If I were a non-Christian looking from the outside in, I don’t think it would be unreasonable to think that American Christians’ two highest priorities right now are keeping the government from taking away our guns and stopping gay people from getting married. And I don’t think it would be too far-fetched to assume that Jesus sure must love guns and hate sex. But should these really be our priorities as Christians? And if not, how did they rise to the place of prominence they have? Continue reading
There’s an elephant in the room when we talk about the cross. The cross is indeed solidarity with the crucified, the victory of God’s truth over Caesar’s power, the introduction of nonviolence into the world, a means of reconciling enemies, and a pouring out of sacred life blood that removes the curse of sin from the Earth. Jesus’ crucifixion also pays a price that needs to be paid for my sin. For many Christians, this sixth blessing of the cross is the only blessing it offers; ugly misrepresentations of this blessing have polluted our discourse, causing many other Christians to reject this dimension of the cross altogether. Regardless of that, we need to be justified by the punishment Jesus suffers on our behalf because only people who know that they are unjustifiable and entirely dependent on the mercy of God can enter the kingdom. Otherwise, we are a danger to the communion of all who live in the vulnerable safety of God’s mercy.
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We had the first session of our new member class today. During the first class, we do introductions and give a primer on Methodist theology. We had the fortunate problem of having too many people in the class so our introductions took up all but 15 minutes. I didn’t want us to leave having only done introductions, so I tried to explain in 15 minutes and 4 stick figure drawings the three kinds of grace we talk about in Methodism: prevenient, sanctifying, and justification, along with the Christian perfection that God’s grace draws us toward. The way I’ve illustrated it is a bit individualistic (which of course I would have criticized if someone else had done it ). I’m interested in hearing your feedback and suggestions for improvement. Continue reading
One of the theories Doug Campbell advances in The Deliverance of God is that the “Romans Road” account of salvation which has dominated American evangelical Christianity for the past half-century cannot really be blamed on Martin Luther or John Calvin. The Romans Road is paved through the reconfiguration of the Reformers’ theology to fulfill the “decision for Christ” salvation formula of Billy Graham, Bill Bright, and all the sidewalk pamphleteers of the Four Spiritual Laws, who are more indebted to the 18th century political and economic philosophy of John Locke (and others like him) than the Reformation itself. In other words, the debate is not where we think it is: John Calvin vs. Jacob Arminius over the question of free will. They have both been repurposed according to a set of 18th century British presumptions about capitalism, rationalism, individualism, and liberal democracy. Continue reading
I’ve been struggling through the beastliest book about the beastliest book in the Bible: Doug Campbell’s 1000 pager on Romans called The Deliverance of God. Campbell has been pummeling the exegetical claims of the Four Spiritual Laws gospel of Bill Bright (aka “decision for Christ,” “sinner’s prayer,” “getting saved,” etc) that has become such a brilliantly successful commodity in the evangelical salvation industrial complex that most of today’s evangelicals cannot really imagine any other purpose for Christianity. What’s interesting is that to Campbell, Calvin and Luther are not the problem behind the disaster of the evangelical gospel; the problem is the 18th century British empiricist/rationalist lens (Hume, Locke, et all) through which Calvin and Luther are studied and interpreted. I’m only about a third of the way in and only that far because I skipped a hundred or so pages. But one of the hugest potholes in the Romans Road I’ve discovered is the presence of virtuous (perhaps even heaven-bound?) pagans in two places in Romans 2. Let me share the passages and briefly reflect on them. Continue reading
