Saturday, March 29, 2014

Is Hell Good for the Gospel?

For most of my life I struggled with the notion that the gospel message meant Jesus took my place on the cross and suffered God's wrath instead of me. Something prompted me to find out if this was always part of the gospel message. As it turns out, the dominant view held by the Church for the first 300 years was Moral Influence, which evolved to what would remain the dominant view for 1,000 years as Ransom Theory (Jesus tricked the devil) and Christus Victor (Jesus conquered death for all). It wasn't until the 11th century that Anselm's idea that God is offended by sin took over, and it wasn't until the 16th century that judicial punishment became a catalyst for Jesus' death that has shaped much of Protestant thinking today.

My criticism of the "divine courtroom" idea is that the only plaintiff I see in scripture is Satan. It is Jesus who tells us that God is not offended or repulsed by His beloved creation; it is our shame that creates an illusion of disconnect. So I think this penal substitution idea has more to do with John Calvin who was a lawyer, and likely read the Bible through this lens.

I believe the intention of the Reformation was to return to our early Christian roots, and I believe this was right in spirit (which is why I consider myself Protestant), but it was executed poorly.

As Mark Driscoll likes to say, bad theology is reactionary exegesis. So as a reaction against Catholic Indulgences (clergy atones with money for past sins to avoid temporal punishment), the gospel message was devolved into a form of psychological torture by trying to counter this.

Christians are supposed to be afraid of God. We are supposed to be afraid of judging other people in a way that God would not. But instead we are afraid of the possibility that God is not merciful enough to love us as we are, just only as we should be. I take great comfort knowing that this is not really fear, but lack of faith. What strikes me as alarmingly inconsistent is we do not trust that God is good and merciful enough to love his enemies. Because nothing could be more scandalous.

It's very clear from scripture that God's love for humans does not depend on our first loving him, being righteous, or having faith in him. If God loved only believers and hated his enemies, then "love your enemies" would require us to meet a moral standard higher than God himself, and that is clearly absurd.

But don't God's enemies burn in hell?

The Bible says God loves wrongdoers, unrighteous people, and even his enemies; not just people who believe in Christ. Where a distinction is made is between all being purified and reconciled by Christ's death and some being saved by his life. These are two different things.
For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. ~ Paul, Romans 5:10

So what does it mean to be saved by his life? Jesus lived his life as a sacrifice for others. The great commission is a call to be refined by God's love, and to be subservient to his will. He invites us to get an early start on hell.
Behold, I have refined you, but not as silver; I have tried you in the furnace of affliction. ~ Isaiah 48:10
Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as sons. For what son is not disciplined by his father. If you are not disciplined (and everyone undergoes discipline), then you are illegitimate children and not true sons.~ Hebrews 12:7-8
Everybody wants to go to heaven, but nobody wants to die... This is what makes the gospel sound so foolish. But this is what makes the gospel so necessary – we are invited to participate in the salvation of everyone by joining Jesus in dying to the sin of our ego and being resurrected into a life of corrective discipline filled with significant challenges and monumentous victories.
This is right and it pleases God our savior, who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. There is one God and one mediator between God and humanity: Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a payment to set all people free. ~ 1 Timothy 2:3-6
So let's be afraid. Let's be afraid of doubting God's goodness. Because who would want to be that guy who used fear of death to coerce people into heaven?

What we want––what we need from Christianity is real good news: really real unconditional love. No doctrinal stipulations, no deathbed ultimatums, and no limit to God's saving power and mercy. What started my investigation was wondering why the gospel couldn't just be about this man named Jesus: the Saviour who gives us life more abundantly by liberating everyone from sin and death. Well as it turns out, that's exactly what the good news has been from the very beginning. Taste and see, no strings attached.
All men are Christ's, some by knowing Him, the rest not yet. He is the Savior, not of some and the rest not. For how is He Savior and Lord, if not the Savior and Lord of all? ~ Clement of Alexandria, 150 – 215 AD

Further reading:
Eternal Torment vs Universal Reconciliation
The Church Fathers on Universalism
The History of Hell (Mark Edward)
A Hell of a Question

The film that got me thinking:

Friday, March 28, 2014

Religion: Man Made. For Men.

