5 Things I Wish My Pastors Told Me

5 Things I Wish My Pastors Told Me January 9, 2018
Courtesy of Pixabay
Courtesy of Pixabay

I spent roughly 25 years in the Evangelical church; 12 of them in some form of leadership. Needless to say, because of this upbringing, I knew my doctrines. And I knew them well. I knew what the correct worldview was supposed to be and always had an answer for why I believed what I believed (or, at least I pretended to). And I knew how to back it up with the Bible (again, or I pretended to).

Until I didn’t.

As these things are wont to do, the beliefs that were handed to me when I was young couldn’t stand the test of time. They couldn’t hold up to severe scrutiny. And when they fell by the wayside, I was left with nothing.

But, it didn’t need to be this way. I could have been given a much broader snapshot of Christianity, a much deeper and wider picture of church history, of doctrine, of philosophy, etc. I could have been told that there were other valid ways to interpret the faith, rather than basically being told “it’s our way or the highway (to hell!).” And perhaps that would have kept me in the fold.

Such is life, I guess.

To that end, in this piece, I would like to mention 5 things I wish my pastors told me in hopes that others don’t have to feel—like I did—as if walking away is the only option:

  1. . . . that you can be a Christian and not believe in eternal conscious torment (ECT).

This was the biggest one for me. Indeed, the doctrine of hell was the thing most responsible for driving me from the faith. I just couldn’t fathom burning in either literal or figurative flames for even a moment, let alone for all eternity. And I certainly couldn’t fathom spending an eternity in heaven while those I loved roasted down below.

The kicker, though, is that a ton of Christian thinkers in the early church couldn’t fathom such things either. That’s right, there were a whole host of theologians who thought that hell wasn’t everlasting, and that those who found themselves consigned there are there for their own good. In other words, hell has a purpose, which is not for the sake of burning folks forever, but to burn away all the wood, hay, and stubble that prevents them from “going to heaven” (to put it in Evangelical terms).

I wish I had known this.

  1. . . . that the Rapture is not even a 200-year-old doctrine and is not believed by the great majority of Christianity.

If hell was what drove me from the faith the most, the Rapture was a close second. I can recall being so terrified that all throughout my childhood, any time I couldn’t locate my parents, I thought they may have been caught up in the clouds to be with Jesus. Which means that I was left behind to square off against the antichrist.

Scary!

What I wish I had known is that Christians didn’t start believing this sort of hogwash until 1830 (around the same time Mormonism arose). Not that that makes it wrong per se, but it certainly raises the question: if it is such an important tenet of the faith (as I was often told), then shouldn’t Christians have been privy to it much earlier on? And maybe, just maybe, they could have mentioned it in the Nicene Creed? Or the Apostles’ Creed? Or maybe just one person could have mentioned such a thing in their writings? But no. Nothing. Zilch. Nada. Not until nearly 2 millennia after the death of Christ.

Pardon the sarcasm. I just wish I had known this earlier.

  1. . . . that penal substitution is not what the early Christians believed, nor is it what the Eastern Orthodox believe.

In short, penal substitution is a grotesque atonement theory that posits Christ’s death saves us, first and foremost, from the wrath of the Father. It’s a theory that has its roots in Anselm, but doesn’t really take its modern form until Calvin. Here in the States, it’s the preferred atonement theory. In fact, it is often conflated with the Gospel itself, and is, all-too-often, argued as the only viable way to approach what took place on the cross.

However, this was not always so.

Initially, Christians primarily talked about the cross as Christ’s victory over sin, satan, and death. For the early church (and for the Eastern Orthodox Church), rather than being an act that spares us from divine vengeance, the death of Christ is an act that saves us from ourselves, from evil, and from our dying and decaying bodies. It’s an act that shows us how we don’t need victims to appease the gods—instead, God becomes our victim and offers forgiveness—that we don’t need to be under the power of the accuser—instead, God becomes our accused and offers mercy—and that we need not fear death for death is not the end.

This, I can get on board with. I just wish I had known about it earlier.

  1. . . . that it’s okay to not take everything in the Bible hyper-literally.

Not everything in the Bible needs to be taken literally. For example, just because the Bible says that God created the cosmos in 6 days doesn’t mean 1 day = 1, 24-hour period (remember, as the Bible also says, for God, one day is like a thousand years).

