February 7, 2018

I’ve heard a lot of arguments as to why women are prohibited from teaching and preaching.

Just kidding.

There aren’t a lot of arguments– there’s just a lot of people quoting a couple of passages from Paul’s epistles in a way they believe “proves” that ministry positions which involve leading men, or teaching or preaching to men, is a boys-only job.

Here’s 10 reasons why I think today’s Christians should be affirming and supporting women serving in church leadership, whether it’s leading, teaching, or preaching the Gospel:

10.  The testimony of Scripture bears witness to female leadership in both the Old Testament and the early Church.

The Bible, as a whole, was written over a considerable span of time and from within various ancient cultures– most of which were patriarchal and viewed women as radically inferior at best. And while the Bible has plenty of traces of those ancient mindsets about women, it is also true that we see God raise up strong female leaders both in the Old Testament and in the New Testament church.

If women are forbidden from teaching or leading men, God really messed up by letting those parts get included.

9. Jesus trained female disciples– and they were the most loyal ones.

The men?

They fell asleep when he begged them to keep him company. One betrayed him. His right-hand-man publicly denied him three times. The rest abandoned him in his most critical moment. In fact, one of them even ran away naked (Mark 14:51-52).

But his female disciples?

The last people at the cross? Women.

First people at the tomb? The women.

8. God chose two women to become the first evangelists who proclaimed the Gospel– and they proclaimed it to men.

The Gospel, by definition, is the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. This is the “Good News” we are called to preach to the ends of the earth.

And who were the first ones to preach it? You guessed it– the female disciples were the very first to proclaim the Good News, and they proclaimed it to the men.

7. Paul was not writing a manifesto to every church in every time, but wrote to specific churches facing specific issues that are not completely known to us.

The argument against women teaching, preaching, or leading in church, is often centered around a few passages from Paul. But here’s the problem: Paul wasn’t writing a general manifesto on how all churches should be run in all times and all cultures, and I think he’d be aghast that we often treat it that way.

“Epistles” mean “letters”. Paul was writing specific letters to specific people and specific house churches. He addressed their specific questions and their specific challenges– and we don’t always know for sure what those were, or what situations he intended specific advice/instructions to be applied in. Since we are not the people Paul was writing to, and our church context is not the same as theirs, it would be dangerous at best to approach his letters as being blanket prescriptions for all times and circumstances.

6. If Paul was issuing a decree for all churches in all times, he completely contradicts himself in the same letter and elsewhere.

Paul says that women should be “silent” in church, you say? Well, in his letters he references female church leaders and references women prophesying in church. If his other statements were intended to be blanket prescriptions for all circumstances, even he missed the memo.

5. The cultural context of Paul’s letters must be considered—some instructions were clearly meant to be applied within a specific cultural context.

Try this: the next time some guy says that women can’t preach and “God’s word never changes” and that we’re supposed to just “read and obey what’s written”, ask him if he kisses other men when he says hello to them at church– because Paul says to do that in 2 Corinthians 12:12.

You’ll demonstrate the point on how we all– even fundamentalists– seem to innately realize that the context of a passage matters.

4. Jesus said the Holy Spirit is free to go where it wills.

Teaching is a gift that is ultimately given to believers by the Holy Spirit, and Jesus describes the Spirit as one who is free to go where the spirit goes (John 3:8). Who are we to limit the authority of the Holy Spirit by claiming that the Spirit is only allowed to gift men to preach and lead the Church?

3. The Bible never commands us to abandon evidence and reason, but commands us to consider them.

On my own journey out of fundamentalist Christianity, it was being confronted with the clear and undeniable evidence that women can be equally gifted as men to teach and preach the Gospel that became the sticking point I couldn’t ignore. Seriously, listen to a few sermons by Brenda Salter McNeil and tell me women can’t preach.

The Bible invites us to reason. It commands us to test everything and then look at the evidence. One cannot survey the evidence honestly and walk away with any conclusion other than women– especially Brenda Salter McNeil– have *clearly* been gifted by the Holy Spirit to teach and preach to the body of believers.

2. God gives people gifts with the intent they be used– not squelched. 

What would be the point of God gifting and equipping someone with a clear gift, and then prohibit them from using it? (Oh, and don’t tell me they can be gifted but can only preach at women’s conferences). The entire point of a gift is to remove it from the bushel that we or others use to obscure and hide it, and to then use that gift to grow God’s kingdom as far and as wide as we can.

1. Our mission is far too critical to exclude gifted teachers and leaders.

As Christians, we need to ask ourselves an honest question: Do we believe our mission to the world is urgent and critical, or not?

Do we really believe all that jazz when we talk about making Christ known among the nations, and when we say there’s no time to waste?

If we do– if we *really* believe in the calling to spread the Good News of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and if we *really* believe our mission is critical and time sensitive, why in the world would we want (or think God wants) to silence half of the people who are best gifted and equipped to actually do it?

 


unafraid 300Dr. Benjamin L. Corey is a public theologian and cultural anthropologist who is a two-time graduate of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary with graduate degrees in the fields of Theology and International Culture, and holds a doctorate in Intercultural Studies from Fuller Theological Seminary. He is also the author of the new book, Unafraid: Moving Beyond Fear-Based Faith, which is available wherever good books are sold. www.Unafraid-book.com. 

Be sure to check out his new blog, right here, and follow on Facebook:

January 11, 2018

nathan-shipps-186557

Recently an article over at Desiring God, a blog hosted by John Piper, took aim at Christians who wrestle with doubts.

The article was shockingly uncharitable towards Christians such as myself– far more uncharitable than I had even expected from the arrogant wing of Calvinism. The premise of the article was that “doubt dishonors God” and that it’s a hallmark of “weak faith,” as if those of us who struggle with doubts on our faith journey are either second class citizens who haven’t gotten with the program yet, or worse, that our doubts are somehow an intentional act of rebellion against God.

Well, I have a newsflash for all the Calvinist out there who agree with the premise of that article:

We’re not doubting because this is our idea of a good time.

