I wrote a note recently to Andrew Walker, the Director of Policy Studies for the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention. He was gracious enough to reply. Here are a few thoughts in response to his letter:
First, Andrew, I know you're very busy and I appreciate you taking the time to reply. A few things you said invite a response from me. I'm sorry this isn't more brief, and I don't expect you to respond.
Unfortunately, though, “conversation” as you often construe it, is simply a pretext and power play designed for endless speculation that never reaches an answer—unless it’s an answer that you find acceptable on your terms (which, more often than not, is an answer that rejects historic Christianity).
Hmmm. No, I am not for endless speculation that never reaches an answer. But I am for re-opening questions that deserve to be re-opened. I believe making room for gay marriage is one of those questions. You still do not. I explained, very briefly, why I think it deserves to be re-opened. You were not convinced. We have achieved disagreement.
No, I do not reject history Christianity. I embrace it and hope to learn all I can from it. I do probably define historic Christianity somewhat differently from you. In my view, Christian history is full of passionate disagreement. It is a history of ongoing learning, heroic successes, tragic failures, and repentance. In my view, it is less of a static position and more of an evolving quest to faithfully follow Jesus in changing times and circumstances. Sadly, too much of our history has been violent and hateful, and I hope we can do better than that in the future!
To be entirely candid in the spirit of “human to human conversation,” I’m not convinced that you’re actually writing as an evangelical on matters such as these. You may think that you are, but the evidence you’ve provided in your many writings over the years lead me to believe that you have rejected what history has long considered orthodox Christianity. Now, I don’t say that joyfully; and I know you’ll reply in such a manner that subjects all aspects of “orthodoxy” to the unending regression of perspectivalism. You’re a terrific writer, but a writer whose views I couldn’t more strongly reject. So, admittedly, I’m reluctant to accept the scriptural presuppositions that you would use to make your argument.
If I understand you clearly, you would prefer to be in conversation with people who a) share your presuppositions about Scripture, and b) will not question anything "history has long considered to be orthodox Christianity." Since you don't think I share those presuppositions, and since you think I reject what you see as historic Christianity, then clearly I am not a trustworthy or appropriate conversation partner in your mind. I could try to argue with you based on your presuppositions, since I am familiar with them and once agreed with them fully, but I think others would be better conversation partners for you than I am. More on that in a minute.
I would only point out that for the church's first 1500+ years, it was unthinkable to the vast majority of Christians that historic orthodox Christianity could exist without authoritative leaders who held the role of apostle or bishop, established through apostolic succession. Baptists came along and had the audacity to question that previously unquestioned characteristic of orthodoxy. To Baptists today, of course, apostolic succession seems like a misguided minor tradition of the past, but not so to Roman Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, Anglicans, and others, and not so to "history" before 1500.
To their credit, Baptists and Catholics today treat one another, by and large, with civility, in spite of their disagreement on this very important matter, and I hope Christians like you and me can do the same even though we disagree on other matters.
Laws make distinctions. What matters, however, is that they not make arbitrary distinctions.
An arbitrary distinction, for example, were [sic] the awful and racist anti-miscegenation laws that prevented different races from marrying one another marry [sic]. That debate was about who could marry, not what marriage is.
I'm a bit older than you, and I remember hearing "awful and racist anti-miscengenation laws" defended as biblical truth in my Plymouth Brethren assembly when I was a boy, just as I know they were passionately defended in many Southern Baptist churches in my lifetime as well. So our ancestors had a vigorous argument about whether distinctions based on race were arbitrary or not. Many of our white ancestors believed they were not at all arbitrary, but were rooted in creation, in biblical curses, and in clear biblical teaching. You and I now agree our ancestors were wrong in their understanding and application of the Bible on these matters.
The question today is whether distinctions based on sexual orientation are arbitrary. Everyone, including me, used to agree with you that they are not arbitrary. But now many of us are coming to believe that gay and straight are differences within the realm of normal human characteristics - like skin color, left-handedness, or personality type. As such, they should not be reasons for discrimination. We believe that just as we have dared to differ from our ancestors on interracial marriage - which was considered unbiblical as recently as our grandparents' generation, we must now dare to differ on gay marriage.
You're right: that's no small thing, and no change of conviction should occur without sober, prayerful, and intense thought and conversation, which is why EME is trying to encourage that conversation: not for "endless speculation that never reaches an answer," but for careful consideration so that wrong answers are, to the greatest degree possible, left behind.
