Monday, February 27, 2017

Cleansing the Temple: Does Jesus Sanction Violence? Steve Crosby

In today’s climate of heightened political rancor, some believers use the cleansing of the temple gospel narrative as a proof text to justify all manner of egregious and violent behavior toward others — “After all, Jesus whipped people.”—sic. The cleansing of the temple account is one of the favorite proof texts of those who want to try to deflect the potency of Christ’s clear ethical commands to overcome evil with good and to love one’s enemies.

The NEB version translates Psalm 69:9 as: The zeal for your house shall destroy me. According to the Synoptic Gospels, within one week of the cleansing of the temple, Jesus is dead.[1] The Synoptic gospels make it clear that this event sealed his fate.  His first (and last!) public sermon in the synagogue (Luke 4) and the cleansing of the temple stirred visceral human hatred unto murder. Why? What was it about both events that stirred such deep hatred among “normally decent" people? What was going on? How should we understand the cleansing of the temple narrative in the light of illegitimate attempts by so many to justify their violence and hatred by claiming Jesus as their model?

No Carry-on Baggage Allowed - Isaiah 46:1-4 - Greg Albrecht

Bel bows down, Nebo stoops low; their idols are born by beasts of burden.
  The images that are carried about are burdensome, a burden for the weary.
  They stoop and bow down together; unable to rescue the burden, they themselves go off into captivity.
  "Listen to me, O house of Jacob, all you who remain of the house of Israel, you whom I have upheld since you were conceived, and have carried since your birth.
  Even to your old age and gray hairs I am he, I am he who will sustain you. I have made you and I will carry you; I will sustain you and I will rescue you." —Isaiah 46:1-4
If you have flown commercially lately, for business or pleasure, you know that airline travel has become much more difficult than it used to be. Even if you haven't traveled on an airline lately, you probably have heard that airlines have added lots of extra charges. 

Some airlines are now carefully weighing and measuring your checked luggage. I guess they have to, considering the stuff some people try to cart on board. When it comes to our relationship with God, religion can become just so much carry-on baggage. It can drag us down. It can seem to be so necessary, so important, so vital and so spiritual, but religion can seriously burden and impair our relationship with God. 

How much spiritual baggage are you trying to drag with you as you journey through life? Is the spiritual baggage you are lugging around helping you, or is it bogging you down? Is your spiritual baggage restricting your freedom in Christ?

Who were Adam and Eve? Peter Enns

Peter Enns: What's the deal with Adam and Eve? from Plain Truth Ministries on Vimeo.

Saturday, February 25, 2017

Søren Kierkegaard: Father of Religionless Christianity - Interview with Stephen Backhouse

Art by Delphine Lebourgeois
Kierkegaard: Father of Christianity without the religion - Interview with Stephen Backhouse

CWR magazine is known to our readers as promoting Christianity Without the Religion. But of course, we’re not the first to do so. Some of the 20th century’s theological greats—Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Karl Barth, for example—were great critics of Christ-less religion as over against the living faith of Christ-centered revelation. But if we were name “the father of Christianity without the religion” in the modern era, the honor would surely go to the Danish thinker and provocateur, Søren Kierkegaard (1813-1855). He once wrote,  

There is nothing so displeasing to God as taking part in all the “religious” Christianity with the claim that this is worshiping God. If you believe, as surely you must, that to steal, rob, commit adultery, and slander is displeasing to God, then official Christianity and its worship is infinitely more abhorrent to him. Again, it is my duty to exclaim, “Whoever you are, whatever in other respects your life may be, by refusing to take part in all this public worship of God as it now is, you have one sin the less, and that a great one.” You have been warned.

A relentless opponent of the Danish Lutheran state-religion, he sowed seeds for today’s nones (non-affiliated Christians) and dones (“done with church” Christians). But his influence extended far beyond either Denmark or even Christendom. He is also recognized as the father of existentialism, leaving his mark on philosophers such as Martin Heidegger, Jean-Paul Sartre and Albert Camus. With that introduction, CWR magazine is pleased to welcome Stephen Backhouse, author of Kierkegaard: A Single Life (Zondervan, 2016), to shed more light on this author, his thought and his influence.    

