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, July 19, 2011

What is Theological Liberalism?

by Roger Olson
posted July 14, 2011

One of my biggest pet peeves is people throwing labels around when they don’t understand them. I teach at a seminary often accused by the ignorant of being “liberal” because it allows women to study for the ministry. I’ve been asked when I “became liberal” and started believing in women’s ordination and women as lead pastors. The first denomination to ordain women as pastors was the theologically conservative but socially progressive Free Methodist Church and it did that way back in the mid-19th century. (Quakers, or Friends as they prefer to be called) had women leaders before that but they didn’t exactly “ordain” anyone or have lead pastors in our modern sense.) I grew up in a very conservative denomination that ordained women. We had women pastors and evangelists. Both my birth mother and stepmother were licensed to preach.

People tend to throw the label “liberal” around without regard to history. Most of the time it means little or nothing more than something they don’t like or agree with and perceive to be too progressive. When someone says a person or church or institution or book is “liberal” I have no idea what they mean until I press them for a definition. Usually they can’t give a real definition; they can only say something about their disagreement or dislike.

Looking up “liberal” in the dictionary doesn’t really help. Most ordinary dictionaries don’t include theology among their definitions. You can look up “liberal” in most dictionaries and be enlightened about politics and society and perhaps philosophy. But you are unlikely to find anything there about liberal theology. Besides, it is a mistake to think words have essences. There is no “essence” out there corresponding exactly with the sound “liberal.” The label “liberal” has a history theologically and we should stick to that as closely as possible while recognizing flexibility.

Once again, as before here, I want to suggest a helpful distinction. This time between “liberalism” as a movement and “liberalism” as an ethos. (And now I am restricting my comments to theology.) It is anachronistic to refer to anything as theologically liberal before Friedrich Schleiermacher, the early 19th century “father of liberal theology.” Schleiermacher was certainly influenced by previous and contemporary thinkers in philosophy and theology, but he almost single handedly created “liberal theology.” On this most historical theologians are agreed. (Before Schleiermacher there were “free thinkers” and deists and unitarians but not liberals per se.)

But even Schleiermacher did not found a movement. In many ways he serves as the paradigm of a liberal ethos in Christian theology. But that ethos only began to breathe with him; even Schleiermacher was not consistently liberal. Compared to many later movement liberals such as Adolf Harnack he would be considered relatively conservative insofar as he strove to hold onto as much of Christian tradition as he thought possible in the modern world.

So, the liberal ethos pre-dates the rise of the Christian liberal theological movement that I call “classical Protestant liberalism.” The latter appeared first with German Lutheran theologian Albrecht Ritschl and his followers in the later 19th century. Ritschl founded a movement. His followers came to be called “Ritschlians.” Classical Protestant liberal theology is tied to the METHOD of the Rischlians (not necessarily to all of their conclusions). The leading Ritschlians were Harnack and Willhelm Herrmann. There were, of course, many others. They disagreed among themselves about many things, but they agreed on theology’s basic method which followed that of Schleiermacher but in a somewhat altered way.

After WW1 and the existentialist revolution in philosophy and theology in Europe classical liberal theology struggled as a movement. It didn’t exactly die out, but it underwent some significant changes so that historical theologians tend to call its mid-20th century heirs “neo-liberals” or “chastened liberals.” The main difference was the recognition of a tragic dimension to human existence and history that was lacking in the pre-WW1 liberals.

[Strictly as defined] the liberal theological movement has had its ups and downs and perhaps doesn’t really exist anymore although I have met and read people who seem to agree with it to a large extent. But, again, I would tend to call them liberal in the “ethos” sense. Some have come along and tried to breathe new life into the liberal community to restart the old liberal theological movement but with little success. There are many freelance liberal theologians running around, but I look in vain for an actual movement that includes all or even most of them.

So what is the liberal theological ethos started by Schleiermacher that defines theological liberalism (including the Ritschlian movement and the neo-liberalism of its post-WW1 descendents)? And where do we find it today? Who are its contemporary spokespersons?

Schleiermacher introduced into the stream of Christian theology a “Copernican revolution” in theological method that regarded it as necessary to adjust traditional Christianity to the culture of the Enlightenment–what we call “modernity.” To be sure, Schleiermacher did NOT do this uncritically. However, he clearly felt it necessary to rescue Christianity from the “acids of modernity” by redefining Christianity’s (and religion’s) “essence” so that it did not and perhaps could not conflict with the “best” of modern thought [(thus, liberalism was a reaction against modernism - skinhead)]. He redefined Christianity as PRIMARILY about human experience [(existentially - skinhead)]. That is, as he put it, doctrines are nothing more than attempts to bring human experiences of God (God-consciousness) to speech. Schleiermacher placed universal God-consciousness at the center of religion and Christ’s God-consciousness communicated to the church at the center of Christianity. All doctrines and all teachings of Scripture became revisable in the light of human God-consciousness.