When we protect “traditional marriage” or “biblical marriage,” we’re simply being deferential to the undeniable reality that children need mothers and fathers. Marriage connects men, women, and children. All of human history has recognized this truth, until it became politically unpopular in the West less than two decades ago. (For decrying Western colonization as you do, it seems odd that you’d kowtow to a position promoted and mainstreamed exclusively by Western countries.) When government and society decide to redefine marriage, it doesn’t just expand who can marry, it alters, fundamentally, what marriage is.
There's a lot I could say about your line of thinking here, but will only respond to two things. First, regarding the word "kowtow," I don't find it odd to appreciate some things about Western culture and disapprove of other things. You do the same, I'm sure. And I should add that many non-Western cultures showed respect for gay people long before civil rights for gay people became an issue in the West. Where I live, for example, the Calusa Indians had a respected role for gay men.
Second, when you say, "When government and society decide to redefine marriage … it alters, fundamentally, what marriage is" - well, yes. To redefine marriage is indeed to redefine marriage. But to return to your earlier example, traditional American marriage outlawed interracial marriage. Redefining marriage to include interracial marriage, in the minds of the defenders of miscegenation laws, would alter marriage from what God intended. (They used the "after their kind" clause from Genesis 1 to prove their point.)
To outlaw polygamy, which certainly has a long history in the Bible and was, in fact, a requirement of biblical law, also altered marriage in significant ways, as did extending equal property and voting rights to women, as did allowing young people to choose their partners instead of the more traditional way of having parents arrange their children's weddings. Allowing wives to call their husbands by their first name (rather than "Mr. Jones," which was traditional in many societies in the past) altered marriage. So did talking openly about woman's sexual satisfaction, something a Southern Baptist couple, Tim and Beverly LaHaye, played a big role in through their then ground-breaking book The Act of Marriage.
To have churches without a pope or governments without a king certainly redefined church and government in a way as well. All changes are not equal, and to advocate for one change is not to advocate for any and all changes. That's why EME has a very limited message. EME is not advocating that Southern Baptist churches should marry gay couples. Instead, EME is not trying to redefine marriage between a man and a goat or between six people or anything like that. EME is simply making a case for Evangelical Christians to be able to affirm civil marriage for gay couples. We hope Evangelicals can speak freely and openly about that possibility.
When we make marriage fungible, we make it unintelligible. We render its persuasiveness null and void, since any relationship can supposedly exhibit marital qualities.
By the way - nobody should assume that EME agrees with all of my views, or that all of its advisors agree with one another on every detail. I know there is diversity of opinion on the Board of Advisors on many matters. We are on the Board of Advisors because we agree with this primary message of EME:
Given the diversity of thought among evangelicals, disagreements on the finer points of this issue are inevitable. What we should be able to agree on is this: You can be a faithful evangelical Christian and at the same time support civil marriage equality for same-sex couples.
Because of this, I think it’s disingenuous when you write “If such a dialogue is warranted, people should not be silenced, excluded, condemned, or excommunicated simply for opening up this discussion.” I agree! The problem here, though, is that you cannot, in the same statement, ask for a conversation where no one is condemned, but also place a biblical view of marriage alongside practices like slavery. This “guilt by association” argument is merely subtle condemnation.
First, it's good to know you agree with my statement!
Second, I sincerely didn't intend bringing up slavery to create "guilt by association." I could have used anti-miscegination laws (as you did) or support for segregation and apartheid or anti-Semitism to make the same point. I know people forget, but it wasn't that long ago that "orthodox Christians" - including many, many Baptists, well into the 20th century - supported these things and did not consider them minor matters. They weren't ashamed of them; in fact, they stood proudly for these things. I don't say these people weren't Christians, weren't Evangelicals, weren't Baptists, or should be condemned. I do say I think they were mistaken and we should distance ourselves from both their views and the faulty logic that made those views so important to them.
Putting guilt by association aside, the issue of slavery can't simply be disqualified from polite discourse. We both know that that our white 19th century ancestors held their faulty logic (which they called "the biblical [or Scriptural] view" on slavery) so passionately that they were willing to divide their denominations (and nation!) over the issue - and today on the issue of LGBT equality, similar logic can lead to similar choices. Whether or not LGBT equality is legitimate, we should at least have a public discussion on how our ancestors in the 18th and 19th centuries, people who held the "highest" view of Scripture possible, could be so wrong. Where was their logic faulty? How can we avoid making the same mistakes today and in the future? (I address this question in some detail in my book A New Kind of Christianity.)