CWR: Stephen, could you give us a brief summary of Kierkegaard the man?

Ha! No. I doubt I can briefly summarize Søren Kierkegaard, the funny, cranky, annoying, joyful, worshipful, genius who attacked Christendom in the name of Christ and the common man and who massively overestimated our ability to understand him as he did so. I can tell you that he died in 1855 at the age of 42 after a life of fragile health and probably epilepsy. That he spent almost all his days in Copenhagen, Denmark. That when he died there was a near riot at his funeral because his supporters and his enemies alike were offended he was being given an official Christian burial. That a popular newspaper waged a public campaign of mockery against him. That two generations or so of Danish boys weren't given the name Søren because of the association with him. That he loved - and was loved by - a wonderful woman named Regine but that he broke off their engagement because he knew he was being called to stand outside of the comfortable Christianized life that 19th century Danish marriage represented. That he wrote. A lot. All the time. That he invented existentialism, that he gave us the idea of 'the leap of faith', and that if you value 'being authentic' or like people who 'walk the talk' and 'practice what they preach', and that if you suspect there is a big difference between being a follower of Jesus Christ and being a member of common sense Christian culture then your imagination has been shaped by Kierkegaard whether you know it or not.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

"The Shack" movie unveils toxic representations of God - Brad Jersak


Paul Young’s bestseller finally hits the big screen on March 3. That’s news—great news—as I’ll explain shortly.

What’s not news is how the so-called ‘discernment ministries’ (a euphemism for heresy-hunters) have begun yelping. They’re recycling ‘ye olde’ objections but, typically, barking up the wrong tree.

The charge of ‘heresy’ is serious, so it ought to be taken seriously, especially by those wielding it. But as a theologian (PhD), I confess that its sloppy use as a pejorative grates on my doctrinal nerves.

For example, the outcry against Young’s creative portrayal of God’s ‘Threeness’ or his imaging the invisible God as a black woman betrays a crass literalism that the author obviously never intended.
Russian painter Andrei Rublev’s famous icon of the Trinity (15th c.) would seem to break the same rules as The Shack, where Abram and Sarai’s three angelic guests were eventually identified with Father, Son and Holy Spirit—one God depicted as three persons. Yet in Eastern iconography, the Father is elsewhere never depicted because the visible image of God is reserved for Jesus Christ alone.

So how is it, I ask, that Rublev’s icon isn’t tossed onto the book-burning stacks along with The Shack? No doubt it would have been if Orthodox believers were incapable of using limited human expressions (words or pictures) for the divine mysteries.

Full article appears at

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

"Why her?" On grieving the departed - Brad Jersak

"Why her?" is a common and important lament. Chris Erskine's LA column on that unanswerable question is a masterful and sensitive treatment. 

"Why her?" It's a natural cry when we lose someone we love -- someone to whom we ascribe worth -- someone whose life is 'taken' from a family and a community where we still know in our hearts they are needed. It's an important cry of the heart that ought not be squished and cannot be answered ... But having been uttered, some of its toxic assumptions need a sensitive, wise response

"Why her?" implies a kind of selection process. "Why her and not someone else?" Or "why her at this time?" 

But where there's a selection process, there's a Selector -- whether the fates or the death angel or the gods -- and so sometimes the question is amplified to "Why did God take her?" You can even use Bible verses to talk about God "numbering our days," for example. And this is where things may get ugly. As life-giver, God also seems to be the life-taker. "He gives and takes away," says Job when calamity took his children, his livestock, his estate and his health. 

But is that literally true? Some find comfort in "God took her" because then in spite of the loss, God is still "in control," whatever that means. "God took my son" may bring peace to such people. But also deep resentment if we're honest. "What kind of a God would take ...!? 

