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Brian's Blog

  • April 18, 2014

  • Good Friday Meditation

    This is from my book Everything Must Change:

    The cross is an even more dramatic narrative reversal. . . . Rome uses crosses to expose and pronounce a death sentence on rebels; Jesus uses the cross to expose Roman violence and religious complicity with it, while pronouncing a sentence of forgiveness on his crucifiers. His cross doesn't represent a "shock and awe" display of power as Roman crucifixions were intended to do, but rather represents a "reverence and awe" display of God's willingness to accept rejection and mistreatment, and then respond with forgiveness, reconciliation, and resurrection. In this kingdom, peace is not made and kept through the shedding of the blood of enemies, but the king himself sacrifices his blood to make a new kind of peace, offering amnesty to repentant rebels and open borders to needy immigrants.

    If, as Dominic Crossan says, the Roman motto is peace through victory, or peace through the destruction of enemies, or peace through domination . . . then for Jesus the motto is peace through nonviolent justice, peace through the forgiveness of enemies, peace through reconciliation, peace through embrace and grace. If in the violent narratives of Rome the victorious are blessed - which means that the most heavily armed, the most willing to kill, and the most aggressive and dominant are blessed - then in the framing story of the kingdom of God, blessed are the meek, blessed are those who hunger and thirst for justice, blessed are the peacemakers, and blessed are those who are willing to suffer for doing good. In this light, these aren't simply greeting-card sentiments, but rather ways of starkly contrasting Jesus' framing story with the narratives and counternarratives of his day.

    To be a follower of Jesus in this light is a far different affair than many of us were taught: it means to join Jesus' peace insurgency, to see through every regime that promises peace through violence, peace through domination, peace through genocide, peace through exclusion and intimidation. Following Jesus instead means forming communities that seek peace through justice, generosity, and mutual concern, and a willingness to suffer persecution but a refusal to inflict it on others. To follow Jesus is to become an atheist in regard to all bloodthirsty, tribal warrior gods, and to become a believer in the living God of grace and peace who, in Christ, sheds God's own blood in a manifestation of amnesty and reconciliation.

    - Brian McLaren in Everything Must Change

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  • April 17, 2014

    A reader writes: Righteous? Just?

    A reader writes ...

    I heard you speak this morning in Fort Wayne and I just want to thank you. You hear this a lot, I am sure, but reading you fills a void in my soul because I know that I am not alone. Thank you so much.

    … This morning you asked the question, with the hope that someone would research it as to how the word Diakaios got mistranslated as righteous in English translation so much, especially in the book of Romans. (nice run on sentence, eh?)

    So here is my question: Do you think that maybe King James himself instructed the scholars to do this in order to justify imperialism? If we are "the righteous," instead of "the just," then what we do to other cultures is okay because now they are always "the other" and less favored by God.

    The second question goes to our frustration as pastors trying to preach reconciliation instead of dominion. I wonder if this imperialistic translation has been used to justify "the doctrine of the empire" instead of proclaiming "the good news of the Kingdom." Most of what seems to divide us in US Churches is the assumed patriotism that Christianity implies -a narrative falsely disseminated by too many Christian media sources. But we are in a culture where power is shifting at an alarming rate, and churches that "prosper" are those who capitalize on the fear of that loss of power. How do we proclaim good news to those who are feeling weaker and weaker when the political rhetoric is stacked against us?

    I wrote an unworthy piece about diakios on my own blog: http://revnerd.blogspot.com/2011/06/dikaios-right-word-translated-wrong-way.html and thanks to you, I updated the use of the word righteous in Romans specifically with the term "restorative justice." It just makes more sense.

    Thanks for the note. About your question regarding King James - He couldn't be to blame because his project was building on previous translations … Wycliffe's and especially the Geneva Bible, among others. There's a tremendous book that details the politics behind the King James Bible - Adam Nicolson's God's Secretaries. I highly recommend it.

    But as to your main point … I agree: "interpretation by translation" of justice/righteousness - and also atonement/reconciliation, by the way - have huge impacts on our understanding. It's amazing how much changes when we question just those two interpretive choices made by translators of many English versions. Thanks for your courage in speaking up. If more and more of us have the courage to differ graciously, other minds and hearts will begin to change, just as yours and mine have begun to do. As you said in your blog, the Bible makes so much more sense in that new light.