Nor are we doubting because it’s trendy or cool.

Our doubts are none of those things.

But if you’d really like to understand Christians whose faith includes elements and seasons of doubts– If you’d really like to understand Christians like me– I’ll break it down for you. While doubts can be caused by a variety of things, I believe many of us experience this for two distinct reasons.

First, Christians who doubt are often intensely curious people, and this isn’t a bad thing.

Even the word to “doubt” ultimately means to “question,” and those of us who doubt often do so because we are always curiously asking questions. We take in answers and mull them over, usually ending up with even more questions as we attempt to figure out the “inner workings” of life and faith and everything else in the world around us.

Christians who doubt are Christians who are busy asking questions and wrestling with answers. Instead of dishonoring God, I believe we actually deeply honor him, because when we ask questions it means one thing:

We’re using that big ole brain God gave us.

For the first 20 years of my Christian life, I didn’t ask many questions– I just memorized the answers I was handed. Outwardly, I would have appeared as a mature, solid Christian, but inwardly I was dishonoring God by limiting what I allowed my brain to ask, seek, and explore. Thus, repenting of certainty and embracing doubt became one of the most God-honoring, spiritually mature things I have ever done in my life.

Secondly, many Christians who doubt often do so because what we were taught doesn’t seem to line up with real-life experience.

Since the article I’m responding to came from among the 872 point Calvinists, I’ll give an actual example:

Calvinism of course, teaches that everything that happens in life and the world, good or bad, was all directly orchestrated by God. Now, when life is good this kind of idea feels great, but when life goes bad? Not so much.

I’m the guy who had a vasectomy as an act of worship in order to give my life to raising kids who needed a family– it was an invitation I was sure came from God himself. However, after completing 4 adoptions where 3 of them ultimately failed for various reasons after the fact, my “act of worship” cost me the deepest dream my heart ever held: having lots of children and ultimately grandchildren.

Being told on one hand that everything that happens in life is from God and therefore good, while also laying in bed at night unable to get the memories of your last goodbye with your own children out of your head, is the kind of thing that naturally prompts you-know-what.

Doubts.

Questions.

We wrestle with reality and wonder how everything could really be a divine plan from God. We question whether or not everything that happens to us is actually good and wonderful when it feels so hellish and painful.

When life happens, and when that doesn’t line up with what we were told about God, we naturally are faced with some really, really hard questions– questions that don’t have easy answers.

Asking those questions, having a curious mind that wants to understand, and struggling to figure out why real-life suffering doesn’t line up with what people like Calvinists teach us about God, isn’t a sign of weak faith. It’s not a sign of rebellion or dishonoring God.

It is a sign that we are human– a sign that our hearts and brains are functioning as intended, and that life experience has left us wrestling with some difficult questions.

On one hand, I grieve that Calvinists such as the author of that piece don’t seem to know us– that they don’t know we’re simply curious people who have often experienced tremendous doses of pain and hardship that caused us to spend long seasons asking hard questions.

What I grieve even more is that out of all the verses the article quoted on doubting, there was one verse conspicuously left out:

“Have mercy on those who doubt.” – Jude 1:22

Because if you really knew me and those like me, if knew how we long to reconcile our painful experiences with the things that we were taught, and if you knew how desperately we long to cling to a solid answer that makes sense to us…

You’d have far more mercy on us than what you have shown.


unafraid 300Dr. Benjamin L. Corey is a public theologian and cultural anthropologist who is a two-time graduate of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary with graduate degrees in the fields of Theology and International Culture, and holds a doctorate in Intercultural Studies from Fuller Theological Seminary. He is also the author of the new book, Unafraid: Moving Beyond Fear-Based Faith, which is available wherever good books are sold. www.Unafraid-book.com. 

Be sure to check out his new blog, right here, and follow on Facebook:

December 28, 2017

694940094001_4970079924001_8fe79bac-6de5-44b7-ab65-72665e63c281

I was a child of the Religious Right.

From my 777 “To Hell With The Devil” t-shirt, to reading Like Lambs to the Slaughter so I could explain to my English teacher how her guided “relaxation” technique was demonic, I was programmed well.

I grew up and eventually became an adult in the Religious Right.

I left Gospel tracts with my tip at restaurants, was the town chairman of the Republican party, and even had a bumper sticker that said “I accelerate for liberals.”

Throughout my years in the Religious Right, especially as a child, I was taught a specific slate of values– some I still hold, and some I do not. Ironically, the same can be said for the Religious Right itself; core values and principles which once were seen as unshakable, have now been discarded in the Age of Trump. Here are some of these values that this Leftist Apostate learned from the Religious Right, but that only I believe now:

Simply claiming to be a Christian doesn’t mean that one actually is a Christian

Growing up in the Religious Right, we used to have a go-to saying for people who claimed to be a Christian but whose life clearly didn’t reflect it. We’d tell them, “I can sit in the garage all day long and claim to be a car, but that doesn’t make me a car.” We rightly believed that simply claiming the title “Christian” did not necessarily mean that an individual actually was one.

However, in the Age of Trump, this belief has been totally abandoned. Instead, the most un-Christian president one could possibly imagine is now seen as a bold Christian who boldly defends Christian values– simply because… well, he says so.

Me? Well, I might be a Leftist Apostate, but I still believe that the true evidence of whether or not one is a Christian is found in the type of life that they lead.

Character counts

Here’s an inconvenient truth: during the Clinton presidency we coined the term “character counts” because, so we believed, the individual moral and ethical character of a leader directly impacted their ability to lead.

This core belief of the Religious Right firmly existed until the day they realized remaining true to this value would mean voting against their own candidate. In the Clinton Era, this value meant taking out a democrat– but in the current era, remaining true to that value would have meant actually electing one. With the election of Trump I thought I had seen my former tribe at their worst, and wondered if this was a one-time deal they’d eventually repent of, but came to see that this value change of the Religious Right was permanent in nature when they supported child-predator Roy Moore for Senate.

