May 27, 2016

Hands Making Love Heart Shadow on Rainbow Background

If one follows the news they’d see that many major Christian denominations are split over LGBTQ inclusion. As I have followed these developments, one observation that has stood out in my mind is that the division over LGBTQ inclusion is a recent development, historically speaking. This means one thing: the movement to include and affirm our LGBTQ brothers and sisters in the church is growing.

I believe we are seeing the early stages of what will be, within a generation, a seismic shift in the Church toward LGBTQ inclusion and affirmation. While some would assume this is due to younger Christians (who I do believe are leading the way) a recent Pew Research Center poll showed that increasing support for our LGBTQ brothers and sisters is actually climbing across all demographics– even the older generation.

Why is this dramatic shift happening?

No, it’s not because we’re in the “great falling away” that those end-timers preach about.

There’s actually 5 really solid reasons why more Christians are becoming LGBTQ affirming, and as your Explainer-in-Chief, I’d be happy to break this down for you. Here’s what’s happening:

More Christians are engaging with biblical scholarship than before.

Funny thing: many Christians are becoming affirming not in spite of the Bible, but because of it. As they engage some of the great work being done today, they’re realizing that when reading the six passages that seem to reference homosexuality, there is far more to consider than the unquestioned interpretations they grew up with. For example, they’re discovering folks like Dr. JR Daniel Kirk whose extensive work demonstrates Old Testament prohibitions are about more than meets the eye. Plus, Christians today know that OT law was completed through Christ, rendering those verses (along with that shellfish and mixed fibers stuff) relics of an ancient tribal people.

In the New Testament, more Christians are engaging the three “clobber” passages with a heart for understanding original language and context– something otherwise known as basis exegesis. Scholarship in that area reveals that the type of homosexual behavior observed and critiqued by Paul was hardly a 1 for 1 correlation to the movement for the monogamous, life-long relationships being advocated today. Instead, a cultural investigation shows that Paul would have seen a Roman culture where straight people were having gay sex out of excess, gay sex happening in conjunction with idol worship, and pedophilia in the Roman military, etc. The ancient realities of Paul’s day, compared to our modern realities, quickly make this an apples and oranges comparison.

Previous generations didn’t have this scholarship at their fingertips, and had to rely on their pastors (often not biblical scholars at all) who did their best to interpret English translations of the Bible, but did so in a way that simply reflected the views of the generation before them. Thankfully, we’re more biblically informed than our grandparents were able to be.

More Christians are realizing that being gay isn’t a choice.

No one chooses their orientation– orientation chooses you. While we do not yet completely understand the biology behind orientation to a scientific certainty, we can say with confidence that you are either born with it, or it develops so young in life that it could in no way be seen as a choice one can consent to, or reject.

A growing number of Christians are realizing that one can no more repent of being gay than they can repent of being left handed (and as a lefty, I’ll tell you: I’d die of starvation and exposure to the elements if I had to do things with my right hand.)

I’ve never met a single person of any orientation who claims they actually chose it. I have however, met scores of people who all tried to un-choose their orientation, only to realize that un-choosing orientation isn’t possible.

More Christians are aware of the harmful impact of non-affirming theology.

The struggles facing those in the LGBTQ community, especially LGBTQ youth, are undeniable and no longer unseen. More Christians are waking up to the reality that a non-affirming stance is leading to growing LGBTQ youth homelessness, as families reject their own children. They’re also more aware of things like suicide among our LGBTQ brothers and sisters, stemming from the rejection and isolation that non-affirming theology naturally cultivates, even if unintentionally.

More Christians are seeing these and other negative impacts of non-affirming theology, and are realizing that it produces bad, bad, fruit. For me, this was the precise turning point on my own journey to an affirming stance. It happened one night when a non-affirming friend asked me quite sincerely, “How can I hold a non-affirming stance in such a way that kids won’t want to go out and kill themselves?”

I thought long and hard about the question, and when I realized that I didn’t have a single answer for him, I knew that affirming was the only possible stance I could morally justify to my own conscience– and there’s a growing number of Christians who are with me on that.

More Christians are seeing people instead of seeing an abstract issue.

In the previous generation, LGBTQ was just a distant “issue” that many Christians didn’t have personal experience with. It was easy to be scared of “the gays” as they’d call them, because most folks only had distorted caricatures and stereotypes to go by– usually shaped by anti-LGBTQ rhetoric that had little resemblance to reality.

But today? Today it’s no longer a detached, dehumanized “issue.” As more and more of our LGBTQ Christian brothers and sisters have the courage to come out and share their stories, more Christians are beginning to see LGBTQ not as an “issue” but as the real life stories and experiences of their friends, neighbors, siblings and children.

When we humanize an issue by accepting the invitation to walk on the inside of someone’s sacred story, something magical happens: we develop compassion and empathy, and these eventually break way to acceptance and affirmation.

The more one knows and sincerely loves the LGBTQ people in their life, the harder and harder it becomes to hold onto non-affirming theology.