The alternative is also ugly, because death sucks no matter how you slice it. But it's also more likely true and ultimately contains some hope of redemption. The truth is that "Death took her" or "Death took him."  It takes everyone eventually. Death is an enemy and it strikes randomly. It is not selective. Toddlers drown in hot tubs, pregnant moms are killed in car accidents, bridegrooms drown on their honeymoon.  I've seen all these things. Why them? The "why" calls for a sense of order in the chaos. None is forthcoming. 

But in the darkness of the shadow of death, there is a Good Shepherd who has experienced death himself. Why him? Because he wants to hold the sobbing survivors in his arms, walk the dying through the valley, and is able to redeem them from death through resurrection. This is good news -- it neither precludes death nor eradicates grief -- nor should it. But perhaps it takes out the venomous stinger of despair if death were to mean non-existence. It does not. Beyond the gates, there is real repose "in a place of brightness, a place of refreshment" in the presence of God. We believe this. It's not fairy dust. It's resurrection after the order of the Firstborn from the dead "who now holds the keys of death" and "tramples down death by death and upon those in the tomb bestows life."

"Why her?" Because everyone dies. "Why now? Why this way?" Because life is hard and death is a curse ... but not from God and not the final word. The better question might be, "Where is God?" But only if it's not asked rhetorically as an accusation of absence. That would just be another form of despair. In we ask with an attentive, receptive heart, and are willing to count God's movements in the loving comfort of those who wipe our tears, the response may come, "God is here, even in the dark" -- "to shine on those living in darkness and in the shadow of death" (Luke 1:79).

What's So Bad About Cults? - Greg Albrecht

If wants to get lots of letters from readers, all we need to do is publish an article explaining and defending Christ-centered-Christianity against some wrong teaching or biblical misinterpretation. 

Defending and explaining biblical doctrines is called apologetics. An apologetic article in The Plain Truth or CWR magazine usually results in a tidal wave of letters and emails, pro and con. The cons often go something like this: 

"Why are you so critical of other Christians? Why don't you just leave other people alone and let them believe what they want?"

Most Christian denominations were originally formed because they disagreed with another denomination over some peripheral point of teaching. Nevertheless, most denominations that call themselves Christian generally agree on the core teachings of Christianity. All denominations that are actually Christian subscribe to and accept core beliefs of biblically based Christianity. 

Plain Truth Ministries emphasizes the main and plain teachings of the Bible—the Christ-centered principles of Christianity. We believe it is important to discuss these grace-based essentials. So why is erroneous and corrupt teaching such a big deal? Even if it's theologically wrong, who does it really hurt? At worst, isn't it sort of a victimless spiritual crime?

CLICK HERE to continue

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Grace 'writes off the debt' - Brad Jersak

You see, at the center of all religions is the idea of Karma. You know, what you put out comes back to you: an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, or in physics—in physical laws—every action is met by an equal or an opposite one. It’s clear to me that Karma is at the very heart of the universe. I’m absolutely sure of it. And yet, along comes this idea called Grace to upend all that “as you reap, so you will sow” stuff. Grace defies reason and logic. Love interrupts, if you like, the consequences of your actions, which in my case is very good news indeed, because I’ve done a lot of stupid stuff… 
I’d be in big trouble if Karma was going to finally be my judge. I’d be in deep s—. It doesn’t excuse my mistakes, but I’m holding out for Grace. I’m holding out that Jesus took my sins onto the Cross, because I know who I am, and I hope I don’t have to depend on my own religiosity… 
I love the idea of the Sacrificial Lamb. I love the idea that God says: Look, you cretins, there are certain results to the way we are, to selfishness, and there’s a mortality as part of your very sinful nature, and, let’s face it, you’re not living a very good life, are you? There are consequences to actions. The point of the death of Christ is that Christ took on the sins of the world, so that what we put out did not come back to us, and that our sinful nature does not reap the obvious death. That’s the point. It should keep us humbled… It’s not our own good works that get us through the gates of heaven.
- Bono -

Bono has given us a gift here, showing how grace trumps karma or the old law of sowing and reaping. In his model, I've also found the idea and language of 'absorbing sin' very helpful (echoed independently in the writings of Greg Albrecht and Brian Zahnd). On the cross, sin is absorbed and recycled as forgiveness. 

