Sometimes, We’ve Got to Put the Theological Gas Cans Down.

Sometimes, We’ve Got to Put the Theological Gas Cans Down. November 1, 2017


I make no apologies for being a theological bridge-burner and for the years I’ve spent both personally and publicly deconstructing my old faith structure.

As a post-evangelical who, like countless others, has been in a slow process of untangling many of the beliefs of my youth, my faith has been in a long season of necessary deconstruction. Those who have left evangelicalism or fundamentalism—especially those of us with deep church trauma– tend to have a special affinity for deconstruction, and rightly so. We were saturated with endless expressions of fear-based theology that permeated not just through our faith, but deep down into our very understandings of self. It left us terrified of God, fearful of the future, and loathing of ourselves.

In this way, how could we not spend long seasons deconstructing the beliefs that negatively impacted so much of our lives? How could we not speak up and articulate this when we finally had the words to do so, in order to help others trapped in the same system?

Deconstructing these elements of our old fear-based faith is certainly good and right if done properly, with the right heart, and with the right motivation. However, for those of us who are now on the outside of that structure, it is dangerous how easy it is to settle into a life of being a bridge burner and only a bridge burner.


Well, let’s be honest: burning something down is a whole lot easier than building something that’s bigger and better to either replace or overshadow it. Sure, it feels really good in the moment to pick up a gas can and those matches—and some people are completely satisfied to look out at the vast, empty horizon that once had a bridge spanning across it, but for others among us the satisfaction from that moment is fleeting…

There’s something I haven’t admitted publicly before, but do in my new book, Unafraid. And that admission is this:

While making my living as a writer and speaker was a beautiful accident I’ll forever be grateful for, I came to realize that I was growing progressively unhappy and more empty by the day. At first, I had no idea what it was– and in reality I’m sure it was several things all at once, but this part I know to be true:

Deconstructing my faith and a hyper focus on why fundamentalism was wrong, left me empty.

It makes sense that it would– I mean, the entire natural result of tearing something down is finding oneself in the empty space where it once stood.

But for me?

When I was finished, I had an acute realization: Even though burning things down is necessary from time to time, I’m just not one of those people who will ever be happy standing in the empty gap where my faith once stood.

Sure, I’m pretty good with a gas can. I’ll even admit it’s kind of fun. But empty space doesn’t make me happy…

Which means, I want to become more of a bridge builder than a bridge burner.

The root of my problem didn’t fully hit me until I was watching some old programs on WWII. After a season of war, destruction, and tearing things down, the West realized that for the world to be able to move forward and put that season of war behind them, it would be time for everyone to chip in and help to rebuild areas that had been destroyed by violence.

This path forward after World War II came to be known as the Marshall Plan, and it paved the way to begin a process of rebuilding throughout Europe. While it was impossible to reproduce everything that had been destroyed, and, in many cases, rebuilding perhaps would not have been a good idea, the United States knew that it was in the best interest of everyone to move forward from a season of destruction into a season of new creation.

Where the United States had just participated in bridge burning, it had come time to put the gas cans down and become the bridge builders, and so they did.

The Bible tells us that there is a time and a season for everything under heaven (Ecc. 3:1), and I suppose that means there’s even a time and place for burning some bridges—deconstructing or destroying things that have outlived their purpose, no longer function properly, or should never have been built in the first place. But like the United States did after World War II, I woke up one morning and realized that I needed to put the gas cans down, and that it was time to build something—something far more beautiful and life-giving than the old structure that once filled that gap.

My prayer for those who have either journeyed with me, or who share a similar journey as mine, but now find themselves dissatisfied at the end of their theological deconstruction, is that you’ll remember this:

Some of us won’t feel fully satisfied or alive until we sit down and realize that we’ve burned down enough, and that what our faith needs most is a Marshall Plan.


unafraid 300On one of the darkest days of my journey I wrote down all the things I didn’t believe anymore– I wrote out the net-result of my bridge burning days.

But then I took it one step further; I decided to help myself get unstuck and asked the most important question: “How do I let this point me to what I actually do believe?

And the answer to that question? Well, that became my book, Unafraid that releases next Tuesday! You can join me on this journey, and preorder your copy right here.



If You Think Trump Was Picked ..."
"Impeachment is part of the Constitution; not fare for opinion writers. Opinion writers do not ..."

If You Think Trump Was Picked ..."
"Oh I did not cite The American Conservative to try and persuade you. I have ..."

If You Think Trump Was Picked ..."
"You cannot presuade any serious reader with Daniel's opinion piece. When he says, "The central ..."

If You Think Trump Was Picked ..."

Browse Our Archives

Follow Us!

TRENDING AT PATHEOS Progressive Christian
What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • richard

    Best wishes on the release of your book.
    May it bring you great joy to see others enjoy what you wrote.
    May it make the New York Times bestseller list.

  • ashpenaz

    What about 2 Corinthians 6:17: Therefore, come out from among unbelievers, and separate yourselves from
    them, says the LORD. Don’t touch their filthy things, and I will
    welcome you. or Rev. 18: 3-5: All the nations have drunk the wine of the passion of her immorality.
    The kings of the earth were immoral with her, and the merchants of the
    earth have grown wealthy through the extravagance of her luxury.” 4Then I heard another voice from heaven say: “Come out of her, my people, so that you will not share in her sins or contract any of her plagues. 5For her sins are piled up to heaven, and God has remembered her iniquities.

    I think the Evangelical right is Antichrist and Trump’s America is Babylon. On what basis do you build a bridge, when we don’t follow the same Jesus, worship the same God? You can tell who they are worshipping by their fruit, and since their fruit bears no relationship to the teaching of Jesus, it’s from a tree which will be chopped down and thrown in the fire. By attempting to build bridges with people who have turned their back on God, you are only casting pearls before swine. I think we should shake the dust off our sandals and move on–it doesn’t matter if someone rises from the dead and preaches the gospel–they are so lost in their Pharisaical sins, they won’t hear.

  • otrotierra

    Thank you Dr. Corey. In addition to your blog, I also appreciate RedLetterChristians and Sojourners, as they model some of the bridge-building you describe. While RLC and Sojo articles illustrate the bridge-building, their comment sections illustrate the polar opposite, like a spawn of Fox “News” and a Trump Rally. This stark contrast, easily accessible for anyone with wifi access, is a firm reminder that you can’t build bridges with those whose entire theological foundation stands in opposition to the concept of bridge-building.

    Jesus was unable to build bridges with the Sanhedrin, Caesar, or Herod. Likewise, I doubt that Jesus-followers will succeed today at building bridges with White Evangelicals following the Herod/Sanhedrin/Caesar hybrid of Trump.

  • Matthew

    I want to be a bridge builder. I desire to be a peacemaker. It just seems Christ-like.

    That said, like others who have already commented, I ask if such is possible with those
    who see some of us as wolves in sheeps clothing, who think some of us are not even true believers, who
    consider most of our theological positions abhorrent, etc.

    I suppose we must try. Be diplomatic. Be patient. Exhibit the fruit of the Holy Spirt. Listen.

  • Les Mayer

    otrotierra, to you, Matthew above, and many others, I would give this word of encouragement: I am not who I was ten years ago, and the me of ten years ago would never have dreamed I’d be the me I am today. It’s true it can be discouraging as most people you bump up against will have no interest in changing or even listening, but there is almost always someone watching or listening that you may not even realize you’re affecting in at least some small way.

    Be patient, exercise love and holiness in humility, and by your thoughts, words, and actions keep showing people just how beautiful Jesus really is. He will change hearts and minds, most of the time you won’t even realize the part you play, but take my word for it…you do have a part! Peace to you my friends.

  • otrotierra

    Thank you Les, for bringing some important perspective to the conversation. Our current political moment certainly is curious, as we have witnessed a pronounced increase in frothing rage, fear-mongering, incitement of political violence, physical violence, prideful arrogance, and blatant deception under Trump. But we will indeed continue to respond with truth, honesty, rational thought, and a firm commitment to The Greatest Commandment, no matter how outrageously offended they are. Thanks for the reminder!

  • The book comes out two days before my birthday, so that’ll be a nice present.

    I empathize with this post. I’m coming out of a long period of deconstruction, myself. And you’re right – it’s not fulfilling to define yourself around what you don’t believe or what you object to or what you think is stupid. It’s certainly not fulfilling to engage life that way, as if my primary contribution to the world is critiquing everything around me.

    I have more mixed feelings on the reaching out element. On the one hand, relationships are more important than my theological views at any given time. On the other hand, as others have pointed out, sometimes these differences cross over into very tangible real-world effects that have to be opposed. Maybe Paul captures this by pointing out that we don’t struggle against individual people, but the powers that be – forces that are bigger than the single person we may be talking to. But navigating that difference is very tricky. It is very difficult to stay relational with an individual who is contributing to the very forces that oppress the world. Although, I don’t know. Maybe we’re all complicit in that to some extent or another.

    Where I’ve come to is, if I want a positive theology and positive contribution to the world, I need to focus on how I can make the world as I have the power to do so look a little more like God wants it to look – where justice, love, mercy, and restoration are the key dynamics. The people who are drawn to this project will be contributing to it. The people who aren’t, won’t, and I don’t know that I’m ever going to talk them into it. I think the best thing I can do is help bring this project to fruition the best way I can and hope its positive effects draw people to it.

    This is, actually, a vision I have for the local church. How about instead of focusing on growing our numbers, we focus on the project we’re building? If people are into it, they’ll come – and they may come from all sorts of spiritual (and non) backgrounds, and if they aren’t, they won’t, even if they’re Christians.

    This is one of the ways I admire Judaism’s dynamic. “We’re going to be over here doing our Jewish thing. If you want to get in on this, we’ll get you in on this. If not, then don’t. If you think we’re idiots, we don’t care. We’re still going to be doing our thing.”

  • Gary Lieberman

    I appreciate your thoughts, as I don’t read many blogs. It is comforting to my soul as I see God moving in His church to restore and rebuild what has been lost in the lives of so many wounded people. Might even buy your book. :)

  • otrotierra

    Thank you for your insightful thoughts here. I’m especially drawn to your example of the “Judaism dynamic,” as you describe it.

  • John

    As a post-evangelical who, like countless others, has been in a slow process of untangling many of the beliefs of my youth, my faith has been in a long season of necessary deconstruction. Those who have left evangelicalism or fundamentalism—especially those of us with deep church trauma– tend to have a special affinity for deconstruction, and rightly so. We were saturated with endless expressions of fear-based theology that permeated not just through our faith, but deep down into our very understandings of self. It left us terrified of God, fearful of the future, and loathing of ourselves.

    Reading this is so odd. I’ve been what people might define as ‘evangelical’ my whole life and my experience has been so totally different than what you describe that it almost seem like you existed on another planet. My evangelical community is full of joy. We sing together. We accept and love the poor and downtrodden of our community. We encourage broken and hurting people to reach out for the love of Christ while supporting them along the way. We don’t walk around in fear, we walk in assurance.

    It seems to me that what you describe as “evangelical” or “fundamentalist” isn’t really either of those things. What you’re really talking about is your specific experience, but instead of burning the bridges that existed in that experience, you’ve decided to burn the bridges with all of evangelicalism.

  • Herm

    I ask if such is possible with those who see some of us as wolves in sheeps clothing, who think some of us are not even true believers, who
    consider most of our theological positions abhorrent, etc.

    … do you mean like those who saw Jesus, such as Caiaphas, the religious authority, but not Pilate, the secular governor?

  • Herm

    Let’s see … walls or bridges … what shall we choose to build one at a time?

  • Herm

    ahspenaz, the word Jesus used for His church (ἐκκλησία) means a calling out as in to meet and unite in congregation with Him, from all other splintered congregations that He is not the high priest administrating with all authority in heaven and on earth. Those who boldly spoke the true word of God, following Jesus’ ascension and without a Bible, each united in relationship with God and not theologies of God, were, and are today, the bridge builders between Man’s separate carnal congregations and God’s one united congregation worshiping the Father in the Spirit.

  • Jamin Andreas Hübner

    What Corey describes is definitely on the same planet, but not everyone agrees just what this planet is like…

  • otrotierra

    Indeed! Come to think of it, the Evangelical fraud and serial lair David Barton is founder of “WallBuilders.” Their exclusionary theology is evidenced in their own language, as well as their behavior.

  • Herm

    … or what world they are of.

  • tj mcgauvran

    Personal deconstruction is one thing, but “it’s not fulfilling to define yourself around what you don’t believe or what you object or what you think OTHERS ought to recognize. And you hit the nail on the head when you state “it’s certainly not fulfilling to engage life that way, as if my primary contribution . . . is critiquing everything around me”. Thanks Phil for sharing an essential building block.

  • Karin Isbell

    Thank you, John. I could not have expressed it in better terms.

  • Karin Isbell


  • I have a very broad experience with evangelicals of all stripes, and what Ben describes is par for the course for American evangelicalism.

    What is also par for the course is a strong sense of denial in American evangelicalism that this is the case – so much so that it made me initially suspect of your assessment of your own community just because it is so overwhelmingly common that an American evangelical will be steeped in a theology of fear and self-loathing and absolutely believe they are -not- and will cite reasons similar to yours. They sing, they dance, they’re happy.

    The reason they sing and dance and are happy is because the God who hates sinners will not send them to Hell, but very easily would have if they had not converted. When you are inside of the evangelical narrative about Heaven and Hell and who ends up where and what that means about both God and humanity, it is very difficult to see that situation for what it is from the inside.

    I can’t speak for Ben, but I can speak for me, and I have been an evangelical (sometimes fundamentalist, sometimes not) all my life until recently, and at no point did I consider that I or the people around me depended on a narrative based on some of the things Ben pointed out. On the -outside- when I no longer feel obligated to support the narrative (or I’ll go to Hell), it’s easier to see.

    In other countries, the situation may be different, but I can assure you that American evangelicals have a dominant story that centers around whether or not individuals go to Heaven or Hell because God, by default, is out to destroy them.

  • You wrote, “We were saturated with endless expressions of fear-based theology that permeated not just through our faith, but deep down into our very understandings of self. It left us terrified of God, fearful of the future, and loathing of ourselves.”

