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

Monday, January 23, 2012

Commentary: Jesus, Religion, & Relationships, Part 2


"Virgil's ability to plumb the complexity of human affairs is a key to his greatness,
a key to his relevance for us today. We live in an age in which  simplistic versions
of reality - simplified social and political perspectives, philosophical world
pictures, moral principles - are privileged, over-nuanced, understandings."

From an introduction to Virgil's The Aeneid, by Fred Will


When coming to the subject matter of Faith and Worship,
and having at the last plumbed its depths,
we  may only stand back and say that we know nothing.
Nothing. That we have but only begun on our journey
into the Divine mystery of all that is God,
despite all the words and practices of mortal man.

- R.E. Slater, January 22, 2012



* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *



Continued from...
 
Jefferson Bethke:
Jesus, Religion, and Relationships
Part 1-



By way of disclaimer, I am not familiar with the "Spiritual But Not Religious" SBNR** organization. Nor am I recommending it by sharing this article's point-of-view. However, if biblical practices and truths are being followed (and by this I mean Jesus! is at the center of a fellowship group) and not simply a form of man-centered humanism wrapped around the husk of a stateless religion, than I would have no disagreement with these spiritualistic groups. In fact, I would be in sympathy with their desire to worship, discover, and breathe-out the God of the OT/NT Bible. But not if its self-derived. Unmoved by the Holy Spirit. Emptied of all but our own legalistic self-righteousness in its many gnosticising or mystical forms of seeking a "bigger something out there." Nor an anti-church feeling driven by our own ego and pride to be spiritual. If its true, if its real, its all of God and not of ourselves. It comes with God's Spirit that tears us down and rebuilds us up in Jesus. Its not magical. Its not a great big secret. Its filled with God's presence and love. Grace and mercy. Forgiveness and repentance. And most of all its filled with God's revelation from the Bible.

More importantly, Mike Morrell has hit upon one of the main themes of (i) Christianity, of (ii) Jesus' ancient message to his faith-followers, and of (iii) the Church's ever churning paradoxes... and that is the topic of what does it mean to be "spiritual." Not "religious" but spiritual. Not legalistic but spiritual. Not creedalistic. Not ritualistic. Not dressed in the skins of religiosity. But really, truly, spiritual within our inner man. And by that I mean, How is Jesus lifted up in your life? How is Jesus the center of your worship? How is Jesus both the phraseology and the grammar to your spirituality? ...How is Jesus the book covers at each end of your life and the very chapters that lie within the very depth of your being? How is Jesus the very meaning and essence of your existence? Is this Jesus the Jesus of the Bible or a Jesus of your imaginations? Is He simply a good man, a worthy example, a contrarian symbol of institutional anarchy or the crucified Savior resurrected and glorified by the Father?

The conundrum of apprehending a religion that is spiritual falls into the same category of apprehending a religious faith that is real, affective, re-orienting, life-changing, mind-changing, heart-changing, revolutionary and evolutionary! It is a conundrum that has affected the Church ever since the Holy Spirit baptised an upper room of disheartened followers with the Gospel of Jesus that was living and transformative.

So then, the life testimonies of the those mentioned in the article below are no more real than the very historical testimonies of the Church given to us down through the centuries of those seeking to apprehend a living, spiritual faith.... And in many ways it is comforting to see this trend continue from the modernistic era into the postmodernistic era. It is both the Church's inheritance and its formative challenge to follow Jesus as best as we can given what we now know as versus what we thought we knew. The Church must be allowed to change - even to the point of breaking with tradition - while searching for illumination to biblical knowledge and truth so often twisted out of context and misaligned with our religious humanisms and deception. Solid baseline biblical doctrine is always directional and never suffocating. It is investigative. It has validity historically and hermeneutically. It is liberating never confining. It frees our human spirit. Why? Because it is God's spoken word to our sinful minds and hearts too often lost within the words and practices of men around us.

Truth and Love go hand-in-hand. They are Siamese twins. They are two sides to the same coin. To love God requires knowledge of God's truth given to us in the Bible. To not know God's revelation is to mislead ourselves in the thinking that our faith is spiritual when it is only sincere. We are not allowed to be sloppy in our theology. But we must be allowed to pursue our faith with all diligence. Emergent Christianity is the cool, hot topic of the day. But being Emergent without a knowledge of God's Word is devolution, not revolution.

R.E. Slater
January 21, 2012

* * * * * * * * * * * * * *


Jesus and Religion’s Relationship Status: It’s Complicated

by Mike Morrell
January 16, 2012

“Lots of people are dissing religion these days, but for very different reasons. When progressives diss religion, they want practices without beliefs. When conservatives diss religion, they want beliefs without practices. I’m sympathetic to both perspectives, but at the end of the day I have to recognize that we humans all believe things, and we all have practices. Which is why I’d say I’m spiritual and religious. Or, that I have a divine relationship and religion. They’re both here.”


* * * * * * * * * * * * * *


You’ve seen it by now, surely you have: By the time I finish writing this post, I’ll bet Jeff Bethke‘s viral YouTube phenomenon “Why I Hate Religion, But Love Jesus” has likely garnered 8 to 12 million views. In like 5 days. If you haven’t seen it yet, go ahead and watch it here. I’ll wait.



Done? Okay, so – this video has stirred up all kinds of mixed feelings, among the faithful and nontheists alike – at least, among those of whom I’m connected to on Facebook, Twitter, and Google+

So here goes: There are things about this conversation that aren’t surprising me, things about it that are surprising, and I think that the ‘truth’ of the Jesus versus religion (or faith/spirituality versus religion, or internals versus externals) debate is stranger and more intriguing than most of us realize in this unique cultural moment. This is going to be a loooong post, kids, so buckle up and stay with me – we’re in for a wild ride of bizarre juxtapositions and strange ideological bedfellows!

