Radical Jesus 101: Two very different ways of defining sin

Painting by Bec Cranford-Smith

I figured Ash Wednesday would be a good day to meditate upon the meaning of sin. One of the most important fault-lines in Christianity today falls between two very different ways of defining sin. It seems that most conservative Christians define sin "legalistically" as disobedience to God's rules, while progressive Christians define sin "humanistically" as that which dehumanizes individuals and societies. This basic difference radically impacts how we understand our faith, scripture, and God's … [Read more...]

On learning not to hate Mardi Gras

mardi gras boy

Mardi Gras. Everyone down here in New Orleans is enamored with it. I enjoyed... some of it. Like last night at the Orpheus parade when my son was on my shoulders squealing with delight as a giant seven-trailer float built to look like a train rolled by. This morning wasn't as much fun. It was freezing cold. My family went down to see a truck parade that follows the main Rex parade. We were standing around in the pre-parade staging ground. There were very few other people. I went home to get a … [Read more...]

Brian Williams: a Sunday school conversation

Wikimedia commons, CC license

We talked about Brian Williams in Sunday school yesterday. I can't remember exactly what the original question prompt was: something along the lines of what could have saved Brian Williams from the bad choices that he made. Everyone had a different angle for talking about the story, which is what made it a fascinating conversation.I read a book about a year ago called Mistakes Were Made But Not By Me that talks about the psychology of self-justification and the way that our memories are … [Read more...]

Can Christianity be sex-positive? A chat with Dianna Anderson

Photo by Tate Walker

Dianna Anderson is a twitter friend and conversation partner who is part of our growing tribe of ex-evangelicals on the Internet. Dianna does a great job of synthesizing the insights of intersectional feminism and Christian theology on her blog. She has just released Damaged Goods: New Perspectives on Christian Purity which seeks to advance a healthier vision for sexuality than the one she received from her upbringing in conservative evangelical purity culture. I don't always agree with … [Read more...]

On self-serving appeals to God’s sovereign “natural” order

"Alexander Stephens," Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons

In response to the backlash against Barack Obama's Prayer Breakfast remarks about violence that had been justified in the name of Christianity, Tah-nehisi Coates wrote an article in which he shared a quote from the Confederacy's vice-president Alexander Stephens. Stephens' words are dripping with appeals to God's sovereign, perfect order to justify the necessity of subordinating one race beneath another. It may look absolutely ridiculous to us today, but Stephens was no doubt writing with … [Read more...]

Obama, Pope Francis, and the Internet’s hatred of nuance and context

Public domain photos of Barack Obama and Pope Francis

During the past week, both President Obama and Pope Francis generated Internet controversies that exemplified how the Internet distorts truth. Because Obama mentioned crusades and racism as part of a speech that also mentioned the evils of the Islamic State, the Internet accused him of creating "moral equivalency" between the Islamic State and Christianity. Pope Francis was giving a homily about the importance of respecting the dignity of children in administering discipline. Because he talked … [Read more...]

Is God offended by our sin?

"God is angry," Matt Katzenberger, Flickr CC

What is God's attitude toward our sin? How you answer this question says a lot about your theology. According to conservative evangelical Christianity, Jesus had to die on the cross to satisfy the wrath of God against our sins. Since conservative evangelicalism commits itself to affirming that nobody deserves heaven without Jesus' sacrifice, that means that God's moral standards must be defined in such a way that basically decent people who aren't Christian deserve to be tortured forever. The … [Read more...]

Tony Jones and the twitter court of justice


[Trigger warning: genuinely confused but well-intentioned dudebro asking honest questions that may be offensive and/or ignorant]I refrained from writing about this topic for a long time, but I'm troubled. I have three different conflicting ethics when it comes to assessing Tony Jones Rachel Nadia conference-gate and the twitter court of justice that's been in session adjudicating it. 1) I believe that we need to listen and take seriously the stories of alleged victims of abuse because they … [Read more...]

Radical Jesus 101: Is humanity good or evil?

Painting by Bec Cranford-Smith

Is humanity good or evil? Some conservative evangelicals would say that the answer to this question defines the difference between their worldview and the "secular" worldview: Christians are supposed to think that humanity is evil while secular humanists think that humanity is good. But I don't think the answer is that simple. I think a better way to understand Christianity's view of human nature is to say that humanity is good since we are created in the image of God, but the problem is that … [Read more...]

How my grandpa taught me to be a pastor

Ralph Storm reindeer

This photo pretty well captures the personality of my crazy, wonderful grandpa, Ralph Storm, whose funeral my family celebrated this past week. When I was born, he was only 49 years old and he said he didn't feel old enough to be a grandpa so he taught me to call him just Ralph. Ralph was the type of person who was on a first-name basis with everybody, from VIP business executives to the landscapers he would stop and joke around with on the sidewalk in Spanish. He may have been a conservative … [Read more...]