Troll Question:
Why does God hate women?
The meme misquotes and misinterprets what's going on.

For example, in Leviticus we are dealing with someone who is an indentured servant (this was not lifelong slavery but a way to work off debt). It's not treated as adultery on her part because she is engaged. It's not dealing with rape because there was a specific word for forcible sex and it's not used here. Both are punished because both have committed a sin. Also, it doesn't say he was her master. It could have been anyone.

In Exodus, it's also not dealing with rape; she's coming into the household with a marriage in mind, not to be raped.

If no one has slept with her, but they decide a marriage should not take place, she goes free. If not, she's married by the father or son. The reason she does not go free (meaning leave) is because she is married. She is given the rights of a daughter.

So it seems this meme was created by someone who is misreading the Hebrew Bible, and unfamiliar with Ancient Near Eastern law. Rather than assuming the bible promotes one univocal message about men and women, it may be better to consider that there are multiple perspectives within its pages. Given this poor treatment of the Bible, it is fair enough to assume the other religious texts quoted have likely been misconstrued as well. I have not explored those texts, but I am interested in hearing any Buddhist, Jainist, or Muslim interpretations of them.

Much controversy.
I should mention that Christians that are complementarian and teach male headship do not look to the Old Testament to support their interpretation, but look to Paul's second letter to Timothy. However, historical and cultural context tells us much about what Timothy was dealing with in Ephesus. Paul gives us certain clues that Artemis mythology pervaded the church there, and he chose to use Genesis counter-narrative to address it. If male headship feels patriarchal and 'un'complementary, that is probably because it is. Paul's letters were written in submission to laws of a culture under Roman occupation after all.

I think it's important to recognize that human history is deeply patriarchal, regardless of our true equal nature. So seeing egalitarian themes in ancient texts, especially the Old Testament, can appear nuanced and subtle. It was Jesus who really set the stage for female equality in leadership, and it was only a seed that was planted at that. We have limited material from the early church, but we do have reference to Lydia, Junia, Priscilla & Phoebe as influential women in high leadership positions, even instructing men. It should also be noted that the first witnesses of the resurrection were women - Mary & Martha. This is important because utilizing women in a culture that suppresses women gives a massive amount of integrity to the historicity of the resurrection claim. And it would seem the apostles received this message.

There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.~ Paul, Galatians 3:28

Jesus gives us all proper status as equals. If we truly love Jesus, we need to elevate women and give them equal human status like Jesus did.

Quote Mined Theology

**This is an organized collection of inspirational quotes I've shared via Facebook over the past year. These are some of the people that have influenced my thinking as of late.**

Come up with a very wise quote and you will be remembered forever.
~ Anonymous

Chaos is found in greatest abundance wherever order is being sought. It always defeats order, because it is better organized.
~ Ly Tin Wheedle

You must translate every bit of your Theology into the vernacular...if you cannot...then your thoughts were confused.
~ C. S. Lewis

Don't be in such a hurry to condemn a person because he doesn't do what you do, or think as you think. There was a time when you didn't know what you know today.
~ Malcom X

It is better not to judge. To live in the fear of God means to be afraid to judge someone else in a sinful way, and not as God would judge them.
~ Elder Sophrony

I really only love God as much as I love the person I love the least.
~ Dorothy Day

Knowing your own darkness is the best method for dealing with the darknesses of other people.
~ Carl Jung

I dare you to trust that I love you just as you are, and not as you should be.
~ Jesus, in the words of Brennan Manning

When a difficult past is your only framework for the future, it might be time to re-imagine your present.
~ Kurt Willems

May all your expectations be frustrated. May all your plans be thwarted. May all of your desires be withered into nothingness. That you may experience the powerlessness and poverty of a child and sing and dance in the love of God the Father, the Son, and the Spirit.
~ Jean Vanier

