March 18, 2015

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I’m sure you’ve probably seen a Charisma News article flow through your Facebook or Twitter feed. Perhaps you’ve clicked the link a few times, or even worse, maybe you’ve occasionally strolled into the comment section. If you have, you probably already know what I’m about to tell you, but I think it bears repeating out loud: reading Charisma News articles is toxic to our faith and probably should be avoided. Here’s 5 reasons why I think this is the case:

1. Charisma News Breeds a Gospel of Fear.

The moment Jesus arrives on the scene of human history we see the angels make one of the most important declarations in all of scripture: “Be not afraid!” In fact, we see some variation of this phrase a few dozen times in scripture depending on the translation. However, the Gospel message of “be not afraid” is not what you’ll find at Charisma- instead, you’ll find an entire platform that is based on fear.

Where scripture tells us “be not afraid,” the message of Charisma News is:

“Holy crap folks! The gays and Muslims are coming- this is a sure sign of the end times! Yikes… what if some of those Muslims are gay on top of being Muslim? We’re doomed if we don’t do something fast. If the Liberal Evangelicals take over, we’re going to have a country flooded with gay Muslims who will not only force you to bake wedding cakes for gay marriages, they’re going to start MAKING you attend the wedding itself. Oh, and about Millennials- what if they decide to elect an Evangelical Pope? And what if they vote in Rachel Held Evans and she makes an ex cathedra declaration that only women can be pastors from now on???? It’s time to do battle!!”

See? Sounds ridiculous but that’s not all that satyrical. Charisma News preaches a Gospel of fear, and that’s not the Gospel at all.

2. Charisma News Promotes Anti-Christ Values.

In my experience, it seems that the central question Charisma News is trying to answer is: who is our enemy and how do we defeat them? Whether it’s Muslims, gay people, Palestinians, or Liberal Evangelicals, Charisma is enemy focused. Strangely, Christ taught us to love our enemies, but that’s not the direction or position of Charisma News- which makes these teachings “anti-Christ” by definition. Just try commenting “love your enemies” on one of their articles about Islam and see how quickly you are devoured- it’s happened to me one too many times until I learned my lesson.

Because of this enemy focus that is more concerned with enemy defeat instead of enemy love, their platform has spiraled into a cesspool of anti-Christ negativity that does not produce beautiful results but instead fuels fighting among people who should be busy loving (something Prov 6:16-19 calls an abomination).

Remember: “Have nothing to do with foolish, ignorant controversies; you know that they breed quarrels. And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness.” 2 Tim 2:23

3. Charisma News Slanders People.

The inaccuracies one can find in Charisma articles are astounding, but they cross the line into slander when they do it not out of ignorance but out of a desire do discredit opponents. A sad example was an article the other day written by Chelsen Vicari (the same person who wrote a book about how Rachel Held Evans, Sarah Bessey, Shane Claiborne and myself are going to destroy the world or something- and who was caught distorting the truth previously). The article seemed to hint that Rachel was somehow pro-abortion, which is untrue. This article simply followed a pattern of twisting facts in order to smear people, which is slander pure and simple. The irony? The same passage many of them quote about homosexuality actually includes slanderers as people who won’t enter God’s Kingdom.

4. Charisma News Does Not Help One Attain The Fruits of the Spirit.

The Bible tells us that the evidence we’re on the right path will be that our lives exemplify “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.” Unfortunately, that doesn’t seem to be what Charisma is selling, nor is it what I (and I assume many of you) experience when reading a Charisma article. It certainly isn’t what I experience when interacting with readers at Charisma. The ultimate evidence of the toxicity of Charisma News is the fruit it produces- it’s not fruit of God’s spirit.

5. Charisma News Might Cause You To Doubt Jesus and the Future of the Church.

 Jesus told Peter that not even the gates of hell would prevail against the mission of the Church he established. Yet, if you stroll into the comment section on just about any article, you’ll severely doubt that. I honestly don’t know how to describe the comment section at Charisma as anything other than “the most depressing place I have ever visited.” I just don’t see God there- I don’t see his beauty, I don’t see love, I don’t see his goodness manifesting itself among a community of believers, and I certainly don’t see Jesus. Spending too much time in there, or even any time at all, could cause one to severely doubt the future of the church and the promise Jesus made to Peter.

There’s a time to be provocative, and there’s a time to forcefully address issues in the church head on (as I’m doing now). But there’s also a thing we call balance- and when that is off, everything is off. The balance at Charisma News is one that I find so over the top in the wrong direction, that I truly believe spending too much time there would result in one walking away as either a fearful, angry, or bitter person- I just don’t see one walking away full of the love of Christ and a love for others. So please, guard your faith- consider permanently fasting from Charisma News articles.

March 1, 2015

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 As a teenager, I was taught that the Gospel was “Good News.” While they were right in calling it Good News, learning about Jesus as an adult taught me that they were right– but for all the wrong reasons.

Yes- it’s Good News. Unfathomably Good News. But, it’s different news than what we grew up with.

Like many of you, I grew up an “end times” believer. The Good News of Jesus was tangled up in a mess of destruction that became good news– but only because this good news was communicated against a backdrop of some really terrible, no-good, absolutely horrible, very bad news.

The bad news? Well, that usually starts out with the message that you’re headed to hell and that God is going to torture you for all of eternity and that it’s going to be like being set on fire, except you’ll never die from it. That news is bad enough, but it gets worse: the narrative many of us are raised with is that not only are we headed to hell, but the entire planet is too.

Things are going to get progressively worse, they taught– and no matter what one does, there’s no stopping this train from leaving the station. The world is completely and utterly doomed, and all we can do is get as many people into the boat as we prepare to get out of here.

The “Good News” a Christian named John Nelson Darby invented in the 1800’s, was that God will provide a way of escape for Christians– an escape called the “rapture of the church.”  Unfortunately by the 20th Century, end times theology caught on and it didn’t take long for the Good News that Christ came to bring to get perverted into a theology of detachment and escapism. Of all the negative things that have occurred in church history the invention of rapture doctrine and the modern end-times movement that was born from it ranks among the worst, as it ushered in an era where Christians waited for the Good News (escape) to be realized, instead of making good news for the world around us. 