Surprises! And not so much.

What’s not surprising to me is how many of my friends from house church and ‘relational Christianity‘ backgrounds love this video. After all, voices ranging from Gene Edwards to Wayne Jacobsen regularly lambast religion as a man(sic)-made attempt to reach God under our own steam, the kind of thing that Jesus (especially as interpreted by Paul in Galatians and Romans) came to abolish. (See The Highest Life, Christ versus Religion, He Loves Me! for these ideas writ large) Real faith, in the understanding of my “outside the Institutional Church” friends, begins and ends in grace - with God in Christ taking the initiative and carrying things through to completion. In their understanding, this isn’t religious at all, but its opposite.


No, what surprises me is how many of us (and I include myself in this) had strong negative reactions to this video from my emerging/missional church tribe. In principle, we should like this message. It’s reminiscent of Jay Bakker‘s boldly preaching (as a matter of autobiographical fact from his tele-evangelical childhood) that religion kills in his books and church; it’s Rob Bell‘s message in The gods Aren’t Angry when he looks at how sacrificial religion was invented by humanity as a way of explaining reality and appeasing vengeful projections of ourselves, gods whom the living God reveals in in the light of Christ’s resurrection to mere phantasms of our worst fears – abolishing this kind of religion altogether.

The Gods Aren't Angry

Then there’s Dietrich Bonhoeffer with his potent, much-speculated end-of-life religion-less Christianity, which finds contemporary expression in (among other voices) Peter Rollins via Insurrection. IVP’s Likewise Books published Jesus Without Religion a couple years back, and popular Canadian alt.Anabaptist pastor Bruxy Cavey wrote The End of Religion around the same time to much acclaim. Dan Kimball notes of contemporary secular people that They Like Jesus but Not the Church; even good ‘ol Don Miller‘s 2003 best-seller (and upcoming movie) Blue Like Jazz is subtitled Nonreligious Thoughts on Christian Spirituality. Diana Butler-Bass, previously a champion of religion’s possibility in books like Christianity For the Rest of Us, just might be doing an about-face in her upcoming Christianity After Religion: The End of Church and the Birth of a New Spiritual Awakening.

Instead of giving Bethke high-fives and amens, though, many of us are responding like this young woman – if we’re being this charitable:



Why the disconnect? Are we just a bunch of hypocrites, or what? Here’s the rub, as I see it: All of those people just cited above are using the term ‘religion’ in at least two different ways. (I’ll get to that in a sec.) I think that the source of irritation for those who are irritated is this: Many of us hear Jethke saying that he “literally resents” religion, but then when he says things like

Because when [Jesus] was dangling on that cross, he was thinking of you,
And he absorbed all of your sin, and buried it in the tomb

…well, we hear an inherently religious claim. Just ask any atheist. Heck, ask any educated, non- or post-evangelical Christian: That is some very specific theology – penal substitutionary atonement.

Still, I think a lot of the pajama pundits out there are being unfair in their criticism of Jethke, importing all of their (admittedly more sociologically accurate) definitions of ‘religion’ onto this spoken word piece, rather than letting the 20-something nonprofit worker use the word in his own self-defined way: Religion as a human attempt to reach God, one that often becomes mired in self-righteousness and hypocrisy. And when you ask most people today why they’ve left church or organized religion, they’ll give you much the same response: Organized religion is exhausting, it’s confusing, it me and/or others’ feel self-righteousness; it’s a hotbed of hypocrisy. Now: It remains to be seen whether or not Jethke’s prescription fits the disease, or whether it only makes things worse. But I think it’s important to acknowledge that 12 million people are watching this video because it hits them where they’re at. Capiche?

In our current cultural moment, unprecedented millions – if not billions – are sick to death of religion-as-we-know-it. I’m going to generalize a bit, but after a lifetime of unusually intense brushing-shoulders with Christians, new agers, conspiracy buffs, Integralists, neopagans and comic book fans (among others), I’m going to break down how people respond to religion-fatigue into two basic categories:

I. Conservatives rejecting religion:
“It’s not about religion, but a relationship”

I first heard this phrase at a PCA drama camp in my teens, from the pastor’s wife who was coordinating the camp. Even though I was raised in church, I’d not really thought of ‘religion’ before that one way or another. “Hate religion? We do too!” was on the church‘s billboard at that time, in 1995. This quote sums up this perspective succinctly:
As you can probably tell from many of my blog entries, I am a bible believing Christian. I believe in God. I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God. I believe that the bible is reliable and is the basis for truth. I believe that God wants to have a relationship with everyone on earth and to see them come to salvation. Religion is a different matter. I don’t believe in religion. I am not religious…God created us for relationship. He wants to walk with us, talk with us, help us to learn and grow. We are spiritual beings, created to know God. One of the problems I see with Christianity as a religion is that it takes its focus off of the relationship and puts it onto the “lifestyle” of Christians. There is a Christian lifestyle – common dos and don’ts, ways of talking and behaving, an expected political outlook – and unfortunately, a common critical eye towards those who believe differently and act differently. In this I find the biggest fault with Christianity – the focus on sin, both personal sin and the sin of others. Jesus Christ did not come and die on the cross to get us to stop sinning. He came to set us free from sin. He came, not to put our focus on sin, but to take our focus off of it…God wants our focus to be on Him, not on the rules. I don’t lay down a law against my wife. We have a relationship, we love each other, and learn and grow together. Rules don’t make that relationship work, love does. God wants the same thing to be true with the relationship He has with us.

