November 10, 2014

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Can a conservative evangelical Christian who holds the personal theological conviction that homosexual behavior is sinful, still support civil marriage equality?

That’s what the folks at Evangelicals For Marriage Equality are arguing, and I wholeheartedly agree. If you are a conservative evangelical who is not affirming of same sex marriage theologically, I hope you’ll consider these reasons why it is still possible for you to support civil marriage equality among your fellow citizens:

1. The United States is not a theocracy where the church rules over society– it is a religious neutral republic.

crosstreetsAs such, one need not insist that their particular religious convictions be enshrined in laws that are forced upon others. Just as Evangelicals do not want to live under Sharia Law, the rest of the country need not be forced to live under Evangelical Law. The reasonable thing to do is to step back and say, “I’ll hold to my personal religious conviction, but I’m not going to force everyone to hold to it.”

There are all sorts of areas where evangelical Christians hold to a different view than what is legal in secular society– we all do. You’d believe that divorce for reasons other than adultery is wrong, or that remarriage after such a divorce would be wrong– yet we don’t insist there be laws against people getting divorced or remarried. Likewise, my tradition believes it is a sin to use violence against an enemy, but we’re not trying to repeal the second amendment– we leave our conviction to be a matter of discipleship we handle in church. That’s how this religious freedom thing works.

One can remain a good evangelical while also voting and supporting broad laws that make everyone equal, without abandoning their personal convictions and the convictions of their faith tradition.

2. There is a difference between religious marriage and civil marriage.

As a minister, when I sign a marriage license to signify that I have officiated a marriage, I must check one of two boxes: religious or civil. Obviously, as a Christian member of the clergy, I check the “religious” box which indicates I married the couple under the authority of my own faith tradition, just as other members check that same box to signify they officiated the marriage in accordance with theirs.

Marriage equality laws are not changing this kind of marriage– we are all still free to abide by our own individual faith traditions whether affirming or nonaffirming. Instead, marriage equality is an argument for civil marriage equality– something that is already under the jurisdiction of the religious-neutral government. One can still be true to a faith tradition that will not recognize same sex marriages while also holding to the position that civil marriages– the realm of religious neutral government– should be open to everyone. Nowhere in scripture, not on any page or hidden in any verse, is civil marriage defined– which means it is entirely permissible for an evangelical to support the government ensuring that civil marriage is equal for all, while religious marriages remain under the jurisdiction individual faith traditions. No one in America is forcing a religious tradition to “change the definition” of religious marriage– we are simply asking the religious neutral government to change the way it defines civil marriage.

3. Supporting civil marriage equality is the option that is most faithful to the biblical imperative of seeking justice.

The way our society is structured has left many important benefits that can only be accessed through obtaining a civil marriage. LGBT couples in states that do not have civil marriage equality are currently unable to access these benefits. Many of these are benefits that you or I take for granted, such as being able to visit a sick spouse in the hospital without restriction or being hassled for “not being family,” inheritance issues, joint insurance, etc. Ensuring that all individuals under a religious neutral government are treated equally is the just and right thing to do– even if you don’t happen to agree, like, or approve of who they are or the lives they live. We are called to seek justice– and civil marriage equality for LGBT couples is just.

4. Civil marriage equality expands the reach of all the good things we say that marriage brings to society.

It’s long been argued that marriage is good for society, and I agree. In fact, culture would benefit if Christians were even more influential in encouraging everyone– gay or straight– to commit to lives of monogamy and fidelity. Healthy marriage promotes healthy citizenship, is shown to lead people to engage in healthier lifestyle habits than when single, prevents the spread of STD’s in society (assuming fidelity), and is overall good for the individual and good for the culture.

If you truly believe that marriage is a key institution which promotes stability in culture, we must encourage more of it, not less. Supporting civil marriage equality and actively encouraging people to live lives in healthy marriages, benefits everyone in society.

5. Civil marriage equality is a mechanism to help give a family to millions of children who are without one.

Promoting civil marriage equality is an actual, tangible way to make sure more orphans– both here and abroad– find loving homes. As a dad by way of adoption (one who was a solid evangelical at the time) I can tell you the exact day and time I became a supporter of civil marriage equality: I was sitting in an orphanage and girls were crying– literally begging me— to go home and find families for them. I remember a quiet voice that gently whispered to my conscience: “Ben, if you’d rather these girls sit in this hell-hole than grow up with same gendered parents, well, then there’s seriously something $@#!% wrong with you.”

And, the voice was correct– which was why when I was still solidly evangelical, I switched sides and became a vocal marriage equality supporter. With thousands of children needing homes and the only thing standing in the way of them getting a family is a civil marriage license, Evangelicals ought be major supporters of civil marriage equality as a way of supporting orphans.

Civil marriage equality is in the best interest of all society, and in my opinion, everyone– whether affirming or not– should support it. We are not a theocracy, and as Christians we should not be insisting that our particular theology on any given subject become the law of the land. Instead, we must be people who value both our right to practice and live our religious convictions while simultaneously valuing that this only works when everyone else in society can too.

For more on this subject, please visit Evangelicals For Marriage Equality.

October 27, 2014

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 A few weeks ago I was in LA for a panel discussion with Christian Piatt, Peter Rollins, Bart Campolo and Trip Fuller (as part of Christian’s Post-Christian book tour), where we discussed all things having to do with the future of Christianity now that the era (error) of Christendom is over. It was a great discussion with far more diverse opinions between us than what I had anticipated, and is a discussion I think we (as in all of us) need to keep alive as Christianity transitions out of Christendom and into whatever era is unfolding before us.