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  • Maundy Thursday: Memo from Simon Peter

    You shall not wash my feet, I said.
    My reaction was visceral, reflexive, furious.
    I couldn't then say why I was so offended
    By his self-humiliation.
    But now I see.
    If he, Rabbi and Leader, would abandon
    All protocols of propriety,
    What would it mean for us, for me?
    I had my heart set upon a throne,
    Right next to his,
    Preferably to his right,
    With Zebedee's sons, my rivals,
    Put in their places on his left.
    I was ambitious. I am even now.
    What does it do to my ambition
    To make the top the bottom,
    The leader the servant,
    And the last the first?
    Where could this lead?
    Will women dare to aspire
    To be seen as our equals?
    Will the outsiders stand on level ground
    With the pure, the righteous, the orthodox?
    Will circumcision, sacrifice, priesthood, temple
    Count for nothing?
    Doesn't he know?
    The cosmos is hierarchical.
    There are kings at the top and slaves at the bottom,
    Fathers and sons, men and women, teachers and students,
    Older and younger ...
    No sane man would unsettle that order.
    It is divinely ordained.

    So, yes, I was offended.
    When he pressed me,
    Said my feet must be washed
    Or I had no part with him. So
    I wrestled again to be first,
    Seizing on this:
    I will be first in being served!
    And so I demanded to be washed
    More than the others, head to toe.
    But no. He saw through my game, and
    Would not comply.
    As he washed my feet and allowed me no special place,
    I burned within.

    Later, the burning flared: I will never abandon you! I said.
    All the others might falter, but not I!
    He told me the cock would mock my boast.
    I hated him. I resented him. I thought he hated me.
    Yet I loved him.
    Serve one another as I have served you, he said.
    Love one another as I have loved you, he said.
    If his wild ways succeed,
    All this world's order will be undone
    And some new order will come.
    I see why Judas has been so concerned.

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  • April 15, 2014

    We Make the Road by Walking: A Trail Guide

    We Make the Road by Walking 5 from brian mclaren on Vimeo.

    Please help spread the word. The book releases June 10. I'm told it will help if a lot of you purchase it that week. Thanks for your support! More information here.

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  • Q & R: Bereft and searching ...

    Here's the Q:

    My husband and I have read several of your books, including Secret Message of Jesus, Generous Orthodoxy, and Everything Must Change. I left the church over a decade ago for many of the same issues you so eloquently describe, and since a vibrant spirituality was always the most defining characteristic of my life, I have been bereft ever since. Now, after reading your books, I am experiencing a welcome spiritual awakening. I would love to have a community in which to grow and learn. Do you know how I can find people or churches in the Knoxville TN area who are practicing Christianity as you describe it?

    Thank you for your brave and insightful books! I have been deeply enriched by them, and inspired to rekindle my languishing faith. I am finally beginning to feel like a whole human again. God Bless You!

    Here's the R:
    Thanks for the encouraging words. Some friends of mine are working hard on the problem of helping people find churches … I don't have any news to report yet, but I hope some will be forthcoming soon.

    In the meantime, I hope you'll consider forming what I call a learning circle … getting a few people together for a meal every week to start doing for one another what we wish someone would do for us: create space for vibrant spirituality, community, and action. My upcoming book is really a handbook for such spontaneous, self-organizing communities. It will be available soon (June 10). I'm so glad you haven't given up on rekindling your faith!

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  • April 14, 2014

    Q & R: Faith? Relative Certainty?

    Here's the Q:

    I apologize in advance for the length of this message, but I feel a need to explain myself thoroughly. I consider myself to be an agnostic atheist -- that is, I don't believe in God, but I can't say that with absolute certainty. So by your definition, I have made some sort of leap of faith toward atheism.

    I've been reading Finding Faith: A Search for What Makes Sense at the insistence of my mother, who raised me in the evangelical Protestantism that I abandoned in college. I like to keep an open mind, and I will say that I have been pleasantly surprised by your book. You are certainly no Josh McDowell or Lee Strobel, and I mean that as the highest possible compliment because, well, Josh McDowell and Lee Strobel are [not my cup of tea].

    I got to your section on Uncertainty Principles -- including a quote from Albert Einstein -- and I wanted to ask you about this excerpt on pp. 61-62 in my paperback:

    Ironically, an unreflective person person is 100 percent certain of a lot more than a highly reflective one, because a highly reflective person eventually recognizes a number of "uncertainty principles," including these: 1. That the "laws of logic" -- the software that thought runs on -- must be accepted on faith, being unprovable (since you have to assume them in order to prove them, which tends to not prove anything!): Thus all thought is ultimately based on a kind of faith!

    I don't think I can take that step with you. Let me give you an example: it has been said that our nearly universal acceptance of 2 + 2 = 4 is an act of faith. But is it really?

