In the spring of 2010, I bought a Spanish language theology book, El Principio Misericordia (The Mercy Principle) by Jon Sobrino, at the bookstore of the Universidad de Centroamerica (UCA) in San Salvador. I’ve been reading it off and on for the past three years, and I finally finished it in my most recent trip to the Dominican Republic (my Spanish reading tends to happen when I’m actively thinking in Spanish). So I’ve decided to do a series exploring some of the concepts Sobrino introduces in his book. This first post has to do with his definition of sin. Continue reading
I knew it was coming: the Piper tweet, this time quoting Job in response to the Oklahoma tornado. As the dean of the neo-Calvinist movement, John Piper likes to push the envelope with his commentary on God’s role in natural disasters. He did it about a year ago when tornadoes hit the midwest. In 2007 after the Minneapolis bridge collapsed, he wrote that he and his daughter discussed how God must have done it so the people of Minneapolis would fear Him because our sin against God is “an outrage ten thousand times worse than the collapse of the 35W bridge.” Piper would say that he’s just being Biblical and that it shouldn’t be surprising that speaking Biblically would make people feel uncomfortable. So how do we talk about God’s role in tragedies?
The Daily Office reading for today was Romans 14:13-23. I was particularly struck by verses 22-23: “The faith that you have, have as your own conviction before God. Blessed are those who have no reason to condemn themselves because of what they approve. But those who have doubts are condemned if they eat, because they do not act from faith;for whatever does not proceed from faithis sin.” So basically Paul defines sin as “whatever does not proceed from faith.” But what does this mean? Continue reading
I’m on our church’s confirmation retreat. For the last three years, we’ve framed our retreat around a discussion of the three questions you get asked when you join the United Methodist Church in tandem with three verses Ephesians 4:14-16. The first question asks us whether we “renounce the spiritual forces of wickedness, reject the evil powers of this world, and repent of our sins,” while Ephesians 4:14 in the NIV talks about humanity being “like infants tossed back and forth between the waves.” So I’ve gone with the metaphor of sin as a “sea of wrath.” This year, a kid was asking but what about sins that the Bible doesn’t talk about, how do we tell what they are? We had just read Galatians 5:19-21 about the works of the flesh. So I said sin is doing things that create “drama” in the negative teenage sense of the word, because I think that’s a much better way of understanding it than “not following the rules.”
I pray a lot for the college kids from our church. In addition to the concern that they will fall away from the faith, I worry about whether they will fall in with the wrong crowd of Christians. Every year, aggressively friendly campus fellowship groups storm the dorms to meet the kids who signed their clipboards at the activity fair. And many times, the result is four years of beautiful friendship and spiritual growth. But it can go very wrong as my brother Ryan Kuramitsu shares in his testimony about a Christian group whose zeal for God’s hate is a textbook case of what I’m calling the theology of the total depravity of everyone else.I asked permission to share the following excerpt, but please visit his site to read the original post and offer encouragement. (Note: I am aware there’s more than one side to every story, the same Christian organization is not the same on different campuses, etc.) Continue reading
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
One of the litmus tests that evangelicals make when we evaluate a potential church family is to observe whether they are comfortable talking about sin. I often measure the authenticity of my relationships with other people according to the degree to which we can share our struggles with sin genuinely. If someone insists on keeping things positive and pleasant with me, even if I know a lot of information about their lives, I don’t feel like they’re being real with me, whether that’s fair or not. A different question is whether we should offer others unsolicited feedback when they are doing things that appear to be sin. Do we have the responsibility to convict others of their sin? Continue reading
In Matthew1:21, Gabriel says to Mary, “”You are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” What does this sentence mean? We think it’s obvious. “Saved” means not going to hell. And that’s because we’ve adopted a story of salvation handed down to us by people who could not imagine needing a savior in a this-world, right-now kind of way. But when the Hebrew Bible talks about yeshuah (salvation), the word that cognates into Jesus’ name, it is never in the context of the plight of eternal damnation faced by the abstract everyman of Bill Bright’s Four Spiritual Laws that have defined the last half-century of evangelicalism. Yeshuah usually describes very concrete situations of desperation, often on the battlefield, in which the Israelites were rescued by God. When the black slaves in the American South heard about Jesus, they knew intuitively that they were one with the Israel God sent a messiah to rescue, the same intuition which continues to occur for poor people throughout the Global South. The awkward thing for privileged Westerners like me about acknowledging this other dimension to the salvation that Jesus brings is that it shows God to be in solidarity with the people who have been stepped on by our privilege, which has to be part of the reason why we either want to make Christmas into a Norman Rockwell painting or else ensure that Jesus is safely strapped to His cross and bracketed into an abstract atonement equation as soon as He hits the manger hay. But is that clean, abstract salvation really the yeshuah that Jesus was named for? It’s relevant to look at how the word is used in the Hebrew scriptures by which the term was defined for Matthew’s original readers .
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
Jerry Sandusky was on the TV at the gym this morning, since his sentencing is today. He made a statement continuing to deny all the allegations against him. As I saw the words in his statement on the screen, it occurred to me that hell must be something like that: to spend eternity in denial of the mercy from God that makes facing the truth possible. What would have to happen between now and the time that Jerry Sandusky dies for him to get into heaven? Here’s the problem: he was already a Christian. He already said the sinner’s prayer and got baptized. Does he have to do it again? Do his actions retroactively make his “decision for Christ” insincere? Or do they prove that he was born reprobate and should enjoy life on Earth while it lasts because his eternal fate is locked in? Or does he have to make confession and receive penance from a priest? (Surely not, because we’re justified by faith, not works, right?) The resources of popular American evangelical theology fail us at this point because they rely on a hackneyed and caricatured reading of the book of Romans. But the epistle reading from yesterday’s Daily Office — Hebrews 4:12-16 — offers new cement to patch in the quickly crumbling Romans Road of our theology. Continue reading