When I survey the current and historical Christian landscape, it strikes me that the era of Christendom has seriously damaged the church, perverted the faith, and locked Jesus in a supply closet in the church basement. As a result, many have simply given up on “The Church” (or are standing at the door). I’ve been there too, but simply cannot walk out completely.

Now, there’s plenty of the old era worthy of giving up, I’ll agree– and enthusiastically enjoin my voice to a host of others in that regard.

Certainly, “Church” as an institution that colludes with the world power-holders and empires to get their piece of the power pie, is worthy of giving up.

“Church” as an institution that travels in parallel to culture instead of a transforming agent running against culture, is worthy of giving up.

“Church” when expressed as a hollow, consumerist, and separatist gathering, is worthy of giving up.

“Church” as a force of oppression and violence instead of the hands and feet of the Jesus it claims to be named after, is worthy of giving up.

There are plenty examples of mistakes of “The Church” that are worthy of setting aside, disassembling, and repenting from.

But here’s where I think we’d be good to use caution: quite often, responses to broken ways of doing things can sway too far in the other direction.  Reactionary movements without their own internal prophetic voices, tend to create all the same problems of the movement they’re reacting against, but simply from an opposite vantage point.

So, yes– there are plenty of areas where it’s time to give up on old models, expressions, and behavior of “The Church”… I too, have given up on much of the old ways of Christendom thought and practice.

However, it’s one thing to give up on an individual, local church that won’t conform themselves to Christ-likeness, but then there’s “The Church”, with a capital C. The truth is, “The Church” isn’t a building with a little white steeple and an American flag waiving out front. It’s not supposed to be relegated to an impersonal weekly gathering, where we sit next to a stranger for an hour and go home. It’s not that force that colludes with empire to solidify power over culture and governments. It’s not any of those things.

“Church” is simply the word that refers to all of the Jesus followers in the world– people who sometimes get it right, and often get it wrong. And, from that perspective, I won’t give up on “The Church”– and here are 5 reasons why:

5. “The Church” is a term that refers to people, and I won’t give up on people.

It’s easy to let go of church when one thinks about church as institution, church as power, or church as oppression, but true Church is just… people. People who, while broken and screw things up, bear the divine image of God and have infinite worth and value to God. Since God himself will never give up on people, and scripture calls us to be imitators of God, I can’t and won’t give up on people either. 

4. I am part of “The Church”, and part of why it is often broken, and I don’t want people giving up on me.

Like it or not, if you’ve accepted the invitation to follow Jesus, you are part of his “Church”… the Church. It’s part of the deal. For me, this causes me to realize that I have also been complicit and contributed to many of the Church’s problems, because I’m as screwed up as everyone else in the club. And you know what? I really don’t want anyone to give up on me. I think, by God’s grace, I might have some potential. It would be hypocritical to give up on them when I secretly hope they won’t give up on me.

3. I am unwilling to give up on “The Church’s” mission of spreading the Good News.

The mission of Jesus’ Church is beautiful: spread his Good News that the curse (death) has been overturned, that you and I can be reconciled to God, and that he’s returning to make all things new. As we spread that Good News, we’re invited to be agents of reconciliation– reconciling people to God, reconciling people to each other, and reconciling the earth (environment) to God. That’s the mission– and I still believe in it. It’s beautiful, and I’m not giving up on it– or “The Church” tasked with carrying it out.

2. Jesus promised that even the gates of hell would not defeat “The Church”, and I’m not willing to give up on Jesus.

When Jesus recommissioned Peter, Jesus promised that he was going to build “The Church,” and that it would be on a rock so sturdy that nothing would ever be able to stand in the way of “The Church” ultimately accomplishing the mission. To give up on “The Church” as if it is broken beyond repair or a failure, would be to completely discount the promise Jesus made. Instead, I’ll walk forward having faith that Jesus will help to reform his people into an image that looks more like himself– and that there’s still hope for all of us.

1. Giving up on “The Church” presents an alternative reality that I don’t like: a church of one.

My friend Frank Schaeffer once told me that “there’s only one alternative to being part of a church where you have profound disagreements: join a church of one.” And, Frank was right– to give up on the global Church, to even give up on the local church, is to embrace life as a church of one person– and that’s not a comforting reality in my book. In fact, my hunch is that I’d really have some issues with the one member in that “church” too. Instead, we’re called to be participants in a diverse body… one that includes both tender grandmothers and crazy uncles, but has room for us at the grownup’s table. I’d rather be a part of that family, quirks and all, than to be a family of just me.

As the days, months, and years pass, we’ll probably still be talking about what Christianity should, and should not look like in the Post-Christendom era. There’s a solid mix of traditions to uphold, errant theology to dump, and new mountains to climb. The one thing that cannot be on the table however– at least for me– is giving up on “The Church.”

For better or for worse, I am a part of it– and so are you. Let us then join hands as a diverse and usually dysfunctional family, and journey through the Post-Christendom era together, without giving up on each other… because “The Church” is… well, us.

October 18, 2014

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The other day I wrote a post called Why I Couldn’t Be An Atheist Even If I Wanted To, where I wrote about some personal reflections and emotions that I experience when I consider the vastness and complexity of the universe. It wasn’t so much a post about atheism as it was a post about what I feel— I’ve worked hard to build as many bridges with atheists as possible, so I definitely wasn’t looking to pick a fight when I wrote it. All in all, the response from my atheist friends was kind and thoughtful, as usual. However, also as usual, there are a few who make unhelpful comments– probably because they didn’t read this post before commenting.