And so, it’s okay to affirm the discoveries of science. If empirical evidence shows that the cosmos is roughly 13.8 billion years old, then that is what we should go with. If it shows that the earth is roughly 4.54 billion years old, then that is what we should go with. If it shows that Darwinian evolution helps explain the origin of the species, then, guess what, that is what we should go with.

What we need to understand, though, is that just because we affirm science, doesn’t mean we are abandoning the Bible. The context of Scripture isn’t modern science so we need no (false) dichotomy. For many, this is simple, but for others, not so much.

Either way, I wish I had known it earlier.

  1. . . . that it’s okay to question things and that it’s okay to be wrong.

While I was indeed told by my pastors to question things, I don’t think they actually meant it. Because when I did push against everything I believed, I was immediately denounced as a false teacher, as one who needs to be dismissed, lest I devour one of the flock (yes, that was the analogy used).

I wish this weren’t so. But I get it. I get why we act in this manner. If we end up being wrong, we could be screwed in the worst of ways. We could end up burning in hell forever because we’re told the ticket to heaven is having the correct beliefs about who Jesus is, what he accomplished, how he accomplished it, and so on. So, why would we ever really question things? Why would we take the chance that we may be wrong? Most wouldn’t.

But for those who do want to take the chance, I’ll tell you right now that there is freedom in doing so. There is freedom in being allowed to be wrong. There is grace, too. And, guess what, you can still even be a Christian because, as I understand things, Christianity isn’t supposed to so much be about having the correct beliefs, but about having the correct heart . . . a heart oriented toward love.

Again, I just wish I had known this earlier.

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  • Timothy Weston

    Thank you for showing that critical thinking and church are not mutually exclusive. It has taken me a long time to realize the points above.

  • Art_Vandelay

    It’s an act that shows us how we don’t need victims to appease the gods—instead, God becomes our victim and offers forgiveness—that we don’t need to be under the power of the accuser—instead, God becomes our accused and offers mercy—and that we need not fear death for death is not the end.

    I have a sincere question for anyone that may feel so inclined. I’m sure it’s not one you haven’t heard before but why did God need a victim at all? If his dilemma was that he needed to forgive us for creating us in a sinful manner (original sin as you may refer to it), why couldn’t he just forgive us? I forgive people all the time with no problem whatsoever. I often don’t even require so much as an apology, let alone a blood sacrifice of my child. So I guess my question is, why can I do something that God can’t?

  • Chris Eaker

    I appreciate your candor, Matthew. About the last one regarding questions, I also remember hearing from my Southern Baptist pastors that I shouldn’t just believe what they say in the pulpit and should question and verify things myself. I know now that the unspoken assumption was “Sure you can question and verify what I’m telling you, but you will, of course, find that I’m right, so why bother?”

  • God didn’t. We do. Jesus shows that.

  • YellowBird

    your essay really resonated for me, especially point 1, and all the rest…

    but can you expound a bit further on your response to this question posed by Art? i dont understand at all, especially as its a question i too have long had, and your answer is one i have heard from numerous ministers, and it just seems rather too pat. surely there’s more to it? why cant it be an area where we can allow ourselves to have no answers, to just acknowledge we really have no idea of an Omnipotent Universal God’s reasons WHY He would demand such an act? Which He apparently did -Jesus in Gethsemane also seems to show us that

  • Gary Gill

    Nicely said. Thank you!

  • Did he demand such an act? Or was it the natural consequence of Love incarnating into humanity and confronting the Powers and Principalities that we structure our cultures and societies with?

  • Art_Vandelay

    This sounds like word salad to me if I’m being honest but are you suggesting that the natural consequence of love is child blood sacrifice?

  • Paul

    Art. It’s my opinion that Jesus came to proclaim the goodness of God, an image very different from the Old Testament tradition. God has been good from the beginning of time and will continue to be good to the end of it. God has never required blood sacrifice. People have always questioned why bad things happen to good people and tried to find ways to protect themselves from bad things happening to them or their loved ones. I believe the image of Jesus on the cross is one that will ultimately remove sin from the world – the cross was Jesus’s greatest sermon. The message is the same as the one in the Sermon on the Mount – do not resist evil, i.e., do not repay evil with evil or sin with sin because it only fuels the cycle of sin. Absorb the pain to yourself when someone hurts you, give it a rest until the third day so your emotions are not in charge, then you can rise up and deal with it objectively and maturely – if it hasn’t already fixed itself. One doesn’t even have to be a Christian to benefit from this message and life will be less reactionary.

