Quotes & Sayings

We, and creation itself, actualize the possibilities of the God who sustains the world, towards becoming in the world in a fuller, more deeper way. - R.E. Slater

There is urgency in coming to see the world as a web of interrelated processes of which we are integral parts, so that all of our choices and actions have [consequential effects upon] the world around us. - Process Metaphysician Alfred North Whitehead

Kurt Gödel's Incompleteness Theorem says (i) all closed systems are unprovable within themselves and, that (ii) all open systems are rightly understood as incomplete. - R.E. Slater

The most true thing about you is what God has said to you in Christ, "You are My Beloved." - Tripp Fuller

The God among us is the God who refuses to be God without us, so great is God's Love. - Tripp Fuller

According to some Christian outlooks we were made for another world. Perhaps, rather, we were made for this world to recreate, reclaim, redeem, and renew unto God's future aspiration by the power of His Spirit. - R.E. Slater

Our eschatological ethos is to love. To stand with those who are oppressed. To stand against those who are oppressing. It is that simple. Love is our only calling and Christian Hope. - R.E. Slater

Secularization theory has been massively falsified. We don't live in an age of secularity. We live in an age of explosive, pervasive religiosity... an age of religious pluralism. - Peter L. Berger

Exploring the edge of life and faith in a post-everything world. - Todd Littleton

I don't need another reason to believe, your love is all around for me to see. – Anon

Thou art our need; and in giving us more of thyself thou givest us all. - Khalil Gibran, Prayer XXIII

Be careful what you pretend to be. You become what you pretend to be. - Kurt Vonnegut

Religious beliefs, far from being primary, are often shaped and adjusted by our social goals. - Jim Forest

We become who we are by what we believe and can justify. - R.E. Slater

People, even more than things, need to be restored, renewed, revived, reclaimed, and redeemed; never throw out anyone. – Anon

Certainly, God's love has made fools of us all. - R.E. Slater

An apocalyptic Christian faith doesn't wait for Jesus to come, but for Jesus to become in our midst. - R.E. Slater

Christian belief in God begins with the cross and resurrection of Jesus, not with rational apologetics. - Eberhard Jüngel, Jürgen Moltmann

Our knowledge of God is through the 'I-Thou' encounter, not in finding God at the end of a syllogism or argument. There is a grave danger in any Christian treatment of God as an object. The God of Jesus Christ and Scripture is irreducibly subject and never made as an object, a force, a power, or a principle that can be manipulated. - Emil Brunner

“Ehyeh Asher Ehyeh” means "I will be that who I have yet to become." - God (Ex 3.14) or, conversely, “I AM who I AM Becoming.”

Our job is to love others without stopping to inquire whether or not they are worthy. - Thomas Merton

The church is God's world-changing social experiment of bringing unlikes and differents to the Eucharist/Communion table to share life with one another as a new kind of family. When this happens, we show to the world what love, justice, peace, reconciliation, and life together is designed by God to be. The church is God's show-and-tell for the world to see how God wants us to live as a blended, global, polypluralistic family united with one will, by one Lord, and baptized by one Spirit. – Anon

The cross that is planted at the heart of the history of the world cannot be uprooted. - Jacques Ellul

The Unity in whose loving presence the universe unfolds is inside each person as a call to welcome the stranger, protect animals and the earth, respect the dignity of each person, think new thoughts, and help bring about ecological civilizations. - John Cobb & Farhan A. Shah

If you board the wrong train it is of no use running along the corridors of the train in the other direction. - Dietrich Bonhoeffer

God's justice is restorative rather than punitive; His discipline is merciful rather than punishing; His power is made perfect in weakness; and His grace is sufficient for all. – Anon

Our little [biblical] systems have their day; they have their day and cease to be. They are but broken lights of Thee, and Thou, O God art more than they. - Alfred Lord Tennyson

We can’t control God; God is uncontrollable. God can’t control us; God’s love is uncontrolling! - Thomas Jay Oord

Life in perspective but always in process... as we are relational beings in process to one another, so life events are in process in relation to each event... as God is to Self, is to world, is to us... like Father, like sons and daughters, like events... life in process yet always in perspective. - R.E. Slater

To promote societal transition to sustainable ways of living and a global society founded on a shared ethical framework which includes respect and care for the community of life, ecological integrity, universal human rights, respect for diversity, economic justice, democracy, and a culture of peace. - The Earth Charter Mission Statement