At this point in my life, comments don’t bother me that much. Heck, I’ve got the religious right putting out books warning parents to keep their kids away from my friends and I, so a stray comment usually doesn’t bother me that much.

Except, one stayed with me and I’ve been pondering it for days. The commenter was dismissive, calling my belief system a “comfortable myth,” that they didn’t need.

Here’s what bothers me about calling Christianity a comfortable myth: following Jesus isn’t all unicorns and rainbows. If anything it has made my life more difficult and far less comfortable than what it could be.

Comfortable myth? I wish that were true. Here’s what a comfortable myth would look like to me:

“Do whatever you want. Take care of number one, and don’t feel guilty about it. Live your life now– and make sure you don’t shortchange yourself.”

That would be a comfortable myth. That would be a narrative that would be easy. It’s even the narrative I’m daily tempted to live, but fight with ever fiber in my being.

But the one I’m living now? Nope.

For someone to say that Christianity is a comfortable myth could only mean two things: (A) Such a person doesn’t actually understand what Jesus taught or (B) such a person has never dared to try it.

There’s a chance that I could be completely wrong about Jesus– maybe, just maybe, it’s all a myth… but comfortable? Let me warn you: following Jesus (as in, actually doing the stuff he taught) isn’t for the faint of heart. If you try it, the life you thought you wanted to live will fall apart, and you will be oh, so very uncomfortable for the rest of your life. Promise.

There’s been nothing comfortable about accepting the fact that the leader of my religion has invited me not to live, but to die– to daily pour myself out in serving others.

There’s nothing comfortable about giving your life to defending the cause of the fatherless. Nothing comfortable about parenting children with severe disabilities, nothing comfortable about hospital stays, spending up to twenty hours a week doing “intensive in-home therapy”, attending endless IEP meetings, or putting that extra Christmas stocking back in the basement because it’s not needed anymore.

There’s nothing comfortable about working hard day-in and day-out while constantly practicing self denial, so that one day you might have just enough set aside to offer another child life in a family.

There’s nothing comfortable about pouring your life into serving other broken people in a setting called the “Church.” Yeah, that place where more and more outsiders don’t want to go because the people inside are obnoxious? Well, some of us have made the uncomfortable decision to love and serve them in hopes that we might actually make things better.

There’s nothing comfortable about embracing Jesus’ teachings on nonviolent enemy love and realizing that loving an enemy is more important than preserving your own life.

There’s nothing comfortable about constantly trying to find redeeming qualities in even the most vile and unlikable people.

There’s nothing comfortable about embracing the calling to be one who kicks back against culture instead of being someone who sits neatly inside. In fact, that’s a ticket to chronic outsiderness.

There’s nothing comfortable about embracing the teaching that my life is not my own– that since I have been bought with a price I exist to do someone else’s bidding, instead of pursuing my own desires.

And, there’s certainly nothing comfortable about believing that one day I’m going to reach the end of my life– tired, depleted and poor, only to stand before God and be judged.

Could this all be a myth?

Maybe. I’ll give them that.

But it sure as hell isn’t comfortable. If you really think it is, I’d invite you to read the things that Jesus actually said– because what he invites us to is an insane way of living that will make me worthy of being a fool if the myth part turns out to be right.

But comfortable? Call it a myth. Call it foolish. Call it insane.

Call it anything– but don’t call it comfortable.

October 4, 2014

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Last night was the opening night of the “much anticipated” re-make of Kirk Cameron’s “masterpiece” Left Behind. I’ve been talking about the movie for a good long while on the blog, so I felt it only fair I go see the movie– which, I did.

However, I didn’t want to subject myself to such torment alone. First, I asked my wife if she’d go see it with me but she turned me down. Next, I asked my sister-in-law, but she said “no thanks” as well. So, in a tongue-and-cheek post on Facebook, I posted: “Anyone want to fly out to Maine to go see Left Behind with me?”

And, here’s why I have the best fans in the entire blogosphere: within an hour of posting the status update I had a message from two readers in Minnesota, Wayne and Jodi, who told me they wanted to take me up on the offer and had just secured a flight to Maine in the morning. Less than 24 hours of posting my status update, I picked Wayne and Jodi up at their hotel, took them to see some of Maine’s beautiful lighthouses, and off to see Left Behind we went!

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The movie was impressively horrible– infinitely worse than I had expected. As I said yesterday on That God Show, there’s some really compelling events in the pre-millennial view of eschatology, and you could make some incredibly entertaining movies about it. Unfortunately, this wasn’t one of them. Beyond simply being a movie with a lousy plot-line, cheesy stereotypes, and crappy special effects, the movie was simply unbiblical.

Nothing shown in the movie is found in the Bible… no crashing planes, no mass hysteria… nada. In fact, it’s one of the least biblical movies I’ve ever seen.

But–you know me– I don’t want to leave the public hanging. I don’t want folks to have to walk away from the movie without something to replace it with. So, as your servant, I have compiled a list of alternative flicks to see– 10 movies that were more biblical than Left Behind:
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1. The Never Ending Story

Why? Because of the Old Testament. Seriously, have you tried to read it all? By the time you get to Chronicles, you start asking, “how long is this section anyway??” It’s practically a never ending story, so there you go– it’s more biblical than Left Behind.

 

Braveheart_imp2. Braveheart

Check it out: Braveheart is about a charismatic leader who leads his people to massacre their enemies in battle. Congratulations, you just watched a modern rendition of the book of Joshua.

