Tuesday, December 30, 2014

"When the Time Had Fully Come" - Greg Albrecht

You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promise.
    What I am saying is that as long as the heir is a child, he is no different from a slave, although he owns the whole estate. He is subject to guardians and trustees until the time set by his father. So also, when we were children, we were in slavery under the basic principles of the world. But When the Time Had Fully Come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under law, to redeem those under law, that we might receive the full rights of sons. Because you are sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, "Abba, Father." So you are no longer a slave, but a son; and since you are a son, God has made you also an heir.—Galatians 3:26-4:7
Think back to the times of your youth, perhaps to a time when your mother and father promised to take you to the park, or on a picnic or to the circus. You couldn't wait for that time to come, could you? That's the way we were when we were kids—we drove our parents batty by continuously asking them, "Is it time yet, is it time yet?"

Then, when we were in grade school and high school, we asked a similar question every year, as the end of the school year approached. "Is school just about over? Is it time for summer vacation yet?" 

Most of the time, when we were young, we were waiting for time to pass so that something else could happen. Have you ever asked a three or four-year-old their age? Be prepared for the most exacting math they are capable of. 

Monday, December 22, 2014

Who WAS and IS and IS TO COME - Greg Albrecht

The revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show his servants what must soon take place. He made it known by sending his angel to his servant John, who testifies to everything he saw—that is, the word of God and the testimony of Jesus Christ. Blessed is the one who reads the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear it and take to heart what is written in it, because the time is near.
  To the seven churches in the province of Asia:
Grace and peace to you from him who is, and who was, and who is to come, and from the seven spirits before his throne, and from Jesus Christ, who is the faithful witness, the firstborn from the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth.
To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood, and has made us to be a kingdom and priests to serve his God and Father —to him be glory and power for ever and ever! Amen.
  Look, he is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see him, even those who pierced him; and all the peoples of the earth will mourn because of him. So shall it be! Amen.
  "I am the Alpha and Omega," says the Lord God, "who is, and who was, and who is to come, the Almighty."—Revelation 1:1-8 (my emphasis)
"Who IS, and Who WAS, and Who IS TO COME." This phrase begins with the word "who"—a reference to Jesus Christ—and ends with the word "come"—which is also a reference to Jesus Christ, and his comings. 

When people think of Jesus, they think of either one, or at the most, two of his comings. They often think first of what is popularly called his "first" coming—the coming of God, to this earth, in the person of Jesus. The first coming is the Who was in the title of this article and in the first chapter of Revelation. 

Next, they think of what is popularly called his "second" coming—the future coming of Jesus to this earth. The second coming is referenced by Who is to come. 

There is a third coming mentioned —Who is. Jesus is here now, in the present, he is risen, he is alive and he lives in the hearts and minds of those who love him and have surrendered their lives to him. 
Who IS, and Who WAS, and Who IS TO COME.

Aw! Baby Jesus takes on Satan - David Hayward

Some people view the coming of Jesus as the launching of some kind of purity culture where we should become obsessed with personal sins.
But what if the story is more interested in the usurping of power, the annihilation of controlling people, and the end of deceit to achieve noble ends?
Like this cartoon attempts to illustrate, Jesus is pointing forward to the greatest display of apparent powerlessness. The Jesus story is clear that it isn’t a show of strength, but the display of what appears to be weakness that defeats the principalities and powers that dehumanize people.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Quote of the week - Religion as Ideology is a WMD

"Religion as ideology is one of the most evil and destructive forces on earth. If ever Satan created a weapon of mass destruction, his greatest success was in leading people do degrade faith into religion and religion into ideology. Binding religion to politics is to secularise the Church. It is a re-crucifixion of Christ and an utter betrayal of His Gospel." 
(Vladika Lazar Puhalo)

Friday, December 12, 2014

How Far Would God Go? - Greg Albrecht

Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit.

Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others. In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross!—Philippians 2:1-8

This passage has been one of my favorites for well over 40 years. What a beautiful and profound expression of God’s love! There seem to be many layers and many degrees of God’s grace expressed here. For that reason, I keep coming back to this second chapter of Philippians and studying it again and again—it continually yields fresh and deeper appreciation of the nature of God.

This article poses the question, How Far Will God Go? Boundaries are one of the defining characteristics of what it means to be human. As children, we probe and push until we can discover just how far our parents will go before they lower the boom on us. When we marry, we normally do a similar thing with the person we have promised to love and protect and cherish.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Pardon Me, Your Holes Are Showing - Caleb Miller

The process we all go through as we grow would be comical if it weren't so sad. We all hit these points where "we've arrived" whether they be theological, political, social or otherwise. We feel as though we have the "right" take on things. 
We might.
Or, we might not.
Every theology (what we'll focus on) has its holes - and I don't mean areas where a proof text here or there "debunks" something. That's just foolish, no singular passage of scripture really "proves" anything one way or the other, it simply provides us with the information we think we need to interpret that individual piece of text. And even that is sometimes a long shot. None of them are without areas that can be easily dissected by someone with a good education. Sadly though, we too often get locked into our particular theology and rarely see the holes in it, or ignore them because we may lose our pastorate or have to let go of some hate if we really saw the holes... 
I mean, if everyone is included and I believe that, then what right do I have to treat ANYONE as though they are anything but a child of God? When I don't, I've just poked another hole in my theology - at least for those watching. I poke holes in my own theology all the time. Any time I walk by someone begging and don't offer a hand or a dollar. Any time I judge someone by the color of their skin, the box they check on election day, or the decisions they've made in this life (i.e. regarding someone according to the flesh) I'm poking holes all over my theology. 
Listen closely, because I think I know why people don't want what we (Christendom) has to offer. 

Calvary: Crucifixion as Torture, Cross as Hope - Brad Jersak

Trite or true, we're each and all on a journey, not quite sure whether any given year, week or moment is really ascent or descent -- the calm before a storm or the dark before dawn.

I see this tension in the biblical story of Calvary, at once a crucifixion and a Cross, the intersection of goodness and affliction, of torture and hope. At Calvary, we see the violence of religious fanaticism married to national security ... and we see the humility, forgiveness and self-giving love of God.

I hear this tension in Augustine, who is quoted in the movie, Calvary, as saying, "Do not despair; one of the thieves was saved. Do not presume; one of the thieves was damned." Calvary the movie is a profound and powerful tale of an Irish priest (played by Brendan Gleeson) who receives a death threat during confession and is warned to get his house in order over the course of a week. During that week, we see two themes intensify towards the climax.

First, we see how Gleeson represents goodness and sincerity. Even his would-be killer, the victim of long-term childhood sexual abuse by a priest, says, "There's no point in killing a bad priest ... but killing a good one. That'd be a shock." In that sense, Gleeson's character (Father James) serves as a Christ figure--and each character in the drama defines his or her own spiritual condition by their response to him. The truth of their lives become transparent through their attitudes and actions towards the priest.

Monday, December 8, 2014

The Real Beginning - Greg Albrecht

It's here! The end of another year. What a year this has been! The grumps, the curmudgeons, the gloom and doom prognosticators, the fear mongers and the Jeremiad prophecy buffs have been selling their wares. 

Thankfully, the vast majority of the party poopers who scream and shout within Christendom agree on one thing—only Jesus Christ can clean up this mess! 

It does take Jesus, doesn't it? As we end a year of endless varieties of Christ-less promotion and hype in his name, it might be helpful to compare and contrast the understated way the good news first came into our world. Jesus' birth passed with little fanfare. Books about his first coming did not dominate the Christian best-seller lists in first-century Judea. The vast majority of humanity had no idea that God had entered time and space. Did it happen that way because God didn't have the phone number of a good public relations firm? Or did God, in the person of Jesus, prefer a low-key arrival? 