Christian humanism is the belief that human freedom, individual conscience, and unencumbered rational inquiry are compatible with the practice of Christianity or even intrinsic in its doctrine. It represents a philosophical union of Christian faith and classical humanist principles. - Scott Postma

It is never wise to have a self-appointed religious institution determine a nation's moral code. The opportunities for moral compromise and failure are high; the moral codes and creeds assuredly racist, discriminatory, or subjectively and religiously defined; and the pronouncement of inhumanitarian political objectives quite predictable. - R.E. Slater

God's love must both center and define the Christian faith and all religious or human faiths seeking human and ecological balance in worlds of subtraction, harm, tragedy, and evil. - R.E. Slater

In Whitehead’s process ontology, we can think of the experiential ground of reality as an eternal pulse whereby what is objectively public in one moment becomes subjectively prehended in the next, and whereby the subject that emerges from its feelings then perishes into public expression as an object (or “superject”) aiming for novelty. There is a rhythm of Being between object and subject, not an ontological division. This rhythm powers the creative growth of the universe from one occasion of experience to the next. This is the Whiteheadian mantra: “The many become one and are increased by one.” - Matthew Segall

Without Love there is no Truth. And True Truth is always Loving. There is no dichotomy between these terms but only seamless integration. This is the premier centering focus of a Processual Theology of Love. - R.E. Slater


Note: Generally I do not respond to commentary. I may read the comments but wish to reserve my time to write (or write from the comments I read). Instead, I'd like to see our community help one another and in the helping encourage and exhort each of us towards Christian love in Christ Jesus our Lord and Savior. - re slater

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Tim Keller: What We Owe the Poor

An interview with Tim Keller
"the pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church says seeking justice is not optional for the person saved by grace."

Interview by Kristen Scharold from Christianity Today
posted 12/06/2010

Generous Justice by Tim Keller
Dutton Adult, November, 2010
172 pp., $11.99

Tim Keller has strong words for people who do not care about the poor: "All I know is, if I don't care about the poor, if my church doesn't care about the poor, that's evil." The head pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church and author of Generous Justice: How God's Grace Makes Us Just (Dutton) spoke with New York-based writer Kristen Scharold about why helping the least of these should be every Christian's mission.

Why do you think generosity is crucial to biblical justice?

I used the term "generous justice" because many people make a distinction between justice and charity. They say that if we give to the poor voluntarily, it's just compassion and charity. But Job says that if I'm not generous with my money, I'm offending God, which means it's not an option and it is unjust by definition to not share with the poor. It's biblical that we owe the poor as much of our money as we can possibly give away.

What do you hope readers will learn about the relationship between God's grace and justice?

Cause and effect: God's grace makes you just. The gospel is such that even though you're not saved by good works, you are saved by grace and faith—and it will change your life and lead to good works. According to the Bible, if you really have been changed by the grace of God, it will move you toward the poor.

Many Christians hear "justice" and think about issues like sex trafficking, HIV/AIDS, and so on. Would you include those in your definition?

My definition of justice is giving humans their due as people in the image of God. We all agree that everyone deserves not to be enslaved, beaten, raped, or killed. We are not just talking about helping the poor but helping people whose rights are being violated. What people are due is not an easy thing to determine from the Bible. I'm urging Christians not to be so certain that they know how the Bible translates into public policy.

Many Christians say that the best way to do justice in the world is to be a Democrat, others say to be a Republican. I'm trying to shake people loose and say that you need to be involved in your political party without that kind of triumphalism.

Can you elaborate on the relationship between preaching and justice?

The heart of what I'm supposed to do is preach the Word, win people to faith, and then disciple them. But I can't disciple people without telling them, "Help the poor." To believe in Jesus is to obey all he commanded, which means helping the poor.

There is a division between evangelicals. Some feel that doing justice is not what the church is supposed to be doing; on the other hand, there is an overreaction to that among many younger evangelicals who would say the job of the church is word and deed equally. I want people to remember that the impetus for helping people comes from the experience of grace.

What part do you see Generous Justice having in the conversations that people like Ron Sider and Tony Campolo have had for several years?