    How tragic! How did this come from religion that was supposed to be Good News?!

  • John

    Like the Bible says, we should judge by the fruit. What is the fruit of my evangelical community: We see the poor being encouraged and supported, we see addicts get clean, we see broken relationships healed, we see love beyond race, gender, and class, and more than all those, we see many people leaving their life of fear and coming into the full assurance of hope in Christ. If those things aren’t the fruit that comes from a true relationship with Christ, then what is?

    Am I supposed to take all those things, ignore them, and just take your word that, no, actually we’re all just afraid and bitter?

    It seems to me that, no, you can’t speak for Ben, but you also can’t speak for me. You can speak for you.

  • People can have a relationship with Jesus and be primarily fear-based in their theology. That doesn’t mean your group does. I never said it did. I don’t know what your “evangelical community” is like.

    It’s just that you reacted with incredulity to Ben’s statements. There’s no Evangelical Community Pope or Evangelical Community Board of Statistics that we can appeal to in order to find out why people are in this. All we have are our experiences, anecdotes, and what rises to the surface of evangelicalism as a whole that the world can see. If your group doesn’t fit the mold, great! Be thankful.

    Just, you know, be aware that it’s incredibly easy to have huge blind spots when it comes to that stuff. I’m sure there’s a lot of evangelical communities that believe they, too, see “love beyond race, gender, and class” and are systemically racist, sexist, and condescending toward the poor believing that most of them are poor because of some character defect. Maybe yours isn’t. Terrific. Seems like you’d be protesting less if all this didn’t hit a nerve.

  • otrotierra

    Indeed, John’s self-admitted ignorance does not function as a cogent counter-argument in response to Dr. Corey’s thoughtful reflection.

  • YellowBird

    i guess the point ive arrived at in my own deconstruction process is simply: KINDNESS COUNTS … maybe is the only thing that does … at the very least, “there is no fear in Love” and “there is no condemnation in Love” either …

  • John

    Oh, I don’t disagree that his experience exists. In fact, I know it does. My contention is that he’s applying it to evangelicalism generally. I know that I’ve been in quite a few evangelical communities, and none of have been what he’s described. I wouldn’t say my community is outside the “mould.” I would say that the mould is different than what you think it is.

    My protest is in what I consider Ben’s defamation of evangelicalism. I don’t enjoy being defamed, and I especially don’t enjoy Christ’s church being defamed. So, yeah, it hits a nerve. It hits a nerve in the same way I would be hitting your nerve if I were writing public blogs with massive generalizations about your groups that go against everything you know about them.

    As a side note, your insistence on this ‘blindness’ is meaningless. We would all accuse each other of blindness to each other’s positions that we feel are wrong. If you have a problem, then present it, but to just tell people that they are blind to their own experiences while you are the enlightened sage, who sees all sides clearly, is the height of narcissism. I could easily claim that you’re blind to your own group, but would that be helpful? No, of course not. You have your experience, and I have mine. The decent thing to do is come together and discuss, not tell each other that they’re blind and wrong.

  • Herm

    Daniel, I don’t believe that religion was supposed to be the Good News. Isn’t it the relationship with God a God of love, willing to die for us, that is the Good News?

  • jekylldoc

    I tend to agree with John. It may be my particular experience, but even in the 70s my evangelical church was moving toward a community of mutual support and an emphasis on the joy. The background theology has not gone away, but when it is mentioned that happens as a reference to eternal communion with God and our loved ones. Little emphasis on punishment in the 70s, none now.

    It was not til I interacted (with Progressive Christians!) on Patheos that I began to realize how alive the theology of Hell remains. Honestly, I think it is a minority even among Evangelicals, but it does still have a lot of influence.

  • jekylldoc

    John, I agree with most of what you have said here. But surely you recognize that tradition has a powerful hold on evangelical Christianity (“Bible based” of course) and so traditional theology is there in the background with its threatening message, even if the leadership has moved on to a more encouraging and gracious message. I had no trouble myself stepping outside a framework of threats of Hell, so I tended to assume that most of my friends from Evangelical days also found their way out. Turns out not to be true. Have some conversations if you don’t believe me.

  • jekylldoc

    I also agree with Ben Corey’s feeling that critiquing and deconstructing is not fruitful or fulfilling. It may be necessary, but so is developing a sense of what our common way is going toward. This is an important message, and there could not be a better time for it.

  • Bones

    Yeah Ben’s right.

    You’ve been on here condemning gays before so I’m not quite sure why you think you’re better than everyone else.

    I mean you claimed the Pope loved his socialism more than his Catholicism.

  • Matthew

    It´s not as outwardly apparent as it is in the U.S., but one cannot forget that the theology is basically identical in conservative evangelical circles here in Western Europe.
    The across-the-pond religious situation kind of reminds me of the line from that song or that saying … “Meet the new boss. Same as the old boss.”

    You also make a great point, Phil, about how often one cannot see their own flaws until they get outside of the tribe, get beyond their own narrative, and really take a critical look at themselves. I would have never (I don´t think) been able to see conservative evangelicalism for what it really is (either American or Western European style) had I not distanced myself from it all.

  • jekylldoc

    I don’t think it is necessary to be so judgmental and confrontational. Love the sinner, hate the sin . . . there are specific things the right wing does which we must confront, to protect people from them. But concluding they are Babylon and Antichrist? I don’t see it. You may think there is no hope and they have shut their eyes to justice, but if you look at South Africa you will see a church that was even more rigid and dogmatic (in a really bad way) and yet has managed to regain a lot of humanity and Christianity. We have to understand that fear creates oppression, and Jesus can overcome fear.

  • ashpenaz

    I’m as confrontational as Jesus was when He separated Himself from the false religion of the Pharisees and tax collectors in the Temple–calling them dogs and whitewashed tombs. I think it’s time for those who follow Jesus to “come out and be ye separate” from those who are clearly perverting the Gospel, clearly the Antichrist. The religious right–Huckabee, Falwell, Dobson, Robertson, Graham–are preaching a gospel 7which is not even a gospel. Evidently some people are troubling you and trying to distort the gospel of Christ. 8But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be under a divine curse! 9As
    we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a
    gospel contrary to the one you embraced, let him be under a divine

  • John

    My real point would be to stress that traditional theology isn’t really what you, or Ben, make it seem.

    I would start off by saying that if we are to have any respect for the scripture, then we must agree that a person in rebellion against God should be fearful. That is appropriate. We see this throughout essentially every parable told by Jesus. You have the servant who is cast out, the man who is turned away from the wedding banquet, the vine that is burned up, etc. If you fall into the categories of those people, then you should be afraid.

    On the other hand, Ben was talking about having fear while also calling himself a son of God. This is the position I can’t empathize with. Traditional theology, all the way back to Puritan literature, is absolutely full of joy and happiness for those under the mercy of God. Jonathan Edwards, best known for his tract Sinners in the hands of an angry God wrote far more about joy and happiness than he did about fear. It really is a tragedy that we’ve simplified him down to that one single idea. In the words of Jonathan Edwards:

    “Men have a great deal of pleasure in human knowledge, in studies of natural things; but this is nothing to that joy which arises from divine light shining into the soul. This spiritual light is the dawning of the light of glory in the heart. There is nothing so powerful as this to support persons in affliction, and to give the mind peace and brightness in this stormy and dark world. This knowledge will wean from the world, and raise the inclination to heavenly things. It will turn the heart to God as the fountain of good, and to choose him for the only portion. This light, and this only, will bring the soul to a saving close with Christ. It conforms the heart to the gospel, mortifies its enmity and opposition against the scheme of salvation therein revealed: it causes the heart to embrace the joyful tidings, and entirely to adhere to, and acquiesce in the revelation of Christ as our Savior.”

    Does that bolded part sound like Ben’s description of how he felt? No, it doesn’t, yet this quote is quintessential traditional evangelical theology. So where is the disconnect?

  • THAT was the view of the Baptist wonder that we learned as kids and teens.
    BUT then
    at 16 I encountered a completely contrary explanation of what Christianity’s essential nature is from Augustinians, Reformed-Calvinists, conservative Episcopalians, Lutherans, etc.
    And I studied far too many history and theology tomes and discovered that the vast majority of Christian leaders in history actually agreed with the Augustinian and Reformed,
    and that they all claimed that the Good News I had received growing up was actually NOT
    only not true, but NOT even Christianity.

    Later I learned that contrary to our tiny world of Baptist G.N., and later Anabaptist/Quaker, most Christians believed in an entirely different god, and an entirely different existence:-(


    I’m glad that where ever you encountered “God, a God of love…Good News” that thousands of naysayers haven’t been able to drown you
    in their
    doctrinal despair.

  • jekylldoc

    Where is the disconnect?
    “I would start off by saying that if we are to have any respect for the
    scripture, then we must agree that a person in rebellion against God
    should be fearful.” I assume you have no problem with applying that to Tiberius Caesar, Herod, and Pontius Pilate. And from there we can find our way easily to people who zip around on private jets at taxpayer expense, play the voters for suckers to get their votes, engage in human traficking, contribute to destruction of the environment, etc. In fact if we in any way put our own material comfort above concern for our fellow humans, we should be afraid. Except that that covers pretty much the whole human race. I just don’t think fear is God’s message to us, but rather think Jesus used imagery familiar to many at the time to point at particular ones who think they have nothing to fear but actually are forgetting about God’s justice.

    “We see this throughout essentially every parable told by Jesus.” Umm, I have been thinking over the parables of the Good Samaritan and of the Prodigal Son, and frankly I can’t find the fear. God’s grace, and the call to show grace ourselves, told as well as can be told without any fear at all. How about the ones who turn down the invitation to the banquet, having bought a piece of property? Or buy a field just because they found a precious pearl? Is it just me or is this de-emphasis of fear conspicuous?

    “Traditional theology, all the way back to Puritan literature, is
    absolutely full of joy and happiness for those under the mercy of God.” Well, preaching fear of Hell goes back way further than that. I like the things Edwards said in your quotes – I think it is a sign of true grace to be able to experience the joy of just living a normal life. But we are all under the mercy of God, and while Gospel enlightenment may help to see that, the joy of living is not dependent on our religion.

  • Herm

    Daniel, you just made me cry, in a good way, in a hopeful way, thank you!!!

  • Herm

    The first thing Jesus had to do, by the Spirit’s leading, to begin His ministry, was to distance Himself “from it all” in the wilderness. Thank you for your personal observation.

  • Herm

    jekylldoc, as having been an active official in the Presbyterian Church, the Seventh Day Adventist Church and several ecumenical councils I can honestly say that I loved within each our shared singing, dancing and having fun. Having done foreign ministries and prison ministries I can say that even missionaries, representing their respective churches, relax their doctrinal disciplines to meet their audience’s needs. The fact within each organized religious doctrine that I supported by representation was always founded on a fear of God and a need for an intermediary to plead each Christian’s case before God.

    Having been a student and teacher of Bible scripture it was a shock to me, at age 50, to find written in those scriptures that even I, the little speck of life me, could be with and in God just as my Lord was with and in God. I had been, from my youth, redirected by the theologies, dogmas and doctrines that defined each separate Christian denomination away from God’s offer, obvious from Christ and in the Holy Spirit, to teach, to nurture, to provide, to protect, to sing, to dance, and have potlucks together (planned and spontaneous) directly.

    Okay, I’m getting a bit wordy here.

    Just a thought, that bothers me a lot, relative to how we perceive God when within the influence of segregating doctrines or even only our own individual studies of scripture, is that Bible testimony and witness tells us relatively nothing of Jesus’ singing, dancing and having fun in His carnal childhood through age 30 or with His brother and sister disciples for the three years of their relationship together. All of Man and God individually gravitate toward free spontaneous fun, away from enslavement, when the constraints imposed by more powerful guardians and peer groups allow. When constrained only by divine law summed up in Matthew 7:12 there is no differing constraints of church doctrine necessary to love the Lord our God with all we are responsible to and love our good neighbor equally as we do each of our selves.

    What I am trying to point to is that no denominational Christian packaged doctrine is the same, each claims to be the authoritative will of God, and each cannot be of God when they each exceed what Jesus already laid down as His/His Father’s commandments and the law all with and in God abides by as inviolable. Teaching that the will of God is to separate good from evil members, who are each completely ignorant compared to God, of mankind into eternal heaven and into eternal hell, and that to become a member of Jesus’ church (which is their denomination) saves us from hell to grant us entry into heaven because Jesus sacrificed on the cross for our trespasses against divine law remains the core of each Christian denomination, worldwide, since the Christian Bible was compiled in its present form.

    The feelings and sense of each individual within the influence of each Christian denomination tend to ignore the strict hard copy tenets of their doctrine when singing together (when allowed), when dancing together (when allowed), and simply having fun together (when allowed). God enforces no such doctrine on their own, especially when their own all naturally have learned to honor the inviolable tenets of Matthew 7:12. God loves to have fun as much, or more, than any of us. God loves us and knows first that we don’t know enough, yet, to fully understand that They serve us on earth because we’re incapable of serving ourselves and/or Them beyond loving Them in all awe and ourselves as each of us does our self.

    I hope this makes some kind of sense and helps each of us move toward a more perfect union, both in mankind and in God, to have fun together in all things.

    Love you!

  • Herm

    “Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? Likewise, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them.

    “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’

    Matthew 7:15-23 (NIV2011)

    Psalms 6:8, Matthew 25:12, 41, Luke 13:25-27

    Yes, God can ignore all those things!

  • John, I think the disconnect is found in the underlying theology of White, Western Protestantism, which sees a limited atonement, that, ironically, applies mainly to White, Western Protestants. The belief that the vast majority of the billions people that have lived on earth will suffer eternally in hell is hardly “Good News.” Well, it’s good news perhaps, to a small subset of the human race. Secondly, there is a disconnect between what evangelicals feel God looks and acts like, as opposed to what Jesus is like. A Jesus who says, “Father forgive them,” while being crucified by us, doesn’t line up well with a Heavenly Father who does not forgive them.