God has a way of bringing good news into our corrupted world, when it seems like all is lost. I have always been fond of the way cartoonist H.T. Webster celebrated the 100th anniversary of the birth of Abraham Lincoln. In 1909, Webster depicted this anniversary by re-creating events surrounding Lincoln's birth. 

Monday, December 1, 2014

Is Religion Breathing It's Last Breath? - Michael Hardin

I have been reading the work of Rene Girard now for a quarter century and have been applying the insights of the mimetic theory to the Bible and Christian theology for all that time. Girard is not a theologian but he has provided us with an anthropology, a way of understanding the human and human culture that explains so much of the data from so many sciences that its insights have become conclusive for me (or at least as conclusive as one can admit to in our postmodern world).
In mimetic theory, both religion and culture originate from the same place: the generative mimetic scapegoating mechanism (as Robert Hamerton-Kelly so aptly named it). As humans evolved and became more and more violent, in order to stop groups from total collapse, humans learned to turn their collective hostilities onto a single victim, thus temporarily securing ‘peace’ through cannibalistic cooperation. This cooperation is the ground for culture and the ritualizing of this mechanism is the ground of religion.
Religion is widely criticized, vilified and condemned in the world today. It is easy to see why. The interface between religion and war, politics, money and power (in other words, human culture), leaves us feeling uneasy or angry, frightened or dystopian. From ISIS in the Mid-East to the flag waving rallies of American Christianity, all around the world we see the ever present specter of a god who devours humanity, of a god who hates the other. We start and fight wars for this god, we behead others for this god, we send others to concentration and labor camps in the name of this god and we have secularized this god in the form of the modern nation-state. There is only one god in this world and its name is Violence and Death.

Monday, November 24, 2014

When Did God Become a Christian? Connecting Covenants - Greg Albrecht

Massacre of the Infants - Rubens
They arrived in Jerusalem with their camel caravan after spending more than a month on the road. These wealthy and wise men called the Magi were clearly men of means—their style of travel was the first-century equivalent to a sleek, sophisticated Motorhome more than it was an ancient VW bus. On-the-street speculation about the purpose of this visit quickly ended when these dignitaries started to inquire about a newly born king of the Jews to whom they had come to pay homage. 

Herod (the Great) was more than a little interested when he heard what had brought these esteemed men all the way to his kingdom. Appointed by the Roman Senate as king of Judea, Herod was popularly known as “King of the Jews,” though he was a non-practicing convert. As King of the Jews Herod naturally viewed any baby considered to be an heir to his throne as an eventual threat. Herod called some of the same Jewish scholars with whom the Magi consulted, and learned that the baby king had been prophesied to be born in the little town of Bethlehem, a suburb of Jerusalem. Pretending that he too wanted to worship this baby in Bethlehem, Herod told the Magi to let him know when and if they found him. 

We know the rest of the story, don’t we? The story of Herod’s absolute, iron-fisted sovereign power over Judea takes one through a maze of plots, lies, treacheries, corruption, backroom deals, political chicanery and executions. Herod’s willingness to do whatever was necessary to serve his own interests makes modern day, ruthless gangsters like the fictional Godfather seem almost charming by comparison. Herod was a first century despot every bit the equal of 21st century madmen, intent on violently obliterating any and all potential threats to their selfish desires.

Review of Monte Wolverton's 'Chasing 120' - Forris Day

4.0 out of 5 stars
A tale of greed and political corruption mixed in with a good dose of family values.

“Chasing 120” is a story of corruption and deceit. Dr. Tyler Belknap was a former ad executive turned preacher. Down on his luck he uses his skill in sales to build a huge empire called Wellness 120. It revolves around the fact that Belknap believes, or sells the idea of, people living to the age of 120 years old by eating the right foods. As a preacher he uses the Bible as his source for information and he creates a cult following of his Wellness 120 concept. It's in the Bible so how can it be wrong?

Belknap makes millions of dollars on sales of his supplements that supposedly help people reach their goal of living till 120. No one doubts him. Problem is Belknap is a con-man and sham artist. When people start getting sick from his supplements his empire begins to crumble.