  • rtgmath

    It took all too many years for me to finally arrive at this place, and even still I find the old ways of thinking and the old fears created still have a tendency to linger. But I can no longer believe as I did. Conservative, fundamentalist Christianity is an abomination, and if it alone is right then God is a monster. I can no longer worship a monster.

  • James

    “God has never required blood sacrifice” except that He required blood from an animal sacrifice as a temporary atonement of sin.

  • Art_Vandelay

    Thanks, Paul. Okay, so unlike the two explanations in the article which propose that the crucifixion was either a loophole to escape the penalty for sin or the one proposed by the writer that it was not that but a portal to eternal life, your take on it is that it was a way to alleviate sin from the natural world altogether, and that the crucifixion isn’t the trigger for that but Jesus was simply teaching us not to be rash in our judgment and chill out for a few days so that we don’t exacerbate the sins? The few days being represented by the 36 hours or so that he spent being dead? I’ve honestly never heard that before and I’m not saying that you are wrong, but in this scenario, what is the point of the crucifixion exactly?

    Also, if it wasn’t about forgiving sin but alleviating sin, it begs the same question as the forgiveness theory. Why not just alleviate sin and skip that whole part where you sacrifice yourself to yourself? OR…crazy thought…don’t create a species in your image that’s inherently inclined to rebel against you in the first place?

  • I’m not. I’m saying the natural consequence of confronting the Powers that be (as Walter Wink would call them) nonviolently is death. See Gandhi. See Jesus. See MLK. Humanity is a violent species.

  • rtgmath

    I’m going to posit something here that made a difference for me. God changes. God, like anyone, has to experience relationships in order to know how to handle them. It is one thing to be able to handle cosmic powers. It is quite another to comfort the broken-hearted.

    If we are told anything of truth about God in the Old Testament, then He was a tyrant, a bully, impatient — a Monster. He commanded that whole nations be exterminated — although some say that is only what the writers of Scripture credited to God. But if it isn’t “true”, then what confidence can we have in knowing anything that the Bible says about God is true?

    So yes, God commanded a man who was caught picking up sticks on the Sabbath to be killed. Because God wanted perfect obedience the first time you were told, even if you didn’t completely understand. God was a *really lousy* teacher. He’d never have made it in any classroom. He didn’t know anything about imparting learning. Cosmic powers, itty-bitty experience level.

    He even told people in Isaiah to forsake their own thinking, and to think His thoughts. Of course, that was impossible because he didn’t make us able to think his thoughts! But God didn’t consider that.

    Until somewhere down the line, God said, “Phooey on all that judgment stuff. I think I will pay them a visit to see how they think and understand things from their perspective!” And now, we have Jesus. Emmanuel, God with us. And Jesus was tempted like we are, was misunderstood like we are, and felt abandoned like we feel abandonment. Jesus overturned God’s demand that we think like Him. Instead, God decided to learn how we think.

    Maybe that is why we now have “the age of Grace”? Maybe that is why God hasn’t actually come back to “rule.” Teaching takes a lot of patience. Learning takes a long time. Memorizing the Law doesn’t change the heart. And maybe God has learned from his past mistakes. Maybe.

  • Judgeforyourself37

    The first thing that I learned when I first started attending a right wing Methodist Church is that ministers/pastors, call them what you wish, want to do is control you. They think that they should be able to control what you do with your body, your mind, your voice. Their egos are so large that they think that they have the ability to control their entire congregation, and that includes you, too, until you finally get up the courage to leave.
    On a kinder note, their housing is sub standard, and their salaries are abysmal. If they have a wives/husbands and children, their 24/7 positions, leave them no time for family and their spouses either go to work for self satisfaction or obtain divorces. Perhaps control is all that they have to keep them in their profession.

  • Judgeforyourself37

    At least your Southern Baptist pastor gave you an option to check out what he/she said.

  • Judgeforyourself37

    Do you really believe in a “God” that sends his “son” to a cross to die? I am sorry, but I cannot believe in that God. My God is spirit, and is in me, and around me for strength in time of stress, adversity or loss. My God, also, surrounds, and is in you, and everyone, for strength to endure what life hands us.