What Schleiermacher accomplished was to separate religion (including Christianity) from the realm of “facts” discoverable by science and philosophy. He rescued religion and Christianity from the acids of modernity by reducing them and restricting them to an entirely different realm. Also, rather than objective divine revelation standing at the center or bottom of the theological enterprise, human experience was placed there. This was Schleiermacher’s “Copernican revolution” in theology. All liberal theology (whether by ethos or tied specifically to a liberal theological movement such as Ritschlianism) is defined by that move first made by Schleiermacher.

Ritschl borrowed heavily from the philosopher Immanuel Kant to distinguish between two types of propositions–facts (which belong to the sciences) and values (which belong to religion). Religion, including Christianity, has to do with the way things ought to be (the Kingdom of God) and not with the way things are. If Ritschl was right, religion (rightly understood) and modern philosophy and science (kept where they belong) cannot conflict.

Harnack is the paradigm of the classical liberal Protestant theologian. He reduced Christianity to a minimal ethical core–it’s true “essence”–which cannot be undermined by science or philosophy. The liberal theologians did not throw out belief in the Trinity or the deity and humanity of Jesus Christ, etc. They simply reduced their importance (they are not of the essence) and reinterpreted them non-metaphysically [(into existential terms - skinhead)].

The leading Ritschlian theologian in America (at the same time as Harnack in Germany) was Henry Churchill King, president of Oberlin College. His book Reconstruction in Theology was published at the same time as Harnack’s What Is Christianity? (1901) King’s “reconstruction” of Christianity theology was done under that influence (viz., Ritschl). The leading Ritschlian public figure was Harry Emerson Fosdick, Jr., pastor of Riverside Church in New York City and author of numerous books of liberal theology. Fosdick’s countenance graced the cover of Time magazine twice in the 1920s. He was widely considered THE leading spokesman for liberal theology in America.

After WW1 in Europe and after WW2 in America theological liberalism underwent some changes. The main one was the death of its historical optimism and adoption of a more realistic sense of human existence and history (largely under the influence of Reinhold Niebuhr). But it retained its basic attitude toward modernity as an authority for theology’s critical and constructive tasks. (This was often more implicit than explicit.)

Gradually the liberal theological movement associated with Ritschl and his followers died out. But the ethos it embodied remained–entering into the warp and woof of mainline Protestant life and thought. Today it is represented by public intellectuals such as Marcus Borg and John Shelby Spong. Several theologians are attempting to breathe new life into it. Among them are Gary Dorrien (perhaps THE leading scholar of liberal theology especially in America), Peter Hodgson, Donald Miller (of USC, not the author of Blue Like Jazz), and John Cobb.

So what are the usual, if not universal, hallmarks of true liberal theology or family resemblances among true liberal theologians? First, here are books you MUST read if you want to discuss liberal theology intelligently (read at least one of these):
  • Alan P. F. Sell, Theology in Turmoil
  • William R. Hutchison, The Modernist Impulse in American Protestantism
  • Kenneth Cauthen, The Impact of American Religious Liberalism
  • Gary Dorrien, The Making of American Liberal Theology (3 volumes)
  • Peter Hodgson, Liberal Theology: A Radical Vision
  • John Cobb, Progressive Christians Speak
  • Donald E. Miller, The Case for Liberal Christianity

So what do all these people from Schleiermacher to Dorrien have in common? I think the liberal theological ethos is best expressed in a nutshell by liberal theologian Delwin Brown (a convert to liberal theology from evangelicalism) in his dialogue with Clark Pinnock in Theological Crossfire: An Evangelical/Liberal Dialogue. There Brown asks THE CRUCIAL QUESTION of modern theology: “When the consensus of the best contemporary minds differs markedly from the most precious teachings of the past, which do we follow? To which do we give primary allegiance, the past or the present?” Brown rightly gives the evangelical answer: “We ought to listen to the hypotheses of the present and take from them what we can, but ultimately the truth has been given to us in the past, particularly in Jesus, and the acceptance of that is our ultimate obligation. Everything the contemporary world might say must be judged by its conformity to biblical revelation.” (Of course evangelicals differ among ourselves about WHAT biblical revelation says, but all evangelicals agree that the revelation of God given in Jesus and the biblical message takes precedence over the best of modern thought WHEN THERE IS AN UNAVOIDABLE CONFLICT between them.)