Tony and Ron have been writing great stuff for years, but they're assuming that their readers basically agree about the importance of the church's involvement with justice. My book is trying to move people forward and inspire them without leaving behind folks who have questions about the mission of the church and the relationship of social justice to evangelism.

Tsunamis: Or, Why I'm No Longer a Calvinist (Nor an Open Theist)

Tsunamis: Or, Why I'm No Longer a Calvinist

Are tsunamis ordained by God?
Or is there a better way to think of natural suffering?
The answer lies in the freedom given to creation and the natural world.

By Kyle Roberts
March 22, 2011

I used to be a Calvinist.

Yet there were things about Calvinism as a theological system that never sat right with me. I had difficulty accepting "meticulous providence," the idea that God intends everything that happens to happen in the specific way it happens. A common analogy for this view of God's sovereignty over history is "God as novelist." God writes the story of creational history. Every event, great or small, happy or horrific, is included in that story for a specific purpose—all of which serves the glory of God and the good of the elect.

But herein lies the problem: I cannot subscribe to a theology which insists that tsunamis and other disasters were intentionally, specifically, intended by God to happen, just as they happen, for some individual, particular reason.

Many Calvinists find comfort in the conviction that God has absolute control over every aspect of life. Some argue that if God isn't scrupulously directing the tough times, including national tragedies and global catastrophes, why should we expect him to direct the good times? This is a fair point. If God wasn't "in control" of the tsunami, why should we suppose him to be in control over the precariousness of a child's birth or an arduous, frustrating job search? It's all or nothing. Right?

Is it really? Does providence only count if God is a micro-manager? Can God be a macro-manager and still be sovereign over the present and the future? Can God be in charge of the whole but not in control of every single detail? I think so. And I think this is the general thrust of the scriptural witness.

There is a meaningful difference between God's permissive will (that which he allows to occur even though he does not want or intend it actively) and God's ordaining will (that which he actively wills, thereby ensuring that it happens just as it happened for a specific reason). This line divides the Arminian from the Calvinist—at least on the issue of providence. David Bentley Hart, in The Doors of the Sea: Where Was God in the Tsunami?, suggests that this distinction allows for the reality of inexplicable suffering, the kind that is neither divinely intended nor purposeful. Seemingly pointless suffering may actually be pointless; that is, it may have no direct reference to any specific, immediate divine purpose or explanation that makes it worth the pain.

But can more be said about natural disasters than that they are not divinely intended for specific purposes?

Terence Fretheim, in Creation Untamed: The Bible, God and Natural Disasters, suggests that a proper explanation of natural disasters and the suffering they cause can be found in an adequate biblical theology of creation. Genesis tells us that God created the world good -- not perfect or completed. The elements of creation bore within themselves the freedom and responsibility to continue the creation process—though not apart from God's continual, providential involvement. Freedom, chaos, and even natural disasters are imbedded in the very fabric of life. With life comes death. With joy comes pain. The earth rotates, tectonic plates shift, and the history of the world marches on. Along with the beauty, majesty, and mystery of life, there is pain, death, and tragedy. In the midst of it, God is not distant, removed, or dispassionate, but involved, interested, and empathic. In fact, he entered into it himself, uniting to creation itself through the incarnation of the Son and the ongoing presence of the Spirit.

Upon God's initial act of creation, theologically described in Genesis 1-2, he continues to create through "the creative capacities of that which is not God" (19). He instills freedom within the processes of life for created beings to continue the process of creation, though under God's ultimate supervision. Nature is not a finished product but a dynamic process, "characterized by a remarkable open-endedness" (17) in which even earth and water are involved as both subject and object in this ongoing creation.

Along similar lines, theologian and scientist John Polkinghorne has argued for a "free process" view of God's providence. Just as humans are free to choose their actions, so God imbedded freedom within the very fabric of creation. Quantum physics corroborates a kind of indeterminacy, openness, and possibility at the very fundamental level of natural reality. This all implies that chaos and danger necessarily accompany the order and beauty of the natural world as it unfolds through history.

The result of this dynamic, inter-dependent ongoing creation is an often unpredictable, messy world, vulnerable to the reality of suffering and death. "Natural" (or morally neutral) suffering, such as that caused by tsunamis, tornadoes, and earthquakes, is regularly intensified through the interplay and dynamics of human, moral evil. When societies show little or no concern for the poor who live—often en masse—in poorly engineered and inadequately structured shelters, a natural disaster such as a earthquake or tsunami can have tragically devastating effects. (For a compelling exposition of this point, see Jon Sobrino's Where is God? Earthquake, Terrorism, Barbarity and Hope.)