  • Judgeforyourself37

    Myth, James. myth, written by men.

  • Judgeforyourself37

    Written in the gospels, years after Jesus crucifixion. Not one of the gospel writers ever saw, or met Jesus. They told stories that were told to them by parents or grandparents.

  • Paul

    Art, the 36 hour comment is my own practical and metaphorical way of trying to use those days to improve my own life, since I do not accept the atonement theory. The concept of Jesus on the cross has been floating around for a few years – but not widely. I learned it from Richard Rohr. The point of the crucifixion was that Jesus was a heretic according to Jewish tradition, trying to spread an image of the Creator as Goodness, not blood-thirsty. Bad things happen to people who go against tradition, even in the church. Not sure I have a satisfactory answer for “why create a rebellious species”, but my view on that is this – God, whatever that may be, is within us – all of us have a spark of the Divine (a concept accepted in several religious traditions older than Judaism and Christianity and stated several times in the New Testament, which also says “God is love”). Everyone loves something. Subsequently, in order to love God we have to love each other.

  • Paul

    Judgeforyourself37, I’m not sure if you meant to reply to my comment or to someone else’s. If my comments aren’t clear in suggesting God did not send a son to die on a cross, I apologize. A “good” God would never do that. Your further comments appear to match my own.

  • Paul

    I just finished reading “Engaging the Powers” by Wink for the second time – a powerful message.

  • Yep. Girardian insights would be helpful with this.

  • Paul, the Powers books are splendid.

  • James

    So you’re tossing out the Old Testament?

  • Art_Vandelay

    But the character of god is what it is. You surely don’t think that you have the power to change it’s character simply because of what you choose to believe, right? You can’t believe in god as a monster because you’re a decent person but doesn’t it seem like you’re creating god in your own image?

  • Nimblewill

    I look at things a little differently. I went to some pastors about the question of hell and they basically stopped talking to me. It caused me to find out for myself and I believe I am the better for it.

  • No.

  • James

    So explain why there were animal sacrifices for sin?

    Leviticus 4:35-All its fat he shall take away, like the fat of the lamb is taken away from the sacrifice of peace offerings; and the priest shall burn them on the altar, on the offerings of Yahweh made by fire; and the priest shall make atonement for him concerning his sin that he has sinned, and he will be forgiven.

    Leviticus 17:11-For the life of the flesh is in the blood; and I have given it to you on the altar to make atonement for your souls: for it is the blood that makes atonement by reason of the life.

    Hebrews 9:22-According to the law, nearly everything is cleansed with blood, and apart from shedding of blood there is no remission.

  • erin Bragh

    Or perhaps realizing that the Old Testament was a Judaic text that thousands years later Christians determined how to interpret a certain way would be even more useful. Or to realize that there were other gospels and theological texts that the ecumenical councils of the 4th century decided not to include. Or that the harrowing of hell actually comes from a gnostic text–the gospel of nicodemus. People interpret the “Bible” differently. It even included different books for different denominations. It is highly translated and even recover the language, let alone the culture when it was written, is impossible–we interpret, we approximate. SO maybe the issue of using these human produced “texts” as the a timeless way to not only view the world but your relationship with God is the problem. Great your own individual relationship and recognize those texts do not represent simply unequivocal facts, even about beliefs.