A well written tale by author and political cartoonist Monte Wolverton. The characters are multilayered and extremely interesting. The story is believable because we see people like Belknap everyday on TV hawking their products and nonsensical beliefs. I really enjoyed the family relationship between the main characters Dave Whitman and his wife Marcia. Dave has worked at Wellness 120 for years and we come to realize even most of Belknap's employees are brainwashed. The turning point for the Whitman's is when their son becomes ill and they must face the reality that it is the supplements that have caused his problem.

I am not a religious person so when I started reading this I had it in my head that I wouldn't enjoy the story knowing it has religious undertones. I struggled through the first chapter because of that fact. Once I realized the story wasn't pushing Biblical ideology I fell into the story and really enjoyed it. Sure it has verses from the Bible but they were placed in the story appropriately and didn't feel forced at all. The story moves at a nimble pace and the book is a quick read. Bottom line is I recommend the book to anyone who likes a good conspiracy tale with interesting characters. Belknap is both lovable and detestable. He does good things for people but like all con-men he is really doing these things for his own hidden agenda.

Author Monte Wolverton has created a story that I feel just about anyone will enjoy. He has political corruption, evil characters and likable ones too, and some really cool locations within the pages of his book “Chasing 120

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

I Don't Believe in God Anymore - Peter Enns

I don't believe in the Bible anymore.

I used to, though. This is a choice I’ve made. “Belief” in God connotes— at least as I see it—a set of ideas about God that may, if time allows, eventually make their way to other parts of my being. 

The older I get, making sure all my “beliefs” of God are lined up as they should be loses more and more of its luster. I see the Bible focusing a lot more on something far more demanding: trust. Try it. Which is harder to say? I believe in God or I trust God? 

I see a huge difference between “I believe in a God who cares for me” and “I trust God at this particular moment.” The first is a bit safer, an article of faith. The latter is unnerving, risky— because I have let go. You’ve all heard of the “trust fall.” There’s a reason they don’t call it a “belief fall.” Belief can reside in our heads. Trust is doing it, risking it. Trust is humility, putting ourselves in the hand of another. Trust requires something of us that belief doesn’t. 

When God promises Abraham that he will have more offspring than the stars in the sky, translations of the next verse conventionally say that Abraham “believed” God. (Genesis 15:6) “Believe” isn’t the right word there. “Trust” is. The Hebrew word is the same one we get “amen” from. “Amen” is not a social cue that grace is finished and it’s time to eat. It is the final word in the prayer: we’re done talking now, Lord, and we now move to trust. God promised an old man a lot of kids. Abraham trusted God to come through. That is way harder than believing. Believing has wiggle room. Trusting doesn’t.

CLICK HERE to keep reading

Saturday, November 15, 2014

The 'Wrath of God' is like throwing a hammer ... straight up - Brad Jersak

Brad and Dougie - Hammer throwing finals 1971 (re-enactment)
Note: the following parable is a teaser for my forthcoming book, A More Christlike God, to be released May 2015.

The 'wrath of God' is like the hammer-throwing contest my father warned me against as a child. 'Do not,' he said, 'throw hammers in the air.' Apparently he saw this as a good warning in fatherly love. I saw it as a challenge and a rule to be broken. My neighbour Dougie and I (perhaps 7 years old at the time), each took our father's hammers and had a contest to see who could throw his hammer higher. Straight up. Perhaps I won. Certainly Dougie lost. For my hammer soared skyward, then descended directly onto poor Dougie's skull. Blood everywhere. Screaming followed. Then I found myself running home, locking all the doors and hiding in my room. Shortly, the phone rang (Dougie's mom) and we were flying to the hospital where doctors were already stitching up Dougie's head without the possibility of anesthesia. More screaming.