    Orthodox Christianity, and by that I do not mean the early church which was Porto-orthodox, became very similar to the Judaism it had rejected. Insular, exclusive, with a salvation for the few and judgement for the many. It is no coincidence that the Western Church Fathers and rising Catholicism (as well as later Protestantism) fell into the same trap of loving one’s (Christian) neighbor while hating one’s enemies. To one degree or another, hatred of one’s enemies and exclusive salvation of those that look like us has continued to today. Just listen to Franklin Graham for example. He is a perfect example of hatred towards Muslims, while running a successful aid program for those in need.

    Conservative Christians can be very giving and loving, but the underlying principals and motivations, if based on false premises, weaken one’s witness, no matter how sincerely held our beliefs are. For example, one could feed the poor, dig water wells and heal the sick based on the belief that these poor souls are headed to an eternity of torture by God unless we “save” them, but if our understanding is that God does that, and we share that belief with those we are helping, and it is untrue, we have helped others based on an untruth, and done damage to our perception of God.

    In Jonathan Edwards sermon, “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God,” he was warning of the consequences of rebellion against God, which is good, but based his sermon on false beliefs about the nature of God, which is not so good. There again, good intentions based on bad theology.

    In a nutshell, this is the beef progressives have with conservative orthodox Christianity, good intentions based on questionable “truths.” If our sincerely held religious beliefs are untrue, present a false picture of God the Father and his Son, it greatly affects the authenticity of our witness.
    God bless.

  • Herm

    Evangelicals believe in the centrality of the conversion or the “born again” experience in receiving salvation, in the authority of the Bible as God’s revelation to humanity, and in spreading the Christian message.

    Okay John, this is your opportunity to evangelize to us.

    What is the “centrality of the conversion or the “born again” experience in receiving salvation“?

    From whom was the Bible authorized to be God’s revelation to humanity?

    What is the Christian message, as you know it, that you , as an evangelical, are to spread?

    Beyond the works of your church what is the source of its spirit?

    You can share your denomination’s relative doctrine, if you wish, and scripture from your Bible if you understand that most of us here can only accept the Bible as edited testimony relative to the the author’s relationship with God.

    I am open to learn, gleaning from you, in counsel with the Spirit of truth. Help me, if you would, please.

  • I’m sorry, but don’t MOST evangelical groups place a rather large emphasis on God sending you to Hell if you don’t profess the right beliefs? I attend an evangelical church and work with a group (of addicts no less, per your illustration earlier) from a variety of evangelical churches, and we were all talking about the effects of someone’s view of God and how God views you when we begin our story with, “You’re a sinner, and there’s a holy God who’s going to send you Hell because of it.”

    You seem to think that to say evangelical theology tends to have a strong basis in fear means that evangelicals are cowering in corners somewhere, and that’s not what Ben’s saying. Evangelical theology, by and large, centers around an individual’s predicament – are you going to go to Hell or Heaven when you die? By default, you’re going to Hell. God loves you, but He’s got to do what He’s got to do, which is send you to eternal torment for your sins. That’s who you are and that’s who God is. If you pray the Sinner’s prayer and mean it / accept the doctrine of Penal Substitutionary Atonement / believe in justification by faith alone / oppose abortion and gay marriage, then you’ll go to heaven when you die.

    This is a dominant story in evangelical churches and informational products, such that I’m sort of surprised that I have to defend the idea. I’ll be happy to scour for quotes if that’s helpful, but I sort of feel like I’m having prove water is wet, here. Now, you may -agree- with that theological outlook, but that doesn’t make it any less fear based. The primary impetus for conversion is to avoid something terrible God has done to countless others and is going to do to you, too.

    Now, if your church doesn’t believe this or teach this or evangelize in this way, fine and good, but that would be very non-standard for an evangelical church. Many evangelicals are happy in a sense – they are very happy that they aren’t going to Hell anymore and are very grateful for Jesus making that possible and God not sending them to Hell after all. Do I need to quote hymns or choruses, here? That doesn’t change the fact that fear is foundational to this dynamic. Once again, you may agree that this is fully appropriate, but it doesn’t change the validity of the characterization.

    I actually don’t get angry when people go on about how “progressives” don’t care about the Bible or don’t respect God or any of the Dozen Typical Things People Say About Me on the Internet Regularly. What’s there to get mad about? I’m being “defamed” by people who are often nutjobs, but at the very least have no idea what they’re talking about and who I’m never going to enlighten in a chain of Internet comments, anyway. Sometimes I get frustrated with how persistently obtuse they get, but I don’t get offended by their characterizations because A) the characterizations are ridiculously false, and B) I do not consider them credible sources. The Catholic Church believes my soul was ruined by being Protestant. This does not bother me in the slightest.

    Which then brings me to the last facet you brought up about blindness. When people accuse me of flaws or wrongdoing, I may or may not be very receptive in the moment, especially depending on the source, but I always ask myself (eventually) if they’re right in some way, because the only way I’ll ever find out about my blind spots is for someone on the outside to point them out, and of course they’ll sound ridiculous initially – it’s a blind spot!

    I just have no interest in self-justification. God, be merciful to me, a sinner. And yet, consistently in these comments, it’s the fundagelicals who respond to these articles in veritable firestorms of self-justification. “We are not like those tax collectors, thank God, and you’re terrible for comparing us to them.” I guess not much has changed in 2000 years.

  • “…it was time to build something—something far more beautiful and life-giving than the old structure that once filled that gap.”

    Can we? Will those invested in maintaining what they claim, has always been, allow that? The problem with reforming Christianity, is that many simply don’t see a need to do so. They don’t see it as broken. While most evangelicals would agree that there is always a need to be more Christlike, to be more gracious, they would disagree that it’s any deeper than outward expressions of that. While progressives may opine that conservative Christianity has become too entangled with the power structures of Rome, conservatives merely see a bunch of naysayers that have capitulated to a post-christian society. And, of course, evangelical leadership has a vested (conflict of interest) in maintaining the status quo of the current evangelical structures.

    The problem with that is, they are propping up a crumbling edifice. What happened to mainline denominations over a century ago in Europe then in America, is now happening to evangelical denominations in America. Progressivism is not the Liberalism of the early 20th century. We have learned to do better, and represent the Gospel more consistently with the teachings of Christ. Evangelicals can learn from their mistakes and do better as well. But it will take an honest assessment of church history, the creeds, and a willingness to man-up to the failings of the church.

  • wolfeevolution

    I always remember what it was like being a fundamentalist and being exposed for the first time to the Documentary Hypothesis, JEDP, literary criticism, etc. I was such an ass to my (progressive Jesuit) teacher then, and he responded to me, “You know, I’ve had conversations with people like you before; this is a waste of time.”

    I think the guy’s passed on now, but I wish I could tell him what a huge impact his teaching has had on my life and the way it has reverberated through decades.

    Remember that we’re not just talking to the screaming fundamentalist; we’re feeding his/her cognitive dissonance. And at some point s/he may just start listening to it. At that point, if we’re patient enough to get there, s/he may just come back around and thank God for our faithful witness.

    Courage, brother!

  • John

    I really only have two things to respond to. Two things that are simply false. The first is this:

    The primary impetus for conversion is to avoid something terrible God has done to countless others and is going to do to you, too.

    I’m sorry, but this is wrong. The primary impetus is to restore a perfect relationship with God, and the wonder that comes from it. You may focus on the stick, but, in my eyes, the carrot overshadows it by far. To even use that analogy strikes me as insufficient because the wonder found in a right relationship with God is beyond any sort of carrot type reward mechanism. It is the full restoration of life as it was meant to be lived.

    With that said, even Jesus used the fear of judgement to bring people to himself. In Luke 13, Jesus says:

    “Now on the same occasion there were some present who reported to Him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mixed with their sacrifices. 2 And Jesus said to them, “Do you suppose that these Galileans were greater sinners than all other Galileans because they suffered this fate? 3 I tell you, no, but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. 4 Or do you suppose that those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them were worse culprits than all the men who live in Jerusalem? 5 I tell you, no, but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.””

    Notice how he’s focusing on how the people listening will “parish” unless they repent. He is appealing to their fear.

    The second is this:

    And yet, consistently in these comments, it’s the fundagelicals who respond to these articles in veritable firestorms of self-justification. “We are not like those tax collectors, thank God, and you’re terrible for comparing us to them.” I guess not much has changed in 2000 years.

    I assume you’re referring to me (if not, then I don’t know who). If so, then can you point to the part where I’m saying anything like that? I’m simply not. It’s a lie if you’re saying I am. I’ve stated over and over that the joy I’m talking about is found in God’s grace and mercy. His covering of my sin. I’m not better than the greatest sinner on the planet, no more deserving of God’s love, yet he has shown his love because of his own mercy for me. My hope is found in Christ alone.

  • John

    Who do you believe are the men in Matthew 25:41-46 are?

  • Bones

    I’m observing a change in certainly UK evangelicals which are more and more adopting the positions of the alt-right.

    Sadly the days of the intellectual evangelical such as John Stott have been superceded by social media.

  • Bones

    Probably the same ones in Capernaum which was never destroyed.

  • Given that Judaism doesn’t teach the existence of Hell, I always thought it was ironic that the Good News consisted, at least partially, of the idea that the vast majority of all people will be stricken with “wailing and gnashing of teeth” or the second death.

  • Matthew

    I remember calling a professor a heretic while I was attending a more progressive seminary. I was extremely fundamentalist at the time. I was wrong.

    Lord have mercy.

  • jekylldoc

    A couple of thoughts I want to underline from your words:
    “The feelings and sense of each individual within the influence of each
    Christian denomination tend to ignore the strict hard copy tenets of
    their doctrine when singing together” that matches my experience, and I think the experience of John as well. We know that Christianity is not all about fun, but there is real joy in serving as well as in recreation.

    “God loves to have fun as much, or more, than any of us.” Amen.

  • Matthew

    Thanks so much Phil. I greatly appreciate the help you give to so many of us here on the forum.

  • Matthew

    Are we not going through the next Reformation in some form? I am trying to stay positive :-)

  • Al Cruise

    I have been introducing college young people, many who were raised in conservative/evangelicalism of different stripes and have left or been kicked out , to the works of people like Richard Rohr, Pete Enns , and others. It really seems to be building bridges in their lives.

  • I guess it depends a great deal on how we feel about the current trajectory of the church. On the one hand, the fact that the church, as we have known it to be historically, is dying, may lead to a more “authentic” Christianity, more focused on Christ, more cruciform. On the other side of the coin, “conservativism” by nature conserves rather than reforms. It is very resistant to change. This explains a great deal of what we’ve seen with the current fundamentalist, alt-right merger and reactionary vision of the White evangelical voting block. Things will get worse before getting better. BTW, working on an answer to your Matt. 25:41-46 question. Should have something later today.

  • Awesome!

  • Herm

    Matthew 13:36-43 was an explanation of Matthew 13:24-30, the parable of the weeds.

    These are other scripture where Jesus is quoted referencing where there will be weeping (wailing) and gnashing of teeth: Matthew 8:5-13, Matthew 22:1-14, Matthew 24:36-51, Matthew 25:14-30, Luke 13:22-30.

    Gehenna, “Valley of the sons of Hinnom”, was where some of the ancient Israelites passed children through the fire (sacrificed their children) to the Canaanite god Molech. The wailing and gnashing of teeth was not nearly as much from their children, who were short lived, but from the grief of the family survivors.

    If I die to ALL awareness and responsibility to my influence, first physical, then spirit, I will know nothing and will eventually be forgotten, Ecclesiastes 9:5-6. Those who knew to love me, possibly even as their enemy (but some as a good neighbor or son), who live on eternally will be heard wailing and gnashing their teeth.

    God presented His child that He might pay the price of grief as a sacrifice to mankind for all time. Jesus wept and gnashed his teeth in the garden of His capture. His Father wept and gnashed His teeth for three days when His Son knew nothing and was not forgotten. The disciples wept and gnashed their teeth from their loss of one they loved and were loved by.

    The Good News was never the sacrifice of Christ so that mankind would never again have to consider sacrificing other life for God. The Good News was and is that we can now sit at God’s table, be in God’s kingdom, and be filled completely with the Holy Spirit, same Holy Spirit who descended to Jesus and remained, to be eternally children of God.

    The Good News is that through the image of God, made in all of the carnal animal species mankind, we can be aware to focus all the influencing love of our heart, soul, strength, mind (our spirit image) toward the Lord our God, who loves us first and more, and toward our good neighbor as much as we have the focus of love for our self.

    The Good News is that we are no longer subject to the whims of human rulers and teachers, including the family traditions of our carnal childhood. When the curtain before the Holy of Holies was torn top to bottom the Holy Spirit was taken from the high priest and given to all who accept Him as their Guide into all truth and who accept their brother Christ as now their ruler with all authority in heaven and on earth. That is our eternal salvation from the evil teaching of the Pharisees and scribes (teachers of the law).

    Anyone who uses the fear of weeping and gnashing of teeth as a reason to worship God is in the spirit of Pharisees and scribes, not the Spirit of God. Anyone who implies that they must serve God, in any form of sacrifice, before God will serve them doesn’t understand that we have nothing but our love and affection to serve God with. It would be like Christmas time where all the children wrapped presents that their parents had given them, in wrapping paper that their parents had given them, with attached cards that their parents had read to them in the store, to be given to their parents as a gift of their undying affection. The only gift we have that we can give to those who have given us everything is to make them proud with how we have invested what they have given us.

    I worshipped my parents at the dinner table, and by honoring them in private and in public, not at a church of sacrifice. I worship my Father in heaven with and in the Advocate who He sent me. I remember the sacrifice of my Brother and my Father every time I break bread and drink the fluid of carnal life (every meal of sustenance).

    As a little child of God today, sitting at my Father’s table, I know who is the greatest among us and He serves me well. Matthew 23:8-12

    I have thanked, and do thank, God for the depth of grief that I can feel today that I could not bear as a little child of Man. I thank God that I can care so deeply about others that I wail and gnash my teeth when I lose their relationship. That is a gift of love from the heart, soul, strength, mind of God, graced to us in Their image, that we can invest in others as ourselves. It is not a reason to fear God and even less of a reason to worship God. The only alternative to the risk of wailing and gnashing of teeth is death, knowing nothing, feeling nothing, all life of awareness and influence consumed in the flame.