Cue music:



Got it? This is a powerful meme, one that has attracted scores of people, inside and outside of church alike. In my decade of communitarian-flavored house churching, one of the worst things that you could be accused of when sharing in a meeting was being “religious.” If I or someone else shared something that sounded remotely ‘theological’ rather than ‘me and Jesus’ in tone, someone would, like clockwork, strike it down with “That sounds pretty religious,” “That’s not why we’re here, brother,” or “Wrong Tree,” referring to a distinction between the ‘Tree of Knowledge‘ and the ‘Tree of Life‘ in Scripture’s Edenic past. Of course the irony was, we had our own pretty sacrosanct norms for how we gathered, shared, and worshiped; we had an extensive taxonomy of belief (as a statement like “Wrong Tree” would imply!)…it’s not that we were irreligious; we were simply differently religious.


There are many advocates for the “It’s not a religion, but a relationship” perspective within Christianity. Pollster George Barna advocated for it in Revolution. Charismatic troubadour John Crowder advocates for it in his books, ‘Gospel Bliss Tours,’ and Santa Cruz Church. Pastor and author Greg Boyd is Repenting of Religion and invites us to see The Myth of a Christian Religion. Scientist and pastor Andrew Farley presents this perspective persuasively in his books The Naked Gospel: Jesus Plus Nothing. 100% Natural. No Additives and God without Religion: Can It Really Be This Simple?. The URL for his Texas congregation, Ecclesia, is telling: ChurchWithoutReligion.com.

I believe that when conservative Christians (and likely, followers of any faith) say “For me it’s not about religion, but a relationship with God,” they’re being sincere. In many ways, this is the core of the contemplative or mystical experience that is arguably the heart of any faith: We want faith to be a first-hand divine experience, not merely a rote hand-me-down. But: It would be a mistake to take this outlook to mean that these relaters-not-religious are devoid of specific and passionately-held belief. In general, I think that “It’s not about religion, but relationship” folks de-emphasize norms of religious practice, but they’re actually more intense than the general population in what everyone but them would call religious belief. This to me is most powerfully illustrated in the best-selling “It’s not about religion, but relationship”-themed book of all time, The Shack. This 10 million+-seller says virtually nothing about religious practice (and what it does say is none too flattering!); what it does do is paint a vividly attractive portrait of what healthy beliefs might look like concerning a relational, Triune God.

II. Progressives rejecting religion:
“I’m spiritual, not religious.”

Progressives have their equivalent to “It’s not a religion, but a relationship” too, and it’s been gaining a ton of traction in the past five years: “I’m spiritual, but not religious.” (Henceforth SBNR) UCC minister Lillian Daniel crankily sums up this liberally in-vogue perspective thusly in her now-famous diatribe Spiritual but Not Religious? Please Stop Boring Me:
On airplanes, I dread the conversation with the person who finds out I am a minister and wants to use the flight time to explain to me that he is “spiritual but not religious.” Such a person will always share this as if it is some kind of daring insight, unique to him, bold in its rebellion against the religious status quo. Next thing you know, he’s telling me that he finds God in the sunsets. These people always find God in the sunsets. And in walks on the beach. Sometimes I think these people never leave the beach or the mountains, what with all the communing with God they do on hilltops, hiking trails and . . . did I mention the beach at sunset yet?
She goes on to indict the spiritual-but-not-religious plane-mate:
Being privately spiritual but not religious just doesn’t interest me. There is nothing challenging about having deep thoughts all by oneself. What is interesting is doing this work in community, where other people might call you on stuff, or heaven forbid, disagree with you. Where life with God gets rich and provocative is when you dig deeply into a tradition that you did not invent all for yourself.Thank you for sharing, spiritual but not religious sunset person. You are now comfortably in the norm for self-centered American culture, right smack in the bland majority of people who find ancient religions dull but find themselves uniquely fascinating. Can I switch seats now and sit next to someone who has been shaped by a mighty cloud of witnesses instead? Can I spend my time talking to someone brave enough to encounter God in a real human community? Because when this flight gets choppy, that’s who I want by my side, holding my hand, saying a prayer and simply putting up with me, just like we try to do in church.
But is that entirely fair? I know what wouldn’t be fair – letting a group be defined solely by its detractors. So here’s what Ian Lawton and the web emcees for the website SBNR.org






say said (this is an archived version of their site):
“Spiritual But Not Religious” describes a new worldview that is inclusive and open as opposed to separatist and closed. SBNR people desire a deep experience of life, including the mysteries of life, without the limitations and baggage of doctrine and religion.

The more I pay attention to the ordinary wonders of life, the less need I have for extraordinary miracles. Life, lived fully in the here and now, is sufficient to keep me wonderstruck for eternity. Spirituality draws me deeper into the moment. It is the experience, inspiration and awareness that evoke meaning, connections and the rapture of life. Spirituality is humanity that is experienced deeply. It is real. It is fun. It is practical. It is joy. It is pain. It is extraordinarily ordinary.

Generally speaking, religion is concerned with beliefs and tradition. The aspect of religion that many SBNR folk prefer to live without is the limitation of beliefs that are out of step with life as we experience it. There are three specific aspects of religion that many SBNR folk avoid.

Blind adherence- Beliefs that are unbelievable and irrelevant
Empty ritual-
Rituals that are otherworldly or archaic
Guilt- A set of rules to follow, and the fear of punishment.