Me? Well, this Liberal Apostate believes that character still counts, and won’t be supporting candidates in either party who can’t pass a basic morality test.

Truth and morality don’t change simply because surrounding culture changes.

When I was a kid the Religious Right sat us down and taught us that simply because culture may change, it doesn’t mean that truth or morality changes with it– that just because all of our friends might become accepting of something, doesn’t mean it’s right or true. Instead, we were taught that truth is absolute and that what is moral or immoral never changes either.

In the Era of Trump, this belief changed dramatically. While they still of course hold to some of their original moral convictions, truth and morality in many areas have all of a sudden become much more fluid. Sexual assault became “locker room talk”, lies became “alternative facts”, folks like Franklin Graham responded to the Russian meddling in the U.S. election with “so what, everyone is doing it”, and the moral failings of their own political leaders all of a sudden became somehow excusable.

Me? Well, I remain firm in my conviction that truth and morality don’t shift with the seasons of culture. What is a lie today doesn’t magically become truth tomorrow. What is immoral today doesn’t instantly become acceptable tomorrow. Apostate or not, I’ll keep holding this conviction long after they have walked away from it.

It is impossible to serve two masters

Jesus famously said that it’s impossible to serve two masters, and when I was a member of the Religious Right we actually believed this.

We were taught that you can love God or love the things of this world, but you cannot love both. We were taught that you can follow God’s way, or follow the world’s way, but not both. Back in those days, being a Christian actually meant you had to make some choices that might result in personal sacrifice.

These days? While I still believe it is impossible to swear allegiance to God and something or someone else, the Religious Right seems to have changed their tune. Instead, I’ve actually seen many leaders on the Religious Right argue that serving God, by definition, meant one had to also serve Donald Trump.

Yes, in the old days we believed that one had to pick between Jesus and Barabbas, but in the Era of Trump it appears that you can choose them both at the same time.

Me? Well, I actually still hold to the belief that you can follow God, or follow the crowd.


unafraid 300Dr. Benjamin L. Corey is a public theologian and cultural anthropologist who is a two-time graduate of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary with graduate degrees in the fields of Theology and International Culture, and holds a doctorate in Intercultural Studies from Fuller Theological Seminary. He is also the author of the new book, Unafraid: Moving Beyond Fear-Based Faith, which is available wherever good books are sold. www.Unafraid-book.com. 

Be sure to check out his new blog, right here, and follow on Facebook:

October 25, 2017

godclown

Are we supposed to fear God? And if we did, would that be a good thing?

I’ve already tried that out, as over the years my view of God left little separation between him and an evil clown from a Stephen King movie.

In fact, my fear of God began the day I was introduced to him as a kid. I was the depraved sinner who was so bad inside that I had earned an eternity of torment– even though the brain that governs my decision making hadn’t finished developing yet. And not only had I already earned an eternity in the flames of hell– but my “loving” Heavenly Father was prepared to toss me into the lake of fire himself.

Of course, it gets worse. Being tossed into a lake of molten lava wouldn’t even kill me– the punishment the seven-year-old version of me had earned was so severe, that I would actually live forever and ever and ever, being tortured and burned alive in the flames of God’s hell.

Combine that with the fact that the Bible seems to repeatedly describe having “fear” of God as a good thing, I bought into the narrative hook, line, and sinker.

I had deep fear of God and supposedly, that was the “beginning of all wisdom.” However, instead of that fear being the beginning of wisdom it actually marked the day that functionally ended the very thing I was taught I had been created for: to have a relationship with God.

Let’s be honest: How does one have a “relationship” with someone so frightening that they might as well have come out of a Stephen King novel?

I really have no idea how it’s done. I’m not interested in even reading a book or watching a movie where the main character deliberately tortures and hurts people, let alone attempt to have some sort of relationship in real-life with someone like that. Even were one to attempt to have a relationship with someone who is willing to torture and hurt others, I don’t see how it could be a genuine or authentic relationship unless they too, took pleasure in the intentional torment of others.

Growing up I was taught there was good news in this story: Jesus could save me from what his dad wanted to do to me, because he took a violent beating in my place and can now protect me from him. All things considered, I spent years of my life actually believing this good news was pretty good.

Yet, too many years of trying to live within that narrative brought me to a season where I thought my faith had completely collapsed. I *just* couldn’t do it anymore– I’d rather believe in nothing than believe in an all-powerful being who’d dangle me over a fiery pit. More than that, I could no longer pretend that any such being was actually “loving” at all.

I suppose the biggest irony of my spiritual journey as a Christian is this: I was taught that Jesus could save me from a violent, angry God– and in the end, he actually did.

You see, when my faith collapsed I decided to start over and rebuild a Christian faith that was centered upon Jesus.

And when I did?

Well, I came to realize that the only way to describe what God is like is to describe what Jesus is like. Jesus claimed that he and the Father were one, and that when we see what Jesus is like, we’ll see what God is actually like. Even when the Gospel of John begins to introduces us to Jesus, it first reminds us that no one had actually seen God before that moment.

The only way to see what God is like, is to look at what Jesus is like.

It is God who trades up the opportunity to spend his time with the religiously pure, opting instead to recline at the table with messy people like me.

It is God who storms the halls of exclusive religion, who is busy disrupting the peace of those comfortably inside, and who clears a space for the outsiders.

It is God who stands with the condemned, boldly telling the crowd to put their stones down.

It is God who turns to them– turns to us– and says, “Neither do I condemn you.”

It is God who came and who so desperately wanted us to finally see what he is truly like, that he allowed himself to be raised high in the air on a hill outside Jerusalem for all to see.

It is God who refuses to be slandered by humanity in our descriptions of him, as if he’s some Stephen King character we’re supposed to fear.

It is God who exposed the vicious lie that we should fear him in the most dramatic plot-twist of all time– because it was God who refused to retaliate when we mocked him, spat upon him, pierced his body, and left him to die.

