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

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Be Always Ready With An Answer?

http://rachelheldevans.com/ready-with-answer

by Rachel Held Evans
posted  June 21, 2011

Well, we’ve worked our way through Evolving in Monkey Town, just in time to mark the one year anniversary of its release. Thanks so much for your engagement and participation. Today’s excerpt comes from the final chapter, entitled “Living the Questions":

...I’m no longer ready to give an answer about everything. Sometimes I’m not ready because I feel that an answer does not do justice to the seriousness or complexity of the question. Sometimes I’m not ready to give an answer because I honestly don’t know what the best one is. Sometimes I’m not ready to give an answer because I can tell that the person asking doesn’t really want one anyway.

Unfortunately, saying “I don’t know” has fallen out of vogue in Christian circles, and I’m still trying to get used to saying it myself. Opinionated and strong-willed, I’m always afraid that if I remain silent or show signs of ambivalence, people will assume that I can’t think for myself, that I haven’t studied an issue or thought it through. As my friends well know, I’ll tolerate a barrage of vicious insults before I’ll tolerate the mere suggestion that I might be uninformed. I would rather people think I don’t bathe enough than think I don’t read enough.

In a way, the same has been true of the church of late. Sometimes Christians worry that if we don’t provide bullet-proof answers to all of life’s questions, people will assume that our faith is unreasonable. In reaction to very loud atheists like Richard Dawkins, we have become a bit too loud ourselves. Faith in Jesus has been recast as a position in a debate, not a way of life.

But the truth is, I’ve found people to be much more receptive to the gospel when they know becoming a Christian doesn’t require becoming a know-it-all. Most of the people I’ve encountered are looking not for a religion to answer all their questions but for a community of faith in which they can feel safe asking them.

When Peter first penned the words “always be ready with an answer,” he was writing to the persecuted church during the time of the emperor Nero…This was not advice for a debate team; it was advice for martyrs! Peter asked his readers to take courage, to look into the eyes of their assailants with patience and compassion, gentleness and respect. He urged them to live lives that are beyond reproach, to follow the teachings of Jesus and love their enemies to the point of death. This passage is not about fearlessly defending a set of propositions; it’s about fearlessly defending hope—a wild, bewitching, and reckless thing that cannot be systematized or proven or rationally explained.

Peter knew that such behavior might arouse some curiosity. He knew that his fellow Christians would be subject to interrogation regarding their radical community and unconventional lives. In preparing them to give answers, Peter assumed they’d be asked questions. Our best answers in defense of Christianity have always been useless clanging cymbals unless our lives have inspired the world to ask.

What are you not ready to give an answer about these days? What questions are you living through?


Biblical Considerations for an Inclusive View of Salvation


by Rachel Held Evans
posted November 16, 2011

friendly kids in Cochin, IndiaIn light of our conversation about Anne Frank yesterday, I thought I’d repost this rather lengthy piece from 2008 (back when I thought people liked to read 1,000-word blog posts) that details some of the biblical support for a more inclusive view of salvation.

Now I’m not a biblical scholar, but these passages of Scripture have informed my view of the “un-evangelized” and given me much hope regarding God’s love for humanity and his intention to restore all things to himself.

I’m indebted to Clark Pinnock and his excellent book A Wideness in God’s Mercy for helping me see some of these familiar passages in a new light.

I’m also thankful to NT Wright for explaining that salvation isn’t simply about “winning souls to heaven” but about being part of God’s relentless work of restoration, reconciliation, and redemption among all of humanity.

Some Things I Know:

If the God of the Bible is true, then His love is universal, and His grace is not limited to certain people groups or nations. (Genesis 9:17; Psalm 82:8; Isaiah 25: 6-8; John 3:16; 1 John 4:14; Acts 10:34-35; Romans 2:11; I Cor. 2:19)

Some Things That Give Me Hope:

To the same degree that the Fall devastated mankind, God’s grace is able to redeem it, “for as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all will be made alive.” (I Cor. 15:22) God did not lose his hopes and dreams for humanity to Satan when Adam and Eve ate of the forbidden fruit. Total depravity, though devastating, is not beyond total redemption. (See also Romans 5:12-21)• God does not appear to relish in the damnation of the unsaved, but desires that all receive His mercy. (Isaiah 30:18; 2 Peter 3:9; 2 Timothy 2:4; Romans 11:32)

God may have determined when and where people would be born, but He did not leave Himself without a witness among them. (Acts 17:26-27) He created people in such a way that “they would seek God, if perhaps they might grope for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each of us.” (Acts 14:16-17) This is commonly called general revelation.

