Archive for the ‘theology’ Category


I’m sure John Calvin was a nice guy. I really am. I’m sure he loved Jesus, people, the Apostle Paul (that’s a no-brainer), the occasional rousing game of Gin Rummy, and life in general. I really am. But I’m pretty teed off these days, and he is as good a target as anyone to vomit my frustrations onto (mainly because he can’t come and get me … or can he?).

I’m teed off at Calvin for the countless followers of his theology who have wielded it with reckless abandon, causing untold numbers of spiritual casualties.

I’m teed off at Calvin for serving as the patron saint of a Christian sect that sees itself as the sole “defenders of the faith.”

I’m teed off at Calvin for misusing Scripture by mastering it and flogging people with it (instead of engaging it as the story of God and His people).

I’m teed off at Calvin for failing to see the beauty and goodness that is present throughout this broken world and in a broken humanity.

I’m teed off at Calvin for a prevailing view that Jesus’ primary importance to us was six hours of agony on a cross so that we can go to Heaven. (rather than Jesus as the Logos, the fulfillment of all reality, the perfect way of living embodied, God made flesh — see the Hirsch quote below for more on this)

I’m teed off at Calvin for creating an angry, wrathful, bloodthirsty God who hates those He created, and for the untold millions of humans who have been turned away from spirituality completely as a result of this caricature.

I’m teed off at Calvin for parading around some of the greatest heresies Christianity has ever known as God-breathed truth, and being heralded as a saint for it.

Most days, I’ve got enough issues in my own life to worry about being teed off at dead preachers, but today, I’m teed off at John Calvin.

Alan Hirsch had these related comments in a recent post called “Paul Would be Appalled”:

I have been talking with some of my more Reformed friends recently and have increasingly come to the rather unnerving conclusion that Calvinism is particularly susceptible to religiosity. Partly because of its idea of the continuity between law and gospel, partly because of its church over society stance, and partly because of sense of being being the chief historical defender of the Faith. But mostly I believe this susceptibility comes from its general circumventing of the life and teachings of Jesus. If this is so, why? Well, it is inordinately hard to make Jesus sound like a superlapsarian, five-point, Calvinist. I trained in a strongly Reformed seminary (which shall remain unnamed) and so I can speak from experience here. I can say that by and large it felt that we considered the Gospels were mere exercises in Greek exegesis to prepare us up for the real deal–Paul. Yes, we we reserved our real energies and excitement for Paul and Pauline theology, and I think this is true for Calvinist faith in general. I have come to the rather disconcerting conclusion that Reformed theology can easily become a religion of Paul rather than an expression of the life of Jesus is it is not careful. this subversion of Jesus from his own movement is rightly called Paulinism because it so readily discounts the central and defining role of Jesus in the life of the Christian faith. Christianity is a ‘religion’ based on Jesus or it is nothing! And it is not just about the birth, death, resurrection, ascension, and return that are vital to Christian faith, but his life, lifestyle, teachings, and ethos as well.

And Scot McKnight over at Jesus Creed has these comments about “intellectual spirituality”:

… Spirituality as knowledge is rooted for most today in the Enlightenment. Evangelicals at times reveal a variant on Descartes: “I think about the knowledge of God, therefore I know God.” Study of the Bible leading to mastery of the Bible became spirituality.

The challenge of liberalism encountered this intellectual spirituality. Its intellectual pursuits led to an incredulity in the texts and to a gospel reduced to love; evangelicalism’s led to a “I can prove it all” spirituality. Webber talks about how derisive he was toward liberals and Catholics and the Orthodox.

The point: knowledge is not spirituality. Knowledge is important.

Intellectual spirituality is rooted in my story not God’s story. There is a difference between knowing about God and knowing God. The former is not the latter; the latter always involves the former. Knowing God involves contemplating the mysteries of God’s grace.