    Every single character in that equation is a linguistic symbol that we have agreed upon as a culture (as with any language) to represent a very tangible, demonstrable thing. A Mandarin speaker could just as easily write a line with the same meaning that looked completely different. But the principles of that are not faith -- they are what you might describe as a "mundane fact," as almost any primary school teacher will tell you when they teach lessons on counting and basic arithmetic. If I put (what I call) "two" oranges on the table, I can count that there are two. If I then count two more and add (the + sign) them to the existing two, I can count them all, and I will arrive at four..at least if I'm speaking English properly. It takes no faith whatsoever to accept that, only a tacit willingness to agree to speak the same language that everyone else is speaking so that you can communicate with one another. Once we do that (again, as an agreement on language, not as faith), then we can build more complex thoughts on this understanding, demonstrating our logic each step of the way like a proof table in geometry class.

    So the great thing about real science is that it's repeatable and testable and, when it discovers new information that might contradict the old understanding, it is flexible enough to adjust and refine. Science is self-correcting, but faith is not...as we saw in this week's debate between Bill Nye and Ken Ham.

    Of course, you're quite right that we all deal in "practical certainty," but to describe that as faith is misleading. I recently bought a new car, and I'm the type of consumer who researches purchases extensively before making them. I chose my particular make and model of car because it had a strong reputation for reliability based on very large samples of data collected by Consumer Reports, which is a magazine that earns no profits and accepts no advertisements that might bias their findings. It's not a perfect guide, and it's not the only one I used, but it seems to be the most trustworthy.

    Was that a guarantee that my car would be reliable? No, I made a bet based on probabilities, and it's certainly possible that I could lose that bet and get a lemon. My feelings toward this manufacturer are not matters of faith, they are matters of statistical confidence -- and I certainly don't see them as infallible. If their quality and reliability scores were to decline in future years, I would decide to switch to another manufacturer for my next car...I have switched brands before.

    So relative certainty is not the same thing as faith -- it's an acknowledgement that we are making a "best guess," and hopefully we are making informed decisions. That's how I feel about these bigger questions too -- like whether God exists and, if so, what God is like. Do I trust the words of ancient people who also wrote about talking serpents and donkeys and people being swallowed by fish and living to tell about it? People whose accounts of our origins are so demonstrably incorrect, as Bill Nye demonstrated this week? People who wrote that God ordered King Saul to slaughter the Amalekite women, children, infants and animals?

    The problem with faith in that sense is that it's subjective -- it cannot be disproven. Anyone can say anything on faith...who is to argue that it doesn't make sense? According to the Bible, we're supposed to live by faith and NOT by sight, or we're supposed to have faith like children or sheep. But if my sight tells me something different, should I ignore or discredit that as Ken Ham does?

    So, I strive to live a life without faith...where I act only on the best information that I have, where I'm willing to admit that I am only acting on a level of practical certainty, and that I'm willing to adjust to new information...wherever it leads me.

    What do you think?

    Here's the R:
    Thanks for your question. Actually, Finding Faith is one of my earlier books that I still very much like but that, given the chance, I would make several changes in. I see your point about the difference between disprovable and assertions and unprovable ones. That's a good distinction and I would need to deal with it if I had the chance to rewrite that section of Finding Faith. (Which I may have the chance to do, and so thanks for the help!)

    I was especially intrigued by your statement:

    Science is self-correcting, but faith is not...

    As Thomas Kuhn pointed out, there are points of resistance to self-correction in the scientific community … and as I would hope my work would point out (along with the work of many others), there are ways of approaching faith that are deeply committed to self-correction. The title of my upcoming book is actually a way of saying that faith must be a self-correcting journey.

    In that way, I would hope I could say (almost quoting you):

    So, I strive to live a life of good and honest faith...where I act only on the best information that I have, where I'm willing to admit that I am only acting on a level of practical certainty, and that I'm willing to adjust to new information...wherever it leads me.

    I've found it impossible to reduce my curiosity to the kind of mundane 2 + 2 = 4 information that is self-evident, undoubtable, and virtually certain. That kind of information tends to be the kind that helps us survive and function physically, but doesn't help so much with the deeper questions of meaning, purpose, and value. You might say that people can't (over the long run?) live on the bread of disprovable data alone …

    Having said that, though, with all the religious claims out there - from those of 6-day creationists to climate deniers to would-be terrorists awaiting virgins in heaven to some of the folks who regularly tell me I'm going to burn in hell for disagreeing with their understanding of God - I am highly sympathetic to your desire to be skeptical and careful. That's why, in the book, I spent a lot of time trying to distinguish between what I called "bad faith" and "good faith."