One must not miss the irony of the climactic moment when God’s true character was revealed to humanity: instead of inflicting upon us torture and torment, he let us do it to him

Even in that moment when his blood dripped and his body writhed in agony– a moment that would provoke rage and anger and hate in anyone– he looked upon the faces of those who did it, and forgave them.

Because of this, I stand in awe of God but I no longer stand fearful of him. I have chosen to believe Jesus when he whispers to his disciples and says, “When you see what I am like, that is the moment when you’ll finally see what God is like.”

No, God isn’t like some Stephen King character we’re supposed to fear– he’s gone to great lengths to show us that.

Today, my eyes are finally opened– it’s as if for the first time I see what God is like, because I finally see what Jesus is like.

And seeing what God is really like has led me to have something I’ve never experienced before:

A vibrant faith that is finally Unafraid.


unafraid 300Dr. Benjamin L. Corey is a public theologian and cultural anthropologist who is a two-time graduate of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary with graduate degrees in the fields of Theology and International Culture, and holds a doctorate in Intercultural Studies from Fuller Theological Seminary. He is also the author of the new book, Unafraid: Moving Beyond Fear-Based Faith, which is available wherever good books are sold. www.Unafraid-book.com. 

Be sure to check out his new blog, right here, and follow on Facebook:

August 17, 2017

Friends of Formerly Fundie:

unafraid 300As some of you may have seen on Facebook, I have spent the last year and a half quietly in the background plugging away at what became the most intense spiritual experience of my life.  Now that this season of my life has come full circle, I am back in the game and I am now thrilled to let you know that my new book Unafraid: Moving Beyond Fear-Based Faith is available for preorder wherever books and ebooks are sold!

Preorder Unafraid today and register for my bonus offer: membership in a private Facebook group where I’ll be interacting and joining you via Facebook live to talk about the book, or anything else that comes up (register to receive the bonus offer, here).

You can preorder Unafraid today from your preferred retailer by clicking one of the following links:

Amazon

B&N

IndieBound

Books A Million

iTunes

Google Play

If you’ve been following Formerly Fundie for any length of time, you likely know that my faith journey has taken many twists and turns– and this past year, it took another big one as I began to wrestle with the role that fear still played in my spiritual life, long after leaving fundamentalism. In Unafraid, I describe what I thought was a crisis of faith, but actually turned out to be a renewal of my faith, and I share my thoughts on how other Christians can learn, as I did, to reject American Christianity’s deadly culture of fear.

Growing up, I was taught that the God of the Bible would exile to hell those who didn’t believe in him, where they would burn in a lake of fire for eternity. Because of this starting point of faith, it should be no surprise that it became a fear-based faith, as so much focus was put on how to avoid being condemned to hell. As I retraced the old building blocks of my faith, I came to realize that this constant fear that God would send me to hell if I was unable to love him back in just the right way, had actually prevented me from having the very thing I was told I needed to have: a personal relationship with God.

It’s hard to have a relationship with someone if you’re worried there’s a chance they might dose you with gasoline and set you on fire one day for messing it all up.

As I got older I began to see that this vision of God didn’t line up with the person of Jesus, who was the epitome of radical love. As I drew nearer to Jesus and further from the punishing God of my childhood, I realized that there were many parts of Christianity, particularly American Christianity, that didn’t add up for me anymore. I tried to stuff this realization away deep inside me for a long time, but in the end it bubbled up and I was in a full-blown spiritual midlife crisis.

The good news? Once I quit resisting my fear and stepped into it, I discovered that a crisis of faith doesn’t have to be the death of faith– but might actually be the birth of it. And that’s exactly what I’ll show you in this book.

Unafraid is a book about having the courage to explore what happens when we remove a foundation of fear from our faith. Fear impacts every aspect of our spiritual lives—it makes it difficult to have an authentic relationship with God, causes us to take a rigid approach to the Bible, and invites us to become tribalistic in our faith. When we shed fear, we can discover a world of possibilities for what faith can look like.

My friends, you’ve journeyed with me through one major faith transition before– now I’m inviting you to take the next step, and join me in one more. It’s a journey where we’ll look our fear of God in the eyes, and then rebelliously “un” it.

Unafraid is on sale November 7th.

 

April 12, 2017

universalism

When I was in high school I took a debate class because I was overly opinionated and loved to argue. One day the teacher flipped the tables on me after picking a debate topic: he made us switch sides and debate the opposite position than what we had signed up to do.

The reason for the exercise, he explained, was that the best way to truly understand our own position is to dig deep into an alternative position. This also helps us understand that those with an alternative position aren’t just ignorant fools, but probably have some really good points.

Over the course of time I have written extensively on the issue of hell. While I do not believe in the dominant evangelical position on hell (eternal conscious torment), it is also true that I do not currently affirm the position of Christian Universalism. Instead, I have maintained my position on annihilationism, which is the belief that those who refuse to be reconciled to God die a second death, and it’s as if they never existed in the first place.

However, this does not mean that Christian Universalism has a weak case. In a tribute to my 10th grade debate teacher, allow me to make my best case for Christian Universalism being true– and why my own position might be wrong.

1. Many of the earliest Christians held the position of Christian Universalism.

Now, just because many early Christians held the position of universalism doesn’t mean it’s true. However, it does point to the fact that this is not some off-the-wall idea that only later, liberal Christians came up with. The fact that it was not unpopular with the patristics and in pre-Constantinian Christianity, shows that there is a historical basis for this position that goes back to the earliest days of Christianity.

Again, this is not proof the position is true, but certainly it’s is proof the concept is not at odds with historic Christianity.

2. The Bible teaches that universal salvation is what God wants.

There’s the famous question from Rob Bell’s book, Love Wins: Does God get what God wants?

Unarguably, the Bible says that God is “not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance.” (2 Peter 3:9) We also see in 1 Timothy 2:4 that God “desires all people to be saved.” Thus, we know that God wants everyone who has ever lived to be saved in the end.

If God is truly all-powerful, one can make a compelling argument that God can and does get what he wants in the end.

