship to entertainment, irreverent humor and general lack of depth, an absence of certainty, unity, and authority, a stunted history and tradition, a counter-liturgical casualness. . .  Among intellectuals all these factors may play a part but ultimately many find themselves in something of a homeless condition – the shallow intellectual tradition of evangelicalism means they are without any sort of organized or institutional support. Especially among those who would devote themselves to theology, many soon discover they have educated themselves out of their own communion. Continue reading “Halting the Brain Drain by Creating Space to Think”

Curing Despair Through a Community of Love

I met G.R. hepped up on coffee and a late night of reading Hebrews.  Glen and I had been discussing the necessary finitude of time as a delimiting factor in evil.  The insight we arrived at – which we considered quite significant (too much coffee) – has been obscured by the more than 40-year interval. We assumed that there was a consumptive element – thanatology – connected with God which is itself an effect of God’s presence.  Alone that early morning, reading Hebrews 12:29 – “our God is a consuming fire” – I felt I had hit upon scriptural verification of this principle.  I entered Glen’s room after 1 a.m. with, “OUR GOD IS A CONSUMING FIRE.”  G.R., Glen’s roommate, had only recently returned from refueling helicopters for the Army in Vietnam. . . Continue reading “Curing Despair Through a Community of Love”

Can You Be a Christian and Still be Violent? (A Rift is Coming)

The following was posted on Thinking Peacefully on December 15, 2015.  You can read it here.

Well, it depends on what you think Jesus came to do.  Let me explain.

If you think Jesus came because God is obligated by nature to punish sin by sending people to hell but he didn’t want to…instead sending the second person of the Trinity (the Son) to experience a type of hell in your place such that, if you claim a certain religious belief or perform a certain religious rite you are now forgiven and freed from eternal punishment…then sure.  Most folks whose view of sin and salvation can be boiled down to this have no problem with doing violence—in fact—most folks who think of sin and salvation this way seem to assume that to be unwilling to do violence is immoral.  The reason is the whole theology is wrapped up in a simple exchange between the Father and the Son on our behalf.  Jesus’ life and teaching have little bearing on what it means to actually “be saved.”  Salvation is all about having a certain status (that of “being saved”) and that status is achieved through the actions of someone else (Christ on the cross) and a simple religious affiliation (the sinner’s prayer or baptism) on my part.  One might go so far (and many have) as to say that the central assumption in this theology is that God is, at his heart, a violent God who must atone for the sins of his people violently.  And people emulate the God they claim to follow.  Therefore, violence is the normative reality for these folks, rather than love.

This is the reason that people who think differently than these folks are often stymied when saying, “But what about Jesus’ teaching to turn the other cheek or to love your enemies?”  The blank stares and mystified looks of those who hold to this view are a way of saying, “What does being a Christian have to do with any of what Jesus said?  We like our view of the God of the Old Testament better anyhow.  There’s a God who knew how to make things happen.”

However, if you think (as I do) that what Jesus came to do was not just a simple exchange, then…no.  I (and many others like me) don’t believe that Jesus came to die in our place in the sense that people often think.  He didn’t stand in between God and me, facing God’s wrath.  He stood in between God and me, facing mine.  Jesus on the cross was not man being killed by God, but God being killed by man.  Yes, in the Old Testament, God worked around violence and sometimes acquiesced to violence.  But, as Hebrews 1:1-3 says,

In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom also he made the universe. The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word. After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven (Heb 1:1-3 NIV).

In other words, “Jesus is the complete revelation of God.  This is what God always wanted us to know about him.  It supercedes what we take God to be in the Old Testament because God hadn’t revealed himself to us fully until Jesus.”  And in Jesus, we see a God who would die himself rather than kill you to defend himself from you.  Jesus is God dying in our place, but in a way different than we thought.  He died because he loved those who hated him.

In this view, salvation is not about a simple exchange to keep you out of hell.  In fact, the idea of salvation is full and robust.  It is about the coming of God’s full kingdom to the earth, his will on earth as it is in heaven.  Salvation is met out through a group of people who believe that Jesus’ way of doing life (a cross-shaped life) is the solution to all of the sin of this world (and all sin is a type of violence we do to ourselves, one another, or God).

“Salvation” for folks who believe this is about following Jesus on the way of the cross.  It’s about saying, “If Jesus is God dying because he’d rather die by his enemy’s hand than kill his enemy, then I’m supposed to be a person who’d rather die by my enemy’s hand than kill my enemy—because I love my enemy the way Jesus loved me.”