Many SBNR folk desire a deep experience of life, and the Source of life, without the limitations and baggage of doctrine and religion.
(Much more here.)


It’s important to note that Lawton and the SBNR.org folks are headquartered out of a bricks-and-mortar congregation, C3 Exchange: Spiritually-Inclusive Community. Similarly, Integral and interspiritual teacher Marc Gafni curates Integral Church: First Fridays, which monthly seeks to “engage the direct evolutionary mystical consciousness of our emergent World Spirituality framework and lineage. We want to literally be able to taste God, the Divine beyond us and the infinitely gorgeous ecstatic Divine that lives as us.” To do so, they enact various rituals to create ‘liminal space’ where this tasting and seeing God can take place:
Around the table together, we will engage in the tantric practice of Sabbath table mysticism. The core of the practice is to eat and drink a joyous meal together which is filled with intimacy, spiritual exercises, mediation, chant, partner work. The core experience of the Sabbath table is wildly beautiful which holds, honors and evolves all of our pained and broken places; even as the Sabbath table reminds us that we are kings and queens, wildly beautiful and pleasing to God as we realize that in our innermost being, we are actually part of God.
Check ‘em out:




The aforementioned Peter Rollins, who speaks and writes often of moving Toward a Church Beyond Belief, founded the belief-defying iKon in Northern Ireland and inspires dozens of similar alt.worship communities worldwide. An archetypal example is Waco, Texas’s VOID Collective: “an experimental faith collective that utilizes a live mix of music, art, spoken word, personal reflections, and ritual to creatively engage questions of faith and doubt. A provocative and experiential event, VOID is marked by the religious question but remains radically open and non-confessional.” And The Red Door in Lakewood, Colorado contends “If there are 6 billion people on the planet, then there are at least 6 billion possible ways to communicate with your Creator. And six billion ways to move your body,” and builds an eclectic SBNR worship experience based on this premise of infinite diversity of practice.

Not all SBNR people participate in gatherings like C3, Integral Church, iKon, VOID, and Red Door. Indeed, the critique of people like Lillian Daniels and Jesuit priest James Martin is that SBNR people are un-moored to concrete community. I’d like to suggest, though, that SBNR folks – who are sometimes in organized gatherings, sometimes-not – have one thing in common: They’re far more committed to open-ended spiritual practices (be they communal ritual, or private meditation, yoga, journaling, centering prayer) than they are to detailed or comprehensive sets of belief.

My conclusion: Lots of people are dissing religion these days, but for very different reasons. When progressives diss religion, they want practices without beliefs. When conservatives diss religion, they want beliefs without practices. I’m sympathetic to both perspectives, but at the end of the day I have to recognize that we humans all believe things, and we all have practices. Which is why I’d say I’m spiritual and religious. Or, that I have a divine relationship and religion. They’re both here.

And of course, being a good...
  • Christ follower
  • Way farer
  • Integral Adventurer

...Christian, I think that my perspective is what Jesus and his earliest followers adhered to. Even if you disagree with me, please humor me and hear my case. I’m sure we can all learn something from each other in the comments section.

Jesus (& Paul & John):
No friend of power-brokering religion

As a nod to Jeff Bethke and the millions of Relationship-But-Not-Religion and SBNR folks out there, I’d like to briefly outline the No duh texts of Christian Holy Writ that demonstrate Jesus and his earliest followers’ often antagonistic stance toward the religious institutions and elites of their day. Jesus, in a passage rendered famously by Lutheran pastor Eugene Peterson‘s The Message translation, has Jesus evocatively inviting us to something that transcends petty religion:
“Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.” (Matthew 11:28-30)
Jesus backed up this invitation with his life. He overturned Temple tables, healed on the Sabbath (and taught others to do the same), called religious leaders “broods of vipers” and “whitewashed tombs,” cursed fig trees symbolizing fruit-less religionists. This kind of confrontation was not uncommon:
So the Pharisees and teachers of the law asked Jesus, “Why don’t your disciples live according to the tradition of the elders instead of eating their food with defiled hands?”

He replied, “Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you hypocrites; as it is written:

“‘These people honor me with their lips,
but their hearts are far from me.
They worship me in vain;
their teachings are merely human rules.’
You have let go of the commands of God and are holding on to human traditions.”
And he continued, “You have a fine way of setting aside the commands of God in order to observe your own traditions!” (Mark 7:5-9)
Jesus’ overall appraisal of the religionists of his day is ”“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You travel over land and sea to win a single convert, and when you have succeeded, you make them twice as much a child of hell as you are.” Jesus seemed to be about creating a new kind of community, one where the values of repressive religion and empire would be absent:
Jesus called them to himself and said, ‘You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great men exercise authority over them. It is not this way among you, but whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you shall be your slave…’ (Matthew 20:25-27a)
Jesus’ earliest followers seem to have picked up on this tension with prevailing religion and followed in his footsteps. In words of a letter to Colossae commonly attributed to Paul, the author admonishes his hearers:
Do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day. These are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ. (Colossians 2:16-17)
Paul arguably saw spiritual life as a break away from conventional religion into one of communion with God in Christ:
For through the law I died to the law so that I might live for God. I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. I do not set aside the grace of God, for if righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing! (Galatians 2:19-21)
It is Paul who famously said “[God] has made us competent as ministers of a new covenant – not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.” (2 Corinthians 3:6. For more on how Paul & others saw this working itself out in non-hierarchical, communal church structures, see this post.)