Then, Brown speaks for all liberal theologians when he gives the liberal answer to the crucial question: “Liberalism at its best is more likely to say, ‘We certainly ought to honor the richness of the Christian past and appreciate the vast contribution it makes to our lives, but finally we must live by our best modern conclusions. The modern consensus should not be absolutized; it, too, is always subect to criticism and further revision. But our commitment, however tentative and self-critically maintained, must be to the careful judgments of the present age, even if they differ radically from the dictates of the past.” (p. 23)

(Now, a good illustration of the difference between fundamentalism and evangelicalism can be given in an anecdote about the Pinnock-Brown dialogue in this book. Some years ago I used the book as a textbook in an elective class. One of the students, a theology major, objected strenuously to having to read it. He argued vehemently that dialogue between liberals such as Brown and evangelicals has no value and that Pinnock’s attempt at it proves he is not a true evangelical. I would consider that an expression of a fundamentalist as opposed to an evangelical attitude.)

Pinnock well expresses ALL evangelicals’ response to Brown, this in the context of a disagreement about eschatology in which Brown expressed skepticism about belief in a final triumph of good over evil. Pinnock to Brown: “Here we are back to where we started in the book, back to the difference between us concerning the nature of the authority of the Bible. … You allow the Bible a functional but not a cognitive authority; that is, you will not bow to the content of Scripture but accept it only as a power that authors your life in some (to me) vague way. This means in the present case that you are not able to rest your hope on the revealed promises of God concerning eternal life in Christ beyond death. Usually I appreciate your modesty in the way you do theology, but when it comes down to your not affirming clear promises of God in the gospel, the modesty is being taken too far. Lacking guidance from the Scriptures and, as if to underline my anxiety, you are forced to resolve the issue rationally and then cannot do so. Thus is the problem of liberal theology highlighted.” (p. 249)

In a nutshell, then, the liberal theological ethos accords to “the best of modern thought” the weight of authority in theology alongside or stronger than biblical revelation (and certainly than tradition). This is what Yale historical theologian Claude Welch meant when he wrote that liberal theology is “maximal acknowledgement of the claims of modernity.”

What is ironic is that Pinnock has been labeled “liberal” in spite of his strong rejection of real liberal theology in this and many of his writings. Those who called Pinnock a liberal simply revealed themselves as neo-fundamentalists (who often if not usually use “liberal” as an epithet for anyone and anything they think deviates from their version of “the received evangelical tradition.”)

There are, of course, other family resemblances among theological liberals such as:

  • a tendency to emphasize the immanence of God over God’s transcendence,

  • skepticism about anything supernatural or miraculous (if not rejection of those categories entirely),

  • out-and-out, open universalism (a true denial of hell as opposed to a hope for eventual ultimate reconciliation),

  • an emptying of the “dogma” category and corresponding reduction of all Christian beliefs to the opinion category.

Someone like Pinnock is called a fundamentalist by those on the “left” and a liberal by those on the “right.” These are fallacious and invalid uses of these labels. They have NOTHING to do with history. Theological labels should not be torn away from history and used in such an informal manner as epithets to insult or marginalize people. That is why I have written this post and I hope it helps people who want to use labels with integrity to do so. I realize, of course, that many people don’t care about that; they just want to demean other people they don’t like by slapping negative labels on them.

In which I promise not to call myself fat

June 26, 2011

Dear Anne and Evelynn,... Here are the lies, my dears:

You are only as good as you look.
You are only lovable if you have a rock hard body.
You can conquer your feelings of inadequacy by being skinny.
Nothing tastes as good as skinny feels.
Everyone judges you by how you look and talks about you behind your back.
Beautiful is defined by your culture (and so it is beautiful to be frightfully skinny with bolted-on boobs and an identi-kit face).
You are not worthy of love if you are not beautiful.

I'm raising you in a world that thinks you're only as good as you look. And you're being raised by a woman who is still overcoming these lies herself.

The other day, I did an exercise video at home. You were with me, Annie, while the two littles slept and we leaped and kicked our way through jumping-jacks together. "Oh, Mum!" you glowed, "Even your tummy is having fun! Look at it jumping around!" and for a moment, oh, it stung.

I just gave birth to Evelynn two months ago and so yes, my tummy is "jumping around" when I jump around and part of me wanted to sit down and cry for the sudden cacophony of worthlessness and shame that rose up but then you were there. You were there, looking up at me, having fun exercising and I thought, no. No, I will not cry about how I look in front of you. Instead I told you that this was fantastic and yes, my tummy was having a marvellous time. When you asked me why we were exercising, I had to lock my lips tight against the "to lose weight because I'm fat because I just had a baby" that threatened to spill out and instead spoke of having fun exercising for energy and playing together to be healthy and strong and hey, later, did you want to go bike riding?

I am looking for the small ways to spare you just a few battles of body-image that seems to strangle and entangle so many of us in the war against women. Like the girls that post their supper every night on Facebook for "accountability" and the ones that over-exercise to punish their own bodies. The ones that starve themselves and so carve their own flesh with the word "Forgotten" and "Invisible." Like the ones that are apologetic to their husbands because they have a body marked by childbirth. The ones that are terrified of aging. The ones that feel like they are never, no, never not keenly aware of how they look or what they ate or what they will be eating, the ones chained to a scale or a number or a glossy Photoshopped-ideal.