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  • Q & R: a DMin?

    Here's the Q:

    I am a small town pastor and very happy with my vocation in most ways. I am a part of an increasingly conservative, increasingly fundamentalist denomination and have been very moved by A Generous Orthodoxy and Why Did Jesus, Moses, the Buddha, and Mohammed Cross the Road.
    As a parish pastor it is difficult to find time to dig deeper into the issues that come with attempting to unwrap, understand, and repent for my Imperialist, Roman Protestant history and how to winsomely communicate what comes out of that understanding. In order to force myself into that reflection, I am considering beginning work on a DMin that would focus on these issues. Because of your leadership in this area, I was hoping that you might have some suggestions re: schools and professors that might be a the forefront of this kind of effort.

    Here's the R:
    First, I think you're very wise to find some space to do some rethinking. It's never too late! A DMin could provide that space in a constructive way. I am a board member at Claremont School of Theology, and I am deeply impressed with their faculty. There are many other excellent seminaries that could help you in your studies as well.

    If you research "postcolonial theology," you'll find many of the scholars who are grappling with these issues. Their names include ...

    Ruth Padilla DeBorst, William Hertzog, Dominic Crossan, Marcus Borg, Marc Ellis, Mark Braverman, Naim Ateek, the Latin American and African Liberation theologians, Warren Carter, Namsoon Kang, Gary Burge, Joerg Rieger, John Howard Yoder, the Girardian/mimetic theologians, women theologians who are consistently neglected in an imperial age, and many others.

    Whatever the context in which you decide to study, I can tell you from personal experience that a reading list like this will revolutionize your theology, spirituality, and missiology. (It may also mean you have to look for a new job, but that's another story and another Q & R, I'm sure!)

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  • Q & R: Satan?

    Here's the Q:

    … when you have a moment, would you bless me with some insight on the following passages in John where Jesus using the term "You are of your father, the devil" I believe he calls them children of satan. That's something I struggle with. I am not sure I believe in Satan or The Devil in the traditional sense. I think I agree more with the Jewish version of the satan and have a hard time understanding it as an opposing force outside of God or against God in the form of a demigod. So those passages in John really mess with me. Would love to gain some insight.

    Here's the R:
    Great question. I've addressed this question in various ways in Secret Message of Jesus, Everything Must Change, A New Kind of Christianity, and Why Did Jesus, Moses, the Buddha, and Mohammed Cross the Road? It will also be addressed in my upcoming book, We Make the Road by Walking, which will be released on June 10.

    Here's a brief excerpt from Chapter 48:

    Jesus told his followers to “count the cost.” He promised that those who walk his road would experience push-back, even persecution. And he often described that push-back as demonic or Satanic in nature. Some people today believe Satan and demons to be literal, objective realities. Others believe they are outmoded superstitions. Still others interpret Satan and demons as powerful and insightful images by which our ancestors sought to describe shadowy realities that are still at work today. In today’s terminology, we might call them social, political, structural, ideological, and psychological forces. These forces that take control of individuals, groups, and even whole civilizations, driving them toward destruction.

    … Now, imagine a … spirit of racism, revenge, religious supremacy, nationalism, political partisanship, greed, or fear getting a foothold in a community. You can imagine previously decent people being possessed, controlled, and driven by these forces, mind-sets, or ideologies. Soon, individuals aren’t thinking or feeling for themselves anymore. They gradually allow the spirit of the group to possess them. If nobody can break out of this frenzy, it’s easy to imagine tragic outcomes: vandalism, riots, beatings, lynchings, gang rapes, house demolitions, plundered land, exploited or enslaved workers, terrorism, dictatorship, genocide. Bullets can fly, bombs explode, and death tolls soar—among people who seemed so decent, normal, and peace loving just minutes or months before.

    You don’t need to believe in literal demons and devils to agree with Jesus and the apostles: there are real and mysterious forces in our world that must be confronted. But how?

    I hope that gives you some room to think about what Satan might represent - in the pages of the Bible, and in the world of today.

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  • April 13, 2014

    Q & R: Penal Substitution and Jesus' death

    Here's the Q:

    I've just finished reading A New Kind of Christianity http://brianmclaren.net/archives/books/brians-books/a-new-kind-of-christianity-1.htmlfor the third time. Thank you for your 'world view' changing books. I have found your books inspirational and faith saving. Changing a mind set is so slippery, hence the third time reading.