 

star wars3. Star Wars

Think about it: an inter-galactic battle between the forces of good and evil where the good guys must rely on getting their strength from an invisible force (Holy Spirit anyone?) and the fate of the entire cosmos hangs in the balance. You got it– Star Wars is basically the narrative of scripture with some trinitarian theology tossed in for good measure.

 

MV5BMTAzNzM3NTM4NDNeQTJeQWpwZ15BbWU4MDgzOTgzMTAx._V1_SX214_AL_4. There’s Something About Mary

You remember that part in the Bible when the angel Gabriel appears to Mary to tell her she’s pregnant? Well, that’s kinda like the title to this movie. It’s as if the angel said, “there’s just something about you, Mary.” Plus, there are always women named Mary hanging out with Jesus, so that factor alone makes this more biblical than Left Behind.

 

MV5BMTI2MDY0ODEwNF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTYwMDI2NTk4._V1_SY317_CR5,0,214,317_AL_5. Castaway

How is a story about a man learning to live alone on a deserted island more biblical than Left Behind? Um, helloooo people, who wrote the book of Revelation anyway? John, who happened to be a castaway on the island of Patmos when he wrote it.

 

MV5BMTU5MzU2MzY2Nl5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwOTM4NzMxMDE@._V1_SY317_CR0,0,214,317_AL_6. The 40 Year Old Virgin

A lot of Jesus’ followers remained unmarried and virgins throughout life. That means The 40 Year Old Virgin will invite you into the lives of some of Jesus’ core team. This movie will also help you feel more compassionate towards the Apostle Paul (wouldn’t we all benefit from that?), which is more than what you’ll get out of Left Behind.

 

MV5BMTc4NTUyNzU4MV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwMzcyMTkyMQ@@._V1_SX214_AL_7. Wedding Crashers

In this movie we meet two mates who love to crash weddings and booze it up. And what was the first act that really made Jesus famous? Crashing a wedding and bringing the booze, that’s what. This my friends, makes this movie more biblical than Left Behind.

 

austin powers8. Austin Powers

This is getting ridiculous you say? Not so fast. Austin Powers is someone who comes back to the future after being in a hibernation state in order to defeat his arch nemesis, Dr. Evil. I mean, really– he comes back to defeat evil? It almost makes you wonder if the director of this film is a Christian, because that’s an uncanny similarity to the book of Revelation.

 

MV5BMjE0ODk2NjczOV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTYwNDQ0NDg4._V1_SY317_CR4,0,214,317_AL_9. Pulp Fiction

My favorite line in this whole movie (a classic) is when they– wait for it– recite a Bible verse from Ezekiel 25:17. Unfortunately, they took some creative licensing with their rendition of this verse, but they at least got part of it correct, which is more than I can say for the Left Behind movie.

 

MV5BMTk2NTE1NTE0M15BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwNjY4NTYxMTE@._V1_SX214_AL_10. Shrek

Okay, you probably think I’m off the deep end at this point, but don’t judge me. What’s so biblical about Shrek? A talking donkey, that’s what. There’s a talking donkey in Shrek, and a talking donkey in the Bible (Num 22:28), so that makes Shrek more biblical than Left Behind.

 

There you go friends. If you’re looking to see a “biblical” movie, you have a better chance at picking up a movie from the shelf and creatively attempting to find a biblical connection than you do finding biblical truth in Left Behind.

Because there isn’t any.

September 22, 2014

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In the lead up to the release of the remake of Left Behind hitting theaters in a few weeks, I wanted to take a moment to tell you about the most ironic thing the Left Behind movie (or rapture believers) won’t tell you about getting “left behind.”

The basic premise of the theology is this: the world is going to get progressively worse as “the end” draws near. Before the worst period of time in world history (a seven year period called the “tribulation,” though there’s no verse in the Bible that discusses a seven year tribulation) believers in Jesus are suddenly snatched away during the second coming of Christ (which rapture believers argue is done in secret and without explanation, instead of the public second coming described in scripture).

The entire premise of the theology and the Left Behind movie is based on a passage from Matthew that you’ll see in the official Left Behind image included to your left. The passage states:

“Then shall two be in the field; the one shall be taken and the other left”.

And this is where we get the term “left behind”… Jesus said “one shall be taken and the other left.”

Pretty simple, no? It appears from this passage that Jesus is describing an event where some people actually do “get taken” and the others are “left behind.” It must be a rapture then.

Or maybe not.

As I have explained before, the chapter of Matthew 24 is a chapter where Jesus describes the events that will lead up to the destruction of the temple which occurred in AD 70. That’s not so much my scholarly opinion as it is what Jesus plainly states in the first few verses of Matthew 24; it is a context pretty difficult to explain away since Jesus says “this temple will be destroyed” and his disciples ask, “please, tell us when this will happen.” The rest of the discourse is Jesus prophesying the events that will lead up to the temple’s destruction, which we know historically unfolded as Jesus had predicted. (As I have alluded to in What Jesus Talked About When He Talked About Hell and Don’t Worry The Tribulation Is In The Past, if one does not understand the significance of the destruction of the temple to ancient Judaism, one will have a very hard time understanding what Jesus talks about when he talks about “the end.”)

Anyhow, during the end of this discourse in Matthew we hit the “rapture” verse: “one will be taken and one will be left.” Surely, this part must be about the future, and Jesus MUST be describing a rapture. Since that’s what my childhood pastor taught me, it’s probably a good idea to stick with that.