  • Herm

    Matthew, can you imagine what the timeline would look like charting periods of reformation for the entire life of God with no beginning and no end? The past is to be remembered as unchangeable lessons learned, the present is to be savored as we grow in it applying lessons learned while learning new, and the future is to be anticipated and directed by our past and present lessons.

    Before I finish this sentence it is mostly documented as the past. When I post it I can never retrieve it or change it, but I can learn from the responses to it.

    As the family of God grows with the addition of little children born of the Spirit in spirit, God is in the next Reformation, one child at a time. To live eternally requires living in the moment and not trying to see where we are on the timeline. I am most positive today because God is in me and I am in Them. We are sharing the moment supported by empathy, compassion, tolerance and forgiveness for one another as each our self. Divine love is positively the best reason I know today to accept the inheritance of eternal life.

  • Herm

    Which then brings me to the last facet you brought up about blindness. When people accuse me of flaws or wrongdoing, I may or may not be very receptive in the moment, especially depending on the source, but I always ask myself (eventually) if they’re right in some way, because the only way I’ll ever find out about my blind spots is for someone on the outside to point them out, and of course they’ll sound ridiculous initially – it’s a blind spot!

    How many ways are there to say amen, amen, amen, …? AMEN! Thank you Phil!!!

  • Herm

    John, if you and/or I are still, in everything, not first doing to all others as we would have all others do to us then I guarantee God is not covering that for either of us.

  • jekylldoc

    You were doing great up until “With that said…”

  • Herm

    First, why do you presume the righteous and unrighteous Jesus was speaking about were “men“.


    “They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’
    Matthew 25:44 (NIV2011)

    Notice, please, that the unrighteous speaking were offended because if they would have recognized the Son of God as hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison they would have certainly helped Him. If you do all of those things in service of God rather than simply from the empathy, compassion, tolerance, and forgiveness you feel for a fellow human being then there is no reward for your efforts, Christ doesn’t know you.

    Caiaphas saw before him a fellow human being much the same as a low life hungry, thirsty, sick prisoner in need of clothe but did not see the Son of Man in the Spirit of God. If he had recognized the Christ he certainly he would have helped Jesus and not judged to crucify the Son of God in the name of God.

  • Herm

    Karin, you have not gone unnoticed. Perhaps, you could be of more support to John if you read and expressed a response to all of the replies to John. You are welcomed to get involved.

  • Matthew

    I think that’s John’s question.

  • *Nods* It helps, for those who find the hermeneutics convincing. I can’t say one way or another. My faith is thoroughly universalist.

  • John

    Jesus often says things that go against our preconceived notions of him. It is undeniable that he appealed to the fear of judgement in his calls for repentance.

  • jekylldoc

    You see “undeniable” differently than I do. I agree that Jesus says things that differ from my, or other people’s, hermeneutic. But if such situations never arose, there would be no concept of a hermeneutic.

    I don’t think Jesus was appealing to a fear of judgment – I think he was turning it on those who saw that fear as applying to other people. Maybe you think there is no difference, but I think there is all the difference in the world.

  • John

    So… he was applying their own fear of judgement onto them? Is that not using a fear of judgement to encourage repentance?

    If you’re saying it was a false fear, then wouldn’t that have been dishonest of Jesus?

    Put simply, was this statement by Jesus, “I tell you, no, but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish,” a true statement?

  • jekylldoc

    John, I don’t take it as given that all the words put in Jesus’ mouth in the Gospels are true words. Actually, neither do you. When Jesus says, in Luke 15:11-12 Then Jesus said “There was a man who had two sons. The younger of them said to his father, “Father, give me the share of the property that will belong to me,” If you are like most people you interpret this as a parable, which is to say a fiction.

    The serious question, to my mind, is why it becomes important to a certain set of Christians to be quite sure that a literal interpretation is put on Jesus’ words about Hell even though his exposition of Grace can be taken as figurative. There was a time I thought that was just how things were, so of course. Now, I find it disturbing.

  • John

    Yes, I take parables as parables and direct teaching as direct teaching. The part that I quoted is not a parable. No Bible scholar would say that it was a parable. None. Jesus was making an application from the tower of Siloam and the false narrative that the people has put on it. They were saying that those people must have been extra bad sinners because God had punished them by killing them with the tower, but Jesus says no. He tells them that they are just as bad sinners as those who died in the tower, and that they should repent so that they don’t parish like those who were killed.

    This isn’t a matter of literal and figurative. He’s not telling a parable. He’s not making using any figurative language. Etc. There’s nothing in this that would make you think he’s speaking figurative… unless you don’t agree with it, and therefore MUST make it figurative. There’s nothing in the text that would make you think that (like there is for parables).

    Also note that this isn’t about Hell, specifically. It’s about the fear of punishment from sin, whatever that is, as a reason to repent.

  • jekylldoc

    True, the Luke passage is not about Hell. And yet, you wanted to suggest that there is something dishonest about Jesus using people’s fear to direct their attention at the appropriate response, if their fear is in some primitive concept that they should not have believed in. Well, the idea that God was going to drop a tower on them is not a credible idea. Neither is eternal conscious torment. I think people are smart enough to get the real message without feeling bound to take the threat literally.

  • I’m sorry, but this is wrong. The primary impetus is to restore a perfect relationship with God, and the wonder that comes from it. You may focus on the stick, but, in my eyes, the carrot overshadows it by far.

    John, I’ve said this about five times, now. If this critique doesn’t apply to you, great! The whole reason I stepped in is because you reacted with incredulity to Ben’s claims that evangelicals can be in chuches where they hear a fear-based theology that leaves them with negative concepts about God and themselves. You, by contrast, claim that this only happens in some unusual, fringe sense, and that the majority of evangelical churches are not at all like this.

    But this is par for the course evangelical theology. Here’s some citations from

    4. Man. We believe that man is a created, finite being; designed in the image of God, with the ability to reason, make choices, and have relationships. Man was created for the purpose of bringing glory to God, but since the day man first rebelled against God’s law, all mankind has been sinful by nature, and has earned the penalty of death and eternal separation from God.

    5. Jesus. We believe that God, the Son, entered the world as a man to die on the cross on our behalf; a sinless sacrifice in full payment of all our sin-both past and future-satisfying the demand of God’s perfect justice. Jesus rose from the grave; authenticating His divine identity, as our living Prophet, Priest, and King.

    7. Repentance. We turn (repent) from self-reliance for our salvation, to trusting alone in the completed work of Jesus upon the cross to purchase the perfect pardon of all our sin, forever.

    Except perhaps by way of implication, there is nothing in there about converting so that our relationship with God might come to fuller completion. We rebelled, earned the penalty, Jesus’ significance is in dying to satisfy God’s need for justice, and repentance secures our pardon from the penalty.

    Here’s the Westminster Confession on Repentance Unto Life:

    II. By it, a sinner, out of the sight and sense not only of the danger, but also of the filthiness and odiousness of his sins, as contrary to the holy nature, and righteous law of God; and upon the apprehension of His mercy in Christ to such as are penitent, so grieves for, and hates his sins, as to turn from them all unto God, purposing and endeavouring to walk with Him in all the ways of His commandments.

    III. Although repentance is not to be rested in, as any satisfaction for sin, or any cause of the pardon thereof, which is the act of God’s free grace in Christ, yet it is of such necessity to all sinners, that none may expect pardon without it.

    IV. As there is no sin so small, but it deserves damnation; so there is no sin so great, that it can bring damnation upon those who truly repent.

    Now, I will grant you that the Scottish/English axis of Reformed theology four hundred years ago is not particularly indicative of evangelicalism, today, yet the WCF is certainly the common confession of all evangelical churches that are Reformed. Once again, nothing in there about repenting because our relationship with God has been damaged and we can restore it; it’s about you being damned unless you repent of your sins.

    This from the National Association of Evangelicals statement of faith:

    We believe that for the salvation of lost and sinful people, regeneration by the Holy Spirit is absolutely essential.

    We believe in the resurrection of both the saved and the lost; they that are saved unto the resurrection of life and they that are lost unto the resurrection of damnation.

    The entire statement is here:

    There is zero in there about restoring a disrupted relationship with God, and when we talk about evangelical theology, does the National Association of Evangelicals not reflect evangelical teaching?

    So, once again, -you- or -your church- may not have a fear-based narrative, and as I’ve said several times already, that’s great for you guys. But it’s a very common thing in evangelicalism, and Ben is not defaming anyone by painting evangelicals with some weird, fringe view.

    Notice how he’s focusing on how the people listening will “parish” unless they repent. He is appealing to their fear.

    Well, yes, because Jerusalem is about to be destroyed by Rome. It would be silly not to mention that, just as those Galileans were killed by Pilate, so would all of them when that’s exactly what was about to happen. If the building is about to explode, you have my permission to appeal to fear by telling me that’s about to happen so I can get out.

    But that aside, whether you believe it is correct and appropriate to have a narrative of fear or not is irrelevant to whether or not Ben is making a ludicrous overgeneralization. If you want to say, “Yes, evangelicalism has a fear based theology, and that’s completely biblical and appropriate,” that’s your right and I think the overwhelming majority of evangelicals would agree with you. That’s why they do it, after all. But that doesn’t change the nature of what it is.

    I assume you’re referring to me (if not, then I don’t know who). If so, then can you point to the part where I’m saying anything like that? I’m simply not. It’s a lie if you’re saying I am.

    No, you’re just the most recent. And how on earth can it be a lie when this is the whole reason we’re having this conversation. Allow me to quote you:

    Reading this is so odd. I’ve been what people might define as ‘evangelical’ my whole life and my experience has been so totally different than what you describe that it almost seem like you existed on another planet. My evangelical community is full of joy. We sing together. We accept and love the poor and downtrodden of our community. We encourage broken and hurting people to reach out for the love of Christ while supporting them along the way. We don’t walk around in fear, we walk in assurance.

    It seems to me that what you describe as “evangelical” or “fundamentalist” isn’t really either of those things. What you’re really talking about is your specific experience, but instead of burning the bridges that existed in that experience, you’ve decided to burn the bridges with all of evangelicalism.

    I know that I’ve been in quite a few evangelical communities, and none of have been what he’s described. I wouldn’t say my community is outside the “mould.” I would say that the mould is different than what you think it is.

    And you’re telling me I’m LYING when I say you’re maintaining that you do not have the flaws Ben points to? That’s the entire reason you posted! Unbelievable.

  • Argh! You’re right. Just getting old I guess!

  • Matthew

    I´m not certain how to reconcile (or even understand) how “conservativism”, which is very resistant to change and very much for maintaining the status quo, is going to survive given the fact that Christendom (in the west) is quickly dying. It seems to me that a new Reformation is absolutely necessary given that state of affairs the church finds itself in.

  • The Reformation of the 16th century was dramatic, sudden and had far reaching consequences. I’m not sure it actually reformed the things that really mattered, but it certainly stirred up a lot of folks and shifted power around. We are not going to see THAT kind of reformation amongst conservatives. What we are seeing is a sort of “trickle down reform” as postconservatives question things within our seminaries and churches. To combat the kind of change that postconservative thinking brings on the educational level (where we get the next generation of theologians and ministers), conservative denominations such as the SB use “extreme vetting” to keep out moderates and postconservatives from the teaching staff. I’ve seen it done amongst Pentecostal colleges and seminaries as well. The most common techniques are “statements of faith” like inerrancy, that a potential teacher or staff must sign to be considered. If a current teacher changes their mind on a “Biblical principal” that is in that statement of faith, say, “Biblical Marriage,” they are forced to recant or leave. This way, conservatives maintain the status quo and stifle reform. In the long run, they are fighting a losing battle, and are losing the next generation from the church.

  • TS (unami)

    Rohr, Enns, Merton and others have made a significant difference in my personal awareness of faith. I’m grateful for them, and those that pointed me to them. :-)

  • TS (unami)

    Exacly, and more young Christians are seeing a disconnect between what Christ said and did as opposed to the speech and actions of their hyper-conservative church leaders…

  • The men in Matthew 25:41-46 are obviously White, Western evangelicals…just kidding. John, at issue here are a number of Greek words, their possible meanings, and fitting this passage into the overall trajectory of Jesus’ statements on the coming Kingdom Age and the fate of those in and those out.

    The preceding verses, 31-33, put the judgement into the context of the beginning of the Kingdom Age, when Christ returns. Note, it is nations (ethne) he is judging here, using terminology familiar to his Jewish audience, as judgement of the Gentile nations was a common theme in the Hebrew Scriptures. The judgement either as punishment or as life in the Kingdom of God is for an “age,” not eternal, denoting the period of the millennial age. Note also, the context makes no mention of heaven…this is about the coming millennial age. Not “going to heaven,” but heaven coming here.

    As for “punishment”the word kolasin means to prune or cut. A distinction can be made between punishment and vengeance. One is for the benefit of the sufferer, the later for the satisfaction of him who inflicts suffering. In other words, the pruning or cutting off from the entrance to the millenial age can be seen as having a remedial effect. Likewise fire, pur, is often used in scripture to denote burning off the dross, a purifying effect.

    One of the reasons Jesus got the Jewish leadership so worked up was that his parables often put them on the outside looking in at the coming Kingdom Age. As in the parable Lazarus and the rich man, it was the Gentiles who entered the “bosom of Abraham” before the Jewish religious leaders, although in this particular context it seems to be Gentiles he is referring to.

  • Matthew

    While I might be able to partner with more conservative Christians on a social project of sorts, I`m rather certain I wouldn´t be comfortable if I spent as much time with them as I used to when I myself was a fundy. I know feeling this way makes it very difficult to build those bridges we´re talking about, but I simply don´t have the desire (right now at least) to constantly defend my new ways of thinking and feeling. I simply want to say read this or that book, check out this or that blog, etc. if you want to know where I am on the journey. It certainly makes for a lonely trip though. I´m thankful for blogs like this to help fill the void as well as for being on the journey together with my wife.

    My wife spoke to her friend from America on the phone the other day. This friend is still running in fundy circles. Although they ended the conversation by agreeing that it´s Jesus that is most important, the friend laughed at the idea of reading a progressive Christian theological book and she also doesn´t seem willing to budge from an innerant view of scripture. I may be broadly generalizing here, but I get the feeling a lot of people simply don´t want to do the work and study that is necessary to truly usher in a theological paradigm shift. It´s just so easy to remain in a black and white box that offers up simple answers to very complex questions.