3. Jesus seemed to hint at universal salvation.

When Jesus predicted his death he said that he was about to drive the “ruler of this world out” (Satan) and that as a result, he would “draw all people to himself.” (John 12:32).

I think the visual contained in this passage is interesting: Jesus refers to Satan and says that his death will cast him out and deprive him of power. He then refers to humanity and says he will “ἑλκύσω” them to himself, which literally means to drag off. So, Jesus seemed to argue that he was about to defeat evil and “drag off” all of humanity– free from the clutches of Satan.

Furthermore, in John 3 Jesus claims he did not come to condemn the world but to “save the world.” Notice he doesn’t say save the “elect” or save a few, but claims he is on a mission to save the entire world. If universalism is untrue, one could argue Jesus failed in his mission and didn’t save the whole world at all.

Also, as I pointed out the other day, the Bible teaches that Jesus paid for the sins of the “whole world” (1 John 2:2), and that he paid the ransom for “all” people (1 Timothy 2:3-6). If universalism is untrue, this means that Jesus paid the price of redemption for everyone, but that some are still endlessly punished for sins that were already paid for. This sounds like a case of “double jeopardy” to me and doesn’t quite make sense.

4. Biblical passages repeatedly use the word “all.”

The key word in the above passages, and so many others, is all. We repeatedly see it used– and if universal salvation is untrue, Jesus and the biblical authors seem to be in error by saying “all” people. We’ve already seen that God desires “all” to be saved and that Jesus claimed he was going to drag off “all” people to himself. There are still others that use this language:

1 Corinthians 15:22 says that “all” will be made alive in Christ.

Colossians 1:19-20 says that through the sacrifice of Jesus, “all” things on earth and in heaven have been reconciled back to him.

In these cases, the match always goes to the universalists, because their position takes the text at face value, allowing “all” to mean literally “all.” Those who do not hold to the universalist position are forced to either argue that “all” really means “just some” or to divert attention back to verses where the stronger case goes to positions other than universalism.

Point being: the strongest and most logical case is that “all” actually means “all.”

5. Universalism makes more sense of hell & God’s loving character.

I think most people reject universalism before hearing the full case because they are aware that the Bible does in fact, quite clearly describe some sort of consequences in the afterlife for refusing to be reconciled to God in this life. They mistakenly believe that being a Christian universalist means that one rejects the concept of hell or some sort of divine punishment. This in fact, is totally untrue.

One of the advantages of universalism is that it can affirm passages that seem to speak about punishment in the afterlife, and it can affirm them in a way that better reflects the love and character of God. In universalism one can argue compellingly that the intent and outcome of God’s discipline is restoration of relationship, instead of endless punishment or permanent separation. It’s a difference of restorative justice instead of simply punitive justice– and that difference better reflects the character of God which is loving and always inviting reconciliation.

The three major positions on hell would look like this:

ETC position: hells is torment and it goes on forever. It is an endless punishment.

Annihilationist position: hell is a place where the soul goes and dies. It is a time limited, but permanent punishment.

Universalist: hell has elements of appropriate punishment and correction, with the goal of producing a change of heart and repentance. It is a restorative punishment that lasts as long as needed, whether that’s one day or a million years. This position is most consistent with a loving parent who corrects and disciplines, but does so not out of vengeance– but to to encourage a change of heart and behavior.

The Bible also describes heaven as a place where the gates are “never shut” which is also a compelling argument that perhaps, the number in heaven will constantly be growing in eternity as people repent and are reconciled to God.

Thus, in the universalist position we see not an angry God torturing people endlessly in hell with no hope, or who gives up and executes everyone, but a loving God who continues to guide, correct, invite repentance and restoration, and who will continue loving and inviting for billions of years if necessary, until all finally do come to repentance and are saved.

And the Bible once again hints that this will be how the story will end: it says that “Every knee shall bow and every tongue confess that Jesus is Lord.” If we know that’s the will of God, the desire of God, and the goal of God, would it not make sense that ultimately God convinces everyone to confess Jesus as Lord?

Christian universalism is not the same thing as an “anything goes” religion where we can all believe what we want, do what we want, and all end up in the same place at the same time.

Instead, it is a belief in the power of Jesus to atone for the sins of the entire world. It is a belief that Jesus truly has reconciled all things and all people to himself. It’s a belief that God’s loving nature is so endless, that even those who stubbornly refuse to be reconciled in this life will still find themselves pursued by God’s love and invited to have a change of heart, until every last one of them turns back to God– and hell is empty.

The case for universalism is not weak or some liberal nonsense, but actually fits God’s character and the biblical narrative quite convincingly.

Universalism is a solidly Christian belief, with solid reasons and solid biblical support.

True, I’m not a universalist, but now that I’ve argued the case for them, I’m rethinking that.

Thanks, Mr. Finnegan.


unafraid 300Dr. Benjamin L. Corey is a public theologian and cultural anthropologist who is a two-time graduate of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary with graduate degrees in the fields of Theology and International Culture, and holds a doctorate in Intercultural Studies from Fuller Theological Seminary. He is also the author of the new book, Unafraid: Moving Beyond Fear-Based Faith, which is available wherever good books are sold. www.Unafraid-book.com. 

Be sure to check out his new blog, right here, and follow on Facebook:

March 23, 2017

Bible, Jesus Christ, Old.

Anyone who has ever read the Old Testament knows there’s a lot of laws listed in those books– over 600 to be exact.

In many circles of Christianity there’s often much debate as to what degree, if any, a Christian ought live by these laws.

In the past when I have suggested that Christians are not obligated to abide by any of these laws at all, commenters will often quickly object, saying that “Jesus didn’t abolish the law.” While that fact is true (I’ve explained that, here), when pressed harder most of these Christians will admit that, no, not all of the Old Testament laws are to be followed today. After all, there’s the prohibition on bacon, shellfish, and wearing a cotton/polyester blend worked into those laws, which rarely even the most conservative fundamentalist will abide by.

In this way, using the OT law almost becomes a game with shifting rules and sinister strategy. It goes something like this:

A:  “The Bible says gays are an abomination, and Jesus didn’t abolish the law!”