Moving forward, I’d suggest that Evangelicals for Marriage Equality make actual arguments, because principle is the fruit of honest debate and right now, the principles of EME are quite non-existent.
You have tweeted this and repeated it, so I realize this is important - you want to actually hear and understand EME's principles and arguments. Whether or not you statement was an overstatement (the principles of EME are non-existent?), I hope EME will take it as an invitation to make their principles and arguments clear and understandable. I will not try to take the lead in this since I already seem to be disqualified from being an acceptable conversation partner, which I understand and accept. Thankfully, there are others who can more fully meet your criteria, and I hope they will speak up in the coming days, for your benefit and for the benefit of others.
Thanks again for the candid, civil, and respectful tone of your response. I hope you feel nothing less in what I've written here.
Here's the Q:
I recently read A New Kind of Christianity, and was quite impressed. God has been gradually changing my understanding of much of the Christian message, and it's been exciting for someone brought up as a fairly traditional Wesleyan. I had already moved somewhat away from my roots when I became part of the Charismatic stream of things. For several years we have been attending an Assembly of God church and I have been teaching the adult Sunday School class. Because of my Wesleyan background and the more adventurous ways God is leading me in recent years with regards to salvation and who God is (let's face it... I'm not really a true dyed in the wool Pentecostal), I have sometimes found it difficult to teach the standard lessons that come from the denominational headquarters. Still, with the help of the Holy Spirit, I have always managed to find something positive to teach, even in the lessons I'm not altogether sure I agree with. I have made it a practice to try to only say things I really believe and not just parrot the party line. I could do that since I know it very well. I'm 67 and I've been a Christian all of my life, pretty much.
I do have a question about this week's lesson. The scripture is 1 Thessalonians 4, and in this scripture, it sounds to me like there are some who are included and some who are not. I've been trying to get away from that idea, but there it is... v. 13 "...the rest of mankind who have no hope" and v. 16 "the dead in Christ will rise first." That sounds like a clear distinction is being made. I'm okay with not being totally literal when it comes to end times events, but this scripture sounds like it refers to actual events that will happen. What do you think about eschatology and end time events? It's always been an area I don't enjoy studying, mainly because I think there's too much speculation about events, and most people seem to think that they are correct, even if they disagree with other good people who also think themselves correct.
Anyway, I appreciate the fact that you continue to love Jesus and the Bible even as you speak for a "new kind of Christianity."
Here's the R:
Thanks for your encouraging words. As for your question, I've just spent some time re-reading 1 Thessalonians 4. One of the sources I go to for help on difficult texts is the Girardian Lectionary (here). The language might seem technical, but it's worth the effort. There's a helpful quote included from James Alison:
If we take the notion of the 'end' understood as vengeance, just as it is found in 1 Thessalonians, it is a vengeful end which depends exactly on there being insiders and outsiders, so that the afflicted are vindicated, and the persecutors punished. But in the degree to which the perception of God changes, becoming, as we have seen, shorn of violence, two realities are altered simultaneously: the separation between goodies and baddies, insiders and outsiders, enters into a process of continuous collapse and subversion, and at the same time the 'end' cannot remain as a vengeance if there is no longer any clarity about who's an insider and who an outsider, and under these circumstances the notion of the end itself changes towards what we see in 2 Peter: it becomes a principle of revelation of what had really been going on during the time that has been left for the changing of hearts... In this way the End, rather than being a vengeful conclusion to time, comes to be a principle, operative in time, by means of which we may live out the arrival of the Son of Man, the being alert for the thief in the night, the whole time. (p. 127)
I love this:
I mean, imagine a world where, you know, the highways are made of solar panels that charge our cars as we drive. Where every house is just made out of shingles of solar panels with a little wind turbine in the corner. Where we have no air pollution anymore, you know, killing children with asthma and people with respiratory disease. I mean, I know this sounds like utopia.
BILL MOYERS: Sounds to me like it could be a new gospel.
KATHARINE HAYHOE: It may be. A gospel that builds on the resources that God has given us. We have more than enough abundant energy to power our society from wind, from solar, from tides. All the things that we believe, as Christians, God created and has given to us as a free gift. So I think that there is the ability to have a better future, one that is built on the goodness that God has given us here in this world.