And, yes, that means even someone who comes into your home to steal, rob, and destroy.  And, yes, even if you have a family whom you love…because if we love our family we’ll want them to follow Jesus, too.

We believe this because we believe that it is the only hope for a world torn apart by violence.  We believe that Jesus demonstrates that love is the true normative reality, not violence.  And love is enacted on crosses, not with swords.  And crosses are a daily way of life, where people serve one another rather than take advantage of one another; and those with little status are held in high esteem because God cares for all people, even those who the violent world has marginalized.

We can do all of this because we believe what the apostle Paul told us in Romans 8,

For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God.  The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.” The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory (Rom 8:14-17 NIV).

We believe that those who die with Christ will be raised with him.

The first view of salvation is about hell and retribution.

The second is about cross and resurrection.

The first about violence and fear.

The second is about love and trust.

The first assumes violence is necessary and nonviolence has nothing to do with Christianity.

The second assumes that violence is unnecessary and that Christianity is about nonviolence in all forms.

The first is about a violent God who takes out his violence on the innocent to save the guilty.

The second is about a loving God who innocently receives the violence of the guilty and beckons them to follow him.

The first sees no tension between being a Christian and the pursuit of power of the Empire.

The second sees these two things in mutual exclusivity.

These two views are inherently incompatible.

A rift is coming.

So, what does this say?  Can someone be a Christian and be violent?  The answer depends on what you think Jesus came to do.  If you are of the first camp, you say “yes.”  In the second, “no.”  But here’s the thing: a rift is coming.  There is little about these views of Christianity that can be harmonized.  I’m not sure I’m willing to say that those who believe in the first view “aren’t Christian.”  But what I must admit is that I think what they believe “isn’t the Gospel.”  And I suppose that what they must admit to themselves is that what I believe isn’t the Gospel to them either.  And I don’t know what to do about that other than keep asking them to consider the Gospel I’ve discovered.  And I keep doing so, and nearly all of them reject it.

Someone will say that this is judgmental.  I don’t think so.  Here’s what I think, though.  As our world becomes more violent and as fear motivates people to think darker thoughts…as the country we live in turns more and more to guns and war…I think it will not be those who claim that Jesus calls us to active peacemaking who will be the judging aggressors.

We live in the most well-armed, richest, most well-defended society in the history of this planet.  And I believe most people are more terrified than they’ve ever been.  “More guns, more soldiers, more violence” is what I feel I see Christians saying over and over and over.  I think the time is coming when those who believe in the first Gospel will take up arms against those who believe in the second.  And those who believe in the second will have an opportunity to prove their faith as well.  It will come when a peacemaker comes to the aid of someone perceived to be “the enemy,” and the violent Christian cries “traitor!”  It’s coming.

Historically, it was certain Roman Catholics and certain Protestants who teamed up to torture and murder the early pacifist Anabaptist Christians.

This post is dedicated to my close friends who taught me the second view of the Gospel; that Jesus came to instate his peaceful kingdom here.  I dedicated it at a time when they were enduring a type of crucifixion, being, in a sense, killed by those who have publicly stated that they believe that the heart of the Gospel is the will do violence, to harm the other to save self.  Like Cain, they had wielded their hateful rock and killed the people they were supposed to call “brother and sister.”

The Gospel is something that we are told will divide us, so perhaps we should not be surprised that it often does.  I may be wrong in my view and I’m sure there are some who will think so.  And I love my brothers and sisters who disagree with me.  And I pray they will be moved.  But let those who believe in a peacemaking Messiah and those who believe in a war-making Messiah understand that, though they may both call their Lord “Jesus,” they do not believe in the same God.

The Story of Frank and Two Goats

Hans Urs von Balthazar has formulated what he calls the “theological law of proportionate polarization” in which “the more God intervenes, the more he elicits opposition to him.” Love and sin, intervention and opposition, work in reciprocal relation: sin escalates in the presence of love and ever-greater mercy arouses ever-greater anger.” What is most holy and pure, such as the Tabernacle and the Temple, will draw to itself—like a magnet—what is least holy and what is least pure. This is why the day of atonement requires two goats, this is why evil accumulated in direct opposition to Christ, and this is why the Church is peculiarly conducive to the growth of both wheat and tares.  Great evil and great good will grow up together and tend to accumulate in one time and place.  It is the story Scripture tells and it is a life principle which calls for a peculiar discernment. Continue reading “The Story of Frank and Two Goats”