  • Tami Lynn

    Art…you have the same questions I have. My thoughts are that perhaps in the Garden of Eden when God tells Adam that if he eats of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil Adam will die, God was in fact giving a warning not a threat. Perhaps God knew that when Adam ate the fruit, Adam would basically be pledging his allegiance to the kingdom of this earthly world, Satan instead of God. We became Satan’s slaves and Satan cannot sustain life.He is not a creator or sustainer. So we die and are under a “death penalty”. Satan required the penalty of death not God. So when Jesus became man, he lived a holy blameless life so that he won the moral victory over sin, his blameless death satisfied Satan’s death penalty requirements for sin, and his resurrection “killed” death. None of which was required by God. However, we have the sacrificial system that seems to indicate that God requires a sacrifice. In my research, I discovered that almost all the sacrifices were offerings of thanks and purification. I don’t know how blood purifies anything but regardless…there is only 3 “sin” sacrifices. The intentional sins of speech…swearing, making an oath, lying, bearing false witness. The unintentional sins of speech and the day of atonement. All other sins such as Sabbath breaking, dishonoring parents, having idols, killing, adultery were all capital crimes and a person was killed…no little lambs sacrificed. Also, no where in the Torah does God mention that the sacrificial system was a fore type of what the messiah would do. The day of atonement was about purifying the tabernacle/temple. The “sin” was placed on the goat and led into the wilderness to die. It was not sacrificed. Jesus was crucified during Passover. Passover was not part of the sacrificial system. It was a holiday to celebrate God’s miraculous deliverance from Egypt. Yes, a lamb was killed to be eaten standing up so they could leave in a hurry and the blood on the door post used to signify the occupants belief that God would deliver them and the destroyer would passover and they would not die. When we claim we believe in the “blood of Christ”…that when he died on the cross and was raised, we are thereby showing our belief that God has miraculously defeated sin, death and Satan and provided us a way to give our allegiance back to God. When Jesus died and nullified the curse of sin, it nullified our sins and our sins were nullified. God can forgive without the death of Christ and in fact, Christ forgive people their sins before he was crucified. That is my understanding of how perhaps this all works together.

  • Jon

    Great post! And it’s why I’m a Humanist, based, in part, on Jesus’ ministry – not the miracles. Virgin birth, healings, resurrections were dime a dozen in the year 1 – and still are. Love, compassion, empathy are rare – especially among christians nowadays. But I am noticing that there are some Bonhoeffer/Niebuhr/Merton christians popping up more now than ever. Good to see.

  • steve

    Jesus and his dad are mythical.

  • I wrote a book called “From the blood of Abel” where I do just that. You can get it from any major online supplier where books are sold.

  • Paula Thompson

    Thank you for this article, I learned a lot! We often make the mistake of thinking that church teachings and doctrines are infallible just because they are old. Perfection is our goal, not our present state. If we are to be “teachable as a little child” we must learn humility and admit that there is much that we really don’t know. As Jesus said, “That which is old and also true must abide. Likewise, that
    which is new but false must be rejected. But that which is new and also
    true, have the faith and courage to accept. Remember it is written:
    ‘Forsake not an old friend, for the new is not comparable to him. As new
    wine, so is a new friend; if it becomes old, you shall drink it with
    gladness.'”

  • Indeed, the Gospel reads as a myth, a la Dionysus. However, it is soooooo incredibly subversive in nature.

  • Indeed there are. The myth of the religion called “Christianity” seems to be slowly dying. Thank God 😉

  • I for one don’t think God sent his son to die. I think he sent the son so that we could taste and see what true humanness looks like. Sadly, humanity couldn’t accept him. But it doesn’t end in tragedy, as God raises him back up to show that desiring death is not what God does.

  • Doug Gamble

    The sad and destructive thing here is that you (speaking to Mr. Distefano) were not allowed an atmosphere to genuinely question and explore these questions. As I study the life of Jesus (for which there is more than ample historical evidence despite the expressions of those who wish it weren’t so), Jesus wanted those around him to ask more questions, not fewer.

    As for Hell, the New Testament is clear that God wants none there, but respects the dignity of those who would rather exist without him–which is “where” Hell is and what Hell is–a place separate from the goodness of God. The problem with arguing about the existence of Hell is that Jesus talks about it rather matter-of-factly, and if the story of Jesus is just a myth created to make people feel good, then Hell would never come up at all. Having said that, a good, truth-seeking discussion on the topic is always healthy and should be welcomed.

    As for the rapture, building some kind of theology around it is to ask the passages in question to say more than their authors intend. What is clear that at some time and in some recognizable way, Jesus will return, our part is to be ready and help others to be ready, too. Having said that, a good, truth-seeking discussion on the topic is always healthy and should be welcomed.

    As for what happened on the cross of Christ, our sin was forgiven and access to relationship to God opened. It’s fine to discuss what language best describes what happened, but not if it ultimately drives us or distracts us from these simple truths. Having said that, a good, truth-seeking discussion on the topic is always healthy and should be welcomed.