  • Herm

    Was the conservative system of Pharisees, Sadducee, high priest and council reformed for the administration of God’s chosen people?

    Wouldn’t we expect Jesus’ church to appear to others as in a different form than traditional “Christendom” or “Judaism” when the Greatest among them is accepted as their servant?

    Does the administrative needs of God’s Christlike little children on earth look the same when all authority has been given to a liberal, leading His flock to give all they have to give to others in need including even their life in love, high priest forever who teaches by example?

    Has mankind, in nearly two thousand years, reconciled with that picture?

  • Realist1234

    It also didnt say too much about Heaven, but that doesnt mean its any less real. I dont think you can use that as evidence for hell not existing.

  • That’s not what my statement was about, so I’m not sure from whence you get that. But yes, there is no Heaven in Judaism, either. In fact, there isn’t much of one in the New Testament for that matter; Revelation teaches that humankind will dwell in a new Jerusalem (which may or may not be a metaphorical reference to the same country after the Romans leave power).

  • Realist1234

    The problem, Phil, is that it doesnt apply to me either. I did not become a Christian out of fear, but rather because I came to the conclusion Christianity is true (and I also had an emotional ‘experience’). Ben gives the impression by his words that evangelicals are all and primarily about fear – and that ‘progressives’ have left all that behind. As commentator John has said, that just isnt true. There is an element of fear in some of the teachings of Jesus – I dont see how you could deny that (is judgement, by definition, not fearful?) – but clearly Christianity has at its base, love and truth (aka reality). If some evangelicals do not understand that, then that is their issue. But lets not pretend that evangelicals only ever think or talk about judgement and hell. That isnt my experience either.

  • Realist1234

    ‘If you build it, they will come.’

  • Realist1234

    Wow. And ‘progressives’ call evangelicals ‘judgmental’. It seems true what they say, ‘liberals’ can often be the least ‘liberal’ people around. Fine if you agree with them, but God help you if you dont.

  • ashpenaz

    So, you’re saying Nathan was judgmental? Or Micah? Amos? Jeremiah? Or should we just sit and watch and cry Peace! when there is no peace, while false prophets distort the gospel? Was Jesus judgmental when he confronted the Pharisees? Or turned over the tables? Was Paul judgmental when he attacked false teachers? When there is a large group of visible leaders calling themselves “Christians” but bearing none of the fruit of following Jesus, should we just sit back? Or do we speak truth to power? Do we call them what they are–Antichrist–as John did?

  • Can you, as I did, post evidence from evangelical sources that demonstrate evangelical theology is not fear based? I cited from, the Westminster Confession of Faith, and the Statement of Faith from the National Asssociation of Evangelicals.

    Here’s from Thesis Three of the Cambridge Declaration from the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals:

    We reaffirm that in salvation we are rescued from God’s wrath by his grace alone. It is the supernatural work of the Holy Spirit that brings us to Christ by releasing us from our bondage to sin and raising us from spiritual death to spiritual life.

    From the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association Statement of Faith:

    We believe that all men everywhere are lost and face the judgment of God, that Jesus Christ is the only way of salvation, and that for the salvation of lost and sinful man, repentance of sin and faith in Jesus Christ results in regeneration by the Holy Spirit. Furthermore we believe that God will reward the righteous with eternal life in heaven, and that He will banish the unrighteous to everlasting punishment in hell.

    This Pew Research article on evangelical beliefs:

    does not seem to get much into a final judgement or Hell, but 96% of evangelicals surveyed said that, “Christianity is the one, true faith leading to eternal life,” which probably implies that 96% of evangelicals believe that being a Christian is the only way to escape Hell, but in fairness, that’s not what the topic actually says.

    I just don’t know where else to go to find statements on what evangelical theology teaches.

    As I said to John, if this does not apply to you personally or to your church, great. What I was responding to was that John accused Ben’s statements of some evangelicals recovering from a fear-based view of God as some weird anomaly that doesn’t characterize evangelicalism. But it’s not a weird anomaly. Near as I can tell, it’s just regular evangelical theology, and I’d say an evangelical church that ignores or seriously downplays the judgement of God against all mankind and uses that as a foundational pillar of conversion is much rarer than ones that do.

    Do you disagree with this? On what grounds? Can you produce evangelical statements of faith that define conversion as restoring a perfect relationship to God apart from escaping His wrath?

  • JRene

    You’re getting closer, Ben. Will see you soon on the Non -religious area of Patheos.

  • Matthew

    Have you ever seen The Gospel in Chairs?

  • Paul Julian Gould

    … and we who are Jewish will continue to observe the concept of a mitzvah… which is doing good deeds without even the barest expectation of reward or punishment, and without making the actions at all public knowledge… violating either of which makes the mitzvah nothing special…

    I’ll be over here doing my Jewish thing, and continuing my relationships with such as dear Herm, Otro, and others…

    (btw… “Pharisees,” regardless of your rabbi’s demonization of those 2 millennia past who abused the designation, (and the scribes whose expertise was in transcribing Torah) happen to be “Perishim,” which, 2k years later, constitute the vast majority of modern Jewish faith, regardless of Orthodox, Conservative, Reform, Reconstructionist, or Liberal… or whatever designation my “tribe-mates” choose to use.)

  • Realist1234

    Im responding to such statements as ‘We were saturated with endless expressions of fear-based theology that permeated not just through our faith, but deep down into our very understandings of self. It left us terrified of God, fearful of the future, and loathing of ourselves.’ I just dont recognise that. Yes fear is part of reality – is separation from God, either eternally or in being finally destroyed (as Ben seems to believe) not fearful?

    But to me, the primary message of my evangelical faith is – God loves me, far beyond what I can understand, He suffered and gave Himself for me so that my sins will be forgiven and forgotten, I have been given the gift of eternal life, the Lord is with me every single day of my life and beyond, and He calls me to reflect Him in my life, and to work with Him for His kingdom here and now. One day I will see Him in all His glory. And that is offered to all. And one day the whole creation will be restored, and you and me can be part of that.

  • 747

    Thanks, BLC, for another interesting and very timely read. How often I am mulling over an issue and then you show up and give me some order and a framework. Keep the faith! There will always be some push-back from the pharisees, but there are many of us who appreciate reading you on your journey. Shalom.

  • Matthew

    This presentation (IMO) is a very good illustration of why penal substitutionary atonement may be (or is) flawed (or wrong).
    It´s only about 8 minutes in length.

  • Ok, great. I get that you do not think Ben’s statements characterize your own views. Do you think what Ben describes is some weird, statistically insignificant variation of evangelicalism, or do you think that evangelicalism as a general movement tends to emphasize the judgement stuff? I’m saying the latter and have provided citations to attempt to establish that.

  • I have not, but after googling it, I see there are a lot of videos I can watch, and I shall.

  • Matthew

    Check this out when you have about 8 minutes:

  • swbarnes2

    To fudge the metaphor a bit, you still want to keep that gas can handy, because what you don’t want is to discover down the road that the bridge you are building now is in fact sitting on bad foundations that you should have torn up in your tear-things-up phase. What you don’t want is to leave things unexamined only because you’ve already found so many problems with the things you’ve examined.

  • Realist1234

    Thanks, I watched it. Oh dear. Apart from reducing the Gospel to 2 chairs, he falsely portrays the substitutionary view by turning God’s ‘chair’ away from human beings after the fall. That isnt the case. God has always been ‘facing’ us, it is us who have looked away and insisted we are gods of our own lives. He then says that rather than Jesus experiencing God’s wrath on the cross due to mankind’s sin, rather Jesus simply experienced man’s wrath. Seriously?

    Sorry but I found much of what he said patently false. He conveniently ignores much of the teaching of the NT.

    It might appear clever using chairs, but sadly he has a serious misunderstanding of God and mankind’s ‘sin’. I also suspect he doesnt really appreciate the Trinity, the eternal love relationships within God (hence why God IS love). Like others, he seems to be implying the death of the Son was some sort of ‘child abuse’ if you believe the substitution view. That couldnt be further from the truth.

    There is depth of meaning in Jesus’ suffering and death that you and I will probably never fully understand, and penal substitutionary atonement is not ALL of it, but I maintain it is at the centre of the crucifixion of the Son of God.

  • blogcom

    Yes that where the deconstructionists always end up despite trying to convince themselves- and everybody else- otherwise.

    The foundations of shifting sands is a better metaphor

  • blogcom

    Many of them are ignorant of the faith to begin with on top of which they only relate to it through the lens of contemporary progressive politics and the greater cultural wars.

  • blogcom

    …………….deceiving others and in turn being deceived is an apt description of the end- times Church with infiltration and subversion over the past century coming full circle evidenced by your comment.

  • TS (unami)

    Perhaps that’s your view of them. I certainly don’t see young Christians as “ignorant of their faith” and only relating to their faith through “politics and culture wars”. Not at all. That’s a little bit of stereotyping going on, IMO.

    Instead, I see young Christians who are maturing and seeking to know for themselves what and why they believe. They’re not going to be content to just be told by someone what to believe — they’re going to put it to the test. They’re asking the uncomfortable questions that others have sidestepped. I think that’s a very healthy approach to one’s faith… and not just when you’re young.

  • Matthew

    Thanks so much for taking the time to view the clip Realist1234. I only wish more presentations of this view of the atonement and the Gospel were just as simple.

    Just a few comments:

    There is an evangelical hymn I think is entitled “How Deep the Father´s Love”. In it, there is a section that artistically describes the penal substitution idea of atonement. It mentions that God turned his face away while pouring out his wrath onto the crucified Jesus. I´m not convinced that God turned his face away during the crucifixion, as I have discovered a Psalm that seems to prophetically claim the opposite is in fact true. That said, if God did turn his face away from Jesus while pouring out his wrath, I find it rather plausible that God also turns his face away from us in some sense while we are still sinners (at least according to the PSA view) and before regeneration via faith in the Son of God.

    About the Trinity …

    I truly think PSA does more damage to the Trinity than any other atonement theory. I mean it actually suggests a separation of the Trinity at the time of crucifixion.

    I used to think that PSA was central to the crucfixion of Jesus, but I have since learned that there are other ways of understanding how God restores humankind to relationship with himself; how God indeed forgives sin — without the need for the pouring out of wrath and without the need to create what I (and others) consider a fear based theology and an incorrect understanding of the very nature and character of God.

    IMO, PSA makes the truth that “God is love” sound almost false to many hearers I think. “God is love”, to me, is so much more meaningful and true when viewed through the lens of what Bruxy presents in the short video clip.

  • Realist1234

    Matthew, thanks for your response. How do you explain the basic idea that Jesus, in His death, ‘gave Himself for us’ or that the breaking of His body and the spilling of His blood was for us, in His own words, “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins”? What does that mean to you? What did His death accomplish, if anything? I find both Old and New Testaments support my view, so I am interested in how you view it all.


  • Realist1234

    Ps – I thought this was useful as a summary as it includes Scriptural references:

  • Daniel Fisher


    Just an observation…. would not a pastor at a Metropolitan or other LGBT-affirming congregation or denomination…. who changed their mind on a “progressive principle” like gay marriage and embraced a conservative/traditional perspective, not similarly be forced to recant or leave?

    Similarly, do not Progressive/liberal seminaries or denominations similarly exercise some kind of “extreme vetting” to keep out conservatives and those with traditional views of marriage and sexuality from their staff?

  • Daniel Fisher

    Phil, for what it is worth, I would emphasize that the evangelicalism you site (from the citations you note) is at core truth based, not fear based – The Evangelicals you site embrace doctrines of hell (in principle) because they believe them to be true – not because they want a God of fear, or because they just choose to prefer that view of God.

    I personally resonate with the sentiment of C. S. Lewis:

    There is no doctrine which I would more willingly remove from Christianity than [hell], if it lay in my power. But it has the full support of Scripture and, specially, of Our Lord’s own words.

    Someone once asked me why I would want to believe in hell. I asked him, “why would you want to believe in cancer?” Are doctors practicing “fear-based” medicine when they tell people to stop smoking or they will suffer all manner of health issues, a painful death by lung cancer included?

    My belief in the aspects of God you seem to have rejected is “based” on the fact I believe this to be what Jesus taught about God, and my trust in his authority, not because I somehow freely chose my beliefs based on whether I preferred to believe in a Happy God verses a Vengeful God. I may be wrong, I may have misunderstood Christ’s words as well as the rest of a scripture. But I embrace those aspects you call “fear-based” simply and only because I think them true—no less than the health professionals who communicate the dangers of smoking or drunk driving or whatever… not because they personally harbor some desire for “fear-based” tactics, but because they simply believe the danger to be, in fact, real.

  • Daniel Fisher


    For what it is worth, as a committed believer in penal substitutionary atonement, I must observe that this speaker’s first presentation was a terrible and false caricature, and does not represent in the least what we believe. And personally, I really don’t appreciate such a completely unfair and false caricature (I realize this wasn’t your intent). But his caricature was such a clear misrepresentation I have to believe it was intentional prevarication on his part.

    Speaking in formal logic, this speaker engaged in fallacies of a straw man argument combined with the fallacy of the excluded middle. He claimed, in essence, us bad traditional types believe A…. but A is bad, so you should believe C like him…. as if these are the only two options. And he neglected to point out that we defenders of penal substitution don’t, in fact believe A, we actually believe B instead. This may be an effective rhetorical strategy, but it doesn’t contribute to either genuine dialogue or to the search for actual truth.

    In short, the God of penal atonement DID keep the chair facing the sinner, and Christ’s atonement in no way “changed the Father’s heart.” It was always the posture of the Father to reach out and save the lost.

  • Once again, Ben did not say any of these people desired fear or were intentionally trying to create a culture of fear.

    I know evangelicals begin with fear because they believe that to be the true situation we find ourselves in. You are a sinner, and if nothing changes, God will send you to Hell for eternity because of what you have done. I know they say this because they believe it to be true; I would think it would be very odd for an evangelical to proclaim a story they actually think is a lie for the purposes of spreading fear. That accusation is nowhere in Ben’s article and would be sort of absurd, as if evangelicals are this Illuminati-esque cabal formulating views of God they actually think are FALSE but will create the most terror in the populace.