Economic disparity may help explain the difference in the scope of devastation and loss of life between natural disasters in majority-world (or developing world) contexts and those in industrialized, first-world societies. Countless people are vulnerable to disasters of unfathomably tragic proportions simply because they are poor. Of course, prosperity and technology does not rule out immeasurably tragic suffering, either. For this we need only witness the potential of widespread, devastating consequences due to Japan's potential nuclear disaster.

There is an important theological consideration here that should be made explicit. Many Arminian-leaning theologians who have been existentially and theologically disturbed by the problem of evil and suffering have felt it necessary to deny God's foreknowledge of future events in order to maintain genuine freedom and to absolve God of responsibility for the world's suffering. Both Fretheim and Polkinghorne, for example, are "open theists" who hold that a truly open future implies that there can be (logically speaking) no prior knowledge of it—even by God.

But it's not necessary to take this route. A classical Arminian can counter that God's foreknowledge of the future doesn't imply causality of it. Just because God may have known what is going to happen doesn't necessitate that he caused, determined, or ordained it. There is no necessary causal link between foreknowledge of an event and the event itself. Of course, one can still ask why, if God knew, didn't he intervene? Assuming God knew that Japan was going to be [horribly] engulfed [sic, in a Tsunami in 2011], couldn't he have intervened? Why then didn't he? Or on a grander scale, if God knew that the world he would create would contain tsunamis and earthquakes, why didn't he take a different approach? Why not put limits on natural suffering more than he apparently has?

Surely at one level we can grant that God could have intervened. Indeed, who knows how often—and in what manner—God does intervene? Perhaps he could have miraculously prevented the earthquake in the first place or suppressed the waters afterward. But would he do this every time? If so, why? On what basis would we expect these judgments to be made? By what criterion? That God would never allow us to experience difficulty and tragedy and death? That would certainly be a very different world than the one we currently inhabit. Our hope lies in God's promise to restore, renew, or altogether recreate this world when he brings about the next. But it is reasonable to suppose that our present world, with its embedded freedom, mystery, and tragedy, provides occasions for faith in God, hope in his promises, and love for those he has created.

It is prudent to acknowledge the fact that the world we live in is at once dangerous and mysterious, beautiful and tragic. But we don't have to suppose, even in principle—and even if we are careful about not supplying divine motivations or intentions—that there is a particular, "meticulous" divine purpose for each and every tragedy. They are part of the world we live in. It's a beautiful world, but it's also a broken and fallen world, one that awaits its final liberation.

Kyle Roberts is Assistant Professor of Systematic Theology and Lead Faculty of Christian Thought, Bethel Seminary (St. Paul, MN). He researches and writes on issues related to the intersection of theology, philosophy, and culture. Follow Kyle Roberts' reflections on faith and culture at his blog or via Twitter.

Roberts' column, "Theological Provocations," is published every second Tuesday on the Evangelical portal. Subscribe via email or RSS.

Love Wins: My Humble Attempt at Joining the Conversation

Reading Sean Peter’s blog presented one of the clearest witnesses to Rob Bell’s newest book Love Wins that I have read this past month. I admit that engaging emergent Christianity can sometimes be tricky to hear and think through when read from all my prejuides gained by way of a thorough orthodox religious and traditional church background. But reading through Sean’s insights seems to help navigate and comprehend what Rob and others think is really, really important to say.

Lately, I have been telling family and friends who have been reading Love Wins to read it first and foremost for “intent” and not “content”. As a long-time member at Mars Hill this may be the most helpful advice I can give to outsiders unfamiliar with the conflicted message that is perceived to be Rob. Long years ago I had gone through all the emotions and aggravations that many people are now going through presently in March of 2011. But I can only tell you that it takes time to listen and to re-orient yourself within the postmodernistic message of today’s newer churches.

Our brethren are struggling to say better what the traditional church is not saying at the opening of our 21st Century. These messages can be ecclectic, irratic, unclear, wandering to our traditional ears and I think we would do this new group of brothers and sisters a great service in participating and engaging with them. But first, we need to listen better. To understand the dilemmas and the questions they are struggling with. To walk awhile in their shoes before speaking up. This can be a journey in itself but having done that I can say that it has re-balanced my traditional Christianity with a simpler, more sublime message better attune to Jesus' 1st Century message in his day and age.