Paul was not alone in advocating for a Spirit-led rather than rules-led community, as this passage from 1 John attests: “As for you, the anointing that you received from [Christ] abides in you, and so you do not need anyone to teach you. But as his anointing teaches you about all things…abide in him.” (1 John 2:27)

Finally, the author of Hebrews invokes an ancient prophetic promise in Jeremiah that people wouldn’t be led by laws written in stone, but instead on living laws written in our hearts. (See this post for more exploration of this ancient Christian idea)

My conclusion: Those disgruntled with religion-as-usual have ample precedent in Scripture to be disgruntled. The subversion of conventional religion is actually a biblically-rooted idea.

Jesus (& Paul):
Practitioners of prophetic religion

But not so fast: Jesus, Paul, and the Hebrew prophets who report God saying things like “I hate, I despise your feasts, and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies” (Amos 5:21) are not saying and writing these things as standing-on-the-outside, disavowed enemies of religion. No, they’re writing as passionate critics from within. As John Caputo says, “We deconstruct that which we love.” When we forget that what we’re passionately denouncing has something at its core that we actually cherish, deconstruction becomes mere destruction, with no regard for life or feelings.

To state the obvious: Jesus was Jewish, growing up in a devout Jewish home. He went to Synagogue; he went to Temple. He celebrated Passover; he even took part in a religious rite innovative in his day, the Baptism of John. He perfectly (if paradoxically, in the minds of many) fit Jewish religious categories like rabbi and Messiah. Even phrases we apply to Jesus like anointed one and Son of Man are Jewish religious terms. Paul for his part, while clearly delineating (arguably, more clearly than Jesus) between debilitating forms of Jewish religion and newfound freedom in Christ, still saw Gentile Christians as indebted to the Jewish message and ultimately, the Jewish God. And while the reasons he did so are debatable, he apparently still went to the Temple in Jerusalem, post-Pharisee career, and even took a vow and shaved his head there once. And of course, Paul passed down new, distinctly Christian religious practices like Baptism and the Agape Feast/Lord’s Table to the communities he worked with.

My conclusion: While Bonhoeffer and Rollins and Farley and Cavey might very well have legitimate ideas about living life beyond religion in the 21st century, these ideas would have been inconceivable in the first century. Jesus and Paul, standing in the tradition of the Hebrew prophets, were calling people to be differently religious, not irreligious.

Seven-to-Nine Different Ways of Looking At Religion

In the light of this phenomenological and biblical survey of the pros and cons of religion, now these sociological definitions of ‘religion’ might come in handy. Matt Stone of Glocal Christianity has identified seven definitions of religion from Ninian Smart:

1.) Ritual: Forms and orders of ceremonies (often regarded as revealed).

2.) Narrative and Mythic: stories (often regarded as revealed) that work on several levels. Sometimes narratives fit together into a fairly complete and systematic interpretation of the universe and human’s place in it.

3.) Experiential and emotional: dread, guilt, awe, mystery, devotion, liberation, ecstasy, inner peace, bliss.

4.) Social and Institutional: belief system is shared and attitudes practiced by a group. Often rules for identifying community membership and participation.

5.) Ethical and legal: Rules about human behaviour (often regarded as revealed).

6.) Doctrinal and philosophical: systematic formulation of religious teachings in an intellectually coherent form.

7.) Material: ordinary objects or places that symbolize or manifest the sacred or supernatural.

It seems apparent to me that Jesus and his first-century religious foes were each religious in all of the above ways. The (literally) crucial difference is that Jesus saw the prevailing contemporary religious parties’ religiosity as dysfunctional and ultimately counter-productive in leading to the fruit of increased love for neighbor, one another, and God.

Comparative developmentalist and map-maker Ken Wilber, unsurprisingly, has an even more extensive taxonomy of religion that he identifies in his books A Sociable God and The Marriage of Sense and Soul: Integrating Science and Religion. Blogger Frater Barrabbas Tiresius summarizes Wilber’s nine dimensions of religion:

1. Religion is a non-rational engagement. By labeling it non-rational, religion is therefore defined as belonging to or originating out of a dimension that is “other” to reason and rationality. This would indicate that the nature of Spirit, of which religion is principally concerned about, is something that can’t be either quantified or even qualified, thus making it wholly transcendental and paradoxical.

2. Religion is an extremely meaningful or integrative engagement. This definition perceives religion as being an entirely social phenomenon that brings people together, teaching them to resolve their differences and live peacefully for the common good of all. Therefore, religion is concerned with making collective meaning and searching for collective truths that further the integrity and stability of the communal organization.

3. Religion is an immortality project, which is created to deal with the insecurities associated with the ephemeral quality of human life. This theory defines religion as a powerful social belief system that bolsters the confidence of the individual member, giving one a sense of being an elite participant in the collective destiny of the group. This has the effect of assisting individuals to cope with catastrophic loss and death (as well as the potential for such) by causing them to focus instead on the guarantee of a spiritual afterlife.

4. Religion is a mechanism for evolutionary growth through conscious transformation and spiritual evolution, so that by applying oneself to its discipline, one can fully apprehend the spiritual dimension of the self. As Wilber so adroitly put it: “[E]volution and history is a process of increasing self-realization, or the overcoming of alienation via the return of spirit to spirit as spirit.” This whole process represents the drive for transcendent self-realization and personal transformation.

5. Religion represents a social phenomenon of collective psychotic fixations and is therefore, inherently regressive, pre-personal and pre-rational. Wilber says that this perspective has a negative opinion about religion: “[R]eligion is childish illusion, magic, myth.” This perspective represents the typical attitude of empirical science and academia towards religion in general, and is a major part of the creeds of social secularism and atheism. Sigmund Freud held this opinion about religion, and so did Karl Marx and many others.