More Christians are are siding with the message of hope– and there’s no hope in non-affirming theology. 

Christianity has always been the message of hope and inclusion, but non-affirming theology doesn’t offer that– and a growing number of Christians are catching on.

Think about it. In traditional non-affirming theology this is the best it gets: “Your only hope of not going to hell when you die is to spend the rest of your life completely lonely, and to totally resist ever having your most basic physical and emotional needs met.”

And that’s not an exaggeration– that really is most hopeful scenario I can think of that non-affirming theology offers. Forced celibacy and loneliness in order to avoid hell.

It’s an easy message to preach when you’re not one of the people in the audience.

More and more Christians are awakening to the realization that Christianity was never intended to be so devoid of hope, and that such hopelessness and isolation has no room in the beautiful and inclusive tradition of Jesus.

Yes, it’s true that many denominations are finding themselves divided over LGBTQ inclusion, but remember: this is a good thing, because it shows us that a growing number of Christians are doing the hard work of rethinking this, and that love is winning.


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.

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April 27, 2016

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Image courtesy World Vision staff photographer

People often falsely assume that the word Christian has a clear, singular, meaning but that’s not necessarily true.

There’s “Christian,” which refers to a particular religion of over 41,000 different denominations or sects who disagree on what Christian means. Then there’s “Christian” which can refer to a nationalistic religion prevalent in America.

And then there’s “Christian” the way I like to use the word: like Jesus. In fact, when the word first caught on in the early church, that’s almost precisely what the definition was.

Of the thousands upon thousands of people who belong to the first two types of Christianity, (approximately 78% of Americans), fighting poverty isn’t high on the radar. Various studies over the years have actually shown that the number of Christians who tithe amount to approximately 5-7%. This means that at least 93% of Christians don’t even give money to the church they attend, let alone give money to fight poverty.

And even among the 5-7% who do tithe, most of that gets sucked into ever growing church budgets, leaving the amount of money that actually ends up going toward helping people poverty negligible at best.

What does this mean? Well, to be perfectly blunt, it means that Christians in America statistically give very, very little to the poor.

But here’s the problem: You can’t be Christian if you’re not actively helping and serving the least among us. Sure, you can belong to one of the 41,000 Christian denominations and fail to do that, but you can’t be Christian—you can’t be like Jesus or a follower of Jesus– if you’re not actively serving those who are impoverished.

Honestly, I think we have a problem that we must face here in American Christianity: 97% of Christians (noun) aren’t Christian (adjective). Jesus taught his disciples to first take the beam out of their own eye before worrying about the speck in their brother’s eye, and I think it’s time we get a crowbar and start yanking this beam out.

For the one who desires to be Christian, we have a non-negotiable model to follow. Scripture tells us that Jesus lived his life in such a way that serves as an example for us to follow, and that we are to walk in his footsteps—even if that means sacrifice or suffering.

What’s the example Jesus left us? Well, Jesus spent his time preaching good news to the poor, healing the sick, feeding the hungry, and helping the lame to walk again. In fact, helping the poor and sick was so absolutely central to Jesus’s ministry, that he commanded his followers to continue this tradition—and even warned them that if they refused to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, or welcome the immigrant, they would find themselves facing an everlasting punishment on judgment day.

Did you catch that? To Jesus, helping the poor isn’t simply a nice thing to do—it’s what often gets classified as a “heaven or hell issue.”

The fact that 93% of Christians in America are not doing something Jesus said was a requirement of being his disciple presents a major discipleship challenge for the next generation of pastors and teachers. It’s one that absolutely cannot be ignored—because you can’t be Christian if you’re not helping the poor.

While on one hand I think that we need to begin to acknowledge that American Christianity has a major, major oversight, this week I’m encouraged by the actions of some who long to follow Jesus. I’ve been traveling in the Dominican Republic with World Vision, and have been overcome with emotion at some of the stories I’ve listened to.

There was the mother who was sick and dying, but when World Vision came to check on her children in their program, they realized she needed help– and she got it. When she was well, they also helped her build a home, get some animals, and start a business– and today the family is not only intact, but she’s actually taken in foster children from the village.

Or, then there was the community who realized that they could improve the condition of everyone if they banded together and started a business. So World Vision provided training and resources, and today I spent the afternoon at their office where they make and sell shoes– providing a livelihood for at least a dozen families who would otherwise languish in poverty.

I saw it at the goat farm too– a group of folks who realized they could prevent families from splitting upD090-0231-121 and searching for migrant work if they could create a sustainable job for the whole community. Because of World Vision donors, WV was able to help them get the business going, and today they’re able to resist the urge to leave their families in search of migrant work where they could end up exploited or trafficked.

I have witnessed the beauty of what happens when God’s people do what Jesus said we should do– and I long to see more of it.

I believe one of the ways we can help the 93% of Christians become more Christian, while helping the next generation of Christians avoid the error of our own, is to encourage child sponsorship through World Vision. Sponsorship is just $39 a month, and as I have witnessed firsthand traveling with World Vision in Eastern Europe and the Caribbean, sponsoring just one child has the power to transform an entire community.