Sure, I will talk and teach and train but I am learning this: you will sing my songs.

And so I will sing a song of wonder and beauty about womanhood for you to learn from my lips.

I will lead the resistance of these lies in our home by living out a better truth.

I will not criticise my sisters for how they look or live, casting uncharitable words like stones, because my words of criticism or judgement have a strange way of being more boomerang than missile, swinging around to lodge in your own hearts.

I'll wear a bathing suit and I won't tug on it self-consciously. I will get my hair wet.

I will easily change my clothes in front of your Dad, proud of my stretch marks that gave us a family, of breasts that nourished his babies.

I will prove to you that you can be a size 12 and still be sexier than hell.

I will prove to you that you don't have to be all angles and corners, that there is room for some softness because you all love to hug on my soft bits, burrowing into my arms and my breasts to rest for a while.

I will eat dessert and raise my glass and laugh my way to deeper smile lines.

I will celebrate your own beauty, my tall girls, but I will do my best to praise your mind, your heart, your motives as much as I praise your beauty.

I will not let the words "I'm fat" cross my lips - especially in front of you, my beautiful girls.

I will celebrate beauty where I find it, in a million faces uniquely handcrafted by a generous God with a big tent of glorious womanhood.

I will tell stories of women and surround you with a community of women who are smart and strong, crazy and hot-headed, gentle and kind, women who love and you will see that this is what is beautiful, that a generous love is the most gorgeous thing you could ever put on.

I love you.


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The War on Women Worldwide

In which I am part of the insurgency

July 13, 2011
Sometimes I think that there is a war on women. It may be unofficial but oh, sisters, it's pervasive and horrible in some ways, culturally acceptable and mundane-but-devastating in others. The battles go from the rape tactics of war in Sudan to the sex trafficked of eastern Europe, from the pervasiveness of girlie-girl hyper-sexualised stealing of childhood to the proliferation and acceptability of pornography.

I am even beginning to wonder if the evangelical culture war about "biblical" womanhood - narrow stay-at-home vs. working, from complementarian vs. egaltarian (full disclosure: unapologetic egaltarian here) - is disingenuous at best and neutering half the church at worst and, to be honest, completely missing the point. And then when I wrote this small post of promise to my own glorious girls, I was surprised by the response, by the women that are still sharing and sending it and saying that they, too, will make that promise because we all feel the battles there on the scale, too.
I've always had my ear to the ground for women in the news but then when I read this piece about almost an entire generation of missing girls in India and China due to gender selection, the only word I could think of is holocaust because this attack on women, world-over, from womb to grave is truly a reckless slaughter and destruction of lives, in big and small ways, isn't it?

Forgive me the analogy if it offends. That is not my heart ever. But maybe our culture, our world, is the good German, just going along with the flow, keeping their head down and eyes on the work that applies only to them and their family.

If it is a war on women, I can't be Winston Churchill. I am not the one leading the charge and very few listen to my small voice with its strong Canadian accent. I may not be a Katie Davis or a Christine Caine or a Dorothy Day. I may not be a Nancy Alcorn, let alone a Mother Theresa or an Oprah Winfrey or any other well-known woman fighting some small or large battle in this war against our sisters, mothers and daughters, our friends. Our big voices of freedom and workers for the wholeness of women stand as the generals and governments, the tacticians and leaders are our Allied forces.

No, I am not that important. I am small.

And my life is a bit small.

So I will be the French Resistance.

I will be the small underground movement, the insurgency, the one taking every opportunity, however small, to strike a blow for the Kingdom's way of womanhood.

It's in the small ops then. The monthly cheque sent off to Mercy. The determination to value my daughters and sons for their intrinsic worth, their mind and hearts as well as their appearance. To give respect and honour to the stories of women around the world - and in my neighbourhood. The raising of my tinies to follow the example of Christ first. It's in the refusal to ignore the stories - however much I want to stick my head in the sand and act like it's not happening. It's even in the writing of the letter to a small girl in Rwanda who lost her parents to AIDS every month. Even in the honouring of my own gifts to give (ack! Such a hard one). It's in opening our homes with true hospitality especially to the lonely. It's in foregoing Christmas presents to buy a goat for a family overseas. It's in using my words to love us all.

It is making space for God behind enemy lines.

If the big moments, the opportunities to rise up for something bigger come up, I will be ready to jump in, to cast off my underground status, ready to leap to the front lines. (I hope. Who knows? Are you ever ready?)

In the meantime, the Allies depend on us, ma soeurs de coeurs, to dismantle the enemy from inside enemy lines. From inside of our own hearts, from inside of our daughters and sons, from our friends and then, lending our hearts, our hands, our ears and our voices for our sisters world over.