The end times version of Christianity that many of us grew up with has been immensely popular, not because it’s true, but because it’s easy. Prior to the invention of end times fanaticism, Christians were busy trying to change the world on a massive scale- changing broken social systems, uplifting the poor and oppressed, and addressing all sorts of other problems they referred to as “social ills.” They labored to help those around them experience God’s will on earth as it is in heaven, the presence of the Kingdom of God here-and-now, and the transformative nature of God’s reconciliation– all things that were truly Good News in every respect.

But Christianity within an end times paradigm? Things went radically down hill after Darby’s teachings caught on because the alternate version of Christianity is so much easier. I used to live that kind of Christianity, and it was cake.

In fact, I remember traveling on a missions trip to the former Soviet Union just within a year or two after the fall of communism. The economy was in shambles, people were hungry, unemployed, and desperate. What did we bring them? We brought them a message of “good news” conveyed through street skits/silent drama and singing “People Need The Lord” to a boombox (remember those?). After our presentation we’d grab a translator and quickly try to get as many people as possible to ask Jesus into their hearts before moving on to the next place.

Supposedly, that was all good news. However, what I’ve learned as an adult is that the Good News isn’t about escaping the world, it’s about transforming it. The Good News is an invitation to empty oneself the way Christ did, and to be agents of reconciliation who act as a soothing balm on hurting lives.

The message of Jesus was never about raptures, escaping, or even going to heaven when we die. Instead, the message of Jesus was always about the fact that the Kingdom of God has come– and that we’re invited to enter in, and live in that reality, right now. Instead of leaving for heaven, Jesus invites us to reproduce it, “on earth.”

It’s an invitation that is soooo much more difficult than escapism, end-times Christianity, which is why for the past century, most evangelical Christians have preferred the easier version invented by Darby.

However, the past few days I’ve been witnessing Christians living out the original calling to bring heaven to earth, and spreading “Good News” everywhere they went, as I’ve traveled with World Vision in Armenia. Ironically, I have returned to the former Soviet Union, to the place where I once brought a faux version of the Good News. This time however, I’m witnessing what the real Good News looks like when the people of Jesus become determined to transform the world instead of helping people to escape from it. I’m experiencing the joy of Christians revealing the Kingdom of God by fixing that which is broken, instead of offering false hope in the message of escape.

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The mother of a child registered with World Vision. Armenia, 2015.

And the transformative version of Christianity I’m witnessing is simply beautiful. To see the joy on the face of one of my Armenian brothers and sisters as they see what the Good News of Jesus really looks like, has been something that will stick with me the rest of my life.

It’s the “Good News” that their electricity (and heat) can be turned back on because a World Vision donor bought them a month’s worth of electricity.

It’s the “Good News” in the form of hats, mittens, and warm sweaters for children who have none.

It’s the “Good News” that sponsors have been found for their children, and that they will be experiencing a lot more good news, because of that sponsorship.

Watching fellow Christians roll up their sleeves and invest in the messy work of spreading Good News that’s actually Good News right now, is one of the most encouraging and inspiring things one can witness, and I’ve been so thankful to be a part of it.

Now, what about you? My hope and prayer is that if you’ve grown up with escapism, end times Christianity, that you’ll be able to break free from that and experience an entirely new way of living– one that is dedicated to building God’s Kingdom and experiencing everlasting life, right now. (You can find my full archive on end-times/rapture theology, here.) It will inspire you, and reinvigorate you as you realize that the Good News found in Jesus was never about escaping this world, but about transforming it.

And while you’re at it, why not join me in sponsoring a child through World Vision? Your monthly sponsorship will change their life– and you can do it quickly and easily, right here.

February 17, 2015

young Arabian family portrait outdoorsEver since the terrorist attacks of 9-11, there has been a growing hostility in America toward our Muslim neighbors. With the daily barrage of crimes against humanity being perpetuated and broadcast over social media by ISIS, that hostility toward Muslims in America– and around the world– is only growing.

While cries by my Christian brethren of persecution is usually just a loss of privilege, Muslims in America face a concerning level of distrust, bigotry, and real persecution– not the imaginary type.

Just recently, we’ve seen an increase in violent threats made against our Muslim neighbors because of the way they are depicted in the film, American Sniper, which has only served to exacerbate the anti-Muslim persecution in America.  Sadly, these “threats” aren’t just threats- our Muslim neighbors are facing real acts of violence. Recently three Muslims in Chapel Hill were executed in cold blood, an act of violence that the media has downplayed as a “parking space” dispute. Last Friday we also saw the Islamic Community and Education Center in Houston burned down in an act of arson while a retired firefighter from the area tweeted “let it burn… block the fire hydrant.” And of course, there’s the man who tried to burn down a mosque after getting drunk and “riled up by Fox News” from their daily anti-Muslim propaganda.

Even in the course of the last few weeks I’ve witnessed in my own social media feeds comments made toward Muslims that would be considered hate speech and threats if such comments were directed at us. Constant fear-baiting by Christian pastors, calling Islam “evil”, saying “Muslims are the enemy of God” and all sorts of other anti-Muslim comments. Strangely enough, it’s not simply enough to vilify our Muslim neighbors and create animosity and mistrust between us, those same voices often paint our president as being a closet Muslim or as one whose sympathies are with Islam instead of Christianity, furthering the us vs. them, “Muslims are our enemy” type mindset.

If this trend does not change, the outcome is potentially bleak. If we’re told over and over again that we are enemies there becomes a distrust and hostility that results in self-fulfilling prophesies– and enemies are born. Continue down that line far enough and our children won’t even know why they are enemies to begin with– they’ll just know to hate and mistrust Muslims, and they will learn the same of us.

Sadly, I’m not seeing religious leaders on the Christian side put forth a Christian narrative for how we are to walk this road in our current culture. In fact, what I too often see Christian leaders doing is pushing a narrative that only serves to inflame and divide us, such as Franklin Graham who teaches that Islam is a “religion of war” and “evil.”