6. Religion is an exoteric social institution, and its mysteries and paradoxes are understood through the periodic and continual practice of liturgy and the study of sacred scriptures, shared by all members of a specific doctrine or creed. Religion is a public organization where everything is determined and explained in great detail, and nothing is left to chance or self-determination. Exoteric religion consists of the basic and fundamental principles of any religious organization. As Wilber has said in his book: It is a “form of belief system used to invoke or support faith,..preparatory to [an] esoteric experience and adaption..”

7. Religion is esoteric and occultic, and its mysteries and paradoxes are obscured and buried deep within the core belief system that everyone else takes for granted. These mysteries are typically not realized by the general adherent, but requires a deeper and inner exposure to that spiritual system, often acquired through the agency of a teacher and an individualized spiritual practice. The goal of esoteric religion is the obtainment of mystical experiences and a direct realization of spirit in all manifestation.

8. Religion is only legitimate when it validates the particular “translation” or perspective established by a given doctrine or creed, usually providing its members positive reinforcements (“good mana”), and helping them to avoid social taboos (“bad mana”). This confers upon individuals a powerful emotional and social sense of being a member of a spiritual community, thereby providing personal meaningfulness, group destiny, and eschatological symbols of immortality.

9. Religion is authentic when it validates the particular “transformation” or deeper inner experience of a spiritual system. An authentic religion cuts through doctrine and dogma, giving its adherents the tools and methodologies to achieve a direct experience with the core of that religious system, and is less concerned with the outer trappings and the exegesis of liturgy and sacred scriptures.

Wilber’s nine definitions are more nuanced, debatable, and complex. A whole week’s worth of blog posts could be devoted to teasing these out, and which of these senses of ‘religion’ make sense for people of faith today and which are corrosive to good sense and good fruit. Suffice it to say, Jesus’ relationship with religion is complicated – more complicated than the loudest voices of either institutional religious enthusiasts or their progressive and conservative avowedly non-religionists would have us believe.

My conclusion: I’m Spiritual and religious -
some more days than others

Religion is culture. Religion is the air we breathe. If we’re on this planet converting oxygen into carbon dioxide, then we are in some sense also religious. You’d have a difficult time convincing me otherwise. Religion has produced art and coherence and hospitals and spiritual technology. And like any aspect of culture, religion also rapes and corrodes decency and robs innocence and codifies spontaneity. In his video, Bethke laments a brand of religion that strikes so many of us as worthy of critique. It is the same kind of religion that the Hebrew prophets railed against, that Jesus and Paul saved some of their worst acrimony for, that reformers and iconoclasts through the ages have rightly rejected. But does his proposed cure annihilate religion, or (regardless of whether or not you agree with the particulars of his take on Jesus’ religion-freeing power) simply call us to be differently religious? I think the latter.

Where does this leave us? Well for one, I hope it doesn’t leave us spending too much time heaping criticism or praise on a twenty-something young man who sought to express himself in a spoken word video. I’d like to think that Bethke himself would prefer that we internalize his message and our reactions to it in more constructive ways. What kind of constructive ways? Well, It might not be as catchy or edgy to say so – and indeed, it might seem too obvious to state – but it isn’t religion as such that is the enemy, but myopic, oppressive, fear-driven, legalistic and self-satisfied religion that the Hebrew Bible and New Testament voices alike take dead aim at. And it’s the bad reputation of ‘dead’ and corrosive religion that creates both the Not-A-Religion-But-A-Relationship and the Spiritual-But-Not-Religious memes.


In my own life, I’ve discovered that I’m a hopelessly religious person. After our house church community imploded, I spent about a year and a half doing nothing in particular, primarily spiritually engaging via random conversations with friends and, of course, on the Internet. I appreciated both of these outlets (still do, if this blog post isn’t ample evidence!), but a lack of coherent focus that transcends me started driving me crazy.

Perhaps I’m weak, but I came to see that belonging to an identifiable community took faith out of my head and put it in the spaces between, the places where I relate to an identifiable group of flesh-and-blood people. This proved to be so valuable and so missed that my family and I are currently involved with not one but two regularly-gathering (albeit unconventional) faith communities, in addition to our work with the nationwide annual faith-gathering, the Wild Goose Festival. After years of being close friends with many people across the spectrum (including my parents!) who have indefinitely given up collective religious expression for Lent (as it were), I’ve come to know myself to a degree that that’s just not me.

Instead, I feel like I incorporate aspects of Relationship-not-Religion and Spiritual-but-Not-Religious critiques into my practice of religion. Some days, I’m not sure there’s a God and I’m thinking that grace might be a collective hallucination. One [of] these days, beliefs feel like gnats swarming around, desperate to get my attention, to no avail. It’s on days like these that practices like breaking bread and singing songs and sitting in silence get me through my day – or week – or month. On other days, practice falls short and belief sustains. On these days, I could care less about liturgy or the church calendar, and if my inner kenotic release via Centering Prayer is what I have to depend on for inner grounding, then I’m screwed. On these days, I gamble everything I’ve got on the story of a God whose gratuitous mercy chases me down every road, and whose wholeness and Shalom-making are cosmic and contagious. On these days, it’s the Story that gets me, and gets me through.

Sometimes, of course, I’m firing on all cylinders – belief and practice working together in perfect harmony. But even this tandem is like riding a bicycle – when one pedal goes down, the other pedal goes up. Life can be a cold and lonely road, and I empathize with believers and atheists, SBNRs and NRBRs alike. For me, I’ve discovered that life is a matrix of meaning, and that this meaning spills over and across the neat categories of ‘religion,’ and ‘spirituality.’ We have both – whey not make the most of each?