The letters you and your children exchange with the child you sponsor will both be a major source of encouragement to your sponsor child, but will also help teach your own about the beauty of being Christian and the beauty of giving.

And that money you give? Well, I’ve seen first hand the net results of sponsoring a child. I’ve been a guest in the homes of those who were once homeless, I’ve embraced healthy people who were once sick and dying, and I’ve bounced children on my knee who have beamed with pride over the fact they had a World Vision sponsor in America.

Yes, it’s true that we as Christians have had a beam in our eye, and that statistically speaking we have overlooked a core tenet of what it means to be Christian. But what’s also true is that it doesn’t have to be that way for another generation.

We don’t have to ignore it.

We can change. And as we change, we’ll change others.

And as we change others? Well, do that long enough and you just might change the world.

Will you join me today in sponsoring a child through World Vision? There’s no better time like the present, and you can select your sponsor child right here.

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April 14, 2016

Woman reading a few books on the floor

I have finished the race.

After spending 8 years in seminary between Gordon-Conwell and Fuller Theological Seminary, last Friday I successfully defended my dissertation in Pasadena. Coming back in the room after the committee deliberated, and then being called “Dr. Corey” for the first time, was an emotional experience for me.

It was a great feeling to know that my long journey is over. It was a terminal degree, so my chapter in life as a formal student is officially completed.

Some have told me that I need to just sit with this a while and enjoy the feeling of completion, but I’m a process guy, so that’s hard for me to do. Instead of being able to just “be here,” I’ve been spending some time reflecting on the journey itself, and wondering what I might do differently if I could live those years over again.

As I close this chapter in life, I close it with some concluding thoughts in the form of 5 things I wish I had done a little bit differently:

 

5. I would have sought out more diversity in who I studied under.

Thankfully, I was able to spend time under some fantastic minds during my years in seminary. My last year at Gordon-Conwell was spent largely studying under a Chinese Mennonite, and my years at Fuller had strong female leadership in the program. I also came under the wing of a Costa Rican missiologist who has been highly influential in my thought development. However, I still wished that I hadn’t studied under so many white men.

A lot of this is a reflection of a white male dominated environment, but looking back I certainly could have taken more initiative, and done so a lot sooner, to seek opportunities to learn under minorities.

4. I would have focused more on the process, and less on the finish line.

So much of life tends to be lost when we focus on the destination instead of the journey. Looking back I realize there were many times that I was so focused on the end result, that I cheated myself out of joy that only occurs in the process.

Learning to be fully present– not living in the past or hyper focused on the future– has been a life long struggle for me. I’m slowly starting to get a grasp on it, but my years in seminary would have been enhanced had I learned to do this sooner.

3. I would have spent less time sharing my ideas, and more time considering the ideas of others.

Good professors promote hearty classroom discussions, but it seems many of those discussions are just people putting forth views and opinions that they brought with them into the room. I of course, fell prey to this at times along with everyone else– wanting to make the case that my idea or opinion was the correct one.

In hindsight however, I wished that I had carried around a note to myself that said, “Shut the hell up and listen. You might learn something from them.”

Certainly I listened and learned from a lot of people, but I recognize I could have done a lot more of it.

2. I would have spent more time building long-term natural supports in my life.

There are three types of seminary graduates: (a) Those who come out carbon copies of how they went in, (b) Those who come out of seminary an arrogant version of their old self, and (c) Those who have their worlds rocked and come out completely different people.

I’m in the last category. The person my church sent to seminary in 2008 is dead. He doesn’t exist anymore. That happens to a lot of us.

And for those of us who come out completely different, life after seminary can be lonely as we find ourselves rejected by the very people who told us to go to seminary in the first place. Like the runt of the litter who gets kicked off the mother’s breast, we too are banished and left to figure out how to survive on our own.

And that part sucks. It sucks bad.

If I could do it all over again, I would have worked harder to build relationships that could have been a support during the lonely post-seminary phase of life.

1. I would have taken my personal spiritual life/self-care a lot more seriously.

When I went off to seminary, people jokingly called it “cemetery.” Once I became aware that I was among those who would never be the same because of seminary, I realized it wasn’t a joke at all– a lot of death happens between those walls. Those losses are so painful that many seminarians in Category C develop a deep affection for using the F word, as if we’re constantly feeling like we just smashed our thumb with a hammer.

Between the painful deconstruction of old paradigms, the realization that being a biblical or theological scholar invites someone into less certainty instead of more confidence, and with the many Christian friends you lose for learning how to use the brain God gave you, seminary can ultimately kill your spiritual life. It can leave you feeling accomplished, but totally defeated.

Seminary invited me into a bizarre paradox where I’m more committed to following Jesus than ever before, but still performing CPR on my spiritual life, all at the same time. I don’t know how those two coexist, but I assure you, they do. (See Mark 9:24)

If I could do it all over again, I would have been a lot more proactive in providing myself with the spiritual and emotional survival tools that I now realize I’m desperately searching for.