B: “Um. Ok. You do realize that it calls people who work in banks an abomination, that there’s that whole long list of tasty foods you’re not allowed to eat, and that you’re not supposed to cut your sideburns, right?”

A: “You’re misusing scripture! Those laws were just for Israel at that time for different reasons.”

B: “Wait- so you’re telling me Jesus didn’t abolish the law, that the OT law still stands, but that the prohibited stuff you like to do doesn’t apply anymore. How does that work?”

A: “See, this proves how meaningless your college degrees are. If you had a true education you’d know that the laws are separated into categories– ceremonial, civil, and moral. The first two categories we don’t have to obey, but the third one we still do.”

And that’s how the conversation goes, over and over again.

When pressed about OT laws they will claim the argument of categories where one category still applies, but the others do not. Here’s how they describe those classifications:

“Ceremonial Law: This type of law related to Israel’s worship. (Lev 1:1-13) The laws pointed forward to Jesus Christ and were no longer necessary after Jesus’ death and resurrection. Though we are no longer bound to them, the principles behind the ceremonial laws, to worship and love God, still apply.

Civil Law: This law dictated Israel’s daily living (Deut 24:10-11); but modern society and culture are so radically different that some of these guidelines cannot be followed specifically. The principles behind the commands are to guide our conduct.

Moral Law: The moral laws are direct commands of God. A good example are the Ten Commandments (Ex 20:1-17). The moral laws reveal the nature and will of God, and still apply to us today. We do not obey this moral law as a way to obtain salvation, but to live in ways pleasing to God.”

But there’s a few problems with this line of argumentation.

First and foremost, the Old Testament itself does not separate the laws into categories– these categories are modern ways to try to understand and compartmentalize a rather large system of ancient laws. If the biblical authors had intended there to be clear-cut categories, that’s probably how we would find the law written– but it’s not. There’s not a book of ceremonial law followed by a book of moral laws. How can we know for sure which law belonged in which category? We can’t, because the Bible doesn’t tell us.

While developing systems of classification can be helpful, they are our classifications, not the Bible’s.

Additionally, even if the laws were cleanly separated into categories, no where in the Bible does it say “these two categories of OT law are not to be followed anymore, but this one category does still apply.” That’s now how NT writers viewed OT laws.

Finally, and I find this one the most tragic and amusing: classifying OT laws into categories, where only one category still applies, invites one to be ridiculously self-serving. Case in point, I was looking at how the Christian Apologetics & Research Ministry website dealt with these categories and noted the following: laws about oppressing the poor are conveniently listed as “civil” instead of “moral”, while they were sure to list things like homosexuality under moral category.

What makes denying personal charity, and refusing to feed the hungry, something that falls outside the realm of morality? Or, if civil laws govern relationships between people, as their website claims, why then would sexual behavior be listed in the moral category and not the civil category that governs relationships?

The reality is that separating OT laws into categories may be helpful in understanding how these laws impacted this ancient culture. However, when we separate them into categories for the purposes of determining which ones we are still required to obey, and which ones we are not, we will find ourselves inclined to subconsciously do this in a way that is charitable to ourselves, and condemning to others.

Old Testament laws, while impacting different areas of life, were not meant to be neatly sorted and selectively applied– certainly not so in the modern age.

The good news? Well, if you’re a Christian you’ve invited to follow Jesus and to model your life after him– so there’s no need to figure out OT law, since a Christian is under the law of Christ.


unafraid 300Dr. Benjamin L. Corey is a public theologian and cultural anthropologist who is a two-time graduate of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary with graduate degrees in the fields of Theology and International Culture, and holds a doctorate in Intercultural Studies from Fuller Theological Seminary. He is also the author of the new book, Unafraid: Moving Beyond Fear-Based Faith, which is available wherever good books are sold. www.Unafraid-book.com. 

Be sure to check out his new blog, right here, and follow on Facebook:

March 13, 2017

Dwight Stone, Flickr
Dwight Stone, Flickr

I love the Bible.

It’s why I spent eight years of my life in seminary, why I’ve served as a church pastor even when they couldn’t afford to pay me, and is why even now I end up finding Greek flashcards in the most random places in my house.

But my love for the Bible includes honesty.

When we love someone or something, it’s easy to grow to see them the way you want to see them in your mind, often overlooking obvious realities that, if acknowledged, would create more work for the relationship. I did that for many years with the Bible, but now my love for it includes a willingness to embrace it for all it is– and to be honest about that.

In my years of studying, wrestling, and growing to love the Bible deeper and more honestly, I’ve come to embrace and acknowledge that when we read the words on the page, we’re reading a lot more than just those words. So, here’s 5 things we’re reading, when we’re reading the Bible:

5. You’re reading books and letters where the primary/original meaning is what the author intended the original audience to understand.

I remember learning in Sunday School that the Bible was “God’s love letter to us.” It’s a cute idea, but is less than helpful because we’re not the original audience, and that matters.

The reality is that these are sacred books, stories, and letters, where the primary/original meaning is the meaning the original author intended to convey to the original audience– and we’re neither of those parties. It’s almost like trying to understand an inside joke; until you understand the relationship between the sender and receiver of a message, and the context of what’s being discussed, it’s easy to walk away with all sorts of broken understandings of what was really being communicated. This makes things like understanding ancient culture, customs, and general history, a critical aspect of understanding the Bible.

4. You’re reading an unfolding story of people slowly growing in their understanding of God.

For those of us who grow up in conservative traditions, we’re often taught that the nature and character of God is perfectly revealed on every page of Scripture, but that’s not actually true.

The Bible, while a collection of books spanning centuries, is ultimately an unfolding story of people trying to understand what God is like. There are glimpses of God revealed throughout the story, as well as misunderstandings about God, and even blaming horrid actions on God– but the revelation of God is a progressive revelation. The entire narrative builds towards the introduction of a main character– Jesus– who is God made flesh and reveals that the nature and character of God has often been profoundly misunderstood.