A not-yet reader writes:
I felt it on my heart to send you this note. It is not a note of condemnation but a note asking for your forgiveness.
I know it may seem strange, as I have never met you or have spoken to you. The only contact I ever had was one comment I posted on your blog.
It was a message that summarizing the commonly held doctrines and dogmas of modern day religion. Looking back, it was very inappropriate and very self- righteous of me to post such a comment. In the last year the Lord, in his mercy, has answered a prayer of mine. That prayer was a deep desire in which I have asked Him to allow me to worship Him in Spirit and Truth. This was the only desire of my heart. This has resulted in my eyes being opened to the ways and means of modern religion and the goings on within the denominations. I am now in the process of being taught by Him through his word and I am unlearning what I have been “told” all of these years. Every day is filled with a new revelation. That’s my story and I am sticking to it. J
To summarize, I wanted to tell you that I apologize to you for any condemnation I may have felt about your work in my heart, as uninformed as I was. I now empathize with your walk and what you must go through on a day to day basis. My walk on this path is just beginning but I am thankful for it each and every day. I wish you the best Brian and was wondering if you have a recommendation, from your body of work, which book would be a good starting point.
This weekend, I'll be in Birmingham, AL, speaking to the good people of the SPAFER center. I'm really looking forward to it!
But if I weren't going to be in Birmingham, I'd be in New York City, participating in the People's Climate March on Sunday. If you're anywhere near New York City, I hope you'll be part of it. My brilliant friend Stephen Phelps explains why in this brief article - perhaps the best single explanation of why so many of us care so deeply about global warming. Quotable:
The fact of climate change makes real conservatives of all who are not blind. Like thoughtless children, we stormed downstairs and, in a single century, burst open all the packages of the sun's energy so compactly wrapped and stored beneath the forests for three billion years. No wonder it's getting hot as hell! True, we had no idea what we were doing -- but that is the thing so basic to human nature of which the old conservatives were so sensible: our will is blind and cannot be trusted lightly. Now, as we pull our heads out of the sand of self-interest and look squarely at what we have done, we consider the whole Earth -- how everything is connected to everything.
That means liberal and conservative, too. We share one reality, one earth, each touching a core truth, a core beauty, and God knows, the eagle needs two wings to fly.
I'm not young, and some of my Evangelical friends are convinced my status as a bona fide Evangelical left me along with my youth and my hair.
"I eagerly await the young evangelical that finally convinces me that the Bible and human history are wrong on marriage and that justice requires that both Christianity and society bestow marriage on same-sex relationships," wrote Andrew T. Walker, director of Policy Studies for the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention.
First, a few clarifications.
1. We (I say "we" because I'm on the advisory board of EME) are not interested in convincing you that the Bible is wrong. We are interested in convincing you that certain interpretations of the Bible are wrong, or at least not the only valid and intelligent options.
2. History - by which, I think, you mean the shared view of most people in the past - has been right on many things and wrong on many things, including many things I'm sure you now believe. Respectfully questioning tradition is part of any living tradition, including our own tradition as Evangelicals.
3. Before we could convince you or anyone that justice requires you or anyone to "bestow" marriage on same-sex relationships, we would need to convince you that a reasonable and open-minded public conversation on the subject should be allowed - in Evangelical and even Southern Baptist settings. Such free and open conversation rarely if ever takes place in Evangelical and Southern Baptist settings. Instead, conclusions are typically pronounced before the conversation begins and people who raise questions and reach differing conclusions are frequently labelled and expelled. For that reason, it would be premature and unwise for EME to try to convince anyone of anything without first helping create space for open, respectful, and reasonable conversation.
So, a more modest and appropriate goal would simply be to convince you that it is good and wise to open up space for intelligent conversation. Here is a simple argument toward that end:
1. Simple quotations from the Bible have been used to justify many things, including Anti-Semitism, colonization, elimination and enslavement of non-Christian or non-European peoples, racism and segregation/apartheid, an earth-centered universe, a young earth, the inappropriateness of rock and roll in church, the subordination of women, and the divine right of kings.
2. Those who quoted the Bible to justify these things claimed that their views were Scriptural or biblical, and their opponents were "unbiblical." Many still did not change their views when a preponderance of evidence made their views untenable; however, younger generations arose who left those views behind.
