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...]

Radical Jesus 101: What is God?

Painting by Bec Cranford-Smith

Most cultures in human history have had some concept of God, whether it's one god or many gods, whether these gods are good or evil or a mix of both. What is it that makes the Christian God unique? There are some ways in which the God of Israel described in the Bible's Old Testament basically behaves the same as the tribal gods of other ancient peoples. It's not unique for a tribal god to expect his people to worship him alone and not any other gods. Nor is it unique for tribal gods to prescribe … [Read more...]

“He makes wars cease to the end of the earth” (Psalm 46:9)

David Ohmer, "Swords Into Plowshares," Flickr C.C.

Today's psalm from the Presbyterian daily lectionary was Psalm 46. A couple of lines in this psalm are very popular, like verse 1: "God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble," or verse 10: "Be still and know that I am God." But I had never really noticed verse 9 before: "He makes wars cease to the end of the earth; he breaks the bow, and shatters the spear; he burns the shields with fire." It seems like a fitting verse to contemplate in the wake of the horrific terror attack … [Read more...]

Radical Jesus 101: a new series

Painting by Bec Cranford-Smith

First of all, I'm completely dissatisfied with the title. Few words are more played out in the Christian blogosphere than "radical." And yet I can't think of another succinct way to capture the theological/political space I inhabit than to say that I worship a "radical" Jesus. For most of my adult life, I've lived in the strange intersection of what might seem like starkly contradictory orthodoxies: the evangelical Christianity I grew up with and the radical political ethos I have gained from my … [Read more...]

Make us comfortable with being uncomfortable

Dara Skolnick, "Please," Flickr C.C.

Yesterday in church, our pastor prayed, "Make us comfortable with being uncomfortable." I'd been looking for a New Year's resolution, vision statement, or manifesto of some kind, and this seems like a good candidate. It captures the heart of the Christian discipleship journey. On the one hand, we should be "comfortable" because we're safe. God has assured us of his unconditional love for us through everything that Jesus has done. But the reason we need this baseline "comfort" is in order to step … [Read more...]

Seven posts from 2014 that I wish more people read

ilouque, "Found Blur Motion," Flickr C.C.

A lot of bloggers at the end of the year put out a list of their top-performing posts for people to read again. I wanted to do something a little different. It's no secret that in the blogosphere, the posts that do well are the controversial ones that strike a nerve in some kind of way regardless of whether they're well-written or good teaching. So I wanted to go a different route and pick out seven of my pieces in which I really wanted to teach something, regardless of whether they did well or … [Read more...]

A hopefully friendly Christian response to the atheist ten non-commandments

James Perkins, "Commandments," Flickr C.C.

A couple of weeks ago, a friend of mine shared a set of ten "non-commandments" for atheists that had been compiled through a national contest. I thought I would take a moment to ponder them and offer some commentary in response. I hope that I am able to do this in a spirit of friendly conversation. As an evangelical Christian, I was indoctrinated to view every conversation with non-Christians as an opportunity to seek their conversion. While I do believe that Christianity has offered me … [Read more...]

Which narrow gate is the narrow gate Jesus wants us to walk through?

"Old Gate" by mindgraph, Flickr C.C.

At a recent campus ministry conference, the closing sermon was about Jesus' exhortation to "enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the road is easy that leads to destruction" (Matthew 7:13). The speaker said that our challenge as campus ministers is to promote "narrowness" in a university environment that promotes "open-mindedness" over against "narrowness." He quoted a recent evangelical sociological study of young adult spirituality that divided young adults into six … [Read more...]

The cops who need to be thanked

Jason Hargrove, Flickr C.C.

I know that I've been sharing a lot of troubling articles on social media about police brutality against black people. I always try to qualify it with an acknowledgment that most cops are just trying to do their job. I really believe that racism is a pervasive original sin in our society, and that white police officers are not any more or less racist than any other white person. They just happen to be thrown into stressful situations where they are responsible for making split-second gut … [Read more...]