So friends, what is your role? What tactics are you using to undermine the enemy?

Places to get involved that I love:

Mercy Ministries of Canada (or the United States or the UK) - For women that struggle with life-controlling issues such as drug and alcohol abuse, physical and sexual abuse, depression, eating disorders and self-harm.

The A21 Campaign - fighting against sex-trafficking

SheLoves HalfMarathon for Living Hope - a local endeavour to raise funds for women who have had their faces cut off by the LRA to receive restorative surgery and therapy.

World Vision - sponsor a child or a family around the world.

Compassion - sponsor a child or a family around the world.

Watoto - an orphan and widow care ministry in Uganda.

Image source
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Christians should learn from Jews on Passover

Brian McLaren
April 20, 2011

I can understand why some Jewish leaders are concerned about Christians adopting (usurping?) the Passover seder and replacing its original Jewish meanings with Christian meanings. With nearly 2000 years of Christian anti-semitism in our shared history, this can easily be interpreted as yet another encroachment and attempt at conquest and assimilation.

But I wonder if something more helpful - for both Christians and Jews - could come from Christian engagement with Passover. Perhaps instead of importing Christian meanings into a Jewish holiday, Christians can important Jewish meanings into Christian faith, thus reframing our understanding of Jesus and the gospel. (This is one theme of my book “A New Kind of Christianity.”) Many of us are increasingly convinced that it’s a mistake for Christians to see Jesus as a Christian - especially in the modern sense of the word: he was a Jew, as were all the first disciples.

When we Christians reframe and rediscover our faith in light of its Jewish roots (rather than interpreting it in the alien categories of Greek philosophy and Roman politics of the second through fifth centuries), I think our faith is enriched - and we are confronted more deeply by the ugly and violent aspects of “Christian history.”

For example, the word “salvation” in the context of the Passover does not mean “atoning for original sin so the soul can go to heaven instead of hell after death.” No, the word “salvation” means “liberation from slavery and oppression.” So to speak of Jesus as Savior suddenly has less to do with one’s destination after death (as Rob Bell affirms in “Love Wins,” and as I also explored in my “A New Kind of Christian” trilogy) and more to do with one’s participation in and pursuit of God’s justice, reconciliation, and peace in this world, with Jesus - justice for all, reconciliation with all, and peace among all.

That’s quite an improvement over usurpation, encroachment, conquest, and assimilation. So instead of Christians telling Jews what the Passover really means, I propose that we Christians reverse roles and take the role of listeners for a while, learning with our Jewish neighbors forgotten or suppressed meanings that will challenge us all towards repentance and faith, love and good work.


Brian D. McLaren
McLaren is an activist, speaker, and author (most recently of Naked Spirituality and A New Kind of Christianity). He was a pastor for 24 years and is a leader in the global conversation about emerging Christianity.

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Kingdom as a Participatory Eschatology

Brian McLaren
May 10, 2011

I grew up in a Christian tradition (a young one, actually, having started in the 1830’s) called Dispensationalism. Although we shied away from predicting specific dates, we sang and preached and even made scary movies about the coming “Rapture,” Great Tribulation, coming of the Antichrist, and eventually the Second Coming. We had complex charts of our “end-time scenario” in which we could fit (or cram) every single verse in the Bible. It was impressive.

For a while. As I grew older and started reading the Bible more holistically, I realized that this kind of prognostication was a house of cards. Not only that, it had disastrous consequences. After all, why care about global climate change if you believe God is about to burn it up to a cinder anyway? Why worry about peak oil if the world will end before the oil economy collapses? Why address systemic injustice - economic, racial, sexual, political, environmental - if you assume it’s God’s will for things to get worse and worse so it all can be swept away in final judgment?

Now I, like many others, have migrated to a very different understanding of the future. More and more of us are calling it a “participatory eschatology” or a “participatory view of the future.”

Instead of assuming that the future is predetermined, that the script is written, that the movie is already filmed in God’s mind and is only “showing” in the theatre of the now, we believe the future does not yet exist.

We believe that we are called to work together with God’s Spirit - with creativity, for justice and peace, nonviolently, and both passionately and patiently - to create the kind of future that fulfills what Desmond Tutu calls “the Dream of God.” Of course, we can’t presume to know what that world looks like: we can’t presume it’s communist or capitalist or works on some as-yet undreamed-of economic system.

But we work with this confidence: that when we show love, when we seek God’s justice for all, when we care for the vulnerable and forgotten, when we try to take the logs out of our own eyes before working on the splinters in the eyes of others, when we care for the birds of the air, flowers of the field, and fish of the sea, when we admit our wrongs rather than hide or deny them, when we give rather than hoard, when we seek reconciliation rather than revenge ... we are nudging the world one small step forward in our journey towards that dream of blessing and peace.