3. To continue to resist equal rights for gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered persons may or may not be in the same category as those historic mistakes. The possibility of repeating an egregious mistake yet again warrants humble and serious reflection and openness to dialogue, so that if our traditional interpretations are wrong, we can amend them sooner rather than later, without inflicting more harm.
4. For that reason, there should at least be a reasonable dialogue about the issue among Evangelicals - including honest discussion about how the Bible has been used in the past in harmful and misguided ways, and how its current use to disallow homosexual marriage could be similar to those abuses in the past.
5. If such a dialogue is warranted, people should not be silenced, excluded, condemned, or excommunicated simply for opening up this discussion … or for reaching different conclusions, if those conclusions have warrant.
This doesn't prove that marriage equality is justifiable, but I think it makes a good case that the kind of conversation called for by EME is reasonable. That's EME's main point: "It's time for a new Evangelical conversation about marriage equality."
By the way, one way or another , conversation is happening. For example, recently at Azusa Pacific University recently, signs like these were posted:
Here's how one student on campus responded:
You said that because you are a Christian, you follow God's way and truth, but never through cursing or name calling, just by sharing the Word with us, "sinful homosexuals/homosexual supporters" … but posting this anonymous letter is extremely hurtful…. Regardless of how your letter made us feel, I would love to have a conversation with you in person, and delve into these scriptures you referenced. I am a Biblical Studies major, who considers myself a Christian, and I do not believe I am giving into sinful desires as a queer LGBTQIA friendly Christian, if anything I feel that I have modeled my life after Jesus.
… I know you don't agree with me, or my friends, but we are reading the book [the Bible] and we are believing in the same God. So let's get coffee or something, and talk about this. Human to human.
Human to human conversation is what we need, as this college student wisely said. That's what EME is asking for.
Peter Enns (http://www.patheos.com/blogs/peterenns/) and I (http://www.brianmclaren.net) both released important books about the Bible this year. Peter's book is called The Bible Tells Me So (http://www.patheos.com/blogs/peterenns/books/), and mine is called We Make the Road by Walking (http://brianmclaren.net/archives/books/brians-books/we-make-the-road-by-walking-2.html) We decided to interview each other about our books and what they say about the Bible. This is Part 1 of 3.
By the way, please join Peter in a Reddit AMA this Wednesday (tomorrow), September 17th at 3pm EST in the Christianity subreddit (http://www.reddit.com/r/Christianity)
Brian: Peter, I loved your book. I don't know many if any theologians who can make serious points with as much humor as you. You theologize like a stand-up comic, which, in light of the seriousness of your subject matter, is a good thing. Much humor, I think arises from pain and anger. I'm reminded that Soren Kierkegaard said, "The essence of all true preaching is malice," by which he meant that unless the preacher is mad about something, he has no passion. So … is that true for you with this book? If so, what pain or anger is behind it?
Peter: Thanks, Brian. I loved my book, too.
I’ve actually thought a lot about your question, but I’m not sure I can come up with a final answer. All I know is that I’ve loved to joke and laugh ever since I can remember (and it landed me in trouble now and then as a kid in school). Of course, this begs the question why it is part of my personality. I don’t think, though, that anger or pain are necessarily behind it. I know that many comedians have suffered emotionally, and I would venture to guess that their comedy was a form of pain-management.
But for me, I just like seeing the absurd in things. Humor can disarm and put people in a position of seeing the same old thing in a different light. I’m reminded of something George Carlin said (paraphrasing), that comedy is what happens everyday, you just need someone to point it out to you. For me, humor is a very natural-feeling mode of catching people off guard to see something deeper or from a different angle than they might be accustomed to. Maybe that’s my schtick.
I like how you refer to preaching in your question. I used to tell my seminary students that preaching is like Carlin’s definition of comedy: God-moments are all around us, we just need to be reminded of them.
In The Bible Tells Me So, I describe some people’s perceptions of God as a drunken father you don’t want to disturb from his nap lest he become angry. I’m not describing God but trying to get at the absurdity of how some perceive God—as one who will lash out ate you with only the slightest provocation. Some say I’m “mocking” God but that is to miss the point entirely.
I hope, though, that preachers don't have to be “mad” to be passionate, as Kierkegaard puts it (though I get his rhetorical overstatement in the context of the complacent church he was critiquing). Anger is fine when it is well placed, directed at things worthy of anger. But I’ve seen too many preachers who are angry about everything, as if the only way they know how to speak of God is to be majorly hacked off about something. That’s not good preaching or good pastoring.