I’m glad that at the end of 2008 I decided I’d soon be heading off to seminary– I can’t imagine living my whole life as my old self. And, I’m glad that I didn’t quit, but instead went far beyond anywhere I believed I could go. I mean, I once struggled to complete an associates degree– so I never imagined I’d ever be a doctor of anything.

So today, I close the door on a major life chapter and begin a new one that is still yet to be defined.

As I begin my post-seminary life, I am deeply thankful and appreciative for all I have experienced, and all those wonderful people I have come to know because of it.

But I’m also wrestling with the tension that my years in seminary involved major, painful losses, that compounded to the point where I’m beginning my post-seminary life with a mind full of knowledge, but a heart in search of a spiritual defibrillator.

And honestly? As I say good-bye to this chapter in my life, I think it’s okay to sit in that tension a while.

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March 24, 2016

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Image via Gage Skidmore, Flickr

I used to consider myself a person of at least average intelligence, but I’ve been trying to wrap my head around the idea of Christians supporting Donald Trump, and I just can’t do it.

I tried, but I have failed miserably.

Instead, I’ve just found myself left with questions. So, here are 5 questions I have for Christians who support Donald Trump:

5. How are you able to support someone who is famous for unwholesome talk and constantly putting people down?

You know that Bible we read? (It’s thick and usually has a fake leather cover. Check the shelf.)

Well, that Bible has a few things to say about how we use our tongues and about the kind of garbage we should resist allowing to flow from our little speaking machines.

I mean, I know it’s a big book, but surely you’ve gotten to the part where Paul says that no unwholesome words should come out of our mouths, but only those words which edify and build people up, no?

I’ll tell you this: When you compare what the Bible teaches about how we should use our words, to how Trump uses his, you’re going to find two opposite examples. It’s one thing to disagree with people, and even forcefully challenge their ideas, but that can be done without stooping to the levels Trump stoops to.

Or, let me ask it this way: How would you react if your kids came home from school talking like Donald Trump? How would you feel if they talked to you the way Trump talks to others?

Would you seriously be okay with that? C’mon now! Be honest with yourself.

March 23, 2016

BRUSSELS, BELGIUM - JUNE 15, 2014: The Crucifixion paint by Jean Francois Portaels (1886) in St. Jacques Church at The Coudenberg.

This is post 2 of 3 on philosophical reflections on the cross by pastor and philosopher, Jeff Cook

How we see the cross matters.

Benjamin L. Corey here wrote, “the character of God we think we see on the cross becomes our foundation of understanding who God is.” Is the cross required to keep an enraged Father from unleashing his wrath on dysfunctional humanity? Is the cross a method of appeasing a blood thirsty deity? Is God unable to forgive without blood?

Take this a step further. The message we believe the cross conveys will tells us not only who we believe God is, but also who we think we are. Are human beings scum which God would be pleased to annihilate, a loathsome spider dangling over an eternal fire? Are human beings an after thought for a deity powerful enough to create nebula and eco-systems? Are human beings a failed experiment? How we interpret the crucifixion of Jesus will be a mirror for how we see ourselves.

Augustine argued that, given God’s power, God could have redeemed humanity in many possible ways, but that the crucifixion of Jesus was “both good and befitting the divine dignity.” God could have created any possible world with countless different redemption stories (if necessary) and countless forms and paths for humanity—but God choose us, and God chose this world, and at histories center he placed the cross.

Perhaps the most invigorating of meditations is to simply ask, “why?”

When we do a swell of answers begin to arise. No matter which way we turn the cross, we see new and surprising beauties—because … The cross is a diamond. The cross kaleidoscopically unveils the character of God in a “rich variety” of ways that are “beauty ancient yet ever new” (Augustine).

Consider a few.

The cross is a sacrifice. Jesus spoke of a man who entered a field and found a treasure within and in his joy he went and sold everything he had to buy that field. The man in the story is Jesus. The field is the world and in this world Jesus has found a treasure—and that treasure is you, that treasure is me. And through the cross Jesus has given everything he had to purchase the field so he might return and embrace that for which he gave everything he had.

The cross is the way to the best possible life. We are told in order to be a healthy human being we must “love God with all our heart and soul and mind and strength.” Nothing encourages this more than being loved by God with all His heart and soul and mind and strength—and we experience that ever pursuing love through Jesus’ self-chosen crucifixion.

The cross enflames our hope. We find in ourselves a strange double truth: we long to become like God—merciful, just, courageous, wise, alive—and yet the closer we get to God the more insignificant and inadequate we appear to be. The cross alone overcomes this. The cross tells us that we have unsurpassable value, that our many sins have been eliminated in the body of Christ, and that we are radically invited to embrace all that God offers. Because of Jesus death, we may “approach God without pride and humble ourselves without despair” (Pascal).