The giant twist of the story was the realization that the only way to know what God is like, is to look at what Jesus is like– everything else gets reinterpreted in light of God made flesh.

3. You’re reading the judgment call, and even bias, of a translator.

Translation may involve the same part of your brain as math, but it’s not *exact* like math. The reality is that when translating ancient manuscripts into modern language, there are words and expressions that do not have a 1 for 1 swap. You also find words that could have meant many different things in the original language, and without the ability to ask the original author which meaning they meant or which meaning the original audience most likely would have understood, you’re left with no choice but to make your best guess– and that best guess can radically change the flavor of any given passage.

Other times there is outright bias on the part of the translator to the point where they will deliberately translate something in a way that is more favorable to their opinion or position. Either way, when you read the Bible you’re already reading someone else’s best guess, or someone else’s bias.

2. You’re reading nuance in English that does not exist in Greek.

Translation isn’t just a challenge from Greek or Hebrew into English, but also brings up reverse issues: words in English that carry flavors, associations, and nuance, that would not have existed in the original language. When this happens, we are subtly led to read things into Scripture without even knowing we’re doing it– unconsciously assuming that modern or English nuance actually applies to the text.

A great example of this is the word “hell.” The NT uses three completely different words that we translate into English as hell, even though all three Greek words have different nuance– none of them being the equivalent to what we think about when we see the English word, hell. Our version of the word didn’t exist in the first century, so using the English word “hell” causes us to read a modern understanding into an ancient text, wrongly.

1. You’re reading your own beliefs, assumptions, and generational theology.

Every time you pick up a Bible, you’re reading not just words on a page but are also reading previously held beliefs and assumptions into the text. This is a version of confirmation bias, which essentially is an unwillingness (often subconscious) to have your cherished view be shaken by additional facts or information, and is a *really* hard habit to break.

If your childhood was spent being taught that X was true, when you read the Bible you’ll read it in such a way that assumes X is true. When you encounter a passage that contradicts or challenges X, you’ll naturally look for alternative ways to understand the passage so that it lines up with your unwillingness to consider that X may not be true after all.

Believe violence against enemies is ok? You’ll read that into the Bible. Taught that God is full of wrath, that there’s a great tribulation about to come upon us, and that the end is here? You’ll read that into the Bible, too. That’s because it’s natural to bring our own beliefs and assumptions to the party with us, and to read the Bible in such a way that makes it conform to the view we already hold– we all do it, we just have to learn to be aware that we’re doing it.

I grew up in the world where people had bumper stickers that said, “The Bible says it, I believe it, that settles it,” but it’s really not that simple. The Bible is a complex collection of writings. There are translation issues, narrative issues, nuance of language issues, and the human tendency to make something conform to a previously held belief.

I think we need to be honest about that, and allow that to invite us into a posture of humility when reading the Bible.

I still love the Bible every bit as much as I loved it back then, but I love it with more honesty now– even though it creates a lot more work for the relationship.


unafraid 300Dr. Benjamin L. Corey is a public theologian and cultural anthropologist who is a two-time graduate of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary with graduate degrees in the fields of Theology and International Culture, and holds a doctorate in Intercultural Studies from Fuller Theological Seminary. He is also the author of the new book, Unafraid: Moving Beyond Fear-Based Faith, which is available wherever good books are sold. www.Unafraid-book.com. 

Be sure to check out his new blog, right here, and follow on Facebook:

February 17, 2017

Flickr creative commons
Flickr creative commons

Growing up evangelical, one of the primary questions we were taught to ask strangers was: “Are you saved?” Or, better yet: “If you died tonight do you know where you’d go?”

The concept of being saved was pretty simple, really: You’re a sinner headed for hell, Jesus died to take your punishment, and if you “ask him into your heart” you’ll go to heaven instead of hell.

Salvation as understood this way has taken root in much of Americanized Christianity, and even global Christianity thanks in part to the American way of packaging and exporting an Americanized version of the faith. It is a simple, non-costly understanding of salvation that has little biblical precedence even though it is so commonplace.

This truncated version of salvation turns it into something elusive, something secret. Like a membership card tucked into the deepest corner of your wallet, you have no way of knowing who has one, and who does not. This is precisely why and how so many Christians came to see Donald Trump as “saved” and one of us: leaders like James Dobson reported rumors that he “accepted Christ” (as if it’s like accepting an offer for a low interest credit card) and from that moment on, Trump is seen by many to be “saved” and thus one of us.

But that’s not biblical salvation– biblical salvation has little to do with a secret transaction that points you toward heaven or sends you to hell, in the commonly understood sense.

While the NT term salvation can hold a variety of nuance, the ultimate contextual meaning of salvation in the NT is in reference for one who joined God’s Kingdom as proclaimed by Jesus. Joining God’s Kingdom is much like joining any other Kingdom that has one who rules from a throne: you join by pledging your allegiance and obedience to the King– and then living that out.

In Americanized Christianity, salvation often only includes half that equation, or at least offers a footnote to the idea of living out Kingdom principles. They’ll often say things like, “Well, we don’t have to emulate Jesus in this particular area of life because he was unique” or, “Well, the Kingdom of God isn’t fully here yet, so Jesus was just describing how we’ll live one day in a perfect world.”

Readers Digest version: As long as you have the card in your pocket, you’re saved. The second half is nice, but not totally necessary, because there’s a lot of “reasons” why we don’t always do what Jesus did. In this case, the faux version of salvation we grew up with was an easy, individualized transaction that was focused on where you’ll go when you die, not on how you live in the here and now.

However, biblical salvation is directly linked to net-result of actually doing what Jesus said (aka, living the principles of his Kingdom). This is precisely because biblical salvation has little to do with life after death (though it does some), but has a lot to do with life right now. In fact, when Jesus uses the term “eternal life” in the NT, he often uses this term in the present tense.