What our culture needs more than ever is people who are modeling their lives after Jesus of Nazareth (peace be upon him) instead of operating under the current narrative of hostility that too many Christian leaders are inviting us into. If the world is going to change, it will only be because you and I chose to act– now.

How do we move forward? Ironically, let’s play their game for a minute and see where it takes us: let’s suppose that Muslims are our enemy and that Islam is evil. How do the people of Jesus respond?

Well, Jesus makes it clear: love and serve your enemies- go the extra mile for them. As far as dealing with evil, the Apostle Paul teaches in Romans that we are not to “overcome evil with evil but evil with good.”

So, fellow Christians in America and around the world, I think we have our roadmap for how we ought to live: we ought to radically love our Muslim neighbors and actively do good towards them. In fact, for those who wish to actually follow Jesus, this is the only roadmap.

Unfortunately, it’s not enough to quietly love in our hearts- we are invited to love not with words, but with actions (1 John 3:18). So here’s my challenge fellow Christians:

Changing the world starts with you. This piece is an invitation to begin participating in the “healing of the nations” by taking action, right now. That action? You are hereby challenged to find ways to radically love your Muslim neighbors– indiscriminate, lavish, love. For me, I have an easier head start because I live in a town that has a large Muslim population and most of the kids at my daughter’s school our Muslims, so I have plenty of opportunities. But I’m convinced you’ll find Muslim neighbors to love if you open your eyes and look.

Here are some ideas to get you started:

Learn how to greet Muslims in Arabic, and when you pass them on the street smile and say hello with the proper greeting (which actually means “peace be upon you”). There’s plenty of Youtube videos to teach you how, but here’s an easy one.

Find Muslim families in your neighborhood and introduce yourself. Ask if you can do something nice for them, just as neighbors and no strings attached. Help them with a project on their home, help them with yard work, or invite them to dinner (but make sure it’s halal).

Find a Muslim and sit and learn from them. Discover what they truly believe– you might be surprised at all the areas of commonality between Christianity and Islam- two members of the Abrahamic faith.

Is their a Muslim community center in your area? Go by for a visit and ask if there are any areas where you could volunteer and serve the Muslim community.

Financially support a charity geared towards serving the Muslim community. Don’t know of one? I can help: I know a great organization in my own community called The Root Cellar, and they are a community center in an impoverished area serving Muslim refugees. They provide a safe place for kids to go after school, and all sorts of other great stuff. No donation would be too small, and you can make it online, right here.

These are just a few ideas, but be creative- there’s no shortage of ways that you could find to love the Muslim neighbors in your midst.

But let me be clear: the path we are on is not a good one. Terrorism by some extreme Muslims (who are usually political and not actually that religious) is wrongfully causing all Muslims to be feared and mistrusted. This fear and mistrust gives way to real persecution, which will undoubtedly lead to legitimate fear and mistrust in return. The only way out of this cultural mess, is for someone to take responsibility for changing it– and that’s where you and I come in.

We can change the course of history in America by radically loving and serving our Muslim neighbors, and by tearing down the walls of mistrust which separate us.

Will you continue down the same old path? Or, will you choose to radically love?

I’m choosing love, and I hope you’ll join me. If you do, send me stories of your acts of kindness towards Muslims, and I’ll compile them for a future post.

Photo (c) the Dollar Photo Club

February 12, 2015

If you could meet one of the first Christians would you like them?

I’m convinced that many American Christians would not. In the course of 2000 years, Christianity- while maintaining the basic tenets, has morphed and shifted from the way it was originally designed and lived out. Since we tend to live in a culture that is rather self-centered, we have a tendency to assume we “have it right” while completely overlooking the fact that our version of Christianity might appear quite foreign– even hopelessly corrupted– if viewed through the eyes of one of the first Christians.

If those entrenched in American Christianity could transport back in time to experience Christianity as it originally was, they’d be uncomfortable at best, and at worst, would probably have declined the invitation to join Christianity at all.

Here’s 5 of the major reasons why I think many American Christians probably would not have liked the first ones:

1. The first Christians rejected personal ownership of property and engaged in a redistribution of wealth.

Americanized Christians often fight to make sure our taxes are lower, fight to repeal healthcare for poor people, and throw a fit over a small portion of our income going to provide foodstamps. While touting “voluntary” and “private” charity as the way to go, we give on average 2-3% of our income to the church or charities– not nearly enough to actually address the needy in any meaningful way. But what about the early Christians?

Well, the first Christians were quite different. In the book of Acts (the book that tells the story of original Christianity) tells us that “all the believers were together and held everything in common, selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need” (Acts 2:44-45). We’re further told that there were no poor among them, because those who had land or property sold it so that this wealth could be “redistributed” to the needy (Acts 4:35). While on one hand communal property and redistribution of wealth was voluntary, scripture tells us that “all” of the believers in the church did this– meaning that it wasn’t exactly voluntary but a condition of being accepted into the group.

If Americanized Christians were to see how the first Christians lived, it would be denounced as some sort of communist cult being led by folks who distorted the Gospel.

2. The first Christians didn’t like big, show-y church stuff.

The first Christians weren’t fans of the “go big” and showmanship stuff that we see plaguing the church in America today. Churches back then were house churches with maximum numbers that would be considered below the minimum amount of people you’d want as a core “launch team” to plant a church in the United States. They rejected the need for wealth, fancy meeting places, or any kind of honor that would elevate them above someone else.

One early writer wrote, in critique of early Christians:

“They despise the temples as houses of the dead. They reject the gods. They laugh at sacred things. Wretched, they pity our priests. Half-naked themselves, they despise honors and purple robes. What incredible audacity and foolishness!”

If one of the original Christians were to be transported through time to attend the average American church with fancy projection screens, high salaries, and entertainment based church services, they’d probably walk away shaking their head at the thought that was actually considered church.