Similarly, Simone Weil's says that Christ took our affliction and in his body on the cross, divided our affliction into sin and suffering. There, he eradicates our sin through forgiveness and purifies our suffering into self-giving love. 

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Sure Could Use a Little Good News - Greg Gelburd

This article was originally posted at

So often the morning news is terrible, terrible. A young son is killed by a stray bullet in the street. Drone attacks in Yemen are “successful,” and while an ISIS leader is killed, so are his family of five children and wife; there are photos of their grieving relatives. Then I dwell on the new president, plagued by thoughts I’d just rather not have. I feel sadness seeing lost lives, and I feel anger at news from Alabama of a man released from prison after being wrongly accused and convicted of rape twenty years ago. On the last page, there is an editorial by an ER doctor from Philadelphia on how to tell a mother that her son has been murdered, and there’s a story of how an Israeli surgeon arranged to have a little Afghan girl transferred to Tel Aviv so she could undergo lifesaving heart surgery.
What’s the hardest part of reading the news? Whether it’s on your iPad or in print, a paper delivered to your door earlier this morning, the hardest part is often the ads, and the placement of one sad article next to a happy one. You ask yourself, how can I read this story of the family in Yemen next to an ad for a BMW? Worse yet is an ad for a penthouse apartment overlooking Central Park in the midst of a story of the remaining tent cities in Port au Prince.

He Loves Me, He Loves Me Not - Greg Albrecht

We hear the word "love" a lot at this time of the year—we see hearts liberally sprinkled everywhere as Valentine's Day is promoted and observed. Let's spend some time thinking about God's love. 

When we were a lot younger than we are now, back in the olden days, when we had a crush on someone, and we weren't really sure whether they liked us or not, we would find a flower and begin to pull its petals, playing the "he loves me, he loves me not" game. The last petal left on the flower answered the question, didn't it?

Many of us, without critically analyzing it, actually reduce ourselves to playing a similar game with God. In this most important relationship we can ever have, we often convince ourselves that we're not sure how God really feels about us, so we play a guessing game. 
How sure are you about your relationship with God? Do you really know how God feels about you?

Consider how the Apostle John summarizes his first letter, reiterating the theme he wanted his readers to remember: "I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life" (1 John 5:13).

Sunday, February 5, 2017

"Come, you also!" - The Stupor of Grace in Dostoevsky - Greg Albrecht

Consider what the famed Russian novelist, Dostoevsky, wrote about the judgment of God and the gospel of grace, in his classic work, Crime and Punishment.
At the last Judgment Christ, will say to us, “Come, you also! Come, drunkards! Come weaklings! Come, children of shame!” 
And he will say to us: “Vile beings, you who are in the image of the beast and bear his mark, but come all the same, you as well.” 
And the wise and the prudent will say, “Lord, why do you welcome them?” And he will say, “If I welcome them, you wise men, it is because not one of them have ever been judged worthy.” 
And he will stretch out his arms, and we will fall at his feet, and we will cry out sobbing, and then we will understand all, we will understand the Gospel of grace! Lord, your kingdom come!

Dostoevsky put this soaring gospel in the mouth of the character, Marmeladov – a bumbling drunkard whose family is left destitute because he spends all they have on his addiction. He utters this gospel – the true gospel – even while still in the stupor that will lead to his tragic death. Yes, grace even for that slob, even to his bitter end ...     

This excerpt is from Greg Albrecht's forthcoming book, Spiritual Soup for the Hungry Soul, Volume 3. Previous volumes are available at for $10 each, including shipping in the US.

For a little more context to this scene, see the fine article by Matthew Huff, entitled. “Come Forth, Ye Drunkards”: Pity and Grace in Crime and Punishment