    Once again, this changes nothing about the fact that the theology has its starting point in fear and depends on fear. You said it well in your analogy:

    But I embrace those aspects you call “fear-based” simply and only because I think them true—no less than the health professionals who communicate the dangers of smoking or drunk driving or whatever… not because they personally harbor some desire for “fear-based” tactics, but because they simply believe the danger to be, in fact, real.

    Exactly. God is a real danger that people need to be warned about, because if they aren’t warned and they don’t do something about it, God will do something terrible to them because that’s what they deserve. You may believe that to be true, and you may even proclaim it out of love and concern for your fellow man, but it doesn’t alter the fear-based dynamic one whit.

    I appreciate what you said because you owned up to it. “Yes, our theology is fear-based because that’s the truth.” Fine. Perfect. What I was responding to was John’s incredulity that evangelicalism taught fearful views of God and man. It absolutely, 100% does. You may believe it is right to do so. Fine. Doesn’t change what it is.

    In Ben’s article, he writes:

    Those who have left evangelicalism or fundamentalism—especially those of us with deep church trauma– tend to have a special affinity for deconstruction, and rightly so. We were saturated with endless expressions of fear-based theology that permeated not just through our faith, but deep down into our very understandings of self. It left us terrified of God, fearful of the future, and loathing of ourselves.

    If you have left this theology behind, part of the deconstruction is dealing with the fear. This is accurate. The fear is in the theology. If you have no intention of leaving this theology behind, then you’re fine with the fear. As you are. Great. What’s the problem, here?

  • Daniel, good question. The short answer is yes. The recent hullabaloo over Tim Keller being this year’s recipient of the annual Kuyper Prize for Excellence in Reformed Theology and Public Life at Princeton Theological Seminary, then having his name withdrawn, reflects the problem. Rev. Tim Keller, pastor of New York City’s Redeemer Presbyterian Church, is an outspoken critic of the LGBTQ movement and feminism. While leaning towards a moderate evangelical stance in some regards, as a cofounder of the Gospel Coalition, he is primarily conservative and rejects the “social gospel” and other “liberal” agendas.

    As Princeton soon found out, you cannot please everyone. On the one hand, how can you refuse to honor a man who has shown academic excellence and still maintain a commitment to academic freedom? On the other hand, his views on complimentarianism, and the exclusion of Gays and women from ordination have caused quite a few people to feel excluded, not wanted and devalued.

    Which brings up the difference between inclusivity and exclusivity. This can be clearly seen in the creation of many evangelical colleges and private schools in the 1970s. When the civil rights movement resulted in desegregation of public schools and universities, evangelicals scrambled to create private schools where they would feel free to exclude Blacks. When schools like Bob Jones faced having government funding revoked unless they desegregated, they cried “foul.” They were being discriminated against!

    This is interesting because it follows the general pattern of conservatism and it’s views on persecution. The evangelical movement feels it’s ok for them to control women, seek legislation to deny Gay Rights, as well as their historical animosity towards Blacks and the Civil Rights Movement, yet cry “persecution” when they are corrected or their efforts stymied. You see, you don’t get to play the persecuted card if you are the persecutee. And this is essentially what evangelicalism has done historically.

    So the long answer is that evangelicals have to be very careful when claiming they are the “victims” in some sort of liberal scheme to persecute them. If their “sincerely held religious views devalue or hurt others, they can expect some pushback.

  • Matthew

    Thanks for the thoughts Daniel Fisher.

    You do mention that you believe Bruxy´s presentation is logically flawed and presents a false caricature of PSA. Besides the position of the red chair that represented God (Realist1234 also pointed out his problem with this), I´m wondering what else, specifically, you had problems with in terms of the initial PSA presentation? I suppose I was a long time advocate of PSA without even knowing it (I had no idea what PSA was theologically speaking for some time, but my understanding of the Gospel from a strong Calvinist perspective clearly pointed in the direction of PSA), but I now also see the problems with the theory.

    Also … could you comment on what you liked and disliked about the second presentation that Bruxy did? Positives? Problems? Mistakes?

    Thanks again for the input. I only hope more people will chime in with their thoughts :-).

  • Matthew

    Thanks also Realist1234. I really think these discussions are important.

    I do believe that Jesus gave himself for us and that his blood was poured out for the forgiveness of sins in some kind of substitutionary way, but I push against the idea that this was performed in PSA fashion.

    Jesus´ death accomplished forgiveness of sins, yes, but it also accomplished much more (defeating death, satan, powers, principalities, etc.). If human religious and political powers colluded to execute Jesus (while at the same time almost mysteriously Jesus gave himself up of his own accord), and if God was reconciling the world to himself through the dying Jesus while Jesus was on the cross (rather than turning his face away while his wrath was poured out on the dying Jesus), why is this a problem? It is “accomplished”, but in a way other than via the hands of a wrathful and angry father God.

    This might be what separates me from some of my more progressive brethren. I´m not afraid to talk about the need for forgivness of sins and Jesus´ role in that process. I´m simply hesitant (presently) to say the manner in which this was accomplished was via PSA.

  • Ron McPherson

    Nailed it!

  • Ron McPherson

    But if the Hebrew Scriptures (ie the OT) are divinely inspired (as some claim to be the very mouthpiece of God), why would God allow thousands of years to go by without at least telling people that an infinite torture chamber awaited them unless they changed their ways.

  • Daniel Fisher

    I’d be happy to rewatch the second half and give you my thoughts – I’ll have to get somewhere I can get a good internet connection again to watch. But from what I remember on one watching I can give you these observations:
    to answer your first question, the biggest problem / misrepresentation was his phraseology that what Jesus did “changed the Father’s heart.” Every book or writing in favor of PSA I have ever read speaks against this notion in the clearest terms. Not to mention the Bible – “It was the will of God to crush him”, “He who did not spare his own son,” “For this reason I was sent into the world”.

    To answer your second, the biggest issue I saw was the *removal* of any sense that Jesus was receiving God’s punishment, and therefore I am left with the question, what did his atonement actually accomplish? OK, he “received our wrath.” How interesting, and in large part, no disagreement. “It was my sin that held him there.” “You, with wicked hands, put him to death, etc.”

    My issue with other atonement “theories”, if you are familiar with the idea, is hardly in what they affirm, it is what they deny. OF COURSE Jesus was a good moral influence by showing us how to lay a life down to save others; OF COURSE he defeated Satan and the world’s powers and laid the groundwork to make all things new. These aren’t like competing theories, only one of which can be correct. OF COURSE it shows us that God is willing to identify and suffer with us.

    However, what I am left with is still the question of HOW – if Jesus’ death didn’t actually accomplish something, then how in the world is that a “moral influence”? Be like Jesus, sacrifice your life to accomplish… nothing. It conquered Satan’s power… in what manner, exactly? It showed us how much he loved us and can identify with us…. just like how, if I saw a friend get beat up by a local gang, I should allow myself to similarly be beat up so he knows I can identify? OK, it shows that I can identify, and I am willing to show him that I can identify… that one, at least I get the idea…. but still, what did it *accomplish*? At most it *communicates* to us that God doesn’t care about our sin, it doesn’t *effect* our salvation.
    So many arguments against PSA try to suggest these four (or other) theories are somehow mutually exclusive – and thus if one proves moral influence or Christus Victor, they have de facto proven PSA wrong. This is a terrible logical fallacy. I believe that Christ’s atonement does show his identification with us, a moral influence, that he was Christus Victor, and that he satisfied for my sin.

    Moreover, because his death actually *accomplished* my salvation, by taking on what justice demanded, then I can’t help but think it adds meaning to all the other aspects that would otherwise be lost. Be like Jesus, who laid his life down at an unbelievable cost as a sacrifice to actually save those would would have been perishing. Jesus was willing to rescue us from sin so that, insodoing, he could undo the works of Satan, and bring us – with white robes dipped in his blood – into his renewed kingdom. Look how much Jesus loves us, as his sacrificial death on our behalf ALSO means that we pray to a God who knows what it feels like to be abandoned by God.

    And on top of all that, look at the Love of the FATHER, who did not spare his own son… who rather than simply allow us to have the consequences of what our sins deserved, preferred to send his son (an agreed decision, by the way, not “child abuse”), was willing to make – quite literally – the ultimate (and perhaps only real and conceivable) sacrifice for the FATHER, that shows us the willingness that the Father was willing to go to save us.

    On top of all that, the core question regardless of the logic is the biblical foundation. Does the Bible or does it not teach this (yes, in addition to all the other facets.)

    OK, perhaps more than you asked for, but I love to talk through these things in cordial conversations that grapple with the real issues involved. And at the same time I obviously feel passionately and have thought through this much. I would be delighted to discuss more as you so desire.

  • Daniel Fisher

    Also, I have developed my own analogy of sorts to explain the different facets of Christ’s atonement, tossing it to you if you find it helpful or to further discussion. This is sometimes how I feel when discussing or reading books about penal substitution “theories”:
    So, imagine a scenario wherein a police officer shoots, with deadly force, a person who is clearly a threat – a scenario where a person has entered a public place and started firing on the gathered crowd, and this policeman charges into the scene, risking his own life, takes aim and shoots with deadly force the assailant.
    What did he accomplish? Why did he do that? Not just him personally, but in general?
    –One “theory” may be “To contribute to a more just and peaceful world.”
    –Another theory may be, “To save lives.”
    –Another theory may be “To show an example of what would befall similar perpetrators”
    –Another theory may be, “His act demonstrated moral courage, the willingness to risk his life to save others.”
    –Another theory may be, “He showed that he didn’t value his life more than any others.”
    –Another theory may be, “out of love for the other people there.”
    –Another theory may be, “to disarm the assailant and remove the threat.”
    –Another theory may be, “To kill the bad guy.”
    Which “theory” is the right one? When we are asking what an action “did” or “why” a person did something, it is rare that there is just one answer, and it is certainly the case that none of those “theories” I noted is right in such a way that makes the others “wrong.” Now, if someone said, “No, no, the policeman was not trying to kill the bad guy, rather he was only trying to make a more peaceful world….” then there’s something amiss, no?
    Hence why it never makes sense when I read, “No, Jesus wasn’t trying to take justice on himself to fulfill some cosmic legal requirement; no, rather he did it because he loved me and wanted to see me reconciled…” Makes as much sense as saying the policeman was trying to save lives, but he was not trying to kill the bad guy….
    So, I humbly suggest, it is better to simply talk about different aspects, or facets, of the same action, rather than which is or isn’t “right.”

  • Daniel Fisher

    I hear you — I just think it would be exceedingly odd to refer to the March of Dimes, World Harvest, or St. Jude’s Childrens’ Hospital as “fear-based” organizations.

  • Their theology is potentially fear-based. None of those organizations exist to promote theology, though. It would be equally weird to refer to them as “penal substitutionary” organizations.

  • Matthew

    Thanks again Daniel Fisher. I also believe Jesus´ death accomplished my salvation and offers forgiveness of sins. I just don´t any longer think it was done via PSA.

  • Matthew

    I used to believe that all the atonement theories were simply different facets of the soteriological diamond. That said, I´m now questioning if PSA really is just one facet (e.g. Christus Victor — “the why” facet, PSA — “the how” facet) of that diamond, or if it (PSA) really shouldn´t be included on the diamond at all.

  • Daniel Fisher

    Sure, but can we agree then that the real question is not whether it is appropriate for theological schools to vet incoming teachers so as to conform to their ethical or doctrinal standards, but on what basis is it appropriate to do so? Not whether it is appropriate to force someone who so changes views to recant or leave, but on what basis it is appropriate to do so?

  • No, I think the question being adressed is whether the conservative church is capable of reform, litmus tests of orthodoxy being just one facet that impedes reform. Both sides have litmus tests and both sides could, I suppose, be accused of dogmatism. The true litmus test that should be applied, on both sides, conservative or progressive, is, what would Jesus do? This is where we get in trouble. This is what I will be discussing on my blog in answer to you or Stephen. Yes, there is a basis wherein it is appropriate to apply a litmus test, but one must do so with care and humility, and the recognition that we dont have all the answers.

  • Also, on my blog, we will be addressing your contention that because Jesus believed in scripture, and he was without error, then, ergo, scripture is inerrant. This a major, if not the most important litmus test for evangelical schools: inerrancy of scripture. I find Jesus’ attitude towards scripture proving the inerrancy of scripture quite a leap of faith. Inerrancy is used to support most of the cardinal views of conservatives in regards to the culture wars, both past and present. A proper understanding of Jesus’ attitude towards and use of scripture, based on what we see of his use of scripture in our bibles, just doesn’t line up with the inerrancy scheme of things. But we can hash that out on my blog. Thanks.

  • Daniel Fisher

    Look forward to it – though may not have a chance to read your reply for a few days. One item if I may clarify, though – it really is not my intention to so defend evangelical inerrancy; rather my interest is in wrestling with and understanding the epistemology of the progressive Christian position. My point remains simply that, in order to access truth beyond the “veil” of our own world, so to speak, some kind of “true,” comprehensible, objective revelation (call it “inerrant” if we must) must come from outside. Please keep in mind in our discussion – I don’t logically object to the inerrancy of the Koran, Joseph Smith’s sources, Papal infallibility, or reading tea leaves for that matter, if the claim is that these were guided and directed by God (or whatever supernatural entity) and thus are trustworthy means of communicating truth to which we would otherwise have no access.

  • No problem. It has taken me some time to narrow your thoughts down to ten points I believe you are making. It will take me a few days to respond myself.

  • Daniel Fisher

    I warned you brevity is not my strength. :)

  • Daniel Fisher

    They are objectively not penal substitutionary organizations. This would be not simply odd, it would be objectively false. But by the standards I understood you to have set for why you think evangelicalism should be called “fear based” (i.e., it believes in a real danger and tries to save people from that danger), then yes, consistency would demand we call these organizations “fear based.”

  • Daniel Fisher

    Thanks. I’d be interested to hear your perspective: both how, exactly, you now see Jesus’ death as having accomplished salvation and forgiveness, as well as what your objection is to the traditional view?