3. The first Christians didn’t warn anyone about hell.

Any time I have posted on why I believe the traditional teaching on hell is unbiblical (see series, here) I get a lot of pushback. Not infrequent is the argument that I have “removed all motivation for following Jesus” which is usually followed with “may God have mercy on your soul” or something like that. The folks at Way of the Master have successfully convinced much of conservative Christian culture that preaching hell is absolutely central to inviting people to follow Jesus. However, if that were true, I’d think we’d expect to see hell be front and center with the first Christians.

Small problem: it’s not. When you read the book of Acts, it’s almost as if they didn’t believe in hell at all because hell was not something they used to motivate or warn people. There’s no “can I ask you if you’re a good person?” and no “if you died tonight, do you know where you’d spend eternity?” Yes– the first Christians were passionate about spreading the Good News, passionate about inviting people to follow Jesus– but when you read the story of the early church in the Bible, talk and warnings of hell are actually absent.

If Kirk Cameron and Ray Comfort were to fly back in time to see how the first Christians– those who walked and talked with Jesus– were doing things, they’d say they were totally doing it wrong, and have succumbed to liberalism.

4. The first Christians weren’t patriotic.

Flag-waving Fourth of July type services?

Not in the early church. The first Christians weren’t patriotic at all. This was in part because they were oppressed by a brutal empire, but also in part because they saw themselves not as citizens of an earthly realm but citizens of heaven whose allegiance and loyalty were for God’s Kingdom instead of an earthly nation. These first Christians were caught up into the invitation to build God’s Kingdom, and would be utterly dumfounded as to why anyone would get caught up into patriotic nationalism– something early Christians would believe to be idolatry.

A 2nd century Christian once said, “This world and the next are two enemies…. We cannot therefore be the friends of both.” This attitude would have made patriotic nationalism impossible, because they had no attachment to earthly nation states– realizing instead that Christians are called to live as people completely different than the rest of the world.

Many of today’s Christians would consider the first Christians “ungrateful” but conversely, the first Christians would consider those of today to be idolaters with mixed up priorities.

5. They were universally pacifists.

Like it or not, the historical fact is that Christianity was built upon the foundational belief of total nonviolence. The first Christians were so dedicated to this principle of nonviolent enemy love that slews of them became martyrs– willing to be killed by their enemies before they were willing to lift a hand to harm them. In fact, for the first 300 or more years of Christianity, the belief in pacifism was a universal belief.

In addition, the early Church was exclusive in some ways– and American Christians wouldn’t be a fan of who they didn’t allow to join the church: soldiers and magistrates. The first Christians believed using violence against an enemy was incompatible with being a Christian– very similar to how conservatives will say being a homosexual is incompatible with being a Christian. After some time, they did ease up on allowing soldiers to join the church (in the late era of the early church), but even then they only allowed soldiers who were willing to commit to nonviolence. Some of these converts were executed by military authorities for refusing orders to kill, but the first Christians realized that to kill an enemy is perhaps one of the most anti-Christ behaviors one can engage in, and so they were willing to die before killing.

This is perhaps where American Christians and the first Christians would really dislike one another: American Christians would think they were hippies who didn’t stand up for themselves, and the first Christians would look at the gun carriers and unapologetically proclaim that they weren’t Christians at all.

Christianity has a history– and it’s an important one. Those who were closest to Christ himself speak to us from history, if we will listen. While the scriptures haven’t changed in 2000 years, Christianity itself certainly has fallen prey to the powers of culture to distort and twist. Christianity in America is no different– it has become distorted to the point that those who first founded Christianity and walked with Jesus, would hardly recognize it.

I say, we need to move backwards, not forwards… We need to return to the beliefs and wisdom of the first Christians, even if that makes us uncomfortable.


unafraid 300Dr. Benjamin L. Corey is a public theologian and cultural anthropologist who is a two-time graduate of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary and received his 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

You can also follow him on Facebook:

February 4, 2015

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Does progressivism have its own form of fundamentalism?

That’s the question BLC and MPT are wrestling with in this week’s episode of That God Show. In this episode, you’re invited to take some time of introspection to discover those “carryovers” that tend to follow us even after we leave fundamentalism– behaviors that can crop up in progressivism. These carryovers tend to lead us to play the same game as before, by the same rules and tactics as before, but for a different set of goals. With a little self reflection and self awareness, there is hope to move past these destructive behaviors and to reclaim the invitation to build something beautiful.

Don’t forget to subscribe to That God Show in iTunes, or catch up on episodes via the website.

January 7, 2015

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We all use labels to some degree.

Like it or not, we live in a culture that uses labels to help us identify things. Sometimes this can be very helpful– as we navigate the world we live in, labels often provide us a cursory way to navigate the landscape.

However, when it comes to Christian labels, there’s a real danger that we should all be aware of: judging.

The sinful desire to judge others is at the heart and soul of a fallen human condition, because none of us are able to justly and correctly judge someone else. However, like any habit, we have a difficult time breaking ourselves from it.

And so, we judge.

We determine who is in and who is out. Who is good, and who is evil. Who is worthy of our self-sacrificial love, and who is not.

If not bad enough to judge people we actually do know, we often judge people we do not know– and we use labels to do it. Instead of a navigational tool, a Christian label becomes a way to determine who is in and who is out. Who is good and who is evil. Who is worthy of our self-sacrificial love, and who is not.

A human being, made in the image and likeness of God– and who is loved so much that Christ died for them– is reduced, judged, and dismissed on the basis of a single word.

On any given day I may be on the giving end of this type of judging, or on the receiving end— as are you. Such is the overwhelming power of the desire to judge others.

The biblical prohibition on judging exists because that is singularly God’s job, and he will do it not by judging by external matters, but by judging what is unseen– the heart (1 Sam 16:7). The content of an individual’s heart is something we are not able to see and therefore arrive at a boundary marker that is off limits except to God himself.

Now, if one were to kick God off his judgement seat and take over, you’d hope that such a person would at least try to do his job well… but we do not.

Instead of attempting to search the heart as only God can do, we so often take a word, assign it our own meaning, and then pronounce swift condemnation of another image bearer. Often, we do this in the span of a few seconds.

And this is perhaps the most dangerous aspect of using a word– a label– to judge someone else: it’s a horrible tool at doing the job.