Sadly, misguided predictions of the sort made by Harold Camping become distractions from that great calling. Although history suggests that people who are part of false predictions tend to double-down when their prophecies fail, perhaps on May 22, some of Camping’s disillusioned followers will be open to a new way of thinking.

Brian D. McLaren
McLaren is an activist, speaker, and author (most recently of Naked Spirituality and A New Kind of Christianity). He was a pastor for 24 years and is a leader in the global conversation about emerging Christianity.

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The State of Contemporary Theology


by James K.A. Smith
posted July 14, 2011

A friend who is a grad student in theology recently expressed some frustration with the proliferation of narrow "camps" in contemporary theology--and hence the lack of space for emerging theologians to engage in conversations which aren't just predetermined at the outset. What s/he has found is that most theological claims/discussions are judged beforehand by a kind of guilt-by-association: "Oh, you're working out of Camp X and are sympathetic to Theologian Y. I've already got a line/take/pigeonhole for that 'school,' and so I already know what you're going to say. Ergo, there's really no need for the conversation."

Not exactly productive conditions for common pursuit of truth.

So, my friend asked, is there some place where young theologians can engage in honest, forthright dialogue without all the posturing? Here's what I suggested, off-the-cuff (and slightly redacted):


It's a good question, but I'm afraid I don't have a very good answer. I must confess I despair about the state of "professional" theology today. It just seems to me that we have increasing "balkanization," with everyone carving themselves up into smaller and smaller tribish enclaves, and then proceeding to both rail against straw men and preach to their own little choirs. In some ways, I think this is an effect of the loss of confessional and denominational identity. Instead of training to be Reformed theologians or Roman Catholic theologians or Lutheran theologians we have a generation who are training to become "ecclesiocentric" theologians or "apocalyptic" theologians or "radically orthodox" theologians, etc. Everybody's gotta have an "angle," a project, an agenda, a manifesto, a list of "Theses" that discloses the hitherto hidden truth of the world on the basis of their own ingenuity. Hence the most important words in our theological lexicons become "alone" and "only," as in: "Only [insert theological ideology here] can properly account for [insert favorite political and social issue here]."

All of this does weird things to theological identity and community, which then breeds a narcissism of minor differences. In some ways, this is a strange by-product of "ecumenical" theological education. (I think the blogosphere exacerbates this in important ways, but I would need more data to substantiate such a claim.)

I also think this state of the field is a by-product of the fact that many up-and-coming theologians right now are not what we used to call "churchmen" in any strong sense ("churchwomen" included): they are not tied to denominational identities, they are not participants in the specifics of ecclesiastical governance/teaching, they are not subject to ecclesial magisteria of any sort, they are not aspiring to chairs in their denominational seminaries, etc. From where I sit, freelancing does not seem very conducive to healthy theologizing.

In a lot of ways, this is why I have planted myself in a very particular, "thick" confessional location--not because it is the one, true perspective; or the temple that holds all the secrets; but because it is a good location (and a "good enough" location) which is both catholic and particular, and one to which I feel--if this doesn't sound too quaint--called. So I'm a Reformed thinker, and even more specifically, a Christian Reformed thinker. Far from being a recipe for sectarianism, I think that centering frees me up to engage selectively, critically, and generously (I hope). In a sense, thick confessional/denominational identity eliminates a certain insecurity that I think explains alot of the current fragmentation. So my theological and professional identity is not bound up with any 'school of thought' or sensibility. (Based on my books, people seem to think that I have some investment in being "postmodern" or "RO" or "Hauerwasian" or whathaveyou: but I don't own stock in any of these little cottage industries, though I have interest in all of them. My central investment is in this obscure little denomination where I'm planted.)

So in some sense, I just don't know if the sort of space you're looking for exists, sadly. Then again, maybe it's always been this way!



Limited Universal Salvation

A Non-Universal Story

What is the best possible ending for the biblical story?

More specifically, does universal salvation provide a better ending for the story than the more common view of limited entrance into the eternal Kingdom of God?

I have to say at the outset that, despite my arguments against universalism, I feel the force of the question and at times find myself drawn toward a more universalistic anticipation of the future. Those thoughts are driven, not by a denial of how badly humans have gotten God’s story wrong here on earth, but by an affirmation of the largess of God’s saving grace: if saving some is good, how much better is saving all?

But when I step back from this, I consider that the better ending of God’s saving story is not numerically universal in scope. (If I use the term “universalism” in this discussion, it will mean “every human being who has ever lived entering into the eternal salvation, in resurrected bodies upon the new creation, that was accomplished in Christ.”)

I have two main thoughts about why a limited final salvation, which seems to me to be better attested in scripture than its alternatives, is a better ending to the story than universalism. Both of these thoughts have to do, in some respect, with the idea that stories are immanently more compelling when their scenes are connected and related to one another.

In the end, deus ex machina renders the antecedent story irrelevant.