  • Daniel Fisher

    Or perhaps an even better analogy would be with climate change. If a climate-change-denier tried to critique Al Gore for perpetuating a “fear-based” ideology, that would be an odd criticism, because the real question is as to whether this danger does or doesn’t exist. Critiquing those raising the alarm for climate change as “fear-based” would seem to miss the real point – is this danger real, or is it not.

  • Matthew

    I think the Christus Victor model of atonement might be the answer. Not only did it defeat death and the devil, but it also accomplishes salvation and forgivness.

    My objection to PSA is mainly that it seems to divide the Trinity at the point of crucifixion and that it seems to depict the Father as wrathful and angry; pouring out said wrath onto Jesus. I don´t believe this picture of God the Father is consistent with who Jesus revealed the Father to be.

  • But once again, this is about the theology. Ben does not call evangelicalism a “fear based organization.” Evangelicalism doesn’t even qualify as an organization. Once again, here’s the salient block:

    Those who have left evangelicalism or fundamentalism—especially those of us with deep church trauma– tend to have a special affinity for deconstruction, and rightly so. We were saturated with endless expressions of fear-based theology that permeated not just through our faith, but deep down into our very understandings of self. It left us terrified of God, fearful of the future, and loathing of ourselves.

    I genuinely don’t know how your argument, “It’s weird to think of organizations designed to counter a threat as fear-based organizations,” addresses or invalidates Ben’s comment.

    And the people who believe Al Gore’s ideology is false would in fact call it “fear based,” and it wouldn’t be weird at all for them to do so. I would disagree with such people, but I would fully expect them to call Gore’s thoughts on climate change “fear based.” I would expect Gore to respond with something like, “Yes, a lot of what I’m saying depends on fear, because we absolutely should fear the danger of the damage we’re doing to the environment.” What I would not expect him to do is say, “No, there’s nothing to be afraid of, here. Developing a smaller carbon footprint is all about the joy of helping the environment.”

    And this is the tack taken by John and others who are responding. Like I said, I expect evangelicals to say something like, “Yes, we make a big deal about fear, but that’s because we should.” I do not expect them to try to portray their theology as if fear is not present or not a foundational aspect.

    Ben’s article talked about fear in theology from the standpoint of people leaving evangelicalism. He’s having to -remove- fear based theologies. At no point does he call evangelicalism a “fear based” organization. Obviously, he thinks evangelicals are wrong about the “threat” and so do I, but he’s not wrong that evangelical theology involves a lot of fear.

  • Realist1234

    I think that’s rather unfair. Ben is clearly a committed Christian, even if I disagree with some of his ‘doctrines’.

  • Realist1234

    That is a fair point, though I should say I am 80% heading in the direction of a non-eternal Hell, ie the consquences are eternal but it is not a conscious eternal experience. So although I am not wholly convinced, I tend to accept the annihilation argument – all are judged and those not ‘saved’ are ultimately ‘destroyed’. Similar to John Stott’s position. Still pretty awful compared to receiving life.

    I have also never been convinced that those before Jesus came to earth, whom you seem to be referring, were somehow automatically condemned. The impression given by Scripture is that it is only after the advent of Christ that we are without excuse. But in the end, God will do the right thing. Noone will be able to say to Him ‘that’s not fair’ or ‘You are being unmerciful.’ In truth He is full of mercy – much more merciful than many of us, thank God!

  • JRene

    I am not criticizing him at all. The more Ben researches and ponders, with a truly open mind, the more the Christian delusion will unravel like all other religions in history.

  • Realist1234

    Oic didnt realise you were an atheist. Sorry to disappoint, but I see no evidence Christianity will ‘unravel like all other religions in history’. He is Risen!

  • JRene

    YES. Also, Thor has a great hammer, the Minoan nature goddess is thriving, and I’m hoping you’ve paid tribute to the Celtic pantheon lately.
    You see, there are many other silly, evidence-lacking belief systems that precede yours. And there is evidence that your particular mythology is already on the decline. Education will do that.

  • Daniel Fisher

    Fair enough, I hear you and think I understand your perspective, even if I would maintain that calling Al Gore’s thoughts “fear based” would be discourteous at least, since at core his goal is positive – not simply to avert danger, but to succeed at doing right by our planet and maintain its security and beauty. But I recognize what you say, that Dr. Corey is pointing out that his particular disagreement is the aspects of fear that he (rightly) recognized as to exist within evangelical theology. And yes, I concur that anyone who tries to say that there is no aspects of fear is not fairly representing evangelical theology.

  • Daniel Fisher

    Matthew, thanks – Can you explain to me exactly how you understand the atonement to have *accomplished* these things? In other words, what would keep God from annihilating the devil, removing death from the world, or forgiving our sins if Jesus had not gone to the cross?

  • Daniel Fisher

    It is surely, therefore, very possible that when God began to reveal Himself to men, to show them that He and nothing else is their true goal and the satisfaction of their needs, and that He has a claim upon them simply by being what He is, quite apart from anything He can bestow or deny, it may have been absolutely necessary that this revelation should not begin with any hint of future Beatitude or Perdition. These are not the right point to begin at. An effective belief in them, coming too soon, may even render almost impossible the development of (so to call it) the appetite for God; personal hopes and fears, too obviously exciting, have got in first.

    Later, when, after centuries of spiritual training, men have learned to desire and adore God, to pant after Him “as pants the hart”, it is another matter. For then those who love God will desire not only to enjoy Him but “to enjoy Him forever”, and will fear to lose Him. And it is by that door that a truly religious hope of Heaven and fear of Hell can enter; as corollaries to a faith already centred upon God, not as things of any independent or intrinsic weight.

    -C .S. Lewis, Reflections on the Psalms

  • Matthew

    I’m not sure I understand your question Daniel Fisher. Can you elaborate?

  • So, on a side note, how much of a group’s self-perception do you think should govern or moderate the way someone on the outside characterizes them?

    To take a really extreme example, ISIS. They believe a fundamentalist interpretation of the Koran is the truth, they are acting out of that truth, and they believe they are saving the world. Is it proper to refer to that group as “truth based” or respect their commitment to improving the world through the rule of fundamentalist Islam?

    In no way am I trying to equate ISIS with evangelicalism or Al Gore; I’m just picking the most extreme example I can think of to illustrate the issue. Virtually every organization that has a mission believes their position is the truth and, if people supported the mission, the world would be better off for it. From your vantage point, under what circumstances could someone characterize an organization as “fear based,” and how would evangelicalism escape that critique from someone on the outside?

  • Daniel Fisher


    First, I find this to be an excellent observation and pertinent example. So for me, if we are talking about a member of ISIS wearing a suicide vest or a weapon and trying to kill large numbers of people my response would be to kill or disarm him if possible. At that point little discussion is possible.

    But if were addressing someone who is sympathetic to the ideas behind ISIS – or if I were communicating to other evangelical Christians to help them understand ISIS themselves, then yes, I would work very carefully to communicate – from their own perspective as best I could – why they embraced the perspective they did.

    For instance, I simply wouldn’t find it helpful to say, “Those ISIS members and sympathizers are just murderers and full of hatred.” That may well be the case – but if that is all I said, it would in fact be a mischaracterization – and singularly unhelpful – either in helping Christians understand their motives, or in having any dialogue or conversation with a person who sympathizes with the ISIS perspective.

    For instance, I have taught classes in churches to explain Islamic terrorism. And I did not simply say, “They are full of hate and are just murdering thugs.” Granted, I may truly believe that, but this simply doesn’t help my audience understand the motivation, the rationale (that, however twisted, does really exist).

    More importantly, if we are to have any hope of changing the hearts and thoughts of those who embrace an Islamist perspective, or who perhaps sympathize, how helpful, really, is it for me to characterize their beliefs as that of “heartless thugs that just want to terrorize and murder”? Someone on the fence – are they going to really think I understand the mind, the motivations, the core commitments of Islamists and their sympathizers? No, they would just brush me off as someone who won’t even listen to them, isn’t interested in hearing them or understanding them, or who wants simply to stereotype them and accuse them of the worst part of their nature.

    However, if – either to a Christian audience, or in a context where I was engaging in Islmaists or their sympathizers, I carefully explained the core beliefs that motivates them in a way that reflected what they themselves would say, then I have A) helped Christians (or whoever) truly understand the motives and undermined the temptation just to write them off as savage barbarians, and more importantly, B) hopefully opened the door to dialogue, as I have communicate that I am truly interested in understanding their perspective (however warped I think it to be), and can then interact at the true crux of the problem. If there is any hope of engaging and changing minds on this topic, I tend to think this is the only way.

    So, when I have engaged this topic in both settings in the past, I am quick to point out, in all fairness as much as I disagree, the reasons and rationale for the inclination to engage in such terrorist actions – The concept of jihad in defending Islam, the deep understanding of a need for a re-established caliphate, the offense to fundamentalist Islamists of seeing infidels to step into the holy sites of the prophet, etc. Now even as an outsider looking in, I would think their own Koran and theology does not justify their actions – but by communicating in such a way, I may, perhaps, hopefully, communicate to a Muslim on the fence that, yes, I really do understand why you may be inclined to embrace ISIS’ methods – but let me tell you why I genuinely think Muhammad himself would disapprove. And I can explain Muhammad’s peace-loving methods in warfare, Muahammd’s political engagements, rather than warfare, that helped him establish the first caliphate, I can bring up the example of Saladin’s kindness to captured civilians and noncombatants, etc., etc.

    I can’t help but think that explaining the motives of Islamists in general, and ISIS in particular, in a manner that accurately reflects their own rationale, will genuinely help Christians and others truly understand what motivates them, and would truly open the dialogue to anyone who was actually interested in wrestling with these questions.

    Just brushing them aside as uncivilized murderous thugs – even if I think that (which in many cases I certainly do) – I just don’t find it constructive. I would only perpetuate stereotypes that, while they may apply to the most radical of ISIS fighters, is still a gross mischaracterization of many Muslims that sympathize with the underlying ideology; and I would certainly close the door to any dialogue with Muslims that concur with the basic ideology (establishing a Caliphate, jihad against presence if infidels), but who are themselves not quite full blown supportive of the radical terrorist wing.

    My $.02, at least. It is why I wrestle so much to understand progressive thought myself and communicate their beliefs in a way fair to how they would describe themselves. I could just brush them off as “they just don’t believe the Bible”. Which, in all honesty, from my perspective, is accurate (in that they deny certain parts as authoritative, etc.). But is that really an accurate and fair representation of why they believe what they believe? Does this encompass their rationale and motivations and reasoning?

  • Daniel Fisher

    Well, assume that penal subsitution is not true – and then, imagine that, for whatever reason, Jesus did not enter the world and die.
    Could God still have forgiven our sins? Presumably so – that is what I have understood. God didn’t need to take out his anger on Jesus as a prerequisite for forgiving us – God asks us to forgive and he can do the same, he doesn’t need some kind of sacrifice of a substitute victim before he is going to forgive us.
    So without Jesus’ death, nothing held God back from forgiving us. He is perfectly able, willing, and free to forgive anyone regardless of whether Jesus died or not, no? God did not need Jesus to die before he gained the ability, willingness, or power to forgive.
    And without Jesus death, I understand that there is nothing keeping God from exercising his power to disarm satan, destroy him, eradicate his existence, remove his power and ability to do anything – God is omnipotent, Satan is not. At any moment, God says the word, and Satan ceases to exist. God didn’t need Jesus to die in order to gain the power to destroy satan.
    And without Jesus’s death, my understanding is that there is nothing that prevents God from eradicating death. Jesus seemed to do that to a few people before his death, after all. Lazarus, the widow’s son, etc. There is presumably nothing holding God back from exercising his power, right now, to simply make every single human being immortal, and to instantaneously remove any trace of sin in this world. He has the power to do so, and nothing in Jesus death changed God in such a way as he gained a new ability or desire or freedom to destroy death, no?
    So, assuming penal substitution to be false – I don’t see any reason Jesus needed to die in order to forgive us, defeat satan, or destroy death. God was holding out on us, unwilling or unable to forgive, defeat satan, or destroy death, until Jesus came along, and died? what exactlyabout Jesus death accomplished something that God could not have done without said death?
    For instance, many Marines have won the Medal of Honor for jumping on a grenade to save their colleagues – there was a real danger, and that marine took death because, without his so doing, death would have come to everyone else. His sacrifice, his death, actually *accomplished* their lives being saved.
    But if a group of Marines already clearly had the firepower, air superiority, tactical position, wherein a victory was already a foregone conclusion, and no more deaths were needed in order to accomplish that victory, and none of the Marines were in any further danger from the enemy so long as they executed their battle plan….. If one marine, then, ran into the enemy line and allowed himself to get shot and killed – when that death was not necessary to either save a life or to achieve the victory, I fail to see how someone would credit that death as having “accomplished” anything. OK, he showed how much he was willing to die for his friends – but he didn’t die for them, he died needlessly.
    If I were going to be saved simply by the fact that God can forgive me at any time, and doesn’t need some kind of penal substitution… and if God has the power to eradicate death and the devil at his whim…. the I can’t help but perceive Christ’s death as oddly extraneous and unnecessary. But I am certainly open to better understanding what I miss.
    So if that helps explain, my core question for those who embrace another atonement theory while rejecting penal substitution remains – what, exactly, did Christ’s death accomplish?

  • I genuinely appreciate that Daniel, and I think we are very much in agreement for the most part on all that. Thanks for taking the time.

  • Matthew

    Thanks Daniel. I think we may be going in circles. I fail to see why it´s a problem for Christ to have accomplished everything via Christus Victor (for example) rather then via PSA.

    Sorry :-(

  • Realist1234


  • Realist1234

    The reason He forbade the worshipping of other ‘gods’ is because-

    – those ‘gods’ did not exist
    – there was often a demonic element behind them, thereby if you worshipped them you were in fact worshipping the demonic.

    I wouldnt assume the correct theology is logical or scientifically disciplined. Christian faith is not always ‘logical’, or at least our experience isnt. But then as Spock said, “Logic, logic, logic. Logic is the beginning of wisdom, not the end.” We can learn a lot from ST!