I hope if we’ve learned anything over the past few day’s discussions it’s been that labels (especially Christian labels) have very little worth, because we each define them differently– causing them to tell one so little about a person.

I’ve had people write me before and tell me that I was going to hell. When I’ve asked why, they’ve replied it is because I am a “Progressive Christian” and that this is incompatible with Christianity. A broad label that can be used to mean so much (or so little), is used to reduce me, judge me, and condemn me to hell.

But I see this same judgement flowing in the reverse as well. Statements such as “person X is _____ (insert judgement) because they are an “Evangelical,” a “Fundamentalist,” or fill in the blank with whatever label you want. The arrow of judgement based on functionally inadequate Christian labels is an arrow that flies in every direction.

People. Human beings. Bearers of the divine image of God…

Reduced and judged by labels that are often so fluid, they’re relatively worthless.

The sinful desire to judge others isn’t something that only fundamentalists do… it’s part of the human condition and something we are all quietly addicted to in our own subtle, and sometimes less than subtle ways, whether we’re willing to confess it or not.

And so, my prayer for us– including myself who is the worst of all sinners— is that when we see a person and begin to feel the string to our bow pulling back to let judgement’s arrow fly, we’ll remember how functionally worthless a Christian label is when used to judge what only God can judge– the human heart.

Instead, may we resist the powerful urge to determine who is good and who is evil, who is in and who is out, and who is worthy of our self-sacrificial love and who is not, on the basis of a label. Instead, may we strive to see them– as difficult as it may be at times– the way God sees them.

As someone who was created in his image and likeness.

As someone who is loved beyond our comprehension.

As someone Christ gave his life for.

As a someone who is far, far, more than a simple and functionally inadequate “Christian label.”

December 31, 2014

evlostmeThe other day I wrote a post on 5 areas where I find myself unable to connect with some aspects of Progressive Christianity, which has generated plenty of discussion. Some of it has been helpful, and some just proved my point about the need to police the borders of a label. While there are some areas of Progressive Christianity where it loses me, Evangelicalism on the other hand, has completely lost me.

And, since being hated by everyone is a spiritual gift of mine, here are the 5 reasons why I’ll never be returning to Evangelicalism as it is today in America:

5. Today’s Evangelicalism looks more like a political movement than Jesus.

Jesus was someone who avoided getting sucked into secular politics, but today’s Evangelicalism is married to it. In fact, one’s political views are often used as a litmus test for whether or not one is a “true” Evangelical. For those of us who want to give our lives to building God’s other-worldly Kingdom, today’s Evangelicalism isn’t something that is partnering with God and his mission to the world, but something that is a distraction from it.

Just try to have a regular conversation with the average Evangelical– chances are they’ll talk more about the political battles of the day than they’ll speak of Jesus, and that should be a major red flag to anyone who wants to pursue Jesus with reckless abandon. Without their political identity, many Evangelicals would not have a sense of identity at all. We’re called to follow Jesus– wherever that leads and whatever label that earns us– but Evangelicals today seem willing to follow Jesus so much as Jesus lines up with political ideology.

4. Today’s Evangelicalism is obsessed with power.

The invitation of Jesus is to become a “servant of all,” setting aside the need/desire for power so that one can busy themselves taking the lowliest of positions– that of a servant. Since Evangelicalism has become more of a political movement than something that is part of the Jesus movement, its focus has shifted from becoming a servant to gaining and maintaining power.

While I think many Evangelicals probably do want to help spread the way of Jesus, they have bought into the lie that this is done by taking power over culture instead of embracing power under culture (Boyd’s terms). When you combine the quest for power with political ideologies that are completely foreign to Christianity itself, they find themselves in a big mess– which is the state of American Evangelicalism today. Christianity started by the one who had all power becoming the one who totally emptied himself of power, and Jesus followers by definition are invited to do the same.

3. Today’s Evangelicalism seems generally unteachable and unwilling to wrestle with theology.

If there’s one thing that’s going to kill modern Evangelicalism, it’s unteachability. When I ultimately left that crowd, the straw that broke the camel’s back was the realization that far too many Evangelicals aren’t interested in learning anything that is new or different from what they think they already know– even if that new knowledge comes straight from the Bible itself.  This hit home for us at our last church where I was a teaching elder– the church ultimately imploded, and at our final meeting this issue stood loud and clear. During that meeting, one of the other elders turned to me and asked, “how can you teach people that there is no such thing as a rapture?” as if I had said that Jesus wasn’t truly divine or something.

My experience at that last church really brought the issue home for me: too many Evangelicals are willing to learn only if new learning will reenforce what they already believe. There’s little room for growth, reinterpretation, or the constant need for contextualization of the scriptures. For a movement that prides itself on following the scriptures, I’m repeatedly shocked at the unwillingness to see what the scriptures actually say and the willingness to malign those who attempt to point the movement back to the source.

Some great examples from 2014 were when I argued that the Bible doesn’t actually teach a hell where people are consciously tortured for all of eternity, when Matthew Vines came out with his book that argued the Bible doesn’t actually teach that being LGBT is a sin, and another dozen examples I could probably list. In these scenarios, when folks say, “let’s return to the Bible and see if it actually means what we thought it means,” one of the first responses one often gets is the comparison to Satan: “You’re asking the same question Satan asked: ‘hath God really said?‘”

I want to be part of a Christian tradition that is always willing to re-study the scriptures and willing to change and grow as a result. Unfortunately, I don’t see room for this in Evangelicalism– it doesn’t matter if one points to the historic Church or scripture itself– there’s almost no room for wrestling with theology unless it’s geared toward reenforcing a previously held belief.

2. Today’s Evangelicalism doesn’t seem to share Jesus’ heart for outsiders.

Out of all the aspects we see of Jesus in the New Testament, the most compelling to me is that I see an outsider who had a heart for other outsiders. Jesus was among the excluded, and lived a life where he was constantly inviting the others who were excluded to come in and have a seat at the table. It’s a theme I just finished writing a book about, and one that seems to leap off the pages when reading the New Testament with a fresh eye. Jesus was passionate about including people one would never think should be included.