Life Echoing to Eternity

Jesus’ first words of public proclamation are, “Repent, for the Reign of God has drawn near!” The Reign (or Kingdom) of God is sometimes depicted as what is arriving with Jesus’ advent, and sometimes as what we wait for in the restoration of all things.

With this, we catch a clear indication that the present as it has been inaugurated in Christ is inseparable from the future that God is bringing about through him. Or, in the words of Maximus the Gladiator, “What we do in life echoes in eternity.”

This connection between the works of this life and our eternal destiny is a consistent theme in the message of the New Testament in general and in Jesus’ teaching in particular. The famous sheep and goats scene of Matthew 25 speaks of a final judgment in which visiting the prisoner, feeding the hungry, and giving drink to the thirsty are indications, on earth, of being children of the kingdom—which means entering the kingdom of the king for all eternity.

Two things are worth pointing out here, as we’ll return to the second point in a bit. The first is the connection between this life and the next. The second is that despite the continuity the final judgment comes as a surprise to everyone

The idea that there is drastic, dramatic discontinuity is more Gnostic than Christian. In this particular discussion, I am presenting what is probably perceived by most as a more “traditional” or conservative position on the world to come. But the idea of continuity is one that folks to my right are guilty of as well. The idea that we are saved by faith alone has often borne fruit in a theology that says what we do while on earth does not matter for the final judgment—we are saved solely by the work of Christ. The idea that God introduces dramatic discontinuity between this world and the next has borne fruit in the notion that what we do to the earth we are on does not matter—the earth will have to be remade completely.

Both of these non-Christian ideas derive from a failure to recognize the continuity between this life and the next. And, the plea for universalism indicates a similar failure. The way the Christian story works, as all good stories do, is by a measure of continuity between one scene and the next – even when we recognize the presence of a hero who comes in and rescues people from what would otherwise be the natural course of their actions.

So reason one why I am not a universalist is because the story indicates a continuity between this life and the next such that there are those who demonstrate themselves to be children of the kingdom and those who are demonstrating themselves to not be so (re)born.

Freedom and Responsibility

A second reason I am hesitant to see universalism as the outcome of the story is that I see it coming together with one other popular idea to validate what I see as a typically western, especially American, mentality.

One of the foundational theological premises of popular western, especially American, theologizing, is the notion of free will. It doesn’t matter that the phrase “free will” is never spoken of as a determining factor in a person’s relationship with God in the entire Bible or that election and predestination are so invoked on numerous occasions, the basic premise of Bible-believing Christians is that we have free will and God doesn’t control us, make us puppets, etc.

I thus find it interesting that from the people for whom free will is a non-negotiable in all our dealings with God that universalism is an increasingly popular option. It seems as though we want to eat our cake and have it. After asserting that everything is entirely up to us, that God would never force anyone to choose God or love God, in the end we are not willing to accept that there might be grave, even eternal consequences to this act of freedom. In the end, we are asking for God to overcome our freedom by a mighty act of universal election.

If we are going to so stridently insist on a God who is willing that his creatures choose or reject God in freedom, I think we need to have the courage to posit a God who is willing to live with the consequences of that freedom—a God who, in the end, is willing to say to us who have rejected God, “Your will be done.”

We’re approaching this question of universalism by asking what makes for the best ending to the story. I think that we want our stories to have continuity. I have not focused on the issue of justice in the sense of avenging wrongs that go unpunished in the world.

One might also raise the question of whether it is our position as essentially empowered people that gives us the luxury of demanding a setting-of-all-things-to-rights by exclusion of some from God’s kingdom at the End. I do believe that is important, but that it is only one facet of a larger storyline that will issue forth in some sort of continuity between this age and the age to come.


Having said all this, however, I want to return to a point I made above.

I anticipate that the end will be a time of surprise. Surprise endings are the stuff of good stories. Continuity does not entail predictability. The only thing I think we can predict with safety is that the actual playing out of “the End” will be unpredictable.

As a New Testament scholar, I am regularly made aware of how the first coming of Jesus caused his followers to reread the Old Testament and to provide new interpretations to the old texts. I anticipate that the same is in store for us in the future.

One such surprise, I think, will in fact be the breadth of those who are embraced into the quintessential human task of glorifying God. The appearance at the end of Revelation of the kings of the earth, bringing in the glory of the nations, perhaps provides a hint that the judgment will not leave behind anything so neatly circumscribed as “the church.”

About AricClark

Aric discovered he is religious and not spiritual in a Chan Buddhist monastery in Taiwan. These days he inflicts that religion on a congregation of Presbyterians in Fort Morgan, Colorado. He does this while fathering two wild heathens, writing everything but this week’s sermon, and husbanding the amazing Stacia Ann. He is a world-class Game Master, a pacifist, an over-activist, and a number 8 on the Enneagram. His influences include James Alison, Pomplamoose, Pema Chodron, Iain M. Banks, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Stephen R. Donaldson, Chipotle chicken burritos, John Howard Yoder, Cowboy Bebop, and the highland bagpipes. He still cannot grow a beard.