Just one problem: Matthew 24 isn’t the only place where Jesus talks about “some being taken and some being left behind.” Jesus also discusses this in Luke 17 when he says:

 “I tell you, on that night two people will be in one bed; one will be taken and the other left. 35 Two women will be grinding grain together; one will be taken and the other left.”

Building a compelling case for the rapture yet? Not quite. Check this out: Jesus’ disciples in the Luke version of the discourse must have been interested in this left behind stuff, because they ask a critical followup question. However, they actually seem more concerned with those who were “taken” than those who were “left behind” and ask Jesus for a little more information on this whole getting taken away stuff.

“Where, Lord?” is the question of the disciples. Where did all of these people go??

If this were a passage about the “rapture” as depicted in the Left Behind movie, one would expect Jesus to answer something to the point of “they were taken to be with me to wait out the tribulation.” But, that’s not what Jesus says. Instead, Jesus gives them a blunt answer about those who were “taken”: “just look for the vultures, and you’ll find their bodies.” (v37)

That’s right. The ones who were “taken” were killed. Not exactly the blessed rapture.

The Roman occupation was brutal, and when they finally sacked the city and destroyed the temple in AD70, things got impressively bloody. To be “taken” as Jesus prophesied, was to be killed by the invading army. This is precisely why, in this passage and the Matthew version, Jesus gives all sorts of other advice that makes no sense if this is a verse about the rapture. Jesus warns that when this moment comes one should flee quickly– to not even go back into their house to gather their belongings– and laments that it will be an especially difficult event for pregnant and nursing mothers. He even goes on to warn them that if they respond to the army with resistance (the very thing that causes the mess in the lead-up to AD70), they’ll just get killed (“whoever seeks to save his life will lose it”). Jesus, it seems, wants his disciples to get it: when the Roman army comes, flee quickly or else you might not be left behind!

Surely, Jesus is not talking about a rapture. He’s not warning people to avoid missing the rapture because they went home to get their possessions… he’s talking about fleeing an advancing army and not doing anything stupid that will get them killed (v 30-34).

Very practical advice for his original audience and would have come in handy for those who wanted to avoid being “raptured” (slaughtered) by the Roman army.

And so my friends, this is the most ironic thing the Left Behind movie won’t tell you: in the original “left behind” story Jesus tells in the Gospels, the ones who are “left behind” are actually the lucky ones.

So the next time folks tell you that they don’t want to be “left behind,” you might want to tell them to be careful what they wish for.

September 12, 2014

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On October 3rd, 2014 American movie theaters will again be flooded with yet another Christian movie– a remake of the Left Behind cash cow that has taken Western Christianity hostage for more than a generation. Recently it was made public that one of the producers of the movie is none other than Duck Dynasty’s Willie Robertson, who is imploring Christians to gather up their friends and take them to see the movie in hopes they’ll “get saved” on the way home.

The Christian movie industry is troubling to me on many fronts, but most notably because of the fact that it’s just plain ole dangerous for one to sit back and unquestionably absorb their theological worldview from entertainers. However, I don’t think this is a trend that will die down anytime soon, which means we’ll need to be continually dissecting these money making ideas clothed as “truth” when they unfold.

Perhaps you’re thinking of going to see the movie– or even worse, maybe you thought of bringing a friend who might actually take the movie seriously. If this is you, please take a moment to consider these 5 things about the Left Behind movie and the theology associated with it:

 

1. Whatever you believe about eschatology (the study of last things), you should be aware that good or bad, eschatology dramatically impacts your worldview.

In approaching any situation, how we believe it will end has a dramatic influence on our behaviors here and now. Eschatology is probably the most extreme example of this because what we believe about the end of the world, most undoubtedly affects the way we interact with the world. In light of this, one should use the most extreme care in what they adopt as a view of the end because the consequences are immediate and numerous.

2. The major events you’ll see described in the movie do not appear anywhere in the Bible.

The cold hard truth? There is not a single passage in the entire Bible that describes a world-wide event where millions of people go missing and the world is ushered into chaos. It simply doesn’t exist– not anywhere. Just know that when you see this movie, you are not seeing a depiction of a biblical event. Even Bible teachers who believe in this theology, such as John MacArthur, have admitted that it is not explicitly found in scripture but simply “implied”. I would caution one from building an entire world-view around something that even believers admit can be seen only through creatively reading between the lines.

3. Left Behind eschatology historically has had a negative impact on the world.

Church history, especially here in America, reveals a shameful fact: when rapture theology was invented in the UK and then transported to the US, Christians dramatically disengaged from society. Early Evangelicals were dedicated to making long-term investments to make the world the kind of place that Jesus would want to come back to, but after rapture theology was invented, we see that dramatically change as pessimism over the future took over. If you’ll know a tree by its fruit, the case on this one is historically clear: rapture theology brings bad fruit by cultivating  fear, pessimism, and disengagement from society. In fact, the inventor of rapture theology, John Nelson Darby, actively rebuked Christians for being optimistic and taught that a Christian worldview must be pessimistic.

4. Left Behind theologians are constantly revising their interpretations to cover up for failed predictions.

The modern obsession with the end times is borderline divination, as folks who “get into it” become obsessed with attempting to tell the future– a behavior the Bible actually condemns. The most prominent proponents of this theology (take for example, Hal Lindsay) have all been found guilty of making false predictions and then forced to refine their stance to explain it away. Scripture teaches that we must not listen to people who wrongly tell the future, because if that doesn’t make one a “false prophet”, I don’t know what would.