    I get the Bible as narrative set in a Jewish historical context, I get a story of creation, liberation and the peaceable kingdom and find the new/old narrative exciting. In this narrative I get 'the kingdom of God is at hand, now', as a hope and way of life (praxis more difficult and challenging though). What I'm struggling to get my head round is to do with penal substitution. If this is part of the Greco Roman Theos narrative, why did Jesus have to die as he did? He lived a life which gave us a new model and a further revelation of God. His death is hugely important, as in the central role of The Eucharist but in the new narrative I can't see that it was essential, other than as a further model of willing suffering.

    Do you have any insights or are the answers embedded somewhere in your literature?

    This is my first ever attempt to network electronically in this way. I hope it's an appropriate question.

    Thanks again for creating safe spaces for such questions.

    Here's the R:
    That's a great question. Thanks for asking it. If you put "penal substitution" in the search box in the upper right hand section of my website, you'll find a lot of places where I've addressed it here. In my book Why Did Jesus, Moses, etc? you'll find a more thorough treatment of the subject … especially in the chapter on eucharist.

    But in my next book, We Make the Road by Walking, I have the chance to most fully explore Jesus' death and its meaning in the context of the whole biblical story. It will be available on June 10. You can learn more here.

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  • Palm Sunday, Torture, and Peace

    Palm Sunday could be, and I believe should be, one of our most important holidays. It is the day Jesus led a peace march into Jerusalem - a public demonstration - that included a joyful celebration of peaceful protest and a public lamentation that his nation didn't know "what makes for peace." (I explore this theme further in my upcoming book.)

    What would happen if wherever Christians live, every year we made Palm Sunday the day for joyful public celebration of creative, nonviolent action and public lamentation for local, national, and global conflicts?

    If we were leading such a day for celebration and lamentation today, we would pray for Syria where a dictator perpetuates atrocities, for Egypt where a peaceful protest movement was co-opted by a military coup, for Central African Republic where inter-tribal and inter-religious violence has reared its ugly ahead - echoing what happened in Rwanda twenty years ago. We would pray for peace in Iraq, Afghanistan, Ukraine, and Iran. We would pray that Israelis and Palestinians could live in peace with justice as neighbors - and that the occupation, colonization, and violence there would end.

    Closer to home, we would lament and pray about violence in our cities and about the persistent presence of racism that expresses itself in so many subtle and not-so-subtle ways - including voter suppression, mass incarceration, and the ongoing "slow motion lynching" of our first African-American president. We would lament the unchecked and often unacknowledged power of the military-industrial complex. We would dream of ways to better employ human talent and material resources than in the proliferation and use of non-productive assets like weapons.

    And most assuredly we would lament the use of torture by our own government.

    In that regard, if you haven't paid attention to the unfolding story about how our nation secretly used torture, and now struggles to admit and be transparent about what it did in secret … You could read this short article for an overview:

    On April 3, the Senate Intelligence Committee voted to release sections of an investigative report on the CIA, its use of torture, and its deceptive manipulation of Congress to gain approval for its actions.

    The Intelligence Committee's vote is significant because by refusing to suppress this information, we can begin to acknowledge and heal this moral scar on our national conscience.

    I am a Christian, and I believe all people share the image of God … including the enemies of the nation in which I am a citizen. My faith requires me to treat all people - even enemies, even prisoners, even those who bear labels like "terrorist" (or heretic!) - with the dignity and inalienable rights bestowed upon them by their Creator. Because I would not want others to torture me, and am prohibited from torturing others - or approving of the use of torture. I believe that torture is wrong and immoral.

    Thankfully, President Obama banned torture on his second day in office, but unless this report is fairly and fully made public, we decrease the chances that a needed public debate on our use of torture will occur, and we increase the chances that torture will be used again by our nation, in our name, in the future.

    On Palm Sunday, Jesus wept for a city that did not know what makes for peace. Five days later, he became a victim of unjust arrest, torture, and finally execution in that city. May we who love and follow him join him today - joyfully celebrating "what makes for peace" and deeply lamenting all that undermines true, lasting, and just peace … for all.

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  • April 12, 2014

    Q & R: The Christian But syndrome

    Here's the Q:

    I am a Christian…but I have a hard time stomaching the doctrine of babies born sinful. I believe that we are all born with the inclination to be sinful and that we will all one day give into that nature. But babies and young children seem sinless to me…like they are a metaphorical garden of Eden.
    Having read four of your books, I have come to respect your scriptural interpretations. What are your thoughts on original sin?

    Here's the R:
    There are several dimensions of the various versions of Christianity we inherited that often become problematic as we grow older and see their impacts in real life. The doctrine of original sin as taught by Augustine and preserved in Luther, Calvin, and most of Western Christianity is essential to a doctrinal system I call "the six-lined narrative" or the "soul-sort narrative." I write about this at some length in A New Kind of Christianity and Why Did Jesus, Moses, the Buddha, and Mohammed Cross the Road?, both of which I think you'll find helpful.