    The Bible was never meant to be taken “hyper-literally.” The texts themselves teach us how they are to be read. Is it poetry? Then read it in all its color, metaphor and image. Is it a parable? Unpack it and extract the truth about God and life it is intended to teach given the context in which it is told. Is it history? Then consider why such things were recorded, why they were important then, and why now. The cases are rare where it is unclear how we are to read a passage, and if it is unclear, humility and mutually edifying discussion are the order of the day. If science and the Bible seem to contradict, either we aren’t understanding the science well enough, or we aren’t understanding the Bible well enough, or some combination of the two. If Jesus is the way, the truth and the life, in actuality there can ultimately be no discrepancy, and for the most part, the Bible does not teach us about science, though we can learn from science about God. Having said that, a good, truth-seeking discussion on the topic is always healthy and should be welcomed.

    Finally, is it ok to be wrong? It’s a moot point. All of us will, no doubt, have our theology cleaned up and straightened out when Jesus returns. We will all find out places where we were indeed wrong. Our theology must be held with humility but also with a high view of God’s word, and God intends for us to understand. There is a difference, however, between being wrong, and knowing one is wrong and remaining in that position. It’s what CS Lewis referred to in “Man or Rabbit” as an intellectual sin. This is a kind of deliberate sin–the most dangerous kind.

    Jesus lauds and encourages us to keep seeking. There is always more to learn, deeper places to go with God. It saddens me to see the comments that say, “If God is….then he is a monster and I won’t have anything to do with Him.” Isn’t it possible, even likely, that there are things that we, with our 3.5 pounds of brain, aren’t going to understand about God right away, or that there are things about him that might make us uncomfortable (when so many ugly things actually do make us ‘comfortable), but turn out different than we had originally judged. When I see Jesus, I am convinced that God deserves the benefit of the doubt and that my self-centered nature raises much doubt about my own thinking.

  • Linnea912

    Yes, I would agree with that. I think Jesus was crucified for a simple reason: he was a threat to the Roman regime and its puppets. And, hand in hand with that, the resurrection was God’s way of showing that corrupt and oppressive power would not win out in the end. Instead, God’s loving justice would have the final word.

  • james warren

    Unfortunately, today’s Christians would rather worship Christ on some pedestal than let Jesus speak for himself and follow his actual teachings!

    The parables, Markan priority,, the Q Gospel and that of Thomas should be introduced to first-year seminary students. Also the literary relationship among the synoptics and the fact that the gospel accounts were written decades after the crucifixion. It is a difficult task for scholars to determine the difference between Jesus’ unique “voice print” and the theology that was attributed to him and placed into his mouth by the early church.

    Jesus talked, people listened and formed their own ideas of what he was about. All four gospel accounts have totally different agendas and traditions about Jesus.

  • james warren

    The God of Jesus was not a monster. The Kingdom of God is a kingdom of equals. Jesus’ God was a God of mercy who only wants forgiveness for humanity and a contrite heart.
    He is not into pagan sacrifice or divine ethnic cleansing.

    Jesus never claimed divinity and believed in a God who “wants mercy and not sacrifice.” God is nonviolent and just. In the world, forgiveness is reciprocal: we are forgiven to the same extent we forgive others. God treats the good and the evil and the righteous and the unrighteous equally.

  • billwald
  • Guy Rex Rodgers

    It is a pity that so many people leave Evangelical churches or abandon their faith to escape a religion that no longer makes sense to them. Liberal churches are far less confining and are strong on tolerance, which can initially be a relief, but they have different defects. One one side is an Evangelical love of God so intense that humanity is sacrificed. On the other side, an admirable neighborly compassion for the suffering, but the liberal God is barely paid lip service. Jesus taught two commandments: Love God, and Love Your Neighbor. I have found many individuals who strive to do both, but no denominations or churches. Have other people found a balanced spiritual home?

  • brassyhub

    In my Bible concordance (in French) I find 33 references to the Greek and Hebrew words translated into ‘hell’ in French, ALL from the Old Testament.

    For comparison, there are 172 uses of the word translated as ‘love’, 121 of them from the New Testament. So Jesus doesn’t talk about hell at all…
    Strange.

    The least quoted words of Jesus, in my view, are John 8.16: ‘I judge no-one.’ I really don’t get this passion that some have for judging others.

    There’s a lovely little book by a Sri Lankan who worked at the World Council of Churches, ‘Not without my neighbour’ – growing up in a multi-cultural, multi-religious society, he
    didn’t want to be separated from his neighbours of others faiths, in this life or the next! And I feel much the same. If there’s another place, I don’t want to go there without my atheist brother. He’s as good a man as I
    am, perhaps better.