Today’s Evangelicalism on the other hand, seems to be in a perpetual cycle of always redefining the lines– not to draw people in, but to keep even more people out. In this past year I think we’ve seen a year where the Evangelical establishment has worked hard to redefine those lines, and to make it clear that this is a very exclusive club. Instead of throwing a banquet and inviting in the outcasts (an image Jesus painted through one of his parables) it seems that Evangelicalism is more concerned with maintaining purity of the label than it is interested in inviting others to see and experience the “Good News” for which Evangelicalism is named after.

This, sadly, is not the way or example of Christ– it’s actually the opposite. Whatever movement I’m part of, I want it to be one that is constantly looking for ways to build bridges and invite people in– not one that looks for ways to build walls in order to keep people out.

1. Today’s Evangelicalism punishes people by withholding of relationships.

This is perhaps the most deeply personal of my reasons, because the tremendous pain that comes with the loss of relationships is destructive on more levels than I can count. Since that moment where I was asked, “How can you teach people there’s no such thing as a rapture?” I’ve experienced what happens to Evangelicals who dare to question, who dare to read their Bibles, and who dare to actually apply some of Jesus’ teachings (such as the command to nonviolently love our enemies): the punishment of having all of my relationships taken away from me.

Whereas a year and a half ago I had a church family and a circle of friends in my local area, today we are completely isolated– all of the friends we had have now packed their bags and left. My daughter has come to me in tears asking, “why doesn’t ____ love us anymore?” and, “why doesn’t ____ want their kids to play with me anymore?” because punishing me by loss of relationships by default punished her by the loss of relationships. I’ve had to sit back and watch my wife shed those same tears (quite frequently), and ask those same exact questions. And, I’ve felt the pain with them– I may be widely read but in my local area, I have a total of one real-world friend left, and even he has admitted the he gets questioned by others as to why he’s friends with me.

Today’s Evangelicalism does this to folks who think outside Evangelical lines– it strips them of relationships, cuts them off, and severs ties. I can’t count the number of emails I get with folks sharing their stories in this regard– it is sadly all too commonplace.

Relationships should never be theological tools that are withed to gain theological conformity– and this is the top reason why I’ll never return even if I still share some of their theological beliefs. Stripping people of relationships is abusive, and I’m not interested in being part of any movement that does this.

In the end, like any other movement, I think Evangelicalism gets some things right. However, these 5 things, especially #1, are deal-breakers for me.

December 13, 2014

Screenshot 2014-12-13 10.01.27
Anyone who makes their living sharing ideas will get plenty of critique– and that’s fair. Sometimes however, (okay, not sometimes but “often”) those of us who make a living sharing ideas get really nasty hate mail– for some reason I’ve always received an impressive amount.

This year I decided to take a very unscientific look back at my year in review to identify those issues which sparked the nastiest messages and comments around the internet. I’ve narrowed my list down to 5 items– though there were more throughout the year, these were the general categories that I think earned the most hate-filled responses.

Now, before I even get to the list there’s a concerning observation: my hate mail comes overwhelmingly from professing Christians– probably exclusively from them. I do occasionally get an “anti-theist” but those are usually just drive-by comments. Those who sit down at home and take the time to draft me a personal email however, have been exclusively professing Christians– something I find troublesome because of all that “love one another” stuff that Jesus said.

With that context in mind, this list could be aptly named the “Top 5 Reasons Fellow Christians Were Angry With Me In 2014.”

And so, here’s the list in unscientific, but pretty accurate, rank-order:

5. Questioning hell.

Christians today sure do love them some hell. Earlier this year I started a series on questioning the traditional view of “eternal, conscious torment” and put forth an alternate theological argument that many Christians and biblical scholars have long held. However, if my in-box is any indication, questioning hell is one of the few things that will earn you a one way ticket to go there when you die. Far too many Christians are absolutely, positively unwilling to consider that the Bible might actually teach something other than the horrible view of hell they grew up with.

Why this is so infuriating to people, I have no idea– I would think it would be “Good News” that the Bible doesn’t actually teach that God is going to slow-roast and torture people for all of eternity. Yet, as Rob Bell learned a few years ago, those of us who come from evangelicalism are not allowed to question hell– even if we’re using the Bible itself to question it. We’re supposed to believe what our pastors have told us, and not question or go to the Bible for answers– anything less, will get you sent to the place you no longer believe in.

You can find the hell series by clicking here.

4. Speaking out against racism.

It has been a sad year in 2014. There have been a shocking number of news stories where yet another unarmed person of color was gunned down in our streets at the hands of authorities. From Ferguson to John Crawford, Eric Garner to Tamir Rice, I have consistently spoken out against police violence and institutionalized racism. I found it extremely concerning that so much of America is resistant to this discussion and to considering the plight of minorities in America. From hateful racist tweets, to comments and emails, speaking out against racism got me called every name in the book during 2014.

All things considered, I remain defiant in face of some of what has been said to me– I will continue to speak out on this. Not just because it is the right thing to do, but also because my family is bi-racial, and I’m fighting for my own children to live in a better world.

You can find everything I’ve written on race, here.

3. Speaking up for our LGBTQ brothers and sisters.

The discussion of legalized same sex marriage in America and LGBTQ acceptance in the church is one that won’t be going away soon. In accordance with my belief that Christians should be the most loving, the most compassionate and the least judgmental, I have tried to be a reasonable voice on this issue. I’ve tried to approach the pieces I have written on this with gentleness and humility, knowing that sparks fly just for discussing it.

Yet, it doesn’t matter how delicately you approach it– for too many Christians the slightest sign of love and non-judgement toward our LGBTQ brothers and sisters will earn one a quick and fiery condemnation to be tortured for all of eternity. While other topics earn me greater quantity of hate mail, whenever I show love toward the LGBTQ community I receive the notes that are the most hate-filled.

The LGBTQ archive can be found here.

2. Suggesting that we should love our enemies.

While everything on this list is concerning, as we move into the #2 and #1 slots we begin to see a trend that should have us shouting that the building is on fire.