Dr. JR Daniel Kirk

Is a New Testament professor at Fuller Seminary in Northern California and the author of Unlocking Romans as well as Jesus Have I Loved, But Paul?, which is due to be released later this year. He brews his own beer, listens to the Mountain Goats almost obsessively, and blogs daily at Storied Theology.

HarperOne Response to Love Wins

Not long ago I wrote some brief comments about HarperOne's campaign to make money at Rob Bell's political expense within evangelical circles (http://relevancy22.blogspot.com/2011/06/its-hard-to-put-into-words-my-initial.html). I still stand by these remarks and consider HarperOne's statement below to be shortsighted of the firestorm they knew would come. In effect, I consider this damage control by HarperOne for the benefit of HarperOne so that they do not lose additional money-making opportunities within the same evangelical groups they have disenfranchised by publishing Rob's book.

Though this "apology" comes a little late it seems to be more about HarperOne than their authorial protege, Rob Bell, whom they over-eagerly advised to write an inflammatory book that they knew would prove to be divisive to many Christians seeking clearer statements and not theological missiles thrown at them. And Bell, who is known to seek the lost sheep of God's in the wilderness of theological mis-statements and purgatorial guilt, believed that by distinguishing a clearer doctrine of hell and salvation would be a spiritual help to those lost sheep of God's. In the doing of this task he found himself alienating a group that had become locked in to its own salvific formulas and religious traditions rather than the more hopeful result of re-opening more expansive views of heaven, hell and God's love. It is to evangelicalism's ill-credit that they have responded so vindictively, so unlovingly, preferring to deem a godly man a charlatan rather than the God-gifted evangelist that he is. And all along HarperOne has been feeding the machinery of profits and burgeoning markets at Rob's expense and evangelical Christianity's even poorer response.

- skinhead



Rob Bell’s Hell
By Mickey Maudlin, HarperOne Senior V.P./Executive Editor
July 1st, 2011 by admin

Nothing makes me more proud than to see a book I edited reach a wide audience. By that measure, I should be beaming over Rob Bell’s Love Wins. And I am. Not only has it spent fifteen weeks on the New York Times bestseller list (as of this writing), Rob has personally heard from hundreds of readers about how his book has been “a cure,” “healing,” “a lifesaver,” or has allowed them to connect or reconnect with the church.

Still, I cannot shake a deep sadness about the book. Considering how corrosive the effects can be on those who have been told they are “special” or that they are “God’s voice for a generation,” I was pleasantly surprised at the beginning of our work together to discover Rob to be a great listener and partner, eager for feedback, a hard worker, fun, and deeply grounded spiritually. He knew what God wanted him to do, and not do, and what his priorities were. At heart he is a pastor and an evangelist whose ambition is to overcome barriers to the gospel. In that way, he reminds me of Billy Graham.

And so, as someone who has spent his entire adult life in the evangelical portion of the church, I cannot help but be sad at the reaction to the book by many conservative Christians. The Southern Baptist Convention passed a resolution against Rob and the book. Bestselling author Francis Chan and Christianity Today’s Mark Galli have authored two of the six books opposing Rob. Leading evangelicals like Albert Mohler, David Platt, and John Piper have condemned him. Christian critics routinely use words like “unbiblical,” “heretical,” and worse to describe Rob. Most Christian bookstores refuse to carry the book. My heart goes out to Rob for having to endure this onslaught (which, in my view, he has weathered surprisingly well, thank God).

But why such hostility? Why would leaders attack as a threat and an enemy someone who shares their views of Scripture, Jesus, and the Trinity? What prevented leaders from saying, “Thanks, Rob, interesting views, but here is where we disagree”? When did “believing the right things” become equated with determining who is “saved” so that, as some have claimed, affirming Rob’s teachings might jeopardize one’s eternal destiny? (If salvation is dependent on having the right Protestant theology, how could the apostles be saved?) What exactly is so threatening about Rob’s expansive vision of God’s love and grace?

As a young evangelical, I was socialized to see the biggest threat to the church as theological liberalism. But now I think the biggest threat is Christian tribalism, where God’s interests are reduced to and measured by those sharing your history, tradition, and beliefs, and where one needs an “enemy” in order for you to feel “right with God.” Such is the challenge facing the church today and what the reaction to Love Wins reveals. So the success of Love Wins fills me with both hope and fear. But it has also made me thankful that I work for a publisher that is independent of these church wars and allows us to concentrate on books that offer hope and light. Because, with Rob, I really do believe that love wins.

Mickey's Signature
Mickey Maudlin
Senior V.P. | Executive Editor | Director of Bible Publishing