5. Taking the movie seriously will likely pervert your Christian witness.

The Jesus of scripture invites us to proclaim the “Good News” that his Kingdom is here, that he is Lord over all of it, and that we are invited to participate in building it. Taking movies such as Left Behind seriously however, pervert the message of Jesus (ironically, becoming “anti-Christ”) and turn “Good News” into: “Holy Moley! I had no idea that the world was about to fall apart! Good thing we’re getting the hell out of here soon!!”, which is a far cry from what Jesus taught. Jesus invites us to wage a beautiful revolution and to live in his Kingdom right here, right now. Rapture theology however, invites one to focus on escaping the world instead of transforming it, which isn’t the Gospel at all. Such a perversion of the message of Jesus is something Christians would want to not only avoid, but publicly condemn. We must follow Jesus instead of movie-makers trying to cash in on the proven money making strategy of predicting the future and making it sound frightening.

Please, my fellow Jesus people: don’t take this movie seriously. Certainly, do NOT take a friend who isn’t a Christian, lest they be led to believe that this movie represents the Christian message, as it does not. Instead of John Darby and Duck Dynasty theology, I’d recommend skipping the movie and investing the money in an eschatological book by one of the premier biblical scholars in the world, Surprised by Hope by NT Wright.

 

August 14, 2014

On Tuesday I once again had a chance to spend some time with my friend, Frank Schaeffer, at his home in Massachusetts. While last time we sat down to talk about his book, Why I’m An Atheist Who Believes in God, this time we switched roles and he interviewed me about my soon to be released book, Undiluted.

We had a great chat, and hit on more topics than I anticipated covering in a discussion about Undiluted– everything from inerrancy, socialism, the marriage of Jesus to right-wing politics, hell, LGBTQ rights, and a host of other topics we touched upon.

What I really loved about the interview was that having read my book twice, Frank really was able to capture precisely what I intended to communicate through Undiluted: the character of God is fully revealed through the empathetic, inclusive, nonviolent, and perfectly loving person we see in Jesus Christ.

I hope it’s a message that will strike a cord with every person who reads it– because if there is a God (and I believe there is) the only way I could ever describe him is, “He looks exactly like Jesus.”

A BIG thanks to Frank for his enthusiasm about the book, and for taking the time to really get at the heart of the issues I bring up in it.

So, here’s the interview– enjoy!

(tip: after the video starts playing, click on the tool menu and switch to HD for a better viewing experience)

Why not order both books today? Just click on the book cover and you’ll magically be taken to an ordering page on Amazon!

Final Front_River Pub (with endorsement)Screenshot 2014-08-13 20.51.31

 

August 11, 2014

Islamic-State-of-Iraq-and-Syria1

My spirit has been grieved in a way I haven’t experienced before as the situation in Iraq and Syria has turned for the worse as of late, and is now straight up out of control. The ISIS has made amazing strides in gaining power throughout the region, taking over whole areas, and has now begun exterminating all of the “others” who are not like them.

There’s been the ultimatum given to Christians (and other religious minorities often overlooked): leave town, convert to Islam and pay a special tax, or face the sword. The ISIS has shown they’re not kidding with the ultimatum (and that they aren’t going to honor living in peace in exchange for paying the tax). As a result, a situation that is nothing short of genocide is being presented to the world.

The atrocities facing the religious minorities in these areas are almost unspeakable.

There’s been the mass executions by firing squad.

Beheadings.

The hanging of men.

Rape and enslavement of the women.

There’s also been a revival of crucifixions in the public square, something ISIS members have been tweeting photos of and gloating about on twitter.

I am beyond grieved over the situation and have found it to be impacting me in ways I never expected. To be honest, I’ve spent the last few days wrestling with a great deal of inner tension as this situation has radically challenged my nonviolent ethic. How can one maintain a nonviolent ethic when faced with a situation like this? The truth is, there’s not an easy answer to that– I am finding myself swimming in a sea of tension with no easy resolution.

However, as I survey the situation, I think it is important to remember this: violence is how we got here, so the idea that violence will lead us out of here is as foolish as doing nothing.

I remember being glued to CNN as a freshman in high school watching the opening days of Operation Desert Storm– Saddam Hussein didn’t comply with the deadline to leave Kuwait, so we went to war. After we succeeded in pushing him back within his own borders, we ended the conflict– something that the elder President Bush took some heat over. The pundits claimed that we needed to march all the way to Baghdad and remove Hussein from power, but the administration had some wisdom as to why that was a really bad idea: removing Saddam from power would likely create a power vacuum. The people who would potentially fill that vacuum might actually be worse than what we were removing, they claimed.

As an adult, I watched a new President Bush go back to war with Iraq, this time with the goal of using force/violence to remove Saddam from power. We successfully removed him from power, but have since experienced what the first Bush knew all along: using violence to remove him from power might backfire.

Today we have a power vacuum throughout the region, and it’s being filled by some straight up evil people– people who ironically, Saddam would not have tolerated. We can rightly look at the violence being used by these evil men with total disgust, but let us be honest about the situation: it was OUR use of violence that set the stage for this to all play out.

If the use of violence is how we got here, why would we think MORE violence would actually make things better? If history is a reliable witness, more violence will just lead to… you guessed it, more violence.

We need to reach a point where we throw up our hands and simply admit that this cycle DOES NOT WORK. We need to think more creatively, and give other solutions a fair hearing.