Recommended Reading
(besides the bazillion books linked in this post):

Love Jesus, Hate Religion: The Meta-Collection – my compilation of

nearly over 50 reviews of the viral YouTube video
Spiritual But Not Religious: The Meta Collection – the same, for SBNR**


About the Author: Mike Morrell is a journalist, publishing consultant, and aspiring futurist. He’s part of the organizing team for the Wild Goose Festival. He’s a husband, father, and spiritual/religious follower of Jesus. More here.



Homosexuality: Paul and the Narrative of God's Love


I would refer the reader to this blog journal's sidebar Gay Rights and Marriage for additional discussions on homosexuality. I especially found helpful Justin Lee's interview on "A Gay Christian Responds to Christ and Culture."  Meanwhile, I hope to shortly begin following the Jesus/Paul blog tour by Daniel Kirk but am submitting here Mason Slater's review of one of Kirk's chapter's that continually needs highlighting as we go forward with the Gospel of Christ into all the world.

R.E. Slater
January 21, 2012

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Paul, Homosexuality, and a Narrative of Love
http://masonslater.com/2012/01/19/paul-homosexuality-and-a-narrative-of-love/

by Mason Slater
January 19, 2012


“A Christian culture dominated by believing the right things about Jesus too often forgets that believing in Christ and walking in love are inseparable. In this case, followers of Jesus have too often forgotten that articulating a position on homosexuality does not in itself answer the questions: What does it mean to love my homosexual neighbor as myself? What does it look like for me to do unto my homosexual neighbor as I would have done to myself?”
For quite a while now Daniel Kirk’s Storied Theology has been one of my favorite blogs [really, you should be bookmarking it now, I’ll wait], so I was excited to learn he was going to share some of his work in narrative theology and Pauline studies in the book Jesus Have I Loved, but Paul? and agreed straight away when I was asked to participate in this blog tour.

The chapter I’m reflecting on is “Homosexuality Under the Reign of Christ” No easy task, as this is proving to be one of the most difficult issues facing the church today.

Daniel starts by laying out what the biblical text says about homosexuality, and honestly it’s not that much – far less than one would assume when you consider how much evangelicals in particular have tended to obsess over the issue.

Granted, what is said is uniformly negative, but even that is less straightforward than it might first appear. The infamous “abomination” line in Leviticus for example is hardly usable in current debates, as it comes in the midst of a whole list of other national laws that we no longer consider relevant, including another “abomination,” eating unclean foods (so next time you see someone eating a cheeseburger, haul out the protest signs).

The New Testament statements, almost exclusively from Paul, come in the midst of vice lists that lay out a classically Jewish diatribe against practices that are seen as the symptoms of paganism and idolatry. They do indeed portray homosexual acts in a negative light, a fact which Daniel insists we refuse to brush aside, but there is more going on linguistically and hermeneutically than we often want to admit.

So we are left with a picture of the Biblical testimony that is far more nuanced, and gives no justification for singling out homosexuality as somehow different or worse than any other sexual sin, but is still essentially negative.

Where do we go from there?

In the aside “Arguing for Homosexual Practice,” which is directed at those who affirm homosexuality either for textual reasons or because they believe the Spirit is doing something new in our day, Kirk suggests that if you take this path it must go hand in hand with the Biblical narrative of fidelity and lifelong commitment. So that GLBT affirming churches should at the same time fight against the cultural trends towards easy divorce and casual hookups.

But the real thesis of the chapter, the theme that (rightly I think) trumps everything else, is love.

Central to our calling as Christians is love of others, and it is here that much of the church has failed spectacularly in its approach towards the GLBT community.

Jesus sums up the entire law with “Love the Lord your God with all your … and, love your neighbor as yourself” and then when asked who this neighbor might be, Jesus tells a parable which turns all the audience’s expectations upside-down and shows a hated outsider as more faithfully following the way of Jesus than the religious insiders.
“No clearer story could be told to show us that our predilection for keeping our love restricted to ourselves runs counter to the way of Jesus. When we restrict our love to those who roughly fall within the boundaries of those who are living lives pleasing to God, or when we use biblical regulations as reasons for excluding ourselves from the duty of providing for a person in need, we violate the command to love our neighbor as ourselves.”
Daniel continues by bringing this story to bear on the discussion of homosexuality,
“the homosexual is the Christian’s neighbor, and Christian’s duty is to love homosexuals as ourselves. If the result of our biblical convictions is that we stand on the streets with “God Hates Fags” signs, we are not holding a Christian position but are using a Christian idea to prop up our rebellion against the life that Jesus calls us to.”
So what does it look like to love our homosexual neighbor as ourselves? The last few pages of the chapter wrestle with that admittedly complex question. I won’t delve into specifics at the moment, but the general thrust is this – is it loving the GLBT community as we would want to be loved if we deny them rights that we would never want others to deny to us?

We’ve failed miserably in our treatment this group of people, but the Christian narrative of love and self sacrifice might just point a way forward.

Daniel begins this chapter with a quote from Love, Love, Love






*Baker sent me a free copy of this book as a participant in the blog tour – no stipulations were made on the content of my review, but if you think I can be bought off with free books then this information might be relevant to you. And with that I think I’ve fulfilled my FTC obligations.*



Review - N.T. Wright, "The Kingdom New Testament"

Amazon Books


The New Testament for the Twenty-First Century.