And yet, it takes time to wade through, to “get,” but when reading Sean’s very positive grasp of what he “gets” as a church pastor it shows me again just how simple this new gospel message of Jesus really is. It’s not rocket science. It’s profound and we too many times try to over-think inexact, non-scientific language with propositions and statements. And from that create doctrinal statements and church dogmas that were only trying to lend help and support to their adherants in years past.

Even Jesus had the same message problems as we are witnessing today within evangelical Christianity (as so noted in an earlier blog re Dan Merchant's film, Lord Save Us From Your Followers).… The non-church crowd “got" Jesus, while the better informed, church-crowd debated him and later crucified him like it is doing now to our emergent brethren. And at the last, lending support to the ancient dictum, "The more things change, the more they don't."

So then, here we go…. Enjoy Sean's clear uptake. I did.




Love Wins: My Humble Attempt at Joining the Conversation
Sean Peters
Tuesday, March 15, 2011

I watched Rob Bell’s interview last night and a few of the interviews that he did this morning on cable news networks. I also had at least two people at church ask me if I saw the interview with the “preacher who doesn’t believe there’s a hell.”

Here is my meager attempt at engaging this important issue.

First, I would say that I hear nothing in what Rob is saying (and I have yet to read the book, so I cannot comment on what he has written) that would lead me to believe that he is lobbying for universalism or that he does not believe in a literal hell. On the contrary, I think that he was pretty clear that there is a hell and that we get to choose whether or not we want to spend eternity there. This freedom of choice concept is appealing to me as a Wesleyan but clearly drives my Calvinistic brothers and sisters batty. Rob sounds an awful lot like CS Lewis sometimes. Consider this quote from the Preface to The Great Divorce: “If we insist on keeping Hell (or even earth) we shall not see Heaven; if we accept Heaven we shall not be able to retain even the smallest and most intimate souvenirs of Hell.”

Secondly, the idea that “love wins” has very little to do with the afterlife. Rob’s interest, it appears to me, has much more to do with how we live “here and now” than what we think about what happens “there and then." This is a concept that former Anglican bishop and renowned theologian N.T. Wright explored deeply in his excellent book Surprised by Hope. Wright argues, and I believe Bell agrees that Jesus was much more interested in teaching us about how to live now than how to prepare us for then. Jesus’ most famous prayer, in fact, instructs us to ask God to let his “kingdom come” and his “will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” The kingdom of God is not someplace we go to when we die; it is “at hand,” it is here and now. It is not fully and finally revealed of course, it is an “already/not yet” kingdom that bursts into the midst of our broken and sin cursed lives on occasion and gives us a taste of what will ultimately be, but it is partial. Heaven and Hell are present realities and we get to choose. In Surprised by Hope N.T. Wright challenges us to consider whether we are asking the right questions or not:

“… the question of our own destiny in terms of the alternatives of joy and woe is probably the wrong way of looking at the whole question. The question ought to be How will God’s new creation come? And then, How will we humans contribute to that renewal of creation and to the fresh projects that the creator God will launch in his new world? The choice before humans would then be framed differently: are you going to worship the creator God and discover thereby what it means to become fully and gloriously human, reflecting his powerful, healing, transformative love into the world? Or are you going to worship the world as it is, boosting your corruptible humanness by gaining power and pleasure from forces within the world but merely contributing thereby to your own dehumanization and the further corruption of the world itself.”

I believe that this is the point Rob is trying to make with the book. He is not interested so much in who gets to go to heaven and who gets to go to hell; nor is he very interested in arguing about whether such places exist or not; but he is much more interested in trying to help us see that the way we live our lives in the short amount of time that we are given on this planet is much more important than worrying about where we will go when we die and who we get to hang out with when we get there.