Perhaps the most dangerous temptation to Christianity is to get itself officialized in some version by a government, following pretty exactly the pattern the chief priest and his crowd at the trial of Jesus. For want of a Pilate of their own, some Christians would accept a Constantine or whomever might be the current incarnation of Caesar.
~ Wendell Berry

Confound authority with creativity. You'll get away with it. Over and over again.
~ Aivan Levy

Every presenter has the potential to be great; every presentation is high stakes; and every audience deserves the absolute best.
~ Nancy Duarte

People who are not creative may not value creativity, even if they can identify it.
~ John Cleese

The fact is that politicians do make decisions based on the information they have at hand and these can result in unintended consequences. Politicians remember stories because they are visual and if the story is centered on an issue in their riding, they are even more likely to be sensitive to the issue.
~ Murray Porteous

The very powerful and the very stupid have one thing in common, they don’t alter their views to fit the facts, they alter the facts to fit their views.
~ Dr. Who

Enforced uniformity confounds civil and religious liberty and denies the principles of Christianity and civility.
~ Roger Williams

The best teachers are those who show you where to look, but don't tell you what to see.
~ Alexandra K. Trenfor

It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.
~ Aristotle

At times the Bible endorses values we should reject, praises acts we must condemn, and portrays God in ways we cannot accept. Rather than seeing this as a sign of disrespect, we should regard engaging in an ethical and theological critique of what we read in the Bible as an act of profound faithfulness.
~ Peter Enns

There are biblical justifications for violence that claim God desires violence. And yet, the Bible also critiques those justifications.
~ Bruxy Cavey

No one is to be called an enemy, all are your benefactors, and no one does you harm. You have no enemy except yourselves.
~ Francis of Assisi

Some believe it is only great power that can hold evil in check. But that is not what I have found. I have found that it is the small everyday deeds of ordinary folk that keep the darkness at bay. Small acts of kindness and love.
~ Gandalf

From afar I thought it was a monster, closer I realized he was human, face to face I realized he was my brother.
~ African Proverb

Most of us undergo evolving into a human being at such an early age that we feel this transformation is innate. But North Korea reminds us that it's not.
~ John Green

Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.
~ Apostle Paul

It is not the strongest nor most intelligent species that survives, but the one most adaptable to change.
~ Charles Darwin

If all insects on Earth disappeared, within 50 years all life on Earth would end. If all human beings disappeared from the Earth, within 50 years all forms of life would flourish.
~ Jonas Salk

We're in a time when human beings have become so powerful—we are such an abundant animal now. We've got technology that amplifies our impact on the planet at consumptive demand, a global economy that has made us so powerful that we're altering the physical, chemical, and biological properties of the planet on a geological scale. That's why scientists call this the 'Anthropocene Epoch'.
~ David Suzuki

There can never be any real opposition between religion and science; for one is the complement of the other.  Every serious and reflective person realizes, I think, that the religious element in his nature must be recognized and cultivated if all the powers of the human soul are to act together in perfect balance and harmony.  And indeed it was not by accident that the greatest thinkers of all ages were deeply religious souls.
~ Max Planck

Under the present brutal and primitive conditions on this planet, every person you meet should be regarded as one of the walking wounded. we have never seen a man or woman not slightly deranged by either anxiety or grief. we have never seen a totally sane human being.
~ Robert Anton Wilson

There is a long tradition of Christian thinkers who assume that salvation is the goal of all religions and then argue that only Christians can achieve this goal.
~ Stephen Prothero

The real question is not whether life exists after death. The real question is whether you are alive before death.
~ Osho

A carefully cultivated heart will, assisted by the grace of God, foresee, forestall, or transform most of the painful situations before which others stand like helpless children saying “Why?”
~ Dallas Willard

Moral relativism is the sort of thing one talks about once the room has cleared of anyone whose morals are not ready to be embraced.
~ Anonymous

Why do you call me good? Only God is truly good.
~ Jesus

Hegel was right when he said that we learn from history that men never learn anything from history.
~ George Bernard Shaw