Friday, April 29, 2016

The Perils of Caged and Free Range Christians - Brad Jersak

Top news in American Christianity

The top news item in American Christianity over the past few years continues to be the ‘nones’ (non-affiliated) phenomenon. Is the exodus of churchgoers a blessed deliverance from bondage or a cursed wandering in the wilderness? How we see it depends on one’s perspective, experience and observations … and it’s going to warrant ongoing examination. But there’s no skirting the stubborn fact that tens of millions no longer and likely will never return to the institutional church as they knew it.

For my part, I note that both churchgoers and nones can get pretty defensive and contemptuous of the other. That’s an instinctive response when we feel judged, however unproductive. Perhaps a better starting point would be an examination and admission that both paths have their challenges, and most especially when judging another’s journey obscures one’s own blind spots. So let’s take Paul’s words to heart:
“Who are you to pass judgment on the servant of another? It is before his own master that he stands or falls. And he will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make him stand” (Romans 14:4 ESV).
Indeed, I propose that passing judgment on others rather than being mindful of my own steps creates conditions as perilous to faith as the life of a chicken, whether caged or free range!

Bono & Eugene Peterson: The Psalms (and honesty)

Eugene Peterson: "The Psalms are not pretty, they are not nice, but they are honest, and I think we are trying for honesty, which is very, very hard in our culture."

Bono: "I see a lot of dishonesty in Christian art, which I think it is a shame, because they are people vulnerable to God in a good way … God wants the truth from you, truth blows things apart, but I am suspicious to Christian art sometimes because of this lack of realism."

Friday, April 22, 2016

God: Infinite Love without Remainder - Brad Jersak

What is God like? (1 John 4, Eph. 3)

     "God is infinite love without remainder, revealed in Christ, especially on the Cross."

     Audio (mp3) to be viewed with slides. Click here for audio > God is love

     Slides (powerpoint): Download PPT of God - Infinite love without remainder 

     Slides (pdf): Download PDF of God - Infinite love without remainder 
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Monday, April 18, 2016

"Going to the Dogs" (Matt. 15:21-28) - by Greg Albrecht

Jesus and the Canaanite Woman - by Sadao Watanabe
Leaving that place, Jesus withdrew to the region of Tyre and Sidon. A Canaanite woman from that vicinity came to him, crying out, "Lord, Son of David, have mercy on me! My daughter is demon-possessed and suffering terribly." Jesus did not answer a word. So his disciples came to him and urged him, "Send her away, for she keeps crying out after us." He answered, "I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel." The woman came and knelt before him. "Lord, help me!" she said.  He replied, "It is not right to take the children's bread and toss it to the dogs." "Yes it is, Lord," she said. "Even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master's table." Then Jesus said to her, "Woman, you have great faith! Your request is granted." And her daughter was healed at that moment.—Matthew 15:21-28
This woman was desperate! She may have already taken her daughter to the Canaanite priests and exorcists—our passage doesn't tell us. But we do know that this woman apparently had nowhere else to turn, because this was an extreme act on her part. She, as a woman, was so frantic to secure help for her daughter that she dared to speak to a man in public. More than that, as a Canaanite, this woman was a member of an ethnic group who were the despised, mortal enemies of the Jews. But in spite of the fact that Jesus and his disciples were Jews, she audaciously and brazenly spoke to a man she didn't know, in public. 

Now we know the end of this story, don't we? We know that God promises, throughout the Bible, that he loves us and that he will take care of us. Jesus himself, a few chapters earlier in this very same book of Matthew rhetorically asks us that if we, as parents, know how to give good gifts to our children, don't we realize that our heavenly Father will give us, his children, good gifts? (Matthew 7:11). He explained that if we ask God for bread he won't give us something inedible and impossible to eat—like a stone (Matthew 7:9). God is not playing some cruel game with us, he won't give us a snake when we ask for a fish (Matthew 7:10). 

So with the benefit of hindsight, based on all that God has revealed to us of himself in the Gospels, and the entire Bible for that matter, we can be certain that Jesus, God in the flesh, loved this Canaanite woman. But when he first started talking to her it sure didn't seem like he liked her! 

This woman approached Jesus and cried: "Lord, Son of David, have mercy on me!" (verse 22). The Canaanite woman wasn't a Jew, but she apparently knew enough about Jesus to know that he was a healer, and she was desperate —she was willing to try anything. She was a woman and a Canaanite, so she had to feel extremely awkward in a group with a bunch of male Jews. She was definitely a minority, and definitely defying social conventions. Her request was for mercy. Mercy! 