Lastly, in an effort to not completely ignore the concerns of my friends and so many others who are interested in this issue, I want to briefly try and explain where I think Rob is coming from soteriologically. I believe that Rob is much more of an inclusivist than he is a universalist. Although I cannot speak for him, my sense from listening to his interviews and his sermons and reading his books is that Rob will choose to err on the side of mystery with regard to “controversial” issues like the afterlife. This has led some to accuse him of being ambiguous at best and heretical at worst. Why is it, I wonder, that we Christians have such a hard time saying “I don’t know?” Why is it that we feel we have to have an answer for every question that is hurled at us, and then defend our answers with such absolute assurance? Love wins, means that it’s o.k. to be unsure. It means that what’s most important is that we help people who may have questions about God and Jesus and faith and heaven and hell to know that although we may not have all the answers, we know one thing for certain: love wins. Inclusivity means that we do not condemn people to hell just because they think differently from us; it means that we choose to believe that the Holy Spirit might actually be able to reveal Christ to people in ways that we cannot even imagine; it means that we choose to love and accept people even if we disagree with them.

Rob Bell is a Christian. He is a pastor who loves God with his whole heart, and truly believes that Jesus is the way, the truth and the life. But he also believes that there are ways to encounter Christ that we may not even be aware of; and that it’s actually o.k. if we can’t explain it. It is arrogant and naïve of us to think that our understanding of how to “be saved” is the only way.

The irony of all of this to me is that Rob set out to write a book about the power of love and the divisiveness of judgment, and all he seems to have gotten from his brothers and sisters in Christ is judgment.

“So now I am giving you a new commandment: Love each other. Just as I have loved you, you should love each other. Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples.” – John 13.34-35

Christian's Mixed Messages of Christianity

A Good Look in the Mirror

A new documentary, Lord Save Us From Your Followers, helps Christians to see what we really look like to those on the outside looking in.

by Brandon Fibbs, Christianity Today
posted 7/15/2008

Dan Merchant has an agenda, and he doesn't care who knows it.

"I want us all to have a conversation," he said while weaving his car through traffic, sandwiched between events promoting his new film, Lord Save Us From Your Followers. "My agenda is for people outside the faith to come away with a more complete picture of who Christians are, or are at least are trying to be.

"My agenda is for Christians to understand how we sound to others and actually listen to those who disagree with us or who don't understand us, instead of being so quick to fight. I think that some of the basic fundamentals of the gospel—love your enemy as yourself, love one another—have somehow been lost."

Merchant's documentary turns on a deceptively simple question: Why is the gospel of love dividing America? Christianity, he contends, is far more interested in the "gospel of being right" than the gospel of Jesus Christ. Fed up with the strident language and angry rhetoric that have come to define modern Christendom, Merchant, a veteran of the entertainment industry, set out to explore the flashpoint of faith and culture in America.

Merchant is ready with a quick answer for what he sees as Christianity's principal failings. With a nonchalant manner that miraculously never comes across as judgmental, Merchant zeroes in on politicians who use God to win elections, Christian organizations who bait the world and then cry foul when the world fights back, religious leaders who set themselves up to interpret global events as God's wrath, and the church's attitude toward abortion and homosexuality as its pet sins.

"We're not good at living the truth," he says. "I just want us all to live up to it instead of making excuses for why we can't. What grieves me the most is our ability to judge, dismiss and separate from other people, whether because of race, denomination, sexual orientation, divorce. We do a really good job of saying God came to save everyone—except you and you and you. We need to take a page from Jesus' radical compassion. The Lord's bar is as high as you can get: Love your enemy as yourself. I would just love the church to be better known for what it is for rather than what it is against."

Talking to strangers

To get to the heart of the debate in his documentary, Merchant dons a white jumpsuit plastered with bumper stickers both for and against religion and wanders around Times Square seeking conversations with complete strangers.

Wherever he goes, Merchant runs into the same situation—non-believers who don't have a problem with Jesus, but vehemently dislike many who claim Him. For Merchant, their ability to separate faith from founder with such ease indicates a disastrous PR problem for Christianity.

"People say, 'Well, the truth divides,' and yeah, it does," he says. "But I think we've done most all the dividing already before anyone ever gets to any 'truth.'"

Merchant is quick to admit that his film is directed first and foremost at himself. And it is precisely this humility—Merchant's awareness of his own profound faults and a sly, self-deprecating humor—that separates Lord Save Us from other films like it.

"The film is as much about me as it is about anyone else," he says. "It wouldn't have been fair if I got into the midst of this thing without looking in the mirror first. When did someone being gay become worse than my pride and arrogance? My heart was broken over my own sin. I've got to get over myself and figure out what Jesus meant when he said, 'Love your neighbor as yourself.'"