One reason why we don’t seek alternatives to violence is because violence comes at a huge price to them but nonviolent solutions come at a huge price to us. Too often, we’re simply unwilling to pay such a price, whatever that is.

A potential solution for this rapidly escalating genocide comes by way of saving the innocent instead of killing the guilty. Why not stage the largest airlift since the Berlin Airlift, and bring all of these religious and ethnic minorities out of their situation, and grant them asylum here in the United States? This solution would involve a minimal amount of violence (a point I concede with great tension) as we put “boots on the ground” to help safely escort them out of the their situation. We could use our troop transport planes to safely fly them out, bring them here, and help them begin a new life in peace and freedom.

If we’re going to spend billions of dollars anyway, why not invest in actually saving people and helping them escape to freedom?

I fear we’d rather shell out the money to kill and destroy our enemies a world away instead of the far more costly and personally messy work of welcoming thousands of new immigrants/asylum seekers into our own neighborhoods.

The use of violence in the middle east got us here. The use of violence in the middle east has kept us here. Thinking that “more violence” is the solution to get us out of here is short sighted– it’s time to invest in something different.

* This blog is part of a synchro-blog effort with MennoNerds to help bring an Anabaptist/Mennonite perspective on the ISIS situation in the middle east. For more voices in the discussion, search the hashtag

 

July 21, 2014

As I sit down to write this post I’m realizing that I’m probably going to get branded as “that guy who writes about nonviolence”, but I can think of no core aspect of the message of Jesus that I’d rather talk so much about. Nonviolence is one of those utterly insane ideas that becomes ridiculously beautiful and exciting once that light bulb goes off in your mind.

As I’ve said before: there’s nothing more offensive in the teachings of Christ than the simple phrase “love your enemies”. It’s a phrase that defies common sense to the point that even most Christians I know, or talk to online, don’t functionally believe it should be followed– even if they do claim to believe the inspiration or inerrancy of scripture.

People reject this aspect of the teachings of Jesus for a variety of reasons. I think this is primarily because it’s a doctrine that’s been so neglected under the era of Christendom that when someone brings it up, it just sounds like complete hippie nonsense. One of the main ways some of my critics push back against the doctrine of Christian nonviolence is through questions such as, “How could it bring glory to God if your enemies kill you?”, “What good are you to anyone if you’re dead?”, or “It would not honor God to get shot by a guy who is stealing your television”. I’ve heard about seventeen different ways of asking the same question.

These questions appear to be driven by a few underlying assumptions that seem to be rational, but are revealed to be false when we consider what I believe is the core purpose for a Jesus follower. The false assumption is essentially this: “if I die before my time, God’s plan plan for my life will be thwarted”, or perhaps “I am no use to God or anyone else if I’m dead”.

And, I get it. The idea of dying for one’s enemies is crazy– and I’d reject it to if it were not for the fact that this is precisely what the guy who kicked this whole movement off did with his life. In Undiluted (you can pre-order your copy here), I write that it’s one of those things that makes me actually believe Jesus, because his message is too crazy to not be true.

Unfortunately, I think both assumptions are completely untrue when you look at the big picture of what we’re really here for. Instead of the above assumptions, I start with two different ones:

1. The first (central) purpose of my life is to follow Jesus, whatever that looks like.

2. The second purpose of my life is to invite others to do it too. One of the last things Jesus asked his followers to do was to go into “all the world” and create more followers, so that this movement keeps reproducing itself, and God’s Kingdom grows.

With those two new assumptions, let’s look at why I think dying for an enemy, instead of killing an enemy, could potentially be more beneficial to the goal of Kingdom growth:

Let’s say an intruder broke into my house to steal my television or raid my medicine cabinet. I accidentally walk in on what’s happening and end up getting attacked. Instead of reaching for something that could be used as a weapon, I pass on all opportunities to kill my “enemy”. However, let’s also say that passing on those opportunities costs me my very life– I die, and they live.

Here’s two things that could potentially happen that would play right into my master plan to keep inviting more and more people into this Jesus thing:

1. The person who killed me, while sitting in their jail cell, is going to have a lot of time to think about it. In doing so, my hope would be that they’d start asking some questions about why I didn’t try to kill them when I had the chance. As they dug into my story, they’d find out the reason why I didn’t try to kill them was because I believed with all of my being that they had infinite worth and value to God– and that they were worth dying for. They would then potentially see that I was filled with a radical, self sacrificial love for them which I hope would spark a new question: “why the hell did that guy believe that about me?” This question would lead them to only one answer: Jesus.

Furthermore, if I killed my enemy, I might potentially seal their fate of separation from God (if there’s no postmortem redemption), but dying for my enemy would give them more time and opportunity to be reconciled to God through Christ. I have already been reconciled— which means the loving and unselfish thing to do would be to sacrifice what was left of my years here, in hopes that this would help my enemy be reconciled before the end of their years.

By trading my life for theirs, an enemy could potentially spend the rest of their natural life asking the question, “why did he love me so much?” and every time, the ONLY answer it would lead to would be, Jesus. If I am thinking “long-game” for the Kingdom of God, that’s the right answer even if it seems like sheer foolishness in the eyes of the world. However, Jesus taught that whoever looses his life for the sake of the Kingdom will find it again (and that the opposite is true too)– and call me crazy, but I believe him.