Since the Kingdom Jesus proclaimed is founded upon very specific principles, a specific culture that must be lived out (see the Sermon on the Mount for his full manifesto), biblical salvation seems to be heavily focused on being saved from an old way of living, and saved into a new way of living– a way of life that Jesus described as “eternal.”

For those who reject Kingdom principles, for those who oppress the poor, for those who reject the immigrant, those who refuse the way of nonviolent enemy love, those who refuse to live out the culture of the Kingdom right now, it would be a stretch to say they are “saved” in the biblical sense, because until they put down their guns, feed the hungry, and welcome the immigrant, they have not yet entered God’s Kingdom and begun living in it. They may have “asked Jesus into their heart” but they have not yet joined the Kingdom- and that’s what salvation is about.

Thus, salvation is not a transaction that is open and shut, taking place in totality within the recesses of one’s heart. It surely begins in the heart, but salvation doesn’t end there– it is not possible to be “saved” in the biblical sense if one is not actively striving to be obedient to the King and the culture of the Kingdom– and Scripture speaks quite forcefully on this point.

This is precisely why Jesus said it is possible to be deeply religious, to be a lover of the Bible, and to still not be saved (Matthew 21:31, John 5:39-40). It is also why he said that many who are thrown into the lake of fire on judgement day will be Christians who did not care for the poor and needy, and thus never actually entered the Kingdom (Matthew 5:31-46). Certainly, other NT writers back up this concept of salvation, such as the author of James who wrote that faith which is not followed up by caring for the poor and hungry cannot save you (James 2:14-17).

Does biblical salvation have anything to do with the afterlife? To a degree, yes. God’s Kingdom will be eternal. However, the bigger issue is this: If one is not willing to live in the Kingdom now, no matter who they ask into their heart, the chances that they’d even want to live in the Kingdom then seem slim. God, of course, sees that– and the Bible warns us in that regard to not think that simply raising our hand at the end of a sermon means we’re headed to paradise when we die.

There’s little point in talking about being saved then, if we aren’t first saved right now– because salvation isn’t as much a distant event, but a present reality.


unafraid 300Dr. Benjamin L. Corey is a public theologian and cultural anthropologist who is a two-time graduate of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary with graduate degrees in the fields of Theology and International Culture, and holds a doctorate in Intercultural Studies from Fuller Theological Seminary. He is also the author of the new book, Unafraid: Moving Beyond Fear-Based Faith, which is available wherever good books are sold. www.Unafraid-book.com. 

Be sure to check out his new blog, right here, and follow on Facebook:

December 20, 2016

Police officer holding a gun at a shooting range

Liberty University, the nation’s largest Christian university, has recently announced that it has at least a million dollars to blow.

As people who profess to follow Jesus and teach young men and women to do the same, one would expect having an extra million dollars to spend could be put to some good causes that Jesus highlighted. For example, in Matthew 25 Jesus said that he would eternally condemn those Christians who professed Christianity in word, but did not welcome immigrants, feed the hungry, or clothe the naked.

That seems like a really good starting point to me.

But alas, no. Liberty University will be spending that extra million bucks on… a shooting range.

The University recently updated their policy so that their young students– students whose prefrontal cortexes (the part of the brain needed for complex problem solving) won’t finish developing for a few years– can now carry concealed weapons, even in their dorms. It goes to figure then, that these gun slinging Jesus-followers would need a shooting range to practice.

Thus, Liberty will be shelling out some big bucks to make it all happen, as they recently announced the construction of their 13,000 square foot shooting range.

The move behind this development is pretty straight forward: Liberty president Jerry Falwell Jr has stated that he doesn’t want the school to be a gun free zone since that’s what terrorists look for (not true), and has stated that he doesn’t want Liberty to be a place where people don’t fight back.

Which is really interesting because of… well, Jesus.

You see, Jesus lived under a horrible military occupation where people were routinely nailed to trees and left to rot on the side of the road. Everywhere he went, there would have been signs of the violent culture he lived in– signs of oppression, threats of violence, and death.

And yet– here’s where it gets really funny: Jesus didn’t teach people to fight back with violence. In fact, he taught the opposite.

In Matthew 5 Jesus specifically taught his followers that when they are accosted by an “evildoer” that they were not to respond with “violence in kind.” Instead, Jesus said that his followers must love their enemies, that they are to do good to them, and even serve them. This, Jesus said, was the evidence that one was a “child of your father in heaven.”

Instead of teaching these young Christians at Liberty University that the way of Jesus is the way of radical, self-sacrificial enemy love, the leadership of Liberty University is both encouraging and training them to specifically not obey Jesus in this area of their lives. Kinda reminds me of how Jesus said such people would be considered “least in the Kingdom of Heaven” but I digress.

Every time I see a story like this from within American Christianity, I can’t help but see the irony. Gun-slinging Christians like Falwell are often first to point to LGBTQ affirming Christians as being “compromised” and people who have caved to shifting cultural norms instead of sticking to the truth of the Bible.

By encouraging and training these young Christians to gun down their enemies instead of loving them, all while accusing other Christians of compromising the authority of Scripture, is a classic case of pointing a finger only to have four pointing back at you.

Jesus quite explicitly taught his followers to love their enemies. He specifically condemned responding to violence with violence on more than one occasion. Furthermore, he lived a life of nonviolent enemy love– and the book of 1 John reminds us that the only true evidence that we are God’s people is if we model our lives after the behavioral example of Jesus himself.

But Liberty University, and so many Christians in America, have abandoned the call of Jesus. They have dismissed his teachings regarding enemy love as being too costly to obey, and to insane to be true.

They trade the teachings of Jesus for the idolatrous, false-security of having a gun in their back pocket.

And so, they claim to love Jesus with their lips, but express utter contempt for what Jesus actually taught.

May the continuing developments at Liberty University remind us that there are two types of Christianity: one being a religion that is rooted in following the teachings of Jesus, and one being a secular, nationalistic religion that simply uses the name “Christianity.”

Spending a million dollars on a gun range when Virginia’s homeless population is largely found right outside the doors of Liberty University, shows us which religion Liberty is actually promoting.

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