The point here really isn’t to smear Calvin (OK, maybe a little…). Here’s my point, folks: How we envision God (our theology) is vitally important. It impacts how we exist in this world … what we value … our witness and message. Our theology is foundational, not peripheral. Don’t believe me? Watch this. Think about the number of Christians (many of them followers of Calvin!) who view God in this way. As a friend wrote to me after watching the video above,

One more victim of the relentless smear against God’s:

1) Goodness

2) Love

3) Power


Moving Beyond Johnny Paycheck – Part 2

So in the comments of yesterday’s post, Miller brought up the fact that folks have been complaining about their jobs for centuries, evidence of which is the über-popular Johnny Paycheck song, “Take This Job and Shove It.” (side note: I didn’t realize that David Allen Coe actually wrote and recorded the song first, but Paycheck’s cover was more memorable)

The Christian approaches the subject of work a little differently than Paycheck or Coe, however, even though their approach is quite hilarious. For the Christian, every subject becomes a theological one. We seek to discover — together, if possible — how our faith in and participation with a God who is establishing a “new reality” here on Earth informs every aspect of our life, not least our “work lives.”

“Work life.” Hmmmm. Therein lies one of the fundamental problems, I fear. Our language reveals a lot, no? We live divided, dualistic lives. We have our “work life.” We have our “church life.” We have our “home life.” Just Google “work-life balance” sometime and inventory the results …

We’ll get to the rest of the extremely thoughtful questions regarding a theology of work before too long, but let’s begin with the “work-life” question:

Does our parsing of “work” from the rest of our lives (spiritual, family, mission, social…) affect the way we view it, especially from a spiritual perspective?  If so, how?  If this is a bad thing, how do we stop doing it?


Since 9/11, we’ve often heard President Bush state that freedom is a “gift of the Almighty,” that God desires all people to be free. It is common knowledge that the President’s theological belief on this particular issue has undergirded much of this country’s foreign policy and military action over the last six years.

I just read a nice piece over at about the President’s latest declaration of his theology of freedom, this time to a group of conservative reporters on Tuesday. As you’ll see from CT’s report, the response was immediate and mixed, with some calling Bush’s statements heretical. (including many conservatives)

For those who don’t have time to read the CT article (which I’d recommend doing), here’s what Bush told the reporters:

The other debate is whether or not it is a hopeless venture to encourage the spread of liberty. Most of you all around this table are much better historians than I am. And people have said, you know, this is Wilsonian, it’s hopelessly idealistic. One, it is idealistic, to this extent: It’s idealistic to believe people long to be free. And nothing will change my belief. I come at it many different ways. Really not primarily from a political science perspective, frankly; it’s more of a theological perspective. I do believe there is an Almighty, and I believe a gift of that Almighty to all is freedom. And I will tell you that is a principle that no one can convince me that doesn’t exist.

Is he right? Is freedom — and I assume he means political and physical freedom, like the Iraqis now have (sorry, couldn’t resist) — an inherent right given to humanity by God?

“…nor will they train for war anymore.”

Isaiah 2

The Mountain of the LORD

1 This is what Isaiah son of Amoz saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem:
2 In the last days Peace Dove.bmp
the mountain of the LORD’s temple will be established
as the highest of the mountains;
it will be exalted above the hills,
and all nations will stream to it.

3 Many peoples will come and say,
“Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD,
to the house of the God of Jacob.
He will teach us his ways,
so that we may walk in his paths.”
The law will go out from Zion,
the word of the LORD from Jerusalem.

4 He will judge between the nations
and will settle disputes for many peoples.
They will beat their swords into plowshares
and their spears into pruning hooks.
Nation will not take up sword against nation,
nor will they train for war anymore.

5 Come, house of Jacob,
let us walk in the light of the LORD.

The discussion of Christian involvement in war has become a badly beaten horse in some blogging circles of late, and I fear that the political bent of many of these conversations tends to split believers into two camps (based on their stance on war and faith): liberal and conservative.

This polarizing argument largely misses the point, in my opinion.