I have always had a particular attraction to Philippians 2:12, “Work out your salvation with fear and trembling,” partly because it creates a crisis for evangelicals with a formulaic “decision for Christ” account of salvation. I do believe that justification by faith is a core part of our salvation, but I also think that δικάιοω (justify) means “make just” more than “declare just” in a way that the English language screws up with the word “justification.” Though we need to have Christ’s justification declared to us to wrest us free from self-justification, it is a means to the end of the Holy Spirit’s sanctification by which we are made just. And God doesn’t need to have the results of an act that He authored “declared” back to Him through some contrived performance of feigned ignorance. You can call the trust that God instills in us a “decision” if you need to, but it’s a decision that must be remade over and over again, and furthermore it’s a surrender, not the product of dispassionate rational deliberation (sorry Bill Bright!). In any case, I was reading Psalm 2 in the Chapel of the Blessed Sacrament this past Monday. It may have been what Paul had in his head in writing Philippians 2:12 because it talks about “fear” and “trembling” and how they relate to the refuge that God offers to humanity. Continue reading
I desperately need your help and feedback in pulling this book together. I have shared below summaries for the introduction and the 16 chapters of Mercy Not Sacrifice. I know this is a really long blog post, but it would mean so much to me if you would look at it and help me make some decisions that I haven’t yet been able to make. Paste it into MS Word and print it out if it’s easier. I’m going to be discouraged if nobody responds. I can’t help it. As I learned in church-planter training, God made me a diva for the sake of my calling. If I ever actually publish this thing, I’ll say nice things about you in the front and help you with yours if you ever write one. Continue reading
The last sermon in our Jesus Is My Candidate series had the theme “He gives me a vision.” The scripture I used was Mark 8:22-26 in which Jesus heals a blind man twice. The first time He heals the blind man’s eyes, he can only see partially; it’s the only time Jesus had to do a redo. Since Jesus was never inadequate in His healing power, most Christians have concluded that His purpose in this healing was to provide a symbolic act for us to think about three stages in our ability to see God and experience His presence – blindness, partial vision, and full vision. These different stages can be used to describe the historical development of humanity as a whole as well as our individual salvation experience. I made a chart like the one I’ve reproduced below to partition out these different phases of salvation. I will explain further below the chart. Continue reading
As the pastor of a politically “purple” congregation, I need to tread lightly on the controversy surrounding Mitt Romney’s remarks about 47% of Americans not paying income tax. I am trying my best to transcend the superficial “issue” level of our increasingly absurd political conversation so that I can yank out the theological roots of the bad weeds that we find in our commonly held assumptions. I really believe that America’s problem is fundamentally theological (and it’s utterly bipartisan). One dimension of it is the impoverished understanding of “individual rights” that Ross Douthat and others have linked to the corrosive impact of secularism (which John Milbank correctly categorizes in Theology and Social Thought as a self-disavowing sect of Christian-rooted thought that has gone atheist). Paul Ryan was right to observe that our “rights” have become dangerously stripped of their bark if there is no longer an assumption that we are “endowed by our Creator” with them (and not by whichever majority of Americans happens to be in power). But the irony is that many of the very people who cheer when they hear lines like, “Our rights come from God and nature, not from government,” actually embrace secularism when the question is framed differently. To say that we are a society of “makers” and “takers” is a profession of disbelief in the relevance of the one true Maker. If I believe that everything I have and everything I have used to gain what I have is a gift from God, then He is the only Maker and we are all takers with one Father who commands us to care for each other as brothers and sisters. Continue reading
Monday is my Sabbath day. I almost always walk around and talk to God either in the Basilica of the National Shrine of Immaculate Conception in Washington, DC, or at Lake Acotink near my house. On a lot of Mondays, I get thoughts in my head that it seems like God is revealing to me so I put them into 140 character format and blast them out to the universe over twitter. Maybe it’s wrong to be engaged in social media in the midst of sacred prayer time, but it feels like something God is pushing me to do. This Monday’s theology tweets were inspired by two scriptures: (1) Ephesians 2:11-22, my sermon text for this weekend which describes Jesus’ cross as the place where God reconciles us by putting to death the hostility between people (v. 16) and (2) Psalm 24, this week’s lectionary psalm, which opens by saying, “The Earth is the Lord’s and everything in it,” the most concise repudiation of the concept of capitalism in the Bible. Continue reading