The cross changes the nature of suffering and death. “When Christ was baptized, it was He who changed the water (giving it the power to give new spiritual life) rather than the water that changed Him. So too when Jesus suffered and died He changed suffering and death rather than suffering and death changing Him … Jesus entered death, and conquered it. Death did not enter and conquer him” (Peter Kreeft). Because of Christ, we may live—freed from every fear, risen above the shame the world would cast on those who suffer.

The cross is a throne. The Gospel is the royal announcement that Jesus is king. Each of the four biographies of Jesus display what it looks like for all authority in heaven and on earth to be given to Christ, and they each end with a coronation.

They tell us that in the last week of his life, Jesus entered the capital city on a colt as a royal figure. He judged the temple as a failure, something only the king could do. He was anointed with oil. On Thursday night he was escorted by a military procession to stand before the people’s representatives: the religious elite said, “You are the Son of God?” and the spokesperson for Rome said, “You are the King of the Jews?” Jesus received them, not as questions, but as declarations.

Pilate then sent Jesus to be crowned and robed by the decommissioned king over Israel and his men. They escorted Jesus out before the masses who cried for him and no other to take the throne. A royal parade led Jesus to the highest point in the land where he took his seat on the sedile of a cross. Finally enthroned and surrounded by family and priests, scriptures were shared, wine drank, songs sung, and pardons offered as the great languages of the day proclaimed over his head, “This is Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews.”

The cross is a door leading to a new kingdom. When Adam and Eve ate from the tree, “their eyes were opened” (Gen 3.7), and they entered a new reality. So too those who eat from the Jesus-tree through the Eucharist have “their eyes opened” (Luke 24). Paul wrote of his vocation that he was sent “to open eyes so that they may turn from the power of darkness to light” (Acts 26.17). The cross then awakens us to the rehumanizing alternative to the reign of sin and death. We need not serve the self-destructive, creation-corroding, knee-jerk rule of sin. We may serve the crucified and risen one knowing we have been “rescued from the power of darkness and transferred into the kingdom of God’s beloved Son” (Col 1.12-13).

Because we see that God positioned Christ “above all rule and authority and power and dominion,” we likewise know that his Power is at work within us. As such we are his people, citizens of heaven who—despite the apparent power of sin—may live boldly in the power of his Spirit with unwavering confidence.

The cross is the only source of humanizing equality. We are equal before the law, but the law makes us equals in failure, shame and death. Conversely, the cross makes us equal through grace. The cross unveils the unsurpassable worth of every human soul, and as such all people have a new, beautifully-equivalent human worth, for “the ground is level before the cross.”

The cross deconstructs everything. In all these ways and more we not only see God through the cross, we see ourselves through the cross. We see human dignity and freedom through the cross. We see the meaning of pain, the triumph of good over evil, and the purpose of our very universe through the cross. Apart from the cross we would not know the meaning of life or death or pain or God or ourselves. The cross has a breath-taking, paradigmatic power to unveil and define the hidden nature of reality.

And what shall we say about the cross’s ability to heal, its transformation of all anthropology and the nature of power? What shall we say of the cross’s ability to renew our relationship with God and others, of the ineffectiveness of violence, or the nature of the New Creation?

The cross is “the wisdom of God in its rich variety,”  and its depths are apparently never-ending.

JEFF COOK teaches philosophy at the University of Northern Colorado and pastors Atlas Church in Greeley, Colorado. He is the author of Everything New: Reimagining Heaven and Hell and Seven: the Deadly Sins and the Beatitudes. He will release his third book, Small Batch Church, in 2017. Connect with him @jeffvcook or www.everythingnew.org

March 22, 2016

Three Crosses at Sunset

 This is a first of three posts by pastor and philosopher, Jeff Cook, on philosophical reflections of the cross.

I have long believed that without pain, love is impossible.

Real love requires sacrifice. The love I have for my boys is manifest in my persistent back pain from lifting them up over and again. I see it on hands covered in morning filth, a depleted bank account, and the recent massacre of my DVD collection (which we really shouldn’t talk about). My love for my boys is shown in the fact that they can hit me, and yell at me, and even say desperately mean things to me—and I will still pick them up after they hurt themselves or wrap them in my shirt when their skin is cold.

Love isn’t having a picture on the refrigerator or pleasant thoughts from time to time. To be known, love must be tangible, and love makes itself known through self-sacrifice. Without such self-giving, “love” does not exist.

Sacrifice is essential to love and this is disturbing. In its fullest expression, love gains its beauty from the potency of pain and death. When the martyr dies she gives all of herself away. Her love for others and God has depth and beauty because death wins. There’s no other way to showcase love in its most complete and beautiful form.

If our world lacked pain, we would lose what is most essential to the human experience—the love of our friends, the love of our spouses and children, the love of strangers, but even more so a real display of the love of God.

There is no sidestepping this truth. Pain is required for God to display his love, and this truth makes Jesus absolutely unique in the pantheon of potential deities.