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Beyond Carrot-on-a-Stick Christianity - Richard Rohr

Although Jesus' message of "full and final participation" was periodically enjoyed and taught by many unknown saints and mystics, the vast majority of Christians made Christianity into a set of morals and rituals, instead of an all-embracing mysticism of the present moment. Moralism (as opposed to healthy morality) is the reliance on largely arbitrary purity codes, needed rituals, and dutiful "requirements" that are framed as prerequisites for enlightenment. Every group and individual usually begins this way, and I guess it is understandable. People look for something visible, seemingly demanding, and socially affirming to do or not do rather than undergo a radical transformation of the mind and heart. It is no wonder that Jesus so strongly warns against public prayer, public acts of generosity, and visible fasting in his Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 6:1-18). Yet that is what we still do!

Any external behavior that puts you on moral high ground is always dangerous to the ego because, as Jesus says, "you have received your reward" (Matthew 6:2). Moralism and ritualism allow you to be independently "good" without the love and mercy of God and without being of service to anybody else for that matter. That's a far cry from the full and final participation we see Jesus offering or any outpouring love of the Trinity.

Our carrot-on-the-stick approach to religion is revealed by the fact that one is never quite pure enough, holy enough, or loyal enough for the presiding group. Obedience is normally a higher virtue than love. This process of "sin management" has kept us clergy in business. There are always outsiders to be kept outside. Hiding around the edges of this search for moral purity are evils that we have readily overlooked: slavery, sexism, wholesale classism, greed, pedophilia, national conquest, gay oppression, and the oppression of native cultures. Almost all wars were fought with the full blessing of Christians. We have, as a result, what some cynically call "churchianity" or "civil religion" rather than deep or transformative Christianity.

The good news of an incarnational religion, a Spirit-based morality, is that you are not motivated by any outside reward or punishment but actually by participating in the Mystery itself. Carrots are neither needed nor helpful. "It is God, who for [God's] own loving purpose, puts both the will and the action into you" (see Philippians 2:13). It is not mere rule-following behavior but your actual identity that is radically changing you. Henceforth, you do things because they are true, not because you have to or you are afraid of punishment. Now you are not so much driven from without (the false self method) but you are drawn from within (the True Self method). The generating motor is inside you now instead of a lure or a threat from outside.

Adapted from Richard Rohr, Immortal Diamond: The Search for Our True Self (Jossey Bass: 2013), 102-106. Shared via Rohr's 'Daily Meditations' April 12, 2016.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

God's Grace Is For Everyone - Greg Albrecht

For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people. —Titus 2:11

You are invited to the kingdom of heaven, and the invitation is called "the gospel" (good news) because it has no strings attached. You and I are invited to the kingdom of heaven in spite of what we have done! The body of Christ on earth is not the equivalent of an exclusive country club or a cloistered, highly restricted religious fraternity or union. Titus 2:11 says that God's grace is available to everyone—it does not promise or insist that everyone receives and accepts it —but grace is available, and it's for everyone. 

There's a story I once heard that may help to illustrate how God's grace is for everyone, but not necessarily accepted by everyone. About 100 years ago, when Christianity and the Bible were very much a part of the curriculum of schools, the students at an exclusive, private school showed up for the final examination in their fundamentals of Christianity class.

Some of them were bleary-eyed, having studied all night in an effort to get a good grade. On the other hand, some of the students looked as if they not only were well-rested, they didn't seem to have a "care in this world"—they didn't seem worried about this test. 

After all the students were seated the instructor finally entered the room and he slowly made his way around the room, placing the final test face down on the desk of every one of the 40 students in the class. As he passed out the tests he told the students not to turn the test over and begin until everyone was ready. After he had passed out all the tests, he stood at the front of the room and instructed everyone to turn the test over and look at the first page.

To their absolute amazement, every student discovered that their name was already on the first page and the test questions had already been answered—and not only had all the questions been answered, each one of the students already had a grade assigned. Each student discovered an "A" written in red ink on the first page of their test.

The instructor told them that he had taken the test for them. He told them that their preparation and study did not earn them this "A" because he wanted to give them a final lesson about the grace of God. Therefore, they each received an "A" that they did not earn, and they were all free to leave the room with that "A."