'The church is a whore, but …'

If you were to walk out of Lord Save Us at the halfway mark, you might think the film is little more than a tirade against Christians behaving badly. As vital as that message may be, you'd only be half right. What makes the film so powerful is its intractable ability to embrace both the baby and the bathwater. This is a film made by a follower, and therein lies its unique musculature. Merchant never lets us forget the powerful words of St. Augustine: "The church is a whore, but she is my mother."

"If the first half of the film is showing how we're missing the mark," Merchant says, "the second half is really an examination of who we're trying to be. If (the world) wants to criticize (Christians) for the things we do wrong, we should accept it and apologize. But let's also be honest that that is not the whole picture."

From Bono discussing God's grace at the National Prayer Breakfast to youth groups swarming into Louisiana and Mississippi after Hurricane Katrina; from medical missionaries in the most remote parts of Africa to Pastor Rick Warren's outreach in Rwanda; from Portland churches gathering together to care for the poor to the thousands of Christ-like acts believers commit every day—Lord Save Us also reveals Christians acting in ways that bring honor to the God they serve, earning the respect of all those around them. Rather than using the Bible as a weapon, these believers use it as a salve, and the response is as simple as it is astonishing. Suddenly Christ and Christians are synonymous again.

Says merchant, "Let's be so like Christ that others say, 'You can always count on the Christians when they come around.' I'd love for us to be that. That's how Jesus did it."

Fessing up to gays

Perhaps the most powerful moment of the film occurs when Merchant borrows a page from Donald Miller's book, Blue Like Jazz, and sets up a confession booth at Portland's gay pride parade. Rather than letting those who enter confess to him, however, Merchant instead begs their forgiveness for the ways in which Christians have harmed homosexuals. Many of the gays are stunned at Merchant's words of contrition, most are genuinely touched, and some are even moved to tears by his sincerity.

"You come out of the confession booth understanding how broken we all are," he says. "I began to understand positions I didn't agree with—still don't—but I understood where they were coming from and it completely changed how I related to them. If you demonstrate you are willing to listen to other people, they are willing to listen to you. The way we show Christ that we love him is by loving others. It's hard to do. It's a lot harder than standing on a parade route, shouting at people that you don't like their lifestyle."

Merchant's documentary is building steam through a word-of-mouth campaign fueled by church congregations and college campus screenings. At first, he was deeply concerned that the film would not be well received in all quarters. When my mother told me her church, in a leafy Portland suburb, was going to screen the film, I was apprehensive. While she and my grandparents belong to a terrific, vibrant congregation, I was unsure that the film would find a receptive audience within the older demographic. When my mom later told me my 84-year-old grandmother was the first to her feet for a standing ovation, I knew Merchant was onto something special.

"Our reception has been amazing!" he says. "We've been surprised at how widely accepted the film is. We expected it to do well in an Emergent church, but I did not expect it to play well at a secular, atheist college. But it 'killed,' to use the comedy term. It doesn't matter if it's a mainline, conservative, evangelical, mega-church or anything in between, to say nothing of those who are not in the faith, have left the faith or are of other faiths. All are finding the film to be a valuable conversation and an entertaining movie."

Great conversation starter

Church leaders agree. On the film's official website, Rick McKinley, founding pastor of Imago Dei Community church in Portland, says the film "may be one of the most important conversation starters the church has seen in a long time." And Jack Hayford, President of the International Church of the Foursquare Gospel, adds, "This is a stroke of genius in the film—people need to see that the world knows better how we think, than we know how they think. Learning about ourselves is humbling. They don't think we have an answer because they only see we have an argument."

Lord Save Us From Your Followers is incisive and fair, goofily funny and deeply moving. There is no watering down of the gospel. Merchant knows sin when he sees it. He simply finds the plank in his own eye of greater importance than the mite in his neighbor's.

"Love is stronger than hate," he says. "It conquers all. It is the most important command in Scripture. So why aren't we doing more of it? Loving the unlovable is what it's all about. We are not called to judge the moral worthiness of those we are commanded to adore. It's time for a conversation. The monologue isn't working. Let's be willing to respect each other and listen to each other. You might be surprised what happens."

To learn more about the film, to schedule a screening at your church, to join the conversation, or even watch the movie online (for $6.99), go to the official website.