It did not escape me that the wrath intrinsic to my sin caused both Dougie and I a great deal of suffering, even though my father's response was only love and comfort. The wrath did not involve or require any active punishment. I did not imagine that my father had struck Dougie with the hammer for participating in my rebellion. Nor even that when Doug's father held him down while the surgeon applied sutures that this was somehow an act of vengeance. The wrath of our fathers was a self-inflicted experience of rejecting and receiving their loving care.

It seems to me that taking me to the hospital where I could hear the screams was a torment worse than retribution, in that I had to see the pain I had caused and I wasn't allowed to allow me to cower in my room in a sort of self-loathing denial. It was also the most important element in moving forward to owning my rebellion (far more effective than a spank) but also reconciliation with my victim. I wonder if this might be close to the truth of the 'great and terrible day' of the Lord's final judgment.

* * * * *
P.S. Hammers in the Bible [some not to be taken literally]:
Judges 4:21 - Then Jael, Heber’s wife, took a tent peg and took a hammer in her hand, and went softly to him and drove the peg into his temple, and it went down into the ground; for he was fast asleep and weary. So he died.
Jeremiah 23:29 - "Is not my word like fire," declares the LORD, "and like a hammer that breaks a rock in pieces?"
Jeremiah 50:23 - How the hammer of the whole earth has been cut apart and broken! How Babylon has become a desolation among the nations!
Jeremiah 51:20-23 (MSG) - 20 God says, "You, Babylon, are my hammer, my weapon of war. I'll use you to smash godless nations, use you to knock kingdoms to bits. 21 I'll use you to smash horse and rider, use you to smash chariot and driver. 22 I'll use you to smash man and woman, use you to smash the old man and the boy. I'll use you to smash the young man and young woman, 23 use you to smash shepherd and sheep. I'll use you to smash farmer and yoked oxen, use you to smash governors and senators.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Grace at Church - Greg Albrecht

Keynote Passage:
To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everybody else, Jesus told this parable: Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood up and prayed about himself: “God, I thank you that I am not like other men—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get. 
But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, “God, have mercy on me, a sinner.” I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted. —Luke 18:9-14 
Today we’re going to talk about church. The core ingredient of being the church is being in Christ. If we are in Christ, and he is in us, we are the church. Notice I said—we are “the” church, which is entirely different from being members of or part of “a” church. The church is the universal body of Christ. It is not comprised of or defined by any specific incorporated legal entity. All of what the universal church is—its entirety, its unity, its beauty and its totality—is not visible. The body of Christ is everyone in whom Jesus lives, everyone who trusts in him, everyone, regardless of their affiliation with a legally incorporated church, or lack thereof.

All of the rest of what we so often think of when the word “church” comes to mind—buildings, special architectural features, “holy” rituals, ornaments and all of the activities, programs, services, small groups, Bible studies, discipleship programs, missions , picnics and softball games—all of it either can help or harm us. But, such physical properties are not essential, foundational, core elements that determine whether we are the church.

Your attendance, or lack thereof, with a group of people, in a particular building, at a particular time, at a specific address, on a piece of real estate, performing specific religious rituals has little, if anything, to do with whether you are in Christ. Such behaviors and practices may help or hinder your relationship with Jesus, but they do not assure it.

The title of this article is "Grace at Church" and the passage upon which our discussion is based is Luke 18:9-14—well known as the “The Parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector.”

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

WAS IT FOR THIS THE CLAY GREW TALL? Disillusionment and the ‘Great War’ (1914-1918) Brad Jersak

Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori
"It is sweet and fitting to die for your country."
Horace, Odes (III.2.13)

Vivid memories of words, pictures and emotions haunt me over thirty years later. High school English, my senior year and Mr. Howell is perched on the front corner of his desk. He’s using poetry to paint traumatizing portraits of the ironically mislabeled ‘war to end all wars.’ Words become pictures—teenage soldiers ‘floundering’ and ‘fumbling’ in the muddy, bloody trenches of the Second Battle of Ypres. They’re devising makeshift masks of urine-soaked rags against the apocalyptic horror of mustard gas attacks. Mr. Howell, now weeping, recites an excerpt from William Owen’s poem, Dulce et Decorum Est:

