The God of no compromise and the government shutdown

vader cross ver 2For many of us who grew up evangelical, the word “compromise” has always been a bad word. It means to allow non-Christian values and influences to corrupt your devotion to Biblical truth. Frank Schaeffer, the son of the evangelical leader who started the modern Religious Right, claims that our government shutdown and its Tea Party architects cannot be understood apart from this fundamental characteristic of the evangelical ethos. Insofar as the Tea Party is an evangelical phenomenon, I think he may be right. Evangelicals are raised to be a people of no compromise. And it all starts with an understanding of Jesus’ cross that makes God into Darth Vader and turns us into cookie-cutter stormtroopers devoted to His imperial cause. Continue reading

Yom Kippur: What does atonement mean?

heart w bandaidToday is Yom Kippur, Judaism’s day of atonement. It’s a day for fasting, repentance, and healing. Atonement is a concept that Christianity inherited from Judaism. Jesus’ cross is our Yom Kippur for our sins. The Hebrew word kippur means most literally “to cover.” In English, atonement is a compound of three words: at-one-ment. So what is being made “at one” with atonement? And how does being “covered” by something make us “at one”? Continue reading

Talking atonement with the confirmands

Our youth pastor invited me today to talk about atonement with our confirmation class. As you know, I am very passionate about offering a better explanation than the Four Spiritual Laws of how Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection reconcile us to God. I’m not very good at turning confirmation lessons into silly activities with cotton balls and papier mache. So what I offered them was pretty simple: a single sheet of paper with a brief description of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection at the top and then seven different concrete problems that Jesus’ atonement provides a solution for (realizing that’s not an exhaustive list). I gave them scripture passages to read and had them try to answer based on the scripture how Jesus’ atonement addressed the stated problem. Continue reading

Javert vs. Valjean: the two Christianities of Les Miserables

***Spoiler alert: this post presumes that you know the storyline of Les Miz.*** After watching Les Miserables in the theater, I wanted to stand up at the end and shout, “This is what Christianity really is!” kind of like what Peter Enns wrote on his blog. But there are two Christianities represented in Les Miz by the police inspector Javert and the convict Jean Valjean, and though Valjean’s version triumphs in the film, Javert’s Christianity is winning big time in today’s America. Some say Javert represents “justice” and Valjean represents “mercy,” so we need a happy mix of the two, but that’s already choosing Javert’s Christianity, because Valjean exhibits not only mercy, but an alternative justice that is incomprehensible to the penal retributive justice of modernity. The question of whether we see the world through the eyes of Javert or Valjean amounts to our understanding of justice. For Javert, justice is retribution in the interest of maintaining an abstract order; for Valjean, justice is solidarity in the interest of personal love. Continue reading

It’s the beginning (again), not the end!

beginning is nearWell today is the last day on the ancient Mayan calendar, so I expect there will be a lot of jokes and memes all over social media. Since the doomsday prediction is coming from a different religion, I doubt that the far-right fringe of the Christian community will embrace it. I did see a new phrase that has been coined by the Daily Beast: the Barackalypse, which refers to the way that Obama’s reelection has sealed the world’s fate. I remember when the turn of the millennium was approaching, there was a lot of excitement in the fundamentalist Christian community that some members of my family are connected to. They were stockpiling food and digging private wells, yearning so hard for Y2K to bring about a global computer crash. I’ll bet that more than half of the American middle-class secretly wants for the world to end. We have intractable social problems; we have few authentic friendships; our jobs are tedious; life feels like an exhausting treadmill. The thing is, this world which seems like an inevitable dreariness really can disappear without volcanoes and meteors and seven bowls of wrath. Jesus began a new world a long time ago; it’s just that very few of His followers actually live in the kingdom He created. Continue reading

Communion or correctness? The underlying question.

Is God’s goal for humanity communion or correctness? The way you answer that question will determine your understanding of atonement, orthodoxy, holiness, Biblical interpretation, and just about every other major issue within Christian thought. Does Jesus’ cross serves the purpose of imputing perfect correctness to imperfect people or creating peace and reconciliation between otherwise irreconcilable people? That is the distinction. For the purpose of this piece, I want to define correctness very specifically as a way of thinking about behavior and opinions in which there is one right answer and the goal is absolute uniformity. Righteousness is different from correctness; its absolute would be perfect love for God and neighbor which would not necessarily result in identical decisions being made in the same circumstances but a perfect disposition for making these decisions. I believe that a certain threshold of correctness is important for the sake of establishing communion between God’s people, but if correctness means chasing after an elusive goal of absolute ideological conformity, then it is a source of schism in the body of Christ and as such a heretical pursuit.

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Swallowed up by life (2 Corinthians 5:4)

I preached a sermon a couple of weeks ago about a passage from 2 Corinthians 5 in which Paul uses a phrase that has dominated my mind ever since it jumped out at me at my Monday small group two weeks ago. Paul says that he longs for “what is mortal [to] be swallowed up by life.” Our lives in the world are oftentimes overwhelmed by things that create spiritual death, that keep us from being the vital, dynamic people God created us to be. Jesus swallows us this spiritual death on His cross and replaces it with the resurrected life that God established through Him on Easter. Here’s an audio recording of my sermon on this topic: swallowed up by life.