I think Isaiah 2 may help people of faith get beyond a discussion that is too often over-simplified or over-complicated. Isaiah 2 is really more of a painting than a block of text on a page. It is a portrayal of what the world would look like if it acknowledged Yahweh as king. It is a portrayal of a world full of people had sin not entered the picture. It clearly illustrates that war and violence are not part of God’s plan for humanity, but a result of sin entering into the world.

As the people of God, we (hopefully) believe that flickers of Isaiah 2 — a.k.a God’s “kingdom” or “reign” — show up at various places throughout the world, even before Christ’s return. God’s kingdom is breaking in wherever He is at work in the world, and the people of God are called to model an allegiance to this in-breaking kingdom or “new world order.” Isaiah 2 will not be realized in full until we are in Heaven forever, but we can see glimmers of this image — on a far smaller scale — in faith communities working toward racial and religious reconciliation, droves of baby Christians migrating toward the cross all over the world, and Christ-followers attempting to “walk in the light of the Lord” instead of remaining Christians “by name only.”

I believe this interpretation of God’s in-breaking kingdom is sufficiently backed up by the scriptural narrative. This particular post will not go into an exegesis of kingdom. It is assumed.

With this knowledge, then, shouldn’t the Christian stance on war be fairly clear-cut? For followers of Christ, shouldn’t war fall into the same category as other products of the fall of man? Shouldn’t Christians not only abstain from participation in acts of war or violence, but vigorously oppose all acts of war and pray for peace? It seems to me that in the counter-cultural church of Jesus Christ, war is seen not as “just” in some cases or even preferred when the end justifies the means. It is always opposed. By every true follower of Christ.

I’m not sure if any of this helps the conversation along, but I have to believe that a renewed vision of God’s kingdom breaking in — and specifically the vision of Isaiah 2 — might lead more Christians away from the American Evangelical party line stance on war and to their knees to pray for Shalom to come to earth quickly.

In the Middle East. In the Congo. In Sudan. In America’s inner cities. In families.

That’s just what I’ve been pondering lately. Let me know what you think.

political (un)involvement: part deux

OK, so I rail against political involvement the other day on this blog, and then I read two very challenging passages from two very challenging authors that made me think again. What’s a guy to think?

The Irresistible Revolution.jpgFor those of us who grow instantly nauseated at the mention of the word politics, maybe we can break it down a little bit. The English word politics derives from the Greek word polis, as in “metropolis” or “Indianapolis.” The word is rooted in the concepts of “city,” “civil,” “citizen,” “civic,” basically what it means to be a society of people. Anything involving humans living together purposefully is political, a polis. As the people of God, we are building a new society in the shell of the old, a new polis, the New Jerusalem, the city of God. This is essentially a political act. Without a doubt, envisioning the radical countercultural values of God’s kingdom is by its essense political. Imagine the Gospels with every mention of king, kingdom, Lord, Savior, crowns, banners, and thrones (all words from the imperial lexicon) all edited out. A gospel that is not political is no gospel at all. The root of the word allegiance means “Lord”; that’s exactly what the early Christians were executed for, for pledging an allegiance to another kingdom, another Lord — treason. In 2004, as the presidential election rolled around, many of us studied the Scriptures and considered what it means to claim Jesus as Lord, or as president. When people asked who I was voting for, I would say, “My president has already ascended the throne and has already delivered the State of the Union address. I don’t believe that God needs a commander-in-chief or a millionaire in Washington, and I have little faith that either of the likely options will incarnate the Beatitudes, the Sermon on the Mount, and the fruit of the Spirit. I will declare my allegiance from the mountaintops, joining the chorus of the saints and martyrs. And I will raise the banner of love above all flags.” After all, we vote every day by how we live, what we buy, and who we pledge allegiance to, so I just resolved to write in my vote, as I did not find it on the national ballot. And I was determined not to let my vote be confined to a private booth, secret ballot, or taboo conversation.