    The doctrine has good intentions and has a lot of truth to it, but more and more adults start to see problems with it - in their personal psychology, in making sense of the biblical text, and in its historical and social impacts. As a result, they find themselves identifying just as you did … I am a Christian … but. (A friend of mine says there are more and more Christians with big buts.)

    I don't recommend keeping the old narrative and simply dropping or modifying the doctrine of original sin. Rather, I recommend we look at the larger narrative question … and try to conceive of the Christian faith in wider and deeper (and, I believe, more true-to-Scripture) narrative terms.

    Your question also opens up the question of what sin is … and what it would mean to be born with an inclination to be sinful. All these questions must be asked and I think they will, in the long run, lead us to a greater appreciation of the Bible, the gospel, and Jesus.

    By the way, my upcoming book, We Make the Road by Walking, offers an overview of the whole Bible and an orientation to a fresh vision of Christian faith … apart from the old categories that cause many of us to have "big buts." It will be available on June 10. I especially think you'll find the reading of Genesis presented there to be helpful - and to replace your "but" with a "wow!"

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  • April 10, 2014

    Contraception, Hobby Lobby, and Abortion

    Baptist Christian ethicist David Gushee recently wrote a helpful summary and analysis of the Hobby Lobby case that is before the Supreme Court, with a decision anticipated in June. He summarized his conclusion:

    This case is the perfect storm: it brings into one case passions many Americans feel about President Obama, health care reform, sexuality, government, women, abortion, science, culture, freedom, and religion, especially Christianity. Now all the Supreme Court has to do is sort it out. This will be no simple chore. But on balance I would vote No on Hobby Lobby.

    He also raised some important questions, including:

    Wouldn’t a win for Hobby Lobby really mean that we would be ensuring that the religious convictions of the one (business owner/family) would then trump the needs (and convictions) of the many (everyone who works for that business)? Do we want to give business owners that kind of power? Cuius corporatio, eius religio?

    What happens when, say, a Christian Scientist company owner decides not to cover any health benefits, or a Jehovah’s Witness company owner decides not to cover blood transfusions, or an anti-vaccination owner decides not to cover the MMR shots, or perhaps a trust-Jesus radical decides not to contribute to employee Social Security or a 401(k)? Do we really want to open up that Pandora’s Box?

    But it was this question that has especially had me thinking:

    Are critics taking seriously the public health benefits of no-cost contraception coverage, and the moral benefits of the likely dramatic reduction in the number of unplanned pregnancies and abortions? Or does their principled objection to contraception and/or (perceived) abortifacients totally trump data related to the actual impact of no-cost access to contraception?

    In the 2008 presidential campaign, I was an outspoken advocate for Barack Obama, and one of the most frequent objections I heard - usually coming from my conservative Roman Catholic and Evangelical friends - ran along these lines: How can you vote for a pro-choice candidate?

    My reply ran along these lines: Republicans want to overturn Roe v. Wade, something that is unlikely to happen. But even if it did …

    even if McCain were to win the election and appoint Supreme Court justices who would in fact overturn Roe vs. Wade, this move will not outlaw abortion, contrary to what many believe. It will only return the decision to the states, which raises this question: how many states lean toward criminalization?

    The Guttmacher Institute recently released new 2014 stats on this question, and so here's the current answer:
    4 states have laws that automatically ban abortion if Roe were to be overturned.
    11 states retain their unenforced, pre-Roe abortion bans
    8 states have laws that express their intent to restrict the right to legal abortion to the maximum extent permitted by the U.S. Supreme Court in the absence of Roe. [Guttmacher Institute, Abortion Policy in the Absence of Roe, 2/1/14]

    Here are those 19 states (some meet more than one of the criteria above) with their recent average number of abortions per year:

    Alabama: 9550; Arizona: 16100; Arkansas: 4370; Delaware: 5090; Illinois: 44580; Kansas: 6940; Kentucky: 3970; Louisiana: 12210; Massachusetts: 24030; Michigan: 29190; Mississippi: 2220; Missouri: 5820; New Mexico: 5180; North Dakota: 1250; Ohio: 28590; Oklahoma: 5860; South Dakota: 600; West Virginia: 2390; Wisconsin: 7640 … Total: 215,580 = 20% of 1.06 million total abortions
    [Guttmacher Institute, Volume 46, Number 1, March 2014, TABLE 2. Number of reported abortions and abortion rate, selected years; and percentage change in rate, 2008–2011—all by region and state in which the abortions occurred]

    In other words, if the Republican Party succeeded in overturning Roe v. Wade, abortions would be reduced by up to 20% - if, that is, criminalization worked. That's significant.