Bent double, like old beggars under sacks, 
Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge, 
Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs 
And towards our distant rest began to trudge. 
Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots 
But limped on, blood-shod. All went lame; all blind; 
Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots
Of tired, outstripped Five-Nines that dropped behind.
Gas! Gas! Quick, boys! – An ecstasy of fumbling, 
Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time; 
But someone still was yelling out and stumbling, 
And flound'ring like a man in fire or lime . . . 
Dim, through the misty panes and thick green light, 
As under a green sea, I saw him drowning. 
In all my dreams, before my helpless sight, 
He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning ... 

Dulce et Decorum Est? Sweet and fitting? Owen goes on to bitterly describe the convulsive gargling of ‘froth-corrupted lungs’ and says NO! Participants in ‘the Great War’ would never recount such a lie to children who dream of doing or being something glorious.

The Greek poet, Horace, who coined the phrase, had never seen chemical warfare. Neither had we until network news brought us images from Syria last year—hundreds of civilians, including children, wrapped in death shrouds awaiting burial. Barbaric. Inhuman. But remember who it was that first invented and employed gas attacks: supposedly ‘Christian’ nations at the height of industrial civilization, mutually destroying one another in the greatest human disaster since the Black Death (1348-50). Nine million dead before all is said and done.

Wilfred Owen knew the futility of war. Like Mr. Howell, an English teacher by profession, Owen enlisted after visiting wounded soldiers in a hospital. He fought for two years, was injured, but then returned to the front. Three months later, on Nov. 4, 1918, he died in a machine gun attack, exactly one week before the war ended.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Asking the Bible to do More than it does - Scot McKnight citing Dietrich Bonhoeffer

The issue can be settled into two terms: the Bible teaches truth but it does not teach thepath. These two terms are Bonhoeffer’s and emerged from the intense discussions in the Confessing Church on whether their pastors should pursue legalization under Hitler or remain “illegal” and dependent on free will offerings by the parishes that called them and would support them.
The debate was about what the Bible tells us about. Here are Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s salient words about the need for discernment on the basis of truth, but that discernment meant there was no fixed path:
The other misunderstanding concerning scriptural evidence stems from the same root: one now looks to justify our paths not for the past but for the future. We expect from Scripture such concrete directives that we are released from acting on faith; one wants to see the path before walking on it. One demands the certainty that the path will certainly be pleasing to God before starting the journey. One says: if we could be absolutely certain on the basis of Scripture that the path of the Council of Brethren is pleasing to God, then we would follow it. Demonstrate this from Scripture and we will follow. Thus I want to have the scriptural evidence in my pocket as the guarantee for my path.
But the Bible can never fulfill this kind of request either, because it is not intended to be an insurance policy for our paths, which may become dangerous.
The Bible does only one thing: it calls us to faith and obedience in the truth that we know in Jesus Christ. Scripture points not to our paths but to the truth of God. 
Scot McKnight is a recognized authority on the New Testament, early Christianity, and the historical Jesus. McKnight, author of more than forty books, is the Professor of New Testament at Northern Seminary in Lombard, IL. 

Sunday, November 9, 2014

The Ministry of Death OR the Ministry of Life - Greg Albrecht

He has made us competent as ministers of a new covenant—not of the letter, but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life. Now if the ministry that brought death, which was engraved in letters on stone, came with glory, so that the Israelites could not look steadily at the face of Moses because of its glory, fading though it was, will not the ministry of the Spirit be even more glorious? —2 Cor. 3:6-8 
He looked at me and said, “It happened while I was in church. It was the end of the service, everyone was standing, and so was I. I was doing the same religious thing that everybody else was doing, the same religious thing I had done for over 25 years. My family was there. My mother was there. It was the same place we always went. We did the things they told us we should. The sermons usually either scolded us or berated us.