  • Tami Lynn

    Art…you have the same questions I have. My thoughts are that perhaps in the Garden of Eden when God tells Adam that if he eats of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil Adam will die, God was in fact giving a warning not a threat. Perhaps God knew that when Adam ate the fruit, Adam would basically be pledging his allegiance to the kingdom of this earthly world, Satan instead of God. We became Satan’s slaves and Satan cannot sustain life.He is not a creator or sustainer. So we die and are under a “death penalty”. Satan required the penalty of death not God. So when Jesus became man, he lived a holy blameless life so that he won the moral victory over sin, his blameless death satisfied Satan’s death penalty requirements for sin, and his resurrection “killed” death. None of which was required by God. However, we have the sacrificial system that seems to indicate that God requires a sacrifice. In my research, I discovered that almost all the sacrifices were offerings of thanks and purification. I don’t know how blood purifies anything but regardless…there is only 3 “sin” sacrifices. The intentional sins of speech…swearing, making an oath, lying, bearing false witness. The unintentional sins of speech and the day of atonement. All other sins such as Sabbath breaking, dishonoring parents, having idols, killing, adultery were all capital crimes and a person was killed…no little lambs sacrificed. Also, no where in the Torah does God mention that the sacrificial system was a fore type of what the messiah would do. The day of atonement was about purifying the tabernacle/temple. The “sin” was placed on the goat and led into the wilderness to die. It was not sacrificed. Jesus was crucified during Passover. Passover was not part of the sacrificial system. It was a holiday to celebrate God’s miraculous deliverance from Egypt. Yes, a lamb was killed to be eaten standing up so they could leave in a hurry and the blood on the door post used to signify the occupants belief that God would deliver them and the destroyer would passover and they would not die. When we claim we believe in the “blood of Christ”…that when he died on the cross and was raised, we are thereby showing our belief that God has miraculously defeated sin, death and Satan and provided us a way to give our allegiance back to God. When Jesus died and nullified the curse of sin, it nullified our sins and our sins were nullified. God can forgive without the death of Christ and in fact, Christ forgive people their sins before he was crucified. That is my understanding of how perhaps this all works together.

  • Greg Paley

    Old queen

  • Ed Senter

    Apparently, your “God” is not the All-Mighty Supreme Being and, therefore, not a “God” at all. Because WHATEVER God does is good. He is All-Mighty and Supreme.
    Lots of people never learn God’s ways, thus teach wrongly. You can believe anything you want and even worship a god of your own creation, but it simply makes no sense.

  • Ed Senter

    Desiring death is not what God wants, but it is the result if we do not trust Him.
    If Jesus crucifixion is merely the result of His teachings being misunderstood, then His teachings were a failure and God is not in control. Whatever your interpretation of the Bible, the one teaching that can not be missed is that God is in control.

  • Ed Senter

    1. I believe the only ones destined for eternal torment are the Anti-Christ, false prophet, and Satan and his minions of fallen angels. So says the book of Revelation. Of course, eternal separation from God would be eternal torment.
    2. The rapture and Dispensationalism are relatively new doctrines. However, didn’t the book of Daniel say that Daniel’s visions were to be put away for the end times and that there would be an increase of knowledge?
    3. Think of Christ death as not a substitute for penal laws and sins, but as the kinsman Redeemer price to be paid.
    4. I take the Bible literally when it should be taken literally and figuratively when it actually interprets the figure itself or explains the analogy. For instance, there is a lot of time between Genesis 1:1 and 1:2. Perhaps the Genesis story is a recreation and we are presently is a second Earth age. There is a lot of stuff about the fall of Satan that simply is not in the Bible.
    5. Question all you want. Just don’t throw the baby out with the bath water.