    But it's far less than the anticipated 75% reduction that would come by making contraception available as part of health care policies, as provided by the ACA, according to a recent study.

    The ethics behind the Hobby Lobby case are, indeed, complex, as are the politics. But it's hard to question two facts:

    1. Providing contraception (along with other basic health care) reduces abortion very significantly.
    2. It would reduce abortion more significantly than criminalizing abortion by overturning Roe v. Wade.

    To put the point more strongly: by opposing the inclusion of contraception in health care, conservatives who support the Hobby Lobby case and oppose the ACA are actually choosing to increase the number of abortions.

    If they reply that they oppose free contraception on other grounds, such as that it encourages promiscuity, a recent study found that is not the case.

    Are conservative Evangelicals and Catholics thinking about these realities when they oppose the ACA? Are they unaware of this line of reasoning? Are they making a tough ethical choice - choosing the lesser of two evils in their minds - so as to allow more abortions as a necessary cost of achieving other goals they care about even more? What are those goals, and why are they so important?

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  • April 9, 2014

    We Make the Road by Walking: 4

    We Make the Road by Walking 3 from brian mclaren on Vimeo.

    Please help spread the word. The book releases June 10. Thanks for your support! More information here.

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  • Guest Q & R with Michael Hardin: "The wrath of God stuff bothers me …"

    I'm pleased that my friend Michael Hardin agreed to offer a guest response to this question. You can learn more about Michael here. Don't miss his books and podcasts either. Michael has so much to offer ...
    Here's the Q:

    “Personally , I've gotten so much from your writings over these last several years since I was introduced to your work. Last week I was especially struck by this :"Privilege should not lead us to guilt . Privilege should lead to service and compassion;to strive for restorative justice ; contemplation and action which leads to great fun and joy." … Maybe you can help me with two questions.
    1. Just this Sunday the epistle reading was Romans 5:1-11 . Verse 8 and 9 : 
    New Revised Standard Version, Anglicised (NRSVA)
    8 But God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us. 9 Much more surely then, now that we have been justified by his blood,will we be saved through him from the wrath of God.[a]

    The Wrath of God stuff bothers me .I reviewed Chap 22 in your New Kind of Christianity, and I had written in the margins R. Rohr's thoughts on the the Jesus hermeneutic:
    "that Jesus consistently ignored or even denied exclusionary, punitive, and triumphalist or imperialistic texts... in favor of passages that emphasized inclusion, mercy , compassion and honesty ." So should we ignore Paul here in this instance ?

    2. Also, in Ephesians 5:2, Paul seems to speak of Jesus as a sacrifice to God. That doesn't make sense if God's wrath doesn't need to be appeased by sacrifice. Can you explain?”

    Here's MIchael's R:

    These are excellent questions. Inasmuch as Protestant Christianity specifically (and Western Christianity generally) are oriented to what I call a ‘sacrificial paradigm’ it is important to unpack some assumptions.

    First, note that in Romans 5:9, the words “of God” are not in the Greek text, they are supplied by the translators. This raises the question as to what Paul is referring to when he speaks of the ‘wrath’ (orge). It is possible that ‘wrath’ could refer to a distant future punishment in hell, but would that be consonant with Paul’s theology throughout this letter (and his other authentic letters)?

    With regard to the Romans text here are the particular places Paul uses the term ‘orge’ (wrath): 1:18, 2:5, 8, 3:5, 4:15, 5:9, 9:22, 12:19, 13:4, 5. Note that other than 1:18, no other text in Romans has the phrase “wrath of God” only “the wrath.” How shall we then understand this word “wrath?”

    Second, in order to understand Romans 1:18-32 (and thus the phrase “wrath of God”) we have three options:

    1. The phrase has traditionally been understood to refer to God’s eschatological wrath where unbelievers are consigned to eternal conscious torment. The phrase need not necessarily imply some sort of emotional disturbance in God as Calvin noted in his Commentary on Romans (1:18): “The word wrath, referring to God in human terms as is usual in Scripture, means the vengeance of God, for when God punishes, He has, according to our way of thinking, the appearance of anger. The word, therefore, implies no emotion in God, but has reference only to the feelings of the sinner who is punished.”

    2. The phrase is to be interpreted contextually in light of the three-fold use of the word ‘gave over’ (paradidomi). This way of understanding ‘wrath’ suggests that God takes a hands off approach to sin and turns sinful human beings over to the consequences of sin.