Peter: On my blog I've been running a series I call "aha moments"--that point where you began to see how the model of Scripture you had no longer makes sense to you and you know you have to move on. What is your "aha" moment with the Bible? What happened that started you on your journey, that made you realize "I need to find another way of thinking about how the Bible informs my faith"?
Brian: For me, there have been so many aha's. One came when I was in elementary school. I'm just old enough to remember the days of segregation. We attended a white church that was proud to call itself fundamentalist because it stood for the fundamentals of the faith.
One Sunday, my Sunday School teachers (it was a husband and wife co-teaching) told us that we should never date a person of another race because we might fall in love, and if we fell in love, we might get married, and if we got married, it would be a terrible sin because God "created them according to their kind" and there was this thing called "the curse of Ham" (which was about race, not pork products, I realized).
I remember thinking this was bonkers and evil, even though I was only maybe in fifth grade at the time. My parents weren't racists at all … but I realized that the Bible could easily be "an accessory to the crime" - if not wisely interpreted.
I encountered the same kind of racist attitudes, sad to say, in some missionaries I heard speak.
A couple years later, in middle school. I was super interested in science. One Sunday, my Sunday School teacher, a good-hearted and simple man, said, "You have to choose. You can either believe in God or evolution." I remember thinking, "OK. I'm 13 years old. Five years from now and I'm outta here."
To me, evolution was one of the most beautiful and elegant things I'd ever come across, and to put it in opposition to God made no sense. I probably would have been "outta here" if I hadn't had a very powerful spiritual experience a couple years later, accompanied by some spiritual mentors who didn't have such closed-minded approaches to Scripture and faith.
Those early conflicts were like a wound that kept getting opened again … when I realized that my church considered women as subordinate to men (in church, anyway), or when I found myself caught in the cross-fire between charismatics and non-charismatics, or caught in the cross-fire between traditional and contemporary worship, or caught in the cross-fire between Calvinists and Arminians - or - here was a huge theological debate in my setting: between jeans, beards, and long hair in church versus anti-jeans, beards, and long hair.
More aha moments came when I went to college and then graduate school, where I studied English. Studying literature involves studying the ways we read literature - which means studying theories of interpretation.
What was almost always implicit and unacknowledged in church because explicit and open to critique in lit classes - that we all have theories and assumptions and perspectives and biases we bring to the text. That's one of the reasons I wish that your book had been available to me back when I was in high school and college. I would have eaten it up. (More next week)
We were part of the Life in Trinity - We Make the Road by Walking experience in June. We’re excited to let you know that we are using the book in two ways at our church. We’re starting a new Sunday School class for those who have not been attending. We’ll probably adjust a little in order to have conversation time. Then on Monday night we’re having folks to our home for another group. At this point we have 7 on Sunday morning and 10 on Monday night. I’m praying for God to lead us to young adults to form a third group. We’re looking forward to what God will do in the midst of our journey! Thanks for sharing your gifts of leading, writing, and speaking faithfully in our time.
Here's the Q:
I have recently been wrestling with this question and would love to hear you speak to it: What does it mean that the resurrected Jesus still has scars? I am not satisfied (and I suspect you would not be either) with the simple answer of 'proof for the disciples'.
Thank you so much for your thoughts.
One of the most audacious claims of the Christian faith is this: God suffers with us. God is not above suffering. God is not removed from it. In Christ, we come to believe that God is with us … in our suffering as human beings. So Jesus' scars tell us that human pain - all of it, every tear ever cried, I believe - has left its mark on God. God empathizes. Our pain is God's pain. With that as background, the beautiful image in Revelation comes to mind … God wipes the tears from our eyes, not as someone who isn't touched by our pain, or as someone who only understands from a distance. God comforts us as a fellow sufferer … we might even say as a fellow survivor.
Here's the Q:
Some friends and I (all middle age guys!) are using "We make the road by walking". It's proving helpful as we are seeking a new way to view scripture. One issue that keeps returning is the issue of God not being violent, but apparently acting that way in the Old Testament. The Exodus story of plagues and the ultimate infanticide of the Egyptian firstborn is a case in point. You compare Herod to pharaoh and liken their crimes. How can we view this Exodus story and is this too a mix of fact and fiction?