Jesus is not a God who is absent from our pain, who sits high on Mount Olympus watching while the world destroys itself. Jesus’ crucifixion-colored life is vibrant display of God’s love. We can all imagine the agony and shame of hanging to death, body nailed to beams next to a highway. Apparently when Christ says, “I love you”—he holds nothing back.

The portrait of God known as Christianity is extraordinary, for this God pays us not only the complement of creating us—beings who would collectively work to assault his world, each other and ourselves—but has declared in the most self-giving way possible that we are his beloveds. We are the ones for whom he would gladly endure torture and alienation and doubt. Though we are dead, he would do all it takes to make us alive.

This is love.

One New Testament writer said, “For the joy set before him, Jesus endured the cross.”

And you and I are that “joy.”

No other philosophy, no other religious tradition has a story that I find as compelling—that gives form to so much I instinctively value. This is one of the many reasons I am drawn to the Jesus story. The cross speaks to me in a way nothing else does, for there I not only see the kind of God who made our world. On the cross I see God’s character and his aggressively self-giving choices.

 …

JEFF COOK teaches philosophy at the University of Northern Colorado and pastors Atlas Church in Greeley, Colorado. This is an excerpt from his book Everything New: Reimagining Heaven and Hell. He will release his third book, Small Batch Church, in 2017. Connect with him @jeffvcook or www.everythingnew.org.

March 19, 2016

Presidential Campaign 2008

It’s political season, have you noticed? (Seriously, kill me now.)

As part of that political season, pundits like to crack numbers, explore potential paths to victory, and discuss voter blocks. One of those voter blocks is yuge– in fact, it’s hard to win the presidency without it: The Evangelical vote.

I know this block well– I grew up in it. I was one of them. I still hold many of the same theological values they hold, and if it were not for the fact the term has become a political term instead of a theological distinction, I might even still consider myself one.

But if Jesus ran for president? Well, I can nearly assure you: He’d never win the Evangelical vote. Here’s 10 reasons why:

10. Jesus was famous for giving away free healthcare.

One of the core aspects of Jesus’s earthly ministry was healing the sick– it’s actually how he became so popular (Mark 1:45). It is undeniable that healing the sick was high on Jesus’s radar, but sadly, I don’t see that priority shared within the political label of “Evangelical.” This election season, the candidates most popular with Evangelicals are actually running on the promise that they will take healthcare away from people.

You won’t find two more opposing messages than that.

9. Rich Evangelicals would see him as a divisive candidate who waged class warfare.

Let me assure you: Rich people wouldn’t be a fan of Jesus, because when he talked about rich people it wasn’t on positive terms. Instead, Jesus said things like “Woe to you who are rich!” (Luke 6:24) and even used hyperbole to argue that being wealthy makes it basically impossible to enter God’s Kingdom (Matthew 19:24). Contrast this with all Jesus’s talk on how blessed the poor will be in his Kingdom, and I can promise: He’d be accused of being anti-rich and promoting class warfare.

8. He threatened those who exclude immigrants and do not help the poor.

 The political term “Evangelical” is not known for including immigrants and being focused on helping the poor– and those are the people Jesus threatened with eternal damnation in Matthew 25. This would be a political death-blow (it actually was), as the rich and powerful would be infuriated with the idea that building walls to shut out immigrants, and failing to be generous to poor people, results in an eternal punishment and exclusion from God’s Kingdom.

7. He told people to pay their taxes.

Jesus ministered in an area that was grossly over-taxed, and people were miserable for it. Yet when he was asked about this, instead of calling taxation “theft” and rebuking the government, he simply looked at the coin and said, “If the money has the president’s face on it, and the president asks for it, give back to him whatever he asks for.” (Matthew 22:21)

This clear disinterest in fighting issues of government taxation would not go over well with American Evangelicals.

6. Jesus was known for staging public protests at church.

Instead of political appearances at churches to try to win their political support, Jesus is the guy who confronted church leaders and said, “Hey you guys! Did you see that the the most notorious sinners have entered the Kingdom ahead of you?” (Matthew 21:31). He is also the guy who went into the only mega-church of his day and completely ransacked the place because they were oppressing the poor and excluding people the church thought were “out.”

That kind of activity not only fails to win votes, it actually gets you killed.

March 7, 2016

Amazing Lightning

For those of us who left a hell, fire, and brimstone Christianity, one of the critiques that gets levied at is us that we either ignore or downplay the wrath of God.

To be honest, I think there’s some truth in that critique, and that it’s important for those of us here (wherever here is) to develop a vision of God’s wrath that is faithful to the narrative of Scripture, but one that also avoids the pitfalls of the version of God we grew up with.

To develop a healthy understanding of the side of God that appears as wrath, I think it’s important to begin with the essence of who and what God is: love.

In the book of 1 John we’re told that God is love. Period. Everything about God is purely loving, and everything that is good and beautiful. In fact, as argued by Dr. Thomas J. Oord in his most recent book, God is actually constrained by love and is unable to do anything that would be less than perfectly loving.

So, if God is totally and completely love, where does the wrath part come in?