Monday, April 11, 2016

WTC Pub Night Interview of A More Christlike God - Matt Lynch, Lucy Peppiatt and Brad Jersak

"A More Christlike God: A More Beautiful Gospel" - WTC Pub Night Interview of Brad Jersak by Matthew Lynch and Lucy Peppiatt 

This episode of WTCLive comes to you from the student pub at WTC’s student residential (January 2016). Lucy Peppiatt and Matt Lynch discuss Brad’s recent book A More Christlike God: A More Beautiful Gospel (Plain Truth Ministries, 2015). Brad explains his journey toward writing this book, and how his perspective developed. Hear Matt, Lucy and Brad in a fun and lively discussion about Brad’s book.

Friday, April 8, 2016

A Game-Changer on Hell? George Sarris (response by Brad Jersak)

Robin Parry - 'Four Views of Hell'
A Game-Changer on Hell - George Sarris

Until now, most Christians have assumed that evangelicals – people who base their convictions clearly on the teaching of Scripture – cannot possibly be universalists – people who believe that God will one day redeem all mankind.
With the release on March 8 of Zondervan’s Four Views on Hell (Second Edition), that understanding suddenly changed!
For the first time, a well respected, evangelical publishing house has clearly acknowledged that universalism is a view Christians should seriously consider.
An Evangelical Universalist
The four views presented in the book are: Eternal Conscious Torment, Terminal Punishment, Purgatory, and an essay by Robin Parry on Christian Universalism.
According to the book’s general editor, Preston Sprinkle –
All of the authors are committed Christians who believe in the full inspiration and authority of the Bible . . . All of the authors will derive and articulate their views based on Scripture and theological reasoning. 
Dr. Sprinkle goes on to say –
I found Robin Parry’s essay to be a fascinating read! And, if I can be quite honest, I think it is a game-changer . . . Christians can no longer dismiss his view as unorthodox. We must now actually crack open our Bibles and, like the Bereans (Acts 17:11), see if these things are so.

Response by Brad Jersak

While 'Christian Universalism' and indeed a truly 'Evangelical Universalism' is as old as St Gregory of Nyssa and as rich as Rev. George MacDonald, it has often required some key leader, popular denomination or established publishing company to formalize broader acceptance of any controversial doctrine, practice or people. Who has the courage of St Peter to come along and say, 'Like it or not, 'they' (whoever they happen to be) DO have a legitimate place at this table'?

Monday, April 4, 2016

Q & R: After Easter: Is Death Now Our Friend? Brad Jersak


I read that because of Easter, death can now be our friend. What do you think? Here is the actual statement:
"Easter is God’s 'victory over death.'  Death is no longer the curse that it was.  It is no longer the power that rules.  It is no longer the enemy to be feared.  But here’s the twist.  In doing so, Jesus also reclaims death and befriends it – not death in its perverted form, but death in its state of grace. Jesus reclaims death as a natural blessing to the rhythm of life and shows us that it is possible to befriend it."
Woman grieving after death of 70+ in Pakistan


My first reaction to this quote is that while it sounds wonderful, perhaps the author wrote it from a great distance to those who have recently experienced death as an enemy ... and should maintain that distance for the time being. But before being immediately dismissive, let's have another look at Easter, death and dying.  

What is death, in fact? I am working to free my mind from previous definitions and assumptions, in order to see a fundamental shift in the nature of death as a result of Christ's work. In light of 1 Cor. 15:26, I'm not ready to call death a friend yet, but how might this statement be true? Three points bear considering. 

1. How has our relationship to death been altered as a result of Resurrection Sunday? I need not move from enmity to friendship with death in order to make the basis NT assertion that death has apparently lost its sting (which is not to say, its grief ... a different issue). Death's sting was that either we 'were no more' or that we were consigned to the gloom of sheol/hades. Death's sting is the fear or death-anxiety common to humanity. Through our death-anxiety, the devil held us in bondage and it is that fear of death and subsequent demonic bondage from which Christ has freed us. Heb. 2:14-15 (and maybe Jn. 14:1-6). 

If death is an enemy, it is no longer an enemy I need fear. This suggests to me that perhaps death in the NT is not synonymous with the cause of death, the experience of dying, the moment of death or the grievous aftermath for the survivors. All of these remain most unwelcome, in want of God's compassion, comfort and/or healing.