Since creation, God’s “invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature” have been revealed to all. Those who practice unrighteousness are “without excuse” because they have access to enough general revelation about God to know better. (Romans 1:20) Exclusivists usually stop there, but as Dale Moody comments, “What kind of God is he who gives man enough knowledge to damn him but not enough to save him?” It is reasonable to assume that just as God has revealed enough of Himself for people to reject Him without excuse, He has revealed enough of Himself for people to accept Him without rejection.

• Scripture makes it clear that people are justified by faith. It does not stipulate how much a person needs to know about God in order to be saved, but simply qualifies that the fruit of saving faith is good works. Paul writes that “it is not the hearers of the Law who are just before God, but the doers of the Law will be justified.” People who have no knowledge of the Law but who “do instinctively the things of the Law,” will be judged, not on the basis of how much they know, but on the basis of how they respond to their conscience. (Romans 2:9-16)

Throughout Scripture, we find evidence that God worked in the lives of people who were neither Israelites nor Christians. Take, for example, Job, Abel, Enoch, Noah, Melchizedeck, Abimelech, Jethro, the Queen of Sheeba, the Magi, and Cornelius. The famed Hebrews 11 passage includes several of these so-called “pagan saints,” in its elite “cloud of witnesses,” emphasizing that they were saved by faith in a God who “is a rewarder of those who seek him.”

Although God revealed Himself uniquely through the person of Christ, God’s grace is not limited or exhausted by Christ. If we truly believe in the Trinity, then we know that God the Father and the Holy Spirit are also at work in the world, and that the breath of God is free to “blow where it wishes.” (John 3:8) Looking at things from this Trinitarian perspective, it is reasonable to assume that one can maintain a saving relationship with God the Father through the Holy Spirit without necessarily knowing the name of Jesus Christ. Just as a right relationship with Jesus results in a right relationship with God, a right relationship with the Father is, in effect, a right relationship with Christ. (John 8:19, 42)

• Jesus says that when it comes time to “judge the nations,” the Good Shepherd will separate the sheep from the goats based on their treatment of “the least of these.” (Matthew 25:31-46) We forget that Jesus Christ is indeed present in every nation. He is present in the hungry, the thirsty, the sick, and the imprisoned. Perhaps many will choose to reject or accept Him as he appears in that unlikely incarnation.

The book of Revelation paints an extremely optimistic picture of the universal scope of God’s salvation. The prophet writes that great multitudes will worship God in heaven, “from every nation and all tribes and peoples and tongues.” (Revelation 7:9; see also Revelation 15:4; 21:24-26; 22:2.)

Throughout the Bible, the consistent theme concerning judgment is that of God separating the wicked from the righteous, not separating the elect from the non-elect or the Christians from the non-Christians. The focus is on justice. Isaiah wrote that “a throne will be established in loving kindness, and a judge will sit on it in faithfulness…He will seek justice and be prompt in righteousness.” (Isaiah 16:5) The writers of the Hebrew Scriptures look forward to the day when the unrighteous will finally receive justice and the oppressed mercy. (Psalm 1:5; Psalm 94:15;Ecclesiastes 3:17) James writes that “judgment will be merciless to one who has shown no mercy; mercy triumphs over judgment.” (James 2:13)

Some things I don’t know:

I don’t know the degree to which God is present in religious systems. I’ve seen both very good and very bad fruit come from organized religion--including Christianity--and prefer to think of each individual as spiritually unique rather than the sum of his or her religious culture. I can only hope that non-Christians would do the same for me.

I don’t know exactly how God will judge in eternity and I don't presume to know where other people stand in relation to their creator. However, I know that those of us blessed with the knowledge of Jesus Christ, should be slow to judge and careful of over-confidence, always heeding Christ’s warning that “not everyone who says to Me on that day, ’Lord, Lord’ will enter the kingdom of heaven…” (Matthew 7:21-23; See also Matthew 12:26; Romans 2:1-5; I Peter 4:17)

• C.S.Lewis put it this way: “We do know that no man can be saved except through Christ; we do not know that only those who know Him can be saved through Him.”

• I don’t know how to interpret Christ’s teachings regarding hell. I’ve heard theologians make a good case for the impermanent “trash heap” [(the theory of annhilation)] and a good case for the traditional view of eternal torture. But I'm still sorting it all out.