–Shane Claiborne, The Irresistible Revolution

Secret Message.jpgI’ve become convinced that although Jesus’ message was personal, it was not private. I’ve been convinced that it has everything to do with public matters in general and politics in particular — including economics and aid, personal empowerment and choice, foreign policy and war. The fact is, Jesus called his message good news, intself a public term that evoked the political announcements of the Roman emperors. When they would win an important military victory, they would send out messengers to announce good news. Caesar Augustus, for example, who ruled the empire from 27 BC to AD 14, articulated his good news in this inscription found in Myra, Lycia: “Divine Augustus Caesar, son of god, imperator of land and sea, the benefactor and savior of the whole world, has brought you peace.”

I’ve become convinced that if the good news of Jesus were carried in a newspaper today, it wouldn’t be hidden in the religion section (although it would no doubt cause a ruckus there). It would be a major story in every section, from world news (What is the path to peace, and how are we responding to our neighbors in need?) to national and local news (How are we treating children, poor people, minorities, the last, the lost, the least? How are we treating our enemies?), in the lifestyle section (Are we loving our neighbors and throwing good parties to bring people together?), the food section (Do our diets reflect concern for God’s planet and our poor neighbors, and have we invited any of them over for dinner lately?), the entertainment and sports sections (What is the point of entertainment, and what values are we strengthening in sports?), and even the business section (Are we serving the wrong master: money rather than God?).

–Brian McLaren, The Secret Message of Jesus

What do you think?

political (un)involvement

Politic3.jpgI had a talk the other day with our friends Aaron and Amy about politics and faith. “Steve probably took the radical leftist viewpoint,” you’re thinking. (I know, I know — I have in the past been guilty of being over-passionate about my viewpoint in political discussions).

But on Sunday, I took a different route. You see, we were discussing Christianity and political involvement, specifically as it pertains to advocating for the oppressed and downtrodden in our world. Even a few months ago, I might have followed Jim Wallis and the Sojo crew to the steps of the Capitol Building to lobby for a “moral budget.” Wallis was at the center of our discussion, as I told our friends that I’m not sure the answer to a “radical right” Christianity is a “radical left” Christianity. In other words, I said, I’m not sure Jim Wallis is good for the current political dialogue.

Aaron agreed with me to a point, but still holds that Christians have a responsibility to participate in the political process and even to take grievances to the appropriate representatives. (Note: Aaron is at Harvard’s Kennedy School earning his degree in public policy) Like I said, a few months ago, this would have been my stance. But I am becoming more and more non-participatory in my political leanings. Idealogically, I probably identify more with traditionally Democratic viewpoints, but as I gain a clearer understanding of life in the kingdom of God, the kingdoms of this Earth seem to fade just a bit. I’m beginning to identify more and more with the views of my Church of Christ forefather David Lipscomb, who purposefully abstained from any political involvement (beyond paying taxes) and was a staunch pacifist. I don’t think Lipscomb held these views because he was sowing his wild oats or was mad at America or was differentiating himself from the Methodists. I’m convinced that Lipscomb, like many others throughout Christian history, recognized that when one chooses the way of Christ, they have a different king and belong to a different kingdom.

I’m not saying Christians should never petition their governments on behalf of the poor and oppressed. Clearly, there are times when this is unavoidable and a moral obligation. But to rely on political action for social change — as I fear Wallis and others have — seems to minimize the Christian’s identity in this “new world order” of the kingdom of God.

a couple things…

First, here’s the link to a Christian Chronicle story that profiles the simple/organic/house church movement in Churches of Christ. Chrissy and I were interviewed by the author.

Second, I had a great “emergent cohort” meeting with several new friends who are modeling kingdom life in Beverly, Mass., which is about an hour north of the city. They call themselves “Sinners and Saints,” and the community worships, plays, works, studies, prays, and — in one case — lives together. We met at a Boston establishment known for its…um…burgers to talk theology, life, whatever. I was refreshed by the rawness of these men — their propensity to ask tough, even “taboo” questions about God, their rejection of simplistic answers. It’s nice to be around guys who are unabashedly verbalizing the questions that come to mind and bringing them to the community. It was pure fun. I think I’ll do it again.