The number two reason why fellow Christians sent me hate mail in 2014 is actually because I have suggested that we love our enemies. Seriously– think about that for a second. It seems that a lot of my “theological errors” can be met with some gentleness or even grace, but not when I suggest that we’re supposed to love our enemies. That, I have learned, is completely out of bounds for many Christians in America today.

With the comments, tweets, and messages to my inbox, every piece I write on enemy love makes one thing clear: the majority of Christians in America find this idea appalling. As a result, they will bend the Bible into a pretzel to find a loophole on this issue– one that Jesus actually drew a hard line on. While LGBTQ articles make folks more angry, and there’s one other issue that generates more quantity of hate mail, the suggestion that we love our enemies is hands down the one thing that Christians find most offensive.

This grieves me like little else– because I didn’t make up this idea; Jesus said it.

You can catch up on everything I’ve said about loving enemies, here.

1. Suggesting that God, not America, should be the object of our exclusive loyalty.

The number one reason why fellow Christians sent me hate mail in 2014 is something that I actually find shocking. The others on the list don’t surprise me– but this one did, both because of the quantity of mail and because of the level of hatred and intolerance contained in them.

As a Jesus follower, I have repeatedly questioned as to whether or not Christians should be swearing their allegiance to a nation state, or if they should instead be devoted to building God’s Kingdom. I’ve pointed out where America has behaved with depraved indifference towards our fellow humans, spoken out against the slaughtering of lives at our hands, and invited my fellow Christians to resist the idolatry of nationalism.

This, I have learned, is infuriating to people– and that’s a concern. As I said on twitter last night, if your love of country causes you to tell fellow Christians that they should kill themselves, that “love” of country is probably idolatry.

For questioning America and our allegiance to it, I’ve been repeatedly told by fellow Christians that I am “disgusting,” that I should “leave the country,” that I am “weak,” that I “hate America,” that I should “go stand on a hill in front of the next city ISIS will attack,” that I should “die,” and a host more.

And this, my friends should be a wake-up call: the most hate I’ve received hasn’t been through deviating from orthodox theology or questioning traditional interpretations of scripture, but because I have questioned our loyalty to country. That’s a problem– if Christians are more concerned with loving country than they are concerned with loving their fellow Christians– or humanity in general– that “love of country” becomes functionally anti-Christ.

You can find the nationalism archive, here.

Those are the things that earned me the most hate mail in 2014.

Does the list surprise you? What are some creative ways we can shape and reform Christian culture so that these things don’t keep making the list? How can we change things without using the same level of hatred in our speech?

December 3, 2014

KKK ANTIETAMThe events in Ferguson, Missouri that led to the death of Michael Brown have now become about so much more than just what happened (or didn’t happen) in Ferguson– they’ve sparked a national discussion on racism and race relations in America. For whatever evil has occurred, there are now many good things flowing from this tragic and unjust situation. For this we should be tremendously thankful– and must continue the movements and the discussions that were born out of Ferguson.

While there have been many worthwhile discussions that have flowed out of Ferguson, there have also been some nasty ones as well– just visit the comment section of any post on Ferguson, and you’ll quickly see the divide that still exists. One of the themes I’ve noticed over the course of time is the insistence by many that, while racism might exist in some small pockets elsewhere, “it certainly doesn’t reside within me.” It’s as if racism is something that is always clothed in a white hood, instead of something that subtly exists deep within the human heart– often going unrecognized and unnoticed.

But no: You don’t have to be in the KKK to still be a racist.

This, I believe, is part of the problem. We cannot really and truly prescribe a cure if we’re not first willing to accurately diagnose the disease.

Racism, at least in my personal experience and observation, is something that will often manifest itself in ways that don’t actually feel racist to the individual, as they are not clothed in overt or conscious hatred. Instead, racism often becomes a subtle judgement about others based upon lies that have been planted, one way or another, deep within us.

Last week I had a rude wake-up call regarding just how deep-seeded and subconsciously racism can affect even those of us who speak out against racism– an experience that really crushed my spirit when I realized what had happened.

I found myself walking down an unfamiliar street in San Diego at night, trying to find my way back to my hotel. I was walking alone, and trying to get my bearings as I was unfamiliar with the city. At one point during that walk back to the hotel, I came upon a black man standing on the corner of two intersecting streets. After I had passed him by, I immediately became overwhelmed with a sense of shame when I realized what had just gone through my mind without even consciously thinking about it…

He scared me. I walked around him to keep my distance. I assumed he was standing on that corner because he was up to no good. I wondered if he was going to offer me drugs or try to rob me. I saw him as a threat to my personal safety… and it all happened subconsciously in the span of a few seconds. Not because of anything he did– he was just standing there. Instead, I thought those things because he was standing there while being black.

As I walked away realizing what had just happened, I began a cursing spree in my own head with each step I took.

I was disgusted. Ashamed. Embarrassed. Mortified. Most especially when I realized that had be been white and standing on the street corner, I wouldn’t have given it another thought. I might have actually said “hello” and given him a smile.

I hated myself in that moment.

I mean, for crying out loud, I HAVE CHILDREN HIS COLOR. I serve in leadership at an all African immigrant church and live my real life submersed in a world where I’m the only white person in my circle, other than my wife. I’ve had to comfort my own children when they have experienced racism at school. I’ve had to field hard questions like, “Daddy, I saw on the news today that police killed another brown person. Am I safe?”

I speak out against racism, I’m concerned about racism, I want to rid the world of racism.

But holy shit, I just got smacked in the face that I still have racism inside me. I couldn’t deny it– it had reared its ugly head as I walked down that street. Honestly, I wanted to step out of my own body so that I could turn around and beat the tar out of myself. I was overwhelmed with sorrow for something I didn’t even know was still inside me, and certainly something I never asked to be planted there in the first place.

You see, you don’t have to be in the KKK to still be a racist— it’s something that has been planted inside of us. It’s something that we cannot rid ourselves of until we first acknowledge that it is there.