Most readers of the New Testament have grown overly familiar with the biblical text, losing sight of the wonder and breadth of its innovative ideas and world-changing teachings about the life and role of Jesus of Nazareth. N. T. Wright invigorates these sacred texts with an all-new English translation that allows contemporary readers to encounter these historic works afresh.

With the insight and expertise of "the world’s leading New Testament scholar" (Newsweek), this approachable, engaging translation features accessible, modern prose that stays true to the character of the ancient Greek text by maintaining the vibrancy and vigor of the original works while also conveying the most accurate rendering possible.

The Kingdom New Testament will help the next generation of Christians acquire a firsthand understanding of what the New Testament had to say in its own world, and what it urgently has to say in ours.

About the Author

N. T. Wright is the former Bishop of Durham in the Church of England and one of the world’s leading Bible scholars. He is now serving as the chair of New Testament and Early Christianity at the School of Divinity at the University of St. Andrews. For twenty years Wright taught New Testament studies at Cambridge, McGill, and Oxford Universities, and he has been featured on ABC News, Dateline, The Colbert Report, and Fresh Air. Wright is the award-winning author of After You Believe, Surprised by Hope, Simply Christian, The Challenge of Jesus, and The Meaning of Jesus (coauthored with Marcus Borg), as well as the much-heralded series Christian Origins and the Question of God.


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http://www.patheos.com/blogs/jesuscreed/2012/01/19/tom-wrights-new-testament-translation/#more-24459

by Scot McKnight
January 19, 2012

I’m not hearing much chat about Tom Wright’s new translation of the New Testament, called The Kingdom New Testament, but it sure does deserve careful consideration to be on your desk or chair when you read the Bible. I hope everyone gets a copy and puts it next to the Bible they are now reading — read them together for a month or so, take it to church, and see what you think. I think you will like it.

Before I say any more about Tom’s splendid achievement, I want to make one observation about all translations.

Who has been reading The Kingdom New Testament? What are your judgments on this translation?

There is room for someone — or a team of someones — to translate (at least) the New Testament into the specific idiom, syntax, and style of individual authors. Matthew doesn’t sound like Mark, though those two would be much closer to one another than either is to Luke. And John’s an entirely different author, and then Acts belongs with Luke so those two books ought to sound alike (though Luke 1-2 is a bit of its own kind of style). Of Paul’s letters there is some dispute about authors and secretaries writing for Paul but that’s not the point: Romans and Galatians and 1-2 Corinthians are more alike, while those prison letters and then the pastoral letters deserve to have their own stylistic translation. Then Hebrews, well, there’s a book that is unlike anything else in the New Testament … I could go on. You get my point. One of the decisions of translation committees is to make every author sound like the host language — in my case, American English. Translation committees have been amazingly successful, then, at making the Bible readable and, because that is their intent, at hiding the styles of the authors.

On to Tom Wright’s KNT.

Better than any translation I know today, other than the most literal of translations (which have an entirely different problem), I hear the author’s Greek behind Tom’s translation. Still, Tom Wright is much more in tune with rendering the Greek NT into contemporary English, and that’s the subtitle of the KNT: A Contemporary Translation. He does so with elan at times. The translation is brisk and energetic, it’s gender neutral, and it has some real surprises that will make you smile — and provide insight at the same time.

I’m writing a commentary on the Sermon on the Mount, and thanks to the many who have inquired where I am in the process — I’m done, but am reading a bundle of items I just don’t want to ignore though one could read on and on … in reading Tom’s Sermon translation I found the following notable renderings:
  • Instead of saying Jesus “opened his mouth” and said in 5:2, Tom has “He took a deep breath…”
  • We get “Blessings” and not “Blessed.”
  • He turns it all into a I’m-talking-to-you promise when he has “You’re going to be comforted” instead of the 3d person plural passive “They will be comforted.”
  • “… hunger and thirst for justice…”
  • On the bad salt … “and walk all over it.”
  • As I said, “… unless your covenant behavior is far superior to that of the scribes…”
  • “to the ancient people”
  • We get “foul and abusive language” in 5:22.
  • He uses “Gehenna” instead of hell, and this is puts us in 1st Century Jerusalem.
  • “If your right eye trips you up…” in 5:29.
  • The exception clause: “unless it’s connection with immorality” (5:32).
  • At 5:3: “say yes when you mean yes.”
  • 5:47: “Even Gentiles do that, don’t they?”
  • 6:1: “When you are practicing your piety, mind you don’t do it with an eye on the audience!”
  • He uses “play-acting” and “play-actors” for “hypocrite.”
  • And when you pray, “don’t pile up a jumbled heap of words” (6:7).
  • “Give us today the bread we need now” … “don’t bring us into the great trial.”
  • In the fasting passage, “tidy your hair and your beard…”
  • “Show me your treasure, and I’ll show you where your heart is” (6:21).
  • “If your eye is honest and clear…”
  • “Take a tip from the lilies in the field” (6:28).
  • And “you little-faith lot” (6:30).
  • “Make your top priority God’s kingdom and his way of life” (6:33).
  • Golden Rule: “So whatever you want people to do to you, do just that to them. Yes: this is what the law and the prophets are all about” (7:12).
  • “He was teaching them, you see, on his own authority…” (7:29).

There is something quite distinct about Tom’s translation: he wants the reader to feel the 1st Century, to hear a Jew call Jesus “Messiah” or “King” and he wants his readers to know that the word “righteousness” just might not cut through ecclesial thickets and deserves to be translated at times a “justice” and (I observe in Matt 5:17-20) as “covenant behavior.” So, yes, there’s a touch of the new perspective, or as Tom calls his approach, the “fresh” perspective, but it’s very even-handed and not at all overdone.