“That week the sermon had been another ‘you’re not good enough’ sermon. After the sermon, during the final prayer, the thought hit me, ‘You know. This is ludicrous. I am never going to be good enough. I’ve been trying to do all this stuff for 25 years. I have been trying to get better. I’ve been trying to do more and more and more, but something is just not working.’

“I realized that I had sat there in church hundreds of times, filled with guilt and shame as a result of the sermon, and every time I resolved that I would do better. Each time I determined to do a bunch of stuff that I really believed would make God happier. For all those years I really thought I could influence how God thought about me. All those years I thought it was all about me and what I did or did not do.

“But that day in church it suddenly hit me. Based on an honest evaluation of my progress in twenty-five years, I hadn’t changed that much. Twenty-five years of beating my head against a wall. Twenty-five years in the same church, several different pastors, but it had been the same old beat-’em up message. Twenty-five years of the same old spiritual muggings. Twenty-five years of the same old ‘you’ve got to do more’ diatribes.

“So I was standing there and I realized this was all an illusion. We were praying, and my eyes should have been closed, but I just had to look around the church. People seemed comfortable, they seemed secure and so self-assured. But it seemed to me like we were all standing there like so many little religious clones, something like the Stepford Wives. I wanted to start screaming. I wanted to say ‘Don’t you see!? This is nothing but dead religion. This is dead religion— dead, I’m tellingyou—it’s dead. God is not here. I don’t think he ever was.’”

I had to think about this conversation as I was studying 2 Corinthians. It talks about a new covenant—a new relationship—a new way of relating to God. The Apostle Paul claims that the old covenant, the former way of relating to God, brings death, whereas the new covenant brings life. The man who was describing his 25 years in religion suddenly woke up while he was in the very heart of the control
center of religion. There he was, in formal, structured services, a time when he was told when to sit down, stand up, kneel and how many religious hoops he needed to jump through.

And it was there, during a time when he was enduring his weekly browbeating that he realized it was all a sham. What he was experiencing was nothing but dead religion.

Friday, November 7, 2014

Retribution and Rhetoric in the NT Epistles - Brad Jersak with Peter Hordern

The following is a dialogue between Brad Jersak and Peter Hordern, about Pauls' use of retribution language (in 2 Thessalonians 1), rhetorical criticism and the nonviolence of God.

Peter: I'm continuing to wrestle with the idea of God as nonviolent. I feel like I see the truth of God's nonviolence through Christ and his teachings, particularly on forgiveness. However, then I also read what Paul writes, especially in his epistles to the Thessalonians, which refer to end times and Gods punishment.

What do we do with that? Is it our wishful thinking that God really is as loving as we want Him to be? Or do we pass off Paul's writings as a man trying to encourage a church in persecution with Gods justice, in order to give meaning to their suffering? Are there different translation possibilities? What do the words 'punishment' that Paul writes about really mean?

Brad: I do have some thoughts about this, as did certain church fathers like Clement of Alexandria (150-215 AD). First, he pointed out that Paul never uses the Greek words that we'd associate with retributive 'punishment,' but rather, always uses words best translated 'correction.' Let's start with him. The following is an excerpt from my book, Her Gates Will Never Be Shut:

Clement’s importance, in my mind, is that he clarifies the New Testament language for “punishment.” (cf. esp. Paed. 1.5; 1.8 ANF 2). Clement insists that God’s “correction” (paideia—Heb 12:9) and “chastisement” (kolasis—Matt 25:46) is as a loving Father, only and always meant for the healing and salvation of the whole world. He denies that God ever inflicts “punishment” (timōria—Heb 10:29—vengeance) in the vengeful sense, a word Jesus never used. Watch how Clement ties judgment to correction with a view to redemption:
For all things are arranged with a view to the salvation of the universe by the Lord of the universe, both generally and particularly. . . But necessary corrections, through the goodness of the great overseeing Judge, both by the attendant angels, and by various acts of anticipative judgment, and by the perfect judgment, compel egregious sinners to repent. (Strom. 7.2 ANF 2).