    Both of these alternatives interpret ‘wrath’ as a divine behavior, whether active or passive. There is however a third alternative which depends upon reading the Epistle to the Romans from a literary perspective and has been advanced by Douglas Campbell in his book The Deliverance of God (Eerdmans, 2010). Campbell argues that Romans, much like Galatians and 2 Cor. 10-13 (Paul’s ‘tearful letter’) is directed against a specific false teacher and that it is the false teacher’s perspective which is being quoted in 1:18-32, a perspective which Paul will repudiate in chapters 2-4. In this case the phrase ‘wrath of God’ is the false teacher’s perspective. It is well known that Romans 1:18-32 reflects the kind of Jewish anti-Gentile rhetoric one finds e.g., in The Wisdom of Solomon 12-14.

    Paul’s use of the rhetorical strategy of prosopopoia whereby an opponent’s view is cited and then debated, according to Campbell (and Ben Witherington III as well) would have been understood by the hearers of this epistle inasmuch as Paul always sent readers of his letters and they would know where and when to change the ‘tone of voice’ when reading the letter aloud. This third view then understands the phrase ‘wrath of God’ to be antithetical to the gospel, but part of the false teacher’s position. Following on this, all the subsequent uses of the word wrath could, if part of the rhetorical strategy, be understood as the calamity of social breakdown. The eschatological character of the ‘wrath’ seen in societal collapse prior to the advent of ‘The Day of the Lord’ became in time itself God’s eschatological wrath. Campbell’s reading of Romans is one way to ameliorate this type of reading.

    With regard to Romans 5:8-9 then one might understand Paul to be saying, “Look. Even when we were at our worst, even when we had conceived of God as our enemy, Jesus came to show us that God was not our enemy but our friend (“Christ died for us”). How much more then if we have been deemed in right relationship with God even though we killed Jesus (“through his blood”), will God deliver us from the coming social breakdown when human culture returns to chaos.” In other words no matter how evil we become as humans, God will heal humanity (sozo, often translated “to save” also has the connotation of “healing”).

    Regarding Ephesians 5:2, it is true that the author of Ephesians uses the word sacrifice (thusia). It is also the case that he uses two quite different terms, prosphora and thusia. The first is often translated ‘offering’, the second ‘sacrifice.’ Two essential point need to be made here: first is the use of the verbs “to love” (agapao) and “to give” (paradidomi). Jesus’ giving is a self-offering, not the offering of another. Sacrifice, understood as the act of the taking of the life of another, is contrasted by self-offering (or self-sacrifice). It is one of the merits of the New Testament that this shift occurs. One can see this especially in Hebrews. In my book The Jesus Driven Life I noted that

    “Language related to the cultus, namely, thusia and its cognates, is avoided in the New Testament; rather, language related to phero and its cognates occurs. The New Testament uses the more cultic terminology only once at 1 Corinthians 5:7. Oscar Cullmann has argued that even here sacrificial terminology is clearly related to the active self-giving of the “servant of Yahweh.” The reason for this is that thusia belongs to the process of propitiation, the God-directed activity of the creature; whereas phero and its cognates, especially anaphero and prosphero have more of the sense of bringing a gift. But this gift giving is not a Do ut des (giving to get in return). To offer a gift, as the author of Hebrews later argues, is to offer it as an extension of one’s very self.”

    One can see this logic at work also in Romans 12:1-2 where the “living sacrifice” is oneself. Offering one’s self to God has nothing to do with propitiating a deity, but a ‘giving over’ (a subversion of the word paradidomi) of one’s own self to be used by God in fostering reconciliation between persons. This self-offering emphasis in the New Testament thus has less to do with religion and more to do with ethics than has hitherto been noticed.

    Both of these ‘shifts’ are part of the new realization that the gospel is not about appeasing an angry deity and that the violence or retribution in the death of Jesus in not God’s but humanity’s. This new approach to atonement has created both a crisis and a horizon for moving beyond views of God which portray God as a vampiric deity with an anger management problem to understanding the person, message and work of Jesus to be that of revealing our tendency to make God in our own image and to show us that God is only love, light and shalom.
    Thanks, Michael, for this helpful response. Your phrase "vampiric deity with an anger management problem" evokes Dallas Willard's statement about a "vampire Christianity that wants Jesus for his blood and little else." Speaking of Dallas, I once asked him to preach at the church I pastored. I asked him to speak simply about God, and he chose as his text 1 John 1:9: "God is light and in God there is no darkness at all."

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