Rob Bell, the SBC, and The Age of Accountability


by Rachel Held Evans
posted June 22, 2011

Yellow RosetteAs you may have heard, last week the Southern Baptist Convention responded to pastor Rob Bell’s controversial book, Love Wins, with a resolution declaring that “the Bible clearly teaches that God will judge the lost at the end of the age,” and that such judgment will include the “conscious, eternal suffering" for all non-Christians.
Al Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, explained the rationale behind the resolution as such:
"The publicity surrounding Bell’s new book indicates that he is ready to answer one of the hardest questions -- the question of the exclusivity of the Gospel of Christ. With that question come the related questions of heaven, hell, judgment, and the fate of the unregenerate. The Bible answers these questions clearly enough, but few issues are as hard to reconcile with the modern or postmodern mind than this. Of course, it was hard to reconcile with the ancient mind as well. The singularity of the person and work of Christ and the necessity of personal faith in him for salvation run counter to the pluralistic bent of the human mind, but this is nothing less than the wisdom of God and the power of God unto salvation."
Rustin J. Umstattd, assistant professor of theology at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary added:
"It is clear that Bell is not comfortable with the idea that billions of people may suffer in hell. But then, who is comfortable with that? The majority of evangelicals who hold to the orthodox understanding of hell…are troubled by its implications. But being troubled, even deeply troubled, by the implications of the biblical text does not give us a reason to abandon the text or force it into a mold that rests comfortably with us. It should be our goal to let the Bible be the source and shaper of our doctrine.” (emphasis mine)
In other words, Christians cannot allow their instincts to inform their theology, only Scripture.
But this rationale represents a major inconsistency in Baptist teaching.

If the members of the Southern Baptist Convention truly believe that only those who place personal faith in Jesus Christ will be saved and that no concessions to this belief should be made on the basis of its troubling moral implications, then for consistency’s sake, they must also vote to condemn the teaching of the age of accountability.

The age of accountability refers to a belief that children under a certain age (usually twelve or so), will be granted salvation regardless of the religious affiliation of their parents. Most Baptists I know believe in the age of accountability, and even the SBC's Baptist Faith and Message makes it implicit in its statement that people are not morally accountable until “they are capable of moral action.”

And yet this concept is never explicitly stated in Scripture, nor does it appear in any of the historic Christian creeds.

The age of accountability is a concept born from the compassion of the human heart, from a deep and intrinsic sense that a loving, good, and just God would not condemn little children or the mentally handicapped to such suffering when they could certainly bear no responsibility for their faith. It is a theology created by discomfort.

I’m not interested in defending Bell’s book in its entirety—I thought some of his exegesis was sloppy—but the questions he raises about the destiny un-evangelized are not that different from the questions traditionally raised by Baptists about the assumption within other Christian traditions that unbaptized babies spend eternity in hell.

What is the difference, really, between a four-year-old child who is incapable of making a conscious decision to trust Jesus because of his age and an adult living in outer-Mongolia in 50 A.D. who is incapable of making a decision to trust Jesus because he couldn’t possibly hear of him? Aren’t both of them born with a sin nature? And aren’t both of them inherently valuable to God? If exclusivism is true, then the majority of the human population was damned to hell without even the possiblilty of being saved.

I am often told by fellow Christians that an inclusivist reading of Scripture is the result of a sentimental “bleeding heart.” And yet most of those people embrace without question the age of accountability and reel at the idea of a non-elect two year-old burning alive for eternity. I believe we were created to reel at that idea, just as we were created to reel at the idea of a young Muslim woman being tortured forever by a God whose name she never knew. I believe that our impulse towards grace is a reflection of God’s image inside of us, not a weakness of which we should be ashamed.

In matters like these, Christians should of course be careful of asserting with absolute certainty how God will judge our fellow human beings. We should also be wary of any suggestion that our instinctive desire for love and compassion is a weakness that should be overcome. The very formation of the Southern Baptist denomination reflects the disastrous consequences of confining morality to that which is explicitly stated in Scripture to the neglect of the conscience. Conscience should be tested with Scripture, certainly, but it should never be silenced.

Regardless of one’s position on the theological issues here, it’s plain to see that if the members of the Southern Baptist Convention intend to hold to their exclusivist position consistently and condemn as dangerous all who seek to harmonize scripture with the human conscience, then it’s time for them to confront their own theological accommodations and declare the unconverted child as hopeless as the unconverted adult.

I only hope that this time it will be harder for the delegates to raise their hands.