Well, I think that’s best seen by considering God’s loving activity in the world.

Early in the biblical narrative we see a story that starts off perfect, but quickly becomes broken—sending the story in an unintended diction of death and destruction. Almost immediately after that entrance of brokenness, God promises that he will begin working to eradicate all those forces of destruction from his creation, until everything returns to the way it was in the beginning. (See Eden Restored at the end of Revelation.)

The climactic moment of God’s involvement to right the brokenness of the world was when God came in the flesh, in the person of Jesus. In fact, the author of the book of 1 John summarizes the entire purpose of the life of Jesus by saying he came to “defeat the works of the Devil.”

The works of God have always been works of love. They will always be works of love.

The original work of God was to create a world where all relationships existed in perfect harmony—his relationship to humanity, our relationship to the environment, and our relationships with each other.

Since the moment brokenness entered this narrative, the mission of God has been to restore all those broken relationships.

God wants to restore humanity to a right relationship with him.

God wants to restore humanity to a right relationship with the environment.

God wants to restore humanity to right relationships with each other.

The works of God are works of love and restoration. They always have been, and always will be.

And our purpose in the world? Our purpose is to partner with God, to align our wills with his, and to get busy restoring all these broken relationships.

And here’s the problem: not everyone is on board with that mission. There are powers, principalities– even people who resist– and who stand in opposition to the works of love and restoration.

Those who are opposed to God’s love and restoration in the world will experience an aspect of God’s love that feels like wrath, because the forces that oppose love will one day be either transformed or eliminated from creation.

There simply is no room in God’s story for these opposing forces to exist forever—it’s a story of purging all that is not loving, until everything is restored and only love remains.

Love does this, no? Love cannot sit passively by and let the opposite of love win. (Subtle shout-out to Rob Bell there.)

Love purges war, famine, disease, oppression, hatred, violence, and everything else that fights against love. It’s what love does.

Love heals. Love feeds. Love clothes. Love frees. Love embraces. Love reconciles.

Those who refuse to partner with love, and insist on continuing to fight in opposition to all that love does, will experience a side of love that does not feel like love. To them, it might even feel like wrath.

Thus, when we affirm the “wrath of God” it’s not so much an affirmation of wrath at all—but an affirmation of love.

We’re not saying that God = love + wrath. It’s not an affirmation that God is love but also happens to have a short fuse we need to avoid.

Instead, it’s simply an affirmation that God is on a mission to love and reconcile the world. Everything that once was broken, is in the process of being fixed and restored– because that’s what love does.

However, it is also a recognition that all those who fight against love and reconciliation will ultimately be on the wrong side of love.

To those who refuse to heal, refuse to feed, refuse to clothe, refuse to free, refuse to embrace, and refuse to reconcile– to those who refuse to love– God’s love won’t feel like love at all.

And this experience of resisting and fighting against a love that wins in the end, is what we talk about when we talk about the “wrath of God.”


unafraid 300Dr. Benjamin L. Corey is a two-time graduate of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary and holds his doctorate 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

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November 23, 2015

no jesus tx

As you know, over the course of time I’ve written at length on the issue of anti-Christian persecution in America. Namely, that 9 times out of 10 such cries of “persecution” amount to nothing more than no longer being allowed to discriminate. Yet, American Christianity has held onto its persecution complex, finding reason to cry persecution at every turn.

Today however, there is finally a case of legitimate, actual persecution of Christians in America, and it comes to us from the state of Texas.

You see, Texas is one of the states that has surrendered to ISIS and now serving their interests. One of the key things ISIS wants is for Muslim refugees around the world to be shut out, so that they have no choice but to return to an area controlled by ISIS– that’s their plan to build their numbers. Such a plan only works if we cooperate with it by rejecting and persecuting refugees to the point where they feel safer there than they do here. So far, plenty of states in America have surrendered and begun serving ISIS– including the state of Texas.

But today, Texas took it up a notch. No longer content to persecute Muslims, the Governor of Texas has added Christians to the list of folks on the persecuted list.

As you know, Texas is one of the states who have barred Syrian refugees from settling within its borders. Regardless of how one feels about this, the people of Jesus have a different responsibility: we have the responsibility to help the sojourner among us. We welcome the stranger, clothe the naked, and give food to the hungry– that’s an essential, core identity to being Christian. In fact, Jesus said it was a heaven or hell issue if you want to use some conservative lingo to make the point.

And here’s how the Texas decision has now turned into a real-deal case of anti-Christian persecution: instead of saying the state of Texas won’t accept refugees but allowing citizens of Texas to freely practice their religion in spite of the government decision, Governor Greg Abbott has ordered Christian ministries to immediately cease and desist giving aid to refugees.

According to KHOU in Houston, Gov Abbott sent a letter out to local organizations such as Catholic Charities, ordering them to stop serving Syrian refugees, else their programs would be at risk. Some charities have already complied with the demand, worried that their funding would be harmed if they were to continue practicing Christianity.