  • nicole

    We must be careful that we, who are easily deceived and influenced by our desire for sin, are not guilty of judging the righteous God. Assuming you are indeed looking for truth to the question, “Why did Jesus have to die, can’t God just forgive us?” Because a judge who pardons law-breakers isn’t a righteous judge. Likewise, overlooking sin would make the holy God unjust. Death is God’s just consequence for sin. “For the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23). Good works cannot make-up for wrongs against the holy God. Compared to His goodness, “All our righteousnesses are as filthy rags” (Isaiah 64:6). Ever since Adam’s willful sin, every human has been guilty of disobeying God’s righteous laws. “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). Herein lies the beauty of God’s perfect plan: God Himself provided the only sacrifice (Jesus) who could atone for the sins of His people, by which reconciliation is procured between the offended and offending parties. God’s perfect Son fulfilled God’s perfect requirement of God’s perfect law. It is perfectly brilliant in its simplicity. “God made Him (Christ), who knew no sin, to be sin for us that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” (2 Corinthians 5:21). Through Christ you are forgiven! But first you must admit you have something to be forgiven for.

  • nicole

    Except we will all be judged by God’s unchanging standard of “goodness,” not our own arbitrary standard. Our supposed goodness does not erase our sin against a holy God. Only Jesus has the power to do that.

  • nicole

    In order to judge God to be a moral monster, one must first erect their own arbitrary standard of righteousness to which they hold the righteous God accountable. The created being exalts himself as the perfect and infallible judge in order to condemn their Creator.

  • God is in control in that God gets the last word, the word of life, of Sharon. But God’s not in control in that God’s desire was for an innocent man to be grotesquely murdered.

  • Which Jesus did, on the cross, for all humanity.

  • Ed Senter

    To say someone was ‘murdered’ means that someone else took their life against their will.
    What do you do with the many verses that indicate that Jesus went WILLINGLY to His death? Jesus over and over again said He would die and on the third day rise. When Peter warned Jesus not to go to Jerusalem because He would die, Jesus snapped back, “Get behind me Satan”. And, the many parables about the shepherd giving his life for his sheep?
    To fulfill the price of the Kinsman Redeemer, one must give willingly.

  • Steve Bailey

    Great reminders, as usual, Matt. As an ordained clergy person and an educator, I was once threatened with termination as an instructor and faculty associate at a Christian university because I would not sign a “doctrinal” statement affirming “everlasting conscious torment of the wicked”. I had to submit a theological argument to the Board defending my position. I did that, and with the support of my dean, kept my job. In the words of other faculty members, they “held their noses” and signed. I was part of a great faculty at a university I could contribute to that is saddled with a belief statement that is not only archaic and bound by questionable traditional wisdom and praxis, but Biblically indefensible in many areas. I’m afraid many “evangelical” institutions are in a similar bind. I am thankful that many years ago, God called me to ministry in a Christian community that affirms your position here. Serving Jesus Christ is not about personal fire insurance; not one bit.

  • Greta Holt

    I’m happy to have grown up in a liberal Anabaptist setting. The Bible was understood as a series of books interpreted by translators and written for ancient cultures. Our job was to try to live with Jesus’ standards in mind. Lately, we have studied the Bible with a Jewish Theological Seminary student; gracious, we must learn more about the Bible itself before creating non-negotiable rules of conduct.

  • The Christian concept of Hell in not biblical; many people know this. If you attend any Catholic funeral you hear about Ezekiel’s Valley of the Dry Bones. Try asking for some clarification on that set of scriptures and you won’t get a clear answer. Why are the multitudes are raised from their graves and brought back to a physical life? Are those in heaven sent back to earth? If so why. Are those already in Hell brought back? of course not. This much is clear those raised from their graves are from every generation and they were not in Heaven or Hell; they were just dead and in their graves. If you can understand why they are being raised to a physical life you will begin to understand the Plan of God for Man and much will become clear. Are any who died in Heaven? Jesus said no one is in heaven not even David. So there goes the theory of the Rapture as commonly understood. Place of Safety – yes; spirit or physical?

  • Linda

    I also used to think the rapture happened and I was left behind to endure the antichrist when I couldn’t find my parents. I thought I was the only one who experienced this level of panic and dread.

  • Louis Fields

    True..

  • I agree with you Matthew that the penal substitution theory is wrong but Christianity needs an atonement model that is reasonable, ethical, ecumenical and biblical. I have attempted this in my ebook “Achieving Atonement”. I hope it helps. You can download it for free from:

    A PDF version with
    numbered pages may be downloaded from http://www.5icm.org.au/Resources/Achieving_Atonement_-_Derek_Thompson.pdf

    and, if you have a
    login, Academia.edu at https://www.academia.edu/36826441/Achieving_Atonement.

    Various eReader formats
    are available at Smashwords, https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/838364.