Thankyou for your courage and insight, it gives us confidence to pursue God and not be afraid to challenge the rhetoric we are sometimes fed from evangelical circles.
"Ultimately, we won’t see an end to our “war on terrorism” without dealing with the underlying causes, and not just targeting the consequences of growing terrorism. We must address the world of oil that the West has created, that has literally defined nations, changed geography, and institutionalized the injustices and hypocrisies that breeds the grievances of terrorism. Having justified the unjust structure of that oil world to accommodate our addiction to fossil fuels has produced both a profound threat to our planet and the rise of an angry terrorism that threatens our own children. We must address the fact that 60 percent of the Middle East population is under 30 years of age, and many of them are unemployed, uneducated, aggrieved, and angry young men — too easily drawn to the rhetoric of revenge. To overcome terrorism we must address the grievances that give rise to it and are exploited by hateful extremists.
Again, we must address all of these causes. War and more war will not be able to solve any of it." - Jim Wallis, Sojo.net
Here's the Q:
I'm a UK citizen and daily reader of your blog. I find many of your posts inspiring and transforming; and you have started me on a journey relooking at my faith (or lack of it), which had led to me start questioning a lot of what I thought I knew.
To come to my question - In your interview with Red Letter Christians (linked on your blog) you describe salvation as:
'"Salvation” for many people is the good news of how souls can escape the curse of original sin and go to heaven after death. But that definition would never flow from the Hebrew Scriptures. There, salvation means liberation. It’s meaning comes from God saving – or liberating – the slaves of Egypt.'
Would you be able to enlarge on this further? I am struggling with the concept of Salvation as liberation. To me it feels like a Western worldview. How can people who live in other parts of the world, who do not have a democracy / an enshrined set of human rights etc access a 'liberation'. Particularly, how in light of the Christian schoolgirls kidnapped by Boko Harem and other atrocities committed by other extremists groups; how do these Christians work for / achieve their own liberation, when their rights and ability to make changes is controlled by others 'in this life'.
I would appreciate your thoughts on this matter.
The term "salvation" gets its meaning in the Bible from what God did for the Hebrew slaves in Egypt. God saved them from slavery - which means they were set free or liberated. But it didn't stop there … God guided them to a new home, and God gave them moral guidance as well. In that case, it didn't involve democracy at all; it involved a good and courageous leader (Moses) confronting a selfish and unjust leader (Pharaoh) with the liberating truth and power of God. His courageous leadership inspired the people to "make a road by walking" through the wilderness. The tragic situation in Nigeria will require similar leadership, inspiration, and collaboration. Each of us - through our example, through our daily advocacy in simply speaking our best truth, empowered by God's Spirit of liberation - plays a role in this kind of joyful, life-giving change.
A reader writes:
I am reading my way through your books and want to thank you for affirming much of what I have come to believe in the last 20 years. As a charismatic evangelical I had a very "In/Out" way of viewing the world. Then God led me to work in a Christian 12 Step Rehab. I was there for 10 years and watched women (it was a female project) who barely acknowledged the existence of God be transformed into the beautiful women God had created and my heart was enlarged to encompass the fullness of God's love and consequent mercy.
As I worked through that time God led me into ordained ministry where I have been in full-time service for the last 10 years. During this time, slowly, I have learned some language to express my wider understanding of God's love. But as I delve more deeply into the mystery of God I find myself even less and less able to articulate clearly what I mean. Your work has increased my language and articulation. But most of the time all I want to say is "God loves you - love him back".
I have three parishes with falling electoral rolls (I am in Norfolk UK, three rural parishes) and falling Sunday attendance though I work my socks off from Monday through Saturday and can easily become discouraged and sad. It seems that though people love to hear that God loves them, they do not want to worship him. Whereas my old Charismatic/ evangelical persona would have been preaching salvation is through the blood and the cross - Get Saved!!!! Mind you, I'm not sure that would fill my churches today either!
However, I pray that the seeds I am planting with this gentler and more inclusive understanding will one day produce a harvest for God's Kingdom that we can see this side of heaven! In the meantime I think [my denomination] will expire and God will do a new thing.
Many thanks for reading this outpouring of sadness and joy and many thanks for your books which have fed and affirmed my tired soul.
Thanks for your note. Many forms of church life will, no doubt, expire, as they have done in the past. But as you say, God keeps doing a new thing. Death isn't the end; just the precursor to resurrection and new beginnings.