2. The second potential impact would be the exponential discussion about Jesus that could potentially happen far and wide. It’s not often that someone willingly gives their life in place of an enemy’s life– and when they do, it generates some buzz. Just look at my hero, Dirk Willems (see image at top of article). Dirk was an Anabaptist and was sentenced to be burned at the stake (we Anabaptists tend to get that a lot). However, he escaped his holding cell and tried to escape– with his jailer fleeing close behind. When crossing a semi-frozen river, Dirk made it across safely, but his jailer fell and and would have died in minutes. Instead of continuing on to freedom and life, Dirk decided to save the life of his enemy– who, as it turns out, didn’t return the favor. Dirk was burned to death on May 16, 1569. But guess what? We’re still talking about Dirk Willems in 2014, and when we talk about him, we’re forced to talk about Jesus! If I were to give my own life in order to allow my enemy to live, people would talk about it because that’s a pretty crazy thing to do. But when they did, they’d be forced to talk about this Jesus guy who I’ve given my life to. That could be potentially huge for the Kingdom– perhaps even bigger than anything I could accomplish while still living.

Is it true that dying for an enemy is a poor use of your life? Not at all! In fact, if our dedication is to building the Kingdom and making it as big and as crowded as we possibly can– over and above temporal self preservation– giving our lives for our enemies might actually be one of the most practical and valuable things we could do.

But yeah, I know it all sounds crazy. Jesus is sorta like that sometimes.

July 8, 2014

My heart breaks as violence is on the rise again in Israel. Just within the last few days, we’ve seen a Palestinian child burned alive , seen leaked video of Israeli police beating an American Palestinian child who was bound at the time, a Christian minister has been attacked by Israeli settlers, and an Israeli lawmaker has called for even the death of noncombatants, saying in part:

“The Palestinian people has declared war on us, and we must respond with war. Not an operation, not a slow-moving one, not low-intensity, not controlled escalation, no destruction of terror infrastructure, no targeted killings. Enough with the oblique references. This is a war. Words have meanings. This is a war. It is not a war against terror, and not a war against extremists, and not even a war against the Palestinian Authority. These too are forms of avoiding reality. This is a war between two people. Who is the enemy? The Palestinian people. Why? Ask them, they started… Behind every terrorist stand dozens of men and women, without whom he could not engage in terrorism. Actors in the war are those who incite in mosques, who write the murderous curricula for schools, who give shelter, who provide vehicles, and all those who honor and give them their moral support. They are all enemy combatants, and their blood shall be on all their heads. Now this also includes the mothers of the martyrs, who send them to hell with flowers and kisses. They should follow their sons, nothing would be more just. They should go, as should the physical homes in which they raised the snakes. Otherwise, more little snakes will be raised there.”

If history is any testimony, there’s no telling how bad things might spiral out of control this time. While it’s true that at least this time, one of the final sparks to conflict was the abduction and killing of three Israeli teenagers, the violent retaliation is beyond sickening.

I think what bothers me most is that when news broke of the death of the Israeli teenagers, the internet lit up with your standard “stand with Israel” cheers, yet whenever Israel is the agent of aggression or retaliation, things go silent. The only voices who speak up are a few brave souls who are willing to be castigated by other Christians for having the courage to stand up against the violence and oppression of the nation state of Israel.

Why do we do this? Why does Israel get a free pass in doing whatever they want? They bulldoze communities so they can build illegal settlements, and we say and do nothing. They systematically use violence and oppression over their neighbors, and yet we say and do nothing. When things over heat, they retaliate– burning children alive, and we say and do nothing.

Why? Why would we be so foolish as to completely ignore behavior on the part of Israel that would in any other circumstance result in international sanctions or worse?

Even beyond the fact that we ignore it, is the fact that we attack those who have the courage to speak up. It takes no courage at all to criticize Palestinians when they respond to their occupiers with violence– plenty of people speak up. But speaking up against Israel? Too many Christians don’t. While it is true that the Palestinians are not guiltless, it is important to remember that they are not the ones in power. There is always special accountability for the individual (or in this case group) who holds the power– but we’ve held them to none.

Why is this the case? Sadly, the answer is quite simple. In Genesis 12:3 we see God say the following to Abraham:

“I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.”

Not to be overly simplistic, but that verse is the core of why this happens. Many Christians believe that this promise to Abraham means that we must bless the modern nation state of Israel, and that if we don’t, God will curse us. Of course, this belief has all kinds of problems– such as the fact that the New Testament teaches that there is no longer a distinction between Jews and Gentiles, that people of God are those who have been circumcised “of the heart”, etc.

Setting aside the flawed theology I’ve addressed in the past, the belief that we should “bless” Israel has somehow over the course of time come to mean “we must support everything Israel does”. It’s a tragic confusion that has caused us to support all kinds of horrible things that do not reflect the Jesus we see in the New Testament.

While my argument around this area of theology has usually been that the modern nation state of Israel is to be treated equally to all others instead of elevated as having a special standing with God, I want to set that aside for a minute. Let’s say the “stand with Israel” folks are right, and that we must bless Israel in order to avoid God’s wrath. If that’s the case, I have a different question:

What if blessing Israel actually means we develop the courage to stand up against Israeli oppression and violence?

I think the best way to bless someone who is caught up in destructive behavior is not to condone or to support the behavior, but to lovingly confront the behavior and show them a better way. I don’t see why this would be any different with Israel. Allowing this nation to continue this behavior is not loving, and it is certainly NOT a blessing. Ironically, it’s a curse– because violence, oppression and retaliation are ultimately self destructive.

I say, let’s be a blessing to Israel. But let’s not continue to think that blessing someone means we never ever confront unacceptable behavior.

 

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