How did it get there? I think a lot of it has to do with the way media portrays people of color. In all the recent shootings, one of the common trends we see is the quick move to criminalize the victim– an act that plants the subtle message that people of color are dangerous criminals. We even see it prior to overt attempts to criminalize the victim by the photos media tends to use of victims, often selecting the image that paints the victim in the most negative light (see hashtag #IfTheyGunnedMeDown). This too, plants a very specific message in our hearts. We’ve seen these principles play out with Trayvon, Mike Brown, Tamir Rice, and nearly every other person of color who was the victim of lethal injustice.

Subtle messages in media work– that’s why people will pay millions to have their logo slapped on the screen for 30 seconds during the Super Bowl each year. Don’t be deceived: the subtle, racist messages the media has sent us about people of color being a danger and a threat has worked as well. It’s called branding, and it’s a powerful force on the human mind.

It worked on me… causing my mind, for a few moments, to quietly betray even my own children, and the faith community that loves me.

I am reminded of something an old boss once told me when I took over an organization that was a mess at my arrival: “It’s not your fault, but it is your problem,” he said.

And, such is true for much of racism as well.

It’s not necessarily our fault– certainly I didn’t ask for the media to brand people of color as being a danger to my safety. But, it is my problem. It’s your problem. It’s our problem.

Yet, we cannot address this problem until we fess up and admit that it exists.

We must collectively admit that no, you don’t have to be in the KKK to still be a racist.

It’s something that lurks subconsciously in just about all of us. And, as with any other sin, we can’t repent of it until we confess that it exists.

December 2, 2014

Vector illustration of a man lock up in prison

10.2 million people sit in prison cells today around the world– and almost half of them are right here, in the United States. While in the US we like to boast about being “#1” we forget that we’re actually #1 at a lot of things that we probably shouldn’t be proud of– and having the highest incarceration rate in the world is one of them.

And, it’s not just our incarceration numbers that should be a shock to our system, but the recidivism rate that we should find most concerning. In a study from 2005-2010, researchers found that 3 out of 4 former prisoners are re-arrested within 5 years after being released from prison.

Simply put, the way we approach crime and punishment doesn’t work.

I remember back to my days listening to talk radio and the initial chatter of prison overcrowding once we started to realize that our prisons were beginning to bulge at the seams. I distinctly remember the solution one commentator had: build more prisons.

Unfortunately, the approach of building more prisons and punishing more harshly (aka, mandatory sentencing, three strikes laws, the war on drugs) hasn’t worked and has only led to more of the same. In fact, some of our harsh approach to crime and punishment has actually led to more crime as nonviolent offenders (such as folks going to jail for marijuana offenses), come out on the other side of prison more “hardened” than they were to begin with. Throw into the mix the huge vocational barriers someone with a criminal record faces, and our situation is ripe for failure– one that actively produces more crime and brokenness, not less.

Actually, it’s beyond ripe for failure– it has failed. Past tense.

The traditional American approach to crime and punishment doesn’t work.

This past week I’ve been reading a great new book by Derek Flood called Disarming Scripture: Cherry-Picking Liberals, Violence-Loving Conservatives, and really connected with his thoughts in a section called A Practical Guide To Enemy-Love. In regards to our failed approach to crime and punishment he writes:

We commonly think of justice in terms of retribution. When we speak of a person “getting justice ” we mean getting punishment. Love of enemies challenges this understanding of justice and asks: what if justice was not about punishing and hurting, but about mending and making things right again? What if justice was not about deterring through negative consequences, but about doing something good in order to reverse those hurtful dynamics? What if real justice was about repairing broken lives?”

I’ve certainly spoken of this difference between restorative justice and punitive justice both here on the blog and in my book, Undiluted, but Flood brings up some really good additional thoughts on the matter. He goes on to say:

“The sad fact is that our current prison system has become a factory for hardening criminals rather than healing them. Instead of learning empathy and how to manage their impulses and emotions, the brutal culture of prison life teaches inmates that one must be brutally violent in order to survive. Because of these patterns learned in prison, the alarming repeat offense rate is sadly not all that surprising. Locking someone up in the hell of prison life naturally breeds violence, not reform repentance. People do not learn empathy by being shamed and dehumanized. Retribution gains popular support by appealing to our most primitive impulses, but in the end results in a broken system that perpetuates hurt instead and cycles of violence.”

In the book, Flood cites a successful program that clearly demonstrates the effectiveness of a restorative justice approach over a punitive approach: the RSVP program run by the San Francisco’s Sheriff’s Department. In this alternative program, they took some of their most violent offenders and tried a restorative approach instead of just locking them up and throwing away the key. This program that taught them communal living, personal dignity, development of empathy for others, and how to manage their own emotions, had some results many might find surprising: an 80% reduction in violent recidivism, and the total elimination of assault on prison officials (pg. 185).

The effectiveness of restorative justice compared to punitive justice is simply amazing. But, that really shouldn’t be a shock to us. Why wouldn’t restoring a life work better than simply subjecting it to punishment?

The American approach to crime and punishment needs some re-framing because the old way simply doesn’t work. A punitive focused approach results in over populated prisons filled to the brim– both with some folks who justly should be there, and some who probably should not. All however, are forced to acclimate to a violent prison life that simply turns them into “hardened criminals” even if they didn’t arrive as one. When they are released, they face so many barriers to reintegration into society that the violent survival mechanisms the prison system taught them quickly become one of their only tools to move forward in life.

We cannot continue a system with this philosophical approach and think that we’re actually doing justice– we’re not. Justice, as I write in Undiluted, is about “making the world a little less broken and a little more right,” and as Flood points out in Disarming Scripture, our current system does anything but that.

The solution?

We must become people who long to see a life restored instead of a life destroyed, and we must become willing to do whatever it takes to make the former happen, while resisting the easier path of doing the latter. Together, we can begin to influence culture in such a way that we reform our penal system to become something that sees justice as a life restored instead of punishment given.

*In the meantime, if you’re interested in reading a book on the topic of violence in the Bible that is exegetically sound but not written in the confrontational tone most writings on violence seem to emit (including my own), I highly recommend checking out Disarming Scripture.

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