What is the burden of proof in the #Methodist #homosexuality debate?

Gay-Symbol-WallpaperIn the American justice system, all defendants are innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable shadow of doubt. Defense attorneys do not have to prove their client’s innocence; they just have to find enough holes in the prosecution’s argument to establish that they have not been proven guilty. But in the debate over Biblical interpretation on homosexuality, the burden of proof falls entirely on the defendants to prove their innocence. What if my fellow Methodists who are anti-gay had to provide not only isolated proof-texts and speculative translations of obscure Greek words but a coherent Biblical ethical explanation of why chaste monogamous homosexual partnerships are “incompatible with Christian teaching”? I think that would be a much more just and legitimate burden of proof. Continue reading

Is Jesus saving the world from us?

Is Jesus saving the world from us? It’s a different way to talk about salvation, but honestly it’s the gospel that I’m hoping to be true as an evangelical afflicted by what Rachel Held Evans calls “the scandal of the evangelical heart.” When did we become the Pharisees Jesus came to Earth to stop us from being? How many of us have been secretly asking that question in our minds? How many of us need to be saved from a toxic salvation? I really feel that we are in the midst of a great awakening. The legion of demons that poisoned our gospel for so long is running off a cliff in a herd of hateful pigs, leaving us to wake up in the graveyard where we chained ourselves. We are discovering that Satan is our accuser and oppressor, not God.  We are realizing that our need to be right and justify ourselves has kept us inside a tomb whose stone was rolled away by Jesus. So I wanted to share five things God has been teaching me over the past few years about what Jesus saves us from and what He saves us for. Continue reading

How children save us

Over the past several years, as I’ve gone through the ordination process, I have had the opportunity to describe my salvation journey in multiple different papers that I’ve written. One of the things that always bothered me growing up was what I would call the doctrine of “personal decisionism” — the expectation that salvation always happens at an exact date and time. If you asked Sunday school teachers and other adult mentors, “Well, how do I know if I’ve been saved?” they would say, “Oh, you know if you are!” And if you acted enough unlike a Christian after your “decision,” then it proved retroactively that your decision wasn’t “sincere.” It took me decades to recognize that not everyone has to have a dramatic Damascus road experience like Paul. I got baptized in second grade, prayed Jesus back into my heart in tenth grade, but I think the most decisive moment in which God saved me was through a little girl in the Zocalo of San Cristobal de las Casas, Chiapas, Mexico, in August of 1998. Jesus makes three statements in Mark 9 and 10 that talk about the saving power of children. This was the basis for a sermon that I preached two weeks ago: How children save us. Below I have shared some further reflections on these three statements. Continue reading

Red Letter Christianity: unpaving the Romans Road

I figured it might be good for my hits to push back against an exegetically questionable pot-shot taken at what has been called “Red Letter Christianity” which generated reverberations here and here. As many of you know, I contribute frequently to a website called Red Letter Christians. The guys behind this site, Tony Campolo and Shane Claiborne, have recently written a book called Red Letter Revolution (which likely prompted the sniper fire). The concept of Red Letter Christianity is to turn our attention back to the words that are attributed to Jesus (which are colored red in some Bibles). Whether you were aware of this or not, most of the teaching in American evangelical Christianity today actually comes from Paul’s New Testament letters instead of Jesus. In particular, the book of Romans has been paved over the whole of scripture like a giant road that smothers the other voices within the Biblical text. One task of Red Letter Christianity is to jack-hammer into this concrete and liberate Jesus from underneath it. Continue reading

Submission As Leadership, Marriage As Mutual Servanthood

Few verses in the Bible have been more damaging historically to women in Western civilization than Ephesians 5:22 — “Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord.” This has been a go-to verse in the argument against giving the women the right to vote or letting them have careers outside the home; more drastically it has been used to counsel women in abusive relationships not to leave their husbands since they should submit to them even if they’re violent. It was because of this history that my wife Cheryl and I decided to tackle this verse in the first sermon that we preached together seven years ago at our wedding, also because the passage from which it’s taken — Ephesians 5:21-33 — has beautiful wisdom to share about marriage when the social and Biblical context for the passage is properly understood. This past weekend at Burke United Methodist Church, we preached together on this passage again, washing each others’ feet while the other one spoke in order to model our understanding that submission is the form that Christian leadership takes. Continue reading

God’s love in 4-D: Ephesians 3:14-21

This weekend, I preached on Ephesians 3:14-21, which talks about the “height, length, width, and depth of God’s love.” I have no idea what Paul actually had in mind with these terms (neither do any of the commentaries), but it gave me an opportunity to be creative in talking about different aspects of God’s love according to geometric dimensions. I decided that I would interpret the “depth” of God’s love as the way in which God zeroes in on every detail of creation with infinite intensity, which is what I tried to capture in the diagram to the left. I found scriptures that talked about each of these four dimensions of God’s love. And I explained why this love requires the cross of Jesus Christ in order to perfectly fulfill itself. Continue reading

My Twelve Fundamentals

Between 1910 and 1915, the Bible Institute of Los Angeles published a twelve volume series of essays entitled The Fundamentals: A Testimony to the Truth, which would become the basis for the fundamentalist Christian movement. These essays were published in a polemical context in which Christians battled the scientism and historical critical Bible scholarship that seemed to threaten the very existence of our faith. Today’s polemical context is different. Today’s Christianity has turned into a triumphalist political voting bloc that enshrines middle-class social propriety as the entire content of Christian morality. Today’s Christianity uses megachurches to smother smaller churches the way that Walmart did twenty years ago to the mom and pop general stores that used to exist. Today’s Christianity has uncritically embraced celebrity culture and become just another niche market defined by the same capitalist forces as the secular world. Today’s Christianity takes the side of those who crucify over those who are being crucified. Today’s Christianity does not think in terms of bearing witness, but protecting its own interests. So it’s against these and other heresies of our day that I define my twelve fundamentals, which I hope to develop into full-length essays of their own and refine according to your critique and feedback. So please read and tell me what redundancies and heresies you see. Continue reading

Why gender hierarchy makes no Biblical sense to me

My wife and I decided to do something bold for our wedding. Each of us preached while the other person washed our feet, rotating halfway through the sermon. The text we preached on was the controversial Ephesians 5:22-33 passage which says, “Wives, submit to your husbands as you do to the Lord.” I’ve been thinking of our sermon lately as I’ve encountered the reviews of megachurch pastor Mark Driscoll’s new book Real Marriage, which apparently takes his views on the divinely ordained inferiority of women to a new level. Rachel Held Evans is gentler in her review than conservative evangelical blogger David Moore. I’m not going to talk about a book that I don’t have time to read, but I thought I would share some of what my wife and I preached about as my contribution to this week’s blogosphere conversation about marriage. Continue reading

How worship makes us welcome others

Sermon preached at Burke UMC LifeSign service 10/8/2011
Text: Deuteronomy 10:12-22

Many of you know that I have been coaching my son’s soccer team this fall. Not only do I not know what I’m doing, but my son is often uninterested in kicking the ball or even staying on the field. Our game last Saturday was cold and rainy. The other team’s coach and I decided to play anyway since we’ve had so many games rescheduled because of weather. One kid on my team is a beast who attacks the ball no matter where it is and keeps running the entire 8 minute quarter. I’m often reluctant to pull him out of the game. Well in the third quarter, he was starting to run out of steam, so the next time the ball went out of bounds, I took out our star player and put in my son. Continue reading