Here’s the deal folks: I’ve outright mocked some of the anti-Christian persecution claims over the years, because 99% of the time, they are absurd. But this case? The Governor of a state strong-arming Christian charities, demanding they stop doing the very things Jesus ordered them to do? This is a real-deal case of anti-Christian persecution. This is a clear case of the government ordering a set of people to stop practicing the tenets of their religion– in this case, helping refugees.

The government can do whatever the government wants to do. If the government wants to abstain from helping refugees? That’s their right. However, the government has absolutely positively no right to tell the Church of Jesus Christ who they can, or cannot help. It certainly has no authority to tell the Church to stop helping. (What’s even worse, is that Abbott claims to be a Christian. I’m guessing he hasn’t read Matthew 25 though– cause Jesus calls such a one “cursed.”)

So, let the record reflect that we finally have an absolutely legitimate case of the US Government telling Christians to stop being Christians– it just so happens that it occurred in the Bible Belt, by a “Christian” governor.

Also let the record reflect that when a legitimate case of anti-Christian persecution came, the persecution crowd was silent.

You know, the folks who cry persecution when they find out they’re not getting tax rebates because they discriminate, or that they can’t discriminate against LGBTQ people when working as a government contractor? Yeah– those folks don’t seem to think it’s persecution when the state of Texas tells Christian charities to stop feeding the hungry and clothing the naked.

So there you go folks. Persecution came to America and it turned out to be a Christian doing it, and the rest of the crowd didn’t even notice.

 

September 23, 2015

bible_violence

I’ve written a fair amount about contemporary issues regarding our relationship with Muslims. As a people group I love dearly and long to minister to for years to come, I have been quick to stand against xenophobia and Islamophobia. In our current climate in American Christianity however, there is fast and hard push-back when I stand with my Muslim brothers and sisters.

Standing with them, of course, does not mean I stand with everything done in the name of their religion– there is certainly no shortage of violence being done in the name of Islam throughout the world (as is the case with other religions, including my own). My fellow Christians are quick to denounce this violence– which I applaud as someone who is against all forms of violence.

However, I have been realizing over the course of time that American Christianity’s outrage over some of the violence that occurs under the umbrella of Islam, causes such a person to end up in a most peculiar position.

Let me explain.

When some Muslim extremists burn people alive, stone people to death, wage jihad to destroy their enemies and take girls as sex slaves, we rightly recoil morally and say that all of those things are disgustingly wrong. Many Christians then say, “any religion that condones this is evil” because they rightly judge those behaviors to be evil. However, this moral judgement– one that is absolutely correct in identifying these behaviors as evil– creates a serious problem for the Christian (or Jew) in that all of those behaviors are commanded and affirmed in the Bible.

 When you read through the Hebrew Scriptures, it seems that not only did our spiritual ancestors practice these same things, but if one holds to a traditional position of inerrancy as I was taught as an Evangelical, they would also have to admit that God actually commanded and approved of it.

Stoning people to death? That’s what God supposedly picked for a punishment for a guy caught getting firewood on a Saturday when he was supposed to be resting. Stoning was how they rolled back then.

Burning people alive? The Bible commands it for daughters of priests who become prostitutes.

Death penalty for sexual indiscretions? Yup. You were even commanded to stone anyone to death who charged interest on a loan.

Command jihad? Absolutely. In fact, other than the Lex Talionis, the two main types of violence embraced in the OT were punishments for violating sharia law, and jihad. And, the OT takes jihad to a new level: it actually says that God commanded they kill all the babies and even the animals.

Sex slaves? Yup. The Bible says that after they conquer a city they can take the women, force them to come home and live as their wives. Straight up an endorsement of sex trafficking.

So, all those things that we find morally outrageous when Muslim extremist do them? Yeah, they are all things that God supposedly commanded in the Bible.

And here’s where rejecting the violence in Islam puts an American Evangelical and others in a very awkward position: it forces you into one of two positions. The first option is the way of hypocrisy, where one could argue that jihad, violent sharia, and sex slavery are evil when done in the name of Allah, but good when done in the name of Yahweh. The second option is that it forces one to re-think and ultimately reject the standard evangelical teaching on inerrancy of scripture. I went with what was behind door #2.

For me, this position isn’t so troublesome. When I see radical Muslims burn someone alive or wage jihad, I have no moral qualms about denouncing it. When I read of these same exact things in Scripture, I likewise have no moral qualms denouncing it. I have allowed these morally repugnant acts to force me to rethink traditional explanations of inerrancy, because I am unwilling to say anything other than “these acts are wrong in all times, and in all places, no matter who is doing them.” Whatever inerrancy means, it certainly must mean something different than the version we grew up with. (Today I prefer the word “inspired”.)

But for a typical American Evangelical, or any other of flavor of Christian who is quick to denounce Islam’s violence but quick to argue that every word in Scripture is without error? That’s a conundrum. 

Just as I said that ISIS forces us to rethink hell, I also say that the violence we see occurring in Islam should force us to rethink biblical inerrancy. 

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