  • Realist1234

    My point is, we shouldnt assume God is ‘logical’ by human understanding. I dont think God is like a logic statement such as If A, then B. Up to a point, yes, but I would never argue that human logic can fully explain God or His actions. Even in the scientific realm, is quantum mechanics truly ‘logical’? Im not so sure.

  • SamHamilton

    Thanks for making these points John with patience. There are thousands of congregations across the world (and hundreds if not thousands here in the U.S.) that would refer to themselves as Evangelical. Some people who grew up in evangelical churches had bad experiences. I don’t blame them for wanting something different and speaking out about the bad experiences. The problem begins when they begin to think that because the church they grew up in called itself evangelical and church A across town and church B in the next town over and church C three states away all call themselves evangelical, they all must suffer from the same problems the person’s home church suffers from. “Evangelical” becomes less a helpful descriptor and just a catch-all term for whatever the person doesn’t like about Christianity. “Fundamentalist” is used this way too.

  • Matthew

    Where´s Bones been?

  • Mr. James Parson

    The Reformation of the Middle Ages was when people started to not be afraid of power of the Catholic Church. Once that monopoly of power was broken, they have never been able to patch it back together. That fear disappeared.

    We may very well be in an era where religious based fear is disappearing. What do you think well be left?

    Also, I am an atheist. At my last moments of life should I be afraid of anything?

  • Matthew

    What will be left? Only love I hope.

    Also … at this point in my life and theological journey, I´m not absolutely certain what happens at the end of one´s life for those
    who have rejected God´s love. That said, I do believe that Jesus
    assures those who have faith in him and who follow him that they
    don´t have to worry about this question at all.

  • Matthew


  • Mr. James Parson

    I think their will be love, along with pettiness, jealousy, and generosity. There will be everything we see today. There will be new things that people participate in, and old things that are done differently.

    I don’t what happens when I die, although it looks like I just cease to be. I do know that I am here now and I should treat everyone well.

  • Ron McPherson

    Not sure?

  • Matthew

    Well … the Christian worldview does talk about a day of judgement for both the living and the dead, though there is dispute about just how many judgements there will be — 1 or 2. The book of Hebrews in the Christian New Testament says that people are destined once to die and then they will face judgement. So for me, although I´m not sure how (or exactly when) this judgement(s) will take place or just exactly what it will be based on (though I heavily lean toward one´s faith in Jesus Christ), I´m rather certain there will be a judgement of some sort.

    The Christian worldview also teaches that there will be a resurrection of the body (which will be reunited with the soul) and that there will be the establishment of a new heaven and a new earth which contains no tears and no suffering and of which Jesus will be the supreme king.

    The church´s main duty is to bring to light in our present day, by the power of what is called the Holy Spirit, all that will be eternally true in this new heavenly and earthly kingdom. Sadly, the church has not always done this, but rather has succumbed to the temptations of this world.

  • Matthew

    :-)! I think you and Bones need some conflict management counseling :-)!

    Ron showed up yesterday as well. The gang´s all here!!!

  • Mr. James Parson

    Thank you for your response.

  • Yet Christ does not convince us with logic or systematic theology. Robert, what you are alluding to here is epistemology. How do we know something is true. The evangelical wing of the church has, for some time, based their truth claims on an inerrant Bible. This is their source of certitude. Theologians who build systems based on that claim, in the court of evangelical opinion, tend to have that certitude “rub off” on them, becoming sort of “semi-inerrant” themselves. Wayne Grudem, Charles Hodge, Benjamin Warfield and others, who claim inerrancy of scripture, become de facto expositors of inerrant truth. The systems of theological belief developed then become “Biblical doctrine.” This semi-inerrancy also is applied to much of the historical development of church doctrine, especially amongst the western Early Church Fathers like Augustine.

    Scripture then becomes about mining propositional “truths” that are eternal. The Sitz im Leben takes a backseat to stringing these propositions together to squeeze a 21st century culture into a 1st century cultural mindset. The result of this backwards mindset is resistance to anything deemed “progressive.” Unfortunately, what results is not a clear logical system of theological beliefs, but, because of the very nature of inerrancy, a system of conflicting claims. In other words, if all of scripture is inerrant, how does one handle conflicts, immoral actions attributed to God, etc.?

    What separates the church, what causes disunity? What stymies us from advancing the Kingdom? …Doctrinal systems that are designed to identify who’s in and who’s out. There is a place for church teaching, but beginning with Augustine, the church has become more and more obsessed with finding an elusive theological system that, once and for all, defines what it means to be a “Christian.” “Excepting Jesus into one’s heart” is just a preliminary introduction into the wacky world of indoctrination into evangelical dogma.

    The danger of an epistemology based on the presupposition of inerrancy, is that it makes reform or repentance in the church almost impossible. As gatekeepers and custodians of “Biblical Truth” evangelicals see no need for change. The need for change is seen as exclusively necessary amongst “liberals,” “secular humanists,” society and, well, anyone who is not conservative evangelical. See Roger E. Moore, “Reformed and Always Reforming” for more on this phenomena.

    You have mentioned the 14th chapter of the Gospel of John. If you read the entire chapter, you will see a clear exposition of Christian epistemology and certitude. It is not “logical doctrine.” Nor is it what most evangelicals rely on: an inerrant text. He, the Holy Spirit, is the Spirit of Truth. Jesus does not comfort his disciples by promising an inerrant book, nor does he refer to the OT as the source of their comfort or certainty. Realize, these men have been with Jesus for three years. They know his character and his love and loyalty to them. They’ve seen miracles performed and Jesus confound the religious leadership of the day. Yet they are totally unprepared for what us about to transpire. They will scatter and hide after Christ’s crucifixion. It takes the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Christ, to turn things around. That is what bears witness to the certainty of Jesus as the Messiah, the Son of God. Through the Holy Spirit Christ is revealed to us. I have certainty in Christ, not because I believe the Bible to be inerrant, nor because of a particularly logical system of belief, but because the Holy Spirit bears witness with my spirit that Christ is the Son of God and we are children of God (Romans 8:16).

    For most evangelical Christians sadly it would seem, this is not enough.

  • The video is helpful in some regards, and excellent in its explanation of we can believe in the “what” of the Bible without knowing exactly the “how” of things. Of course the question posed by the atheist about God’s sovereignty and man’s free will is not particularly a biblical question, but a problem created in the scholastic thinking of post-reformation reformed theology. The classic reformed categories of theism, the “attributes” of God are distinctly a western concept, not particularly biblical.

    The central problem of post-reformation Protestant scholasticism and its role in evangelical thought is its “overriding orientation to the requirements of Aristotelian logic and to an anthropological ontology that clearly reflects pagan Greek concepts rather than an authentically biblical viewpoint. Indeed it tended to construe the later in terms of the former. Of course, such an Aristotelian-scholastic mode of statement was not religiously neutral. It was ultimately rooted in a pagan (and therefore unbiblical) view of reality. The results could be overly abstract and curiously unhistorical. It’s characteristic tendency was towards a rational ordering of propositional statements according to the requirements of Aristotelian logic…

    The influence of Protestant scholasticism meant that logic came to override context in the interpretation of biblical texts. The point here is not that the scriptures are of themselves illogical but that their coherence does not depend on any system of logic. In other words, biblical teaching is not to be reduced to a system of interlocking syllogisms, and does not depend on Aristotelian categories for its arguments to be valid.” (Keith C. Sewell, “The Crisis of Evangelical Christianity, Roots, Consequences, and Resolutions,” p. 45)

    I think this blog post by Roger Olson says it well:
    “No doubt many conservative evangelical theologians (and others) think they are honoring God by paying him metaphysical compliments derived from Greek-inspired philosophical theology, but what they are really doing is making God very much unlike Jesus who wept, was provoked to anger, rejoiced, etc. Scholastic theology tends to say those were only possible for the Son of God in and through his humanity…
    This is where narrative theology (about which I have posted here before) can be helpful. Our doctrine of God should not be derived from philosophical presuppositions about what is appropriate for the divine but should be derived primarily from the biblical story of God—beginning with Jesus Christ as the fullest revelation of God’s person and character and spreading out from there to embrace the passionate God of the Bible who dared to open himself up to pain and peace, sorrow and joy in relation to the world and who could do that because feelings and emotions are part of being personal and God is eternally personal. Having appropriate emotional feelings is part of being in the image of God whereas scholastic theology tends to portray the image of God as reason ruling over emotion, being apathetic.”

  • Ok, changing gears slightly as I think we are talking PAST each other and getting off track. I don’t think our problem here is Aristotelian logic but certain presuppositions about the ontology of scripture itself. It is one thing to claim “According to the bible and sound theology, God created man in his image, and then spoke to us. We are able to understand him because we were made to speak HIS language,” then say “John 1:1 In the beginning was the Logos. And the Logos was with God. And the Logos was God… And the Logos became flesh, and dealt among us.” You are, I believe, conflating two different “logos,” applying the same Aristotelian standards of truth to both.

    On the one hand we have scripture, a compilation of disparate literary styles, compiled and created over many centuries by many different authors and scribes, with different agendas. We are not dealing with ONE logos in scripture, but MANY. Whether the many speak with ONE voice is very debatable. I am not here to debate whether God was INVOLVED with scripture, I believe he was. But the assumption that because God is logical, the language he would use in scripture would be Aristotelian cannot be proven from a reading of scripture itself. Instead, we have primarily STORY, not propositional presentations. Occasionally, a human author will make a propositional statement about God, John: God is Love, for example; but, by and large, story, allegory, poetry are used to IMPLY the author’s views about God or the human predicament.

    On the other hand, we have Christ, said to be the “Logos of God.” He is declared to be the “son of God.” Instead of “speaking” through sinful man, he chooses to send his Son, to be a perfect revelation of who he is and what he wants us to be like. Using your analogy of language, Christ more clearly speaks of God to us than scripture does, because, unlike the Bible, Christ as logos is not filtered through man’s limited understanding as scripture is.

    To put it bluntly, Christianity is about a PERSON as God’s final, definitive revelation of himself and not about the Bible. Post-reformation scholasticism’s view of sola scriptura has become way too focused on defense of scripture as an infallible sourcebook of propositional truth. We take our eyes off Christ when this happens and we end up defending our pet theologies of inerrancy, ending up with a legalistic religion devoid of heart.

  • Thanks Robert for your observations. As a Progressive Christian I do not advocate throwing out scripture any more than an evangelical would. ALL scripture is profitable. I just try to avoid any wooden literalism that may hamper a deeper understanding of scripture. Jonah may or may not have been swallowed by a large fish and survived three days. To me the truthfulness of the event itself is far overshadowed by God’s love for his enemies in his sending Jonah to Neneveh in the first place. This was almost unheard of in ancient times and Is a foreshadow of Christ’s Command To love our enemies in order to be God’s children. There is a tension in the OT, I think between man’s understanding of God, filtered through his own sinfulness, and God’s constant efforts to bring mankind to a deeper understanding, not hampered by our violent tendencies. In general it was the prophets who clashed with the various kings and the idolatrous practices of the Israelites as they tried to teach mercy instead of rote sacrifice for example.

    Jesus’ relationship and use of scripture is much more complex than the modern American Christian realizes. Yes there are times he quotes or refers to scripture as though he follows a literal interpretation, but other times he gets pretty creative with the text. In Matthew 5 he even contradicts scripture, placing himself above it, giving some laws entirely new meanings. When I read scripture and a literal interpretation (or a traditional one) seems to present a conflict with what we know Jesus to be like (and hence, God), I research for a better, more consistent interpretation. I put my “Jesus glasses” on.

  • “and that what our faith needs most is a Marshall Plan.”
    So here’s the problem. When we devised a plan to help European countries rebuild and repair the damage done by WWII, they realized, a. They needed to rebuild, and b. They wanted our help. We were the “big guy” offering help to the “smaller guys.” American Evangelicalism IS the “big guy.” They feel THEY are the ones to rebuild America, not the other way ‘round. They neither want our help nor see a need to rebuild. Swbarnes2 is correct in the assessment that evangelicalism is built on a shaky foundation. One which needs to be scrapped entirely before repentance, reformation and revival (in that order) is possible. I just don’t see that happening anytime soon…too much control and power would need to be given up. In brief, the shaky foundation of a wrathful God from whom we need to be rescued, is what evangelicalism is built on. We have 1600 years of bolstering that view. Dismantling that much unChristlike worldview will take centuries IMO. Christianity has adopted the tools of the enemy, the power structure of Rome, and evangelicals are blind to that fact. Instead of moving away from the violent, coercive power structures of this world, we are seeing a further binding to those structures by the Religious Right.

    I think evangelicalism needs to “fail,” and fail big time in order for positive change to come to American Christianity. Then and only then can there be positive soul-searching amongst evangelicals.

  • Tim

    I’d be interested to know which things you think qualify as ones that the bible makes very clear. I run into a lot of unwarranted certainty in evangelical christianity based on the assumption that some things in the bible that seem to be made very clear are not at all, upon closer inspection.

  • Tim

    However, it also says things like the earth was formless and void, so it does not necessarily imply creation ex nihilo, as many assume from the English translation. Nor does it necessarily imply a “moment” of creation. Also, even if you hold to a literal 6 day creation scheme, that still means that not everything was created at once. Also, the word “created” would be better translated as shaped or formed, which connotes more of something like how a potter would shape or form a vessel from raw materials.

    All you have to do is start digging a little deeper, and even the most straightforward seeming things are not so straightforward as we are often led to believe.

  • Tim


  • D.M.S.

    God didn’t choose everyone.
    Did He?

  • And another view:

    The simple understanding of the issue of Hell, is that lack ofWonder…, the full restoration of life as it was meant to be lived.“, is Hell.

    It is not something that is done to us.

    Hell is a work in progress. The accumulated effects of having forgotten the essential non-separability that is God. The power of God, blind to its own limitless potential, and instead serving an endless litany of tiny agendas, passions, and fears.

    Judgement is a metaphor for “repercussions“. Christ, the open ended freedom from “repercussions“.

    Authenticity. The absence of illusion.

  • TS (unami)

    I see similarities to what I’m beginning to learn as I study Buddhism…

  • All paths to the summit eventually converge.

  • TS (unami)


  • Nimblewill

    …………………………….a season of destruction into a season of new creation.

    I think it is His plan.