a bit of a tongue twister, but…

…Yet perhaps it is precisely this that we are being called to: engaging in that most difficult task of putting our religion to death so that a religion without religion can spring forth.

-Peter Rollins, from his new book The Fidelity of Betrayal: Towards a Church Beyond Belief

A bit of a tongue twister, I admit…  but a very interesting point.

What do you think?  Is it possible for Christianity to be a religion, that is in fact, not a religion at all?  What would that even look like?

NT Wright: “there is life after life after death”

Another fantastic article, as usual, from NT Wright (or Jedi Master NT Wright, as Matt Ritchie has been known to call him).

This interview was conducted with pastors/teachers as the primary audience, but I think that there is a lot in it that is useful regardless of your vocation. Here are a few choice quotes to whet your appetite:

For me, therefore, there’s no disjunction between preaching about the salvation which is ours in God’s new age—the new heavens and new earth—and preaching about what that means for the present. The two go very closely together. If you have an eschatology that is nonmaterial, why bother with this present world? But if God intends to renew the world, then what we do in the present matters. That’s 1 Corinthians 15:58! This understanding has made my preaching more challenging to me, and hopefully to my hearers, to actually get off our backsides and do something in the local community—things that are signs of new creation.

Some people are always going to be offended when you actually teach them what’s in the Bible as opposed to what they assume is in the Bible. The preacher can try to say it a number of ways, and sometimes people just won’t get it. They will continue to hear what they want to hear. But if you soft-pedal matters, they will think, Oh, he’s taking us down the old familiar paths. There is a time for walking in and just saying what needs to be said.

A person goes to heaven first and then to the new heavens and new earth. People stare at you like you’ve just invented some odd heresy, but sorry—this is what the New Testament teaches. The New Testament doesn’t have much to say about what happens to people immediately after they die. It’s much more interested in the anticipation of the ultimate new world within this one. If you concentrate on preaching life after death, you devalue the present world. Life after life after death, however, reaffirms the value of this present world.

And since all followers of Jesus are called to announce/demonstrate/preach the Gospel at all times, I think this last quote is especially applicable to us all:

…To preach the Resurrection is to announce the fact that the world is a different place, and that we have to live in that “different-ness.” The Resurrection is not just God doing a wacky miracle at one time. We have to preach it in a way that says this was the turning point in world history.

See, now you’re not laughing anymore about that “Jedi Master” nickname… ha ha.

Read the whole thing here.

(HT: Out of Ur)

Penal Substitutionary Atonement: Let’s flip it on it’s head

So, there’s this thing called Penal Substitutionary Atonement (I’ll call it PSA from now on)… which is just a theological/geeky way of describing how it is that Jesus accomplished the task of reconciling people back to God.

It points back to Old Testament practices of having an “Atoning Sacrifice”, which was an animal that was killed by the Hebrew priests as a way to “atone”, or to “make amends”, for the sins of the entire people group of Israel. (NOTE: someone please chime in if I’m getting any of this wrong) So, PSA is a way to describe what Jesus did in light of this OT practice; here’s a good description of it from Wikipedia:

“It argues that Christ, by His own sacrificial choice, was punished (penalized) in the place of sinners (substitution), thus satisfying the demands of justice so God can justly forgive the sins. It is thus a specific understanding of substitutionary atonement, where the substitutionary nature of Jesus’ death is understood in the sense of a substitutionary punishment.”

In my experience, PSA is typically referenced when people say that:

“Jesus died for your sins.”

The context for this statement is typically this: my personal sin has caused a divide between God and myself, because God is perfectly Holy and Just and cannot have anything sinful in His presence, and the only thing that bridges that divide is accepting that Jesus has paid the necessary price (death) for the sins that I have, am and will continue to commit.

Matt over at Running with the Lion has proposed a different way to frame the way we talk about PSA, and frankly, I think it’s FANTASTIC. Matt says this:

I am a fan of Penal Substitution when it is used in defense of a victim. When a community singles out a particular sin and decides someone needs to suffer “consequences” for it, the penal substitution metaphor is the perfect remedy.

“We shouldn’t punish him,” one can argue quite convincingly, “because Christ has already paid the price for his sin.”

This is a completely different animal than the typical usage of PSA; it really flips it on it’s head. It makes the atonement of Jesus bigger than just me, and it makes a case for how we should treat others in light of how God has treated us.

Rather than being about how mad God is about the bad things I’ve done, and who He had to kill instead of me so that He could stand being around me… the idea that Matt proposes seems to be more about how we should treat everyone around us, in light of the fact that God has already taken their (and OUR) punishment upon Himself. Thus, it’s not my place to worry about whether or not anyone “gets what they deserve” because Jesus already paid that price; for ALL of us.

I think it’s a subtle shift in how you look at PSA, but I think it could have very NON-subtle ripple effects on our ability to love those around us.

And I think that’s important, because if we don’t have love, then we really don’t have anything at all…

Scot McKnight: The 8 Marks of a Robust Gospel

This one’s just a quick head’s up about a great article from Scot McKnight:

The 8 Marks of a Robust Gospel

Our problems are not small. The most cursory glance at the newspaper will remind us of global crises like AIDS, local catastrophes of senseless violence, family failures, ecological threats, and church skirmishes. These problems resist easy solutions. They are robust—powerful, pervasive, and systemic.

I sometimes worry we have settled for a little gospel, a miniaturized version that cannot address the robust problems of our world. But as close to us as the pages of a nearby Bible, we can find the Bible’s robust gospel, a gospel that is much bigger than many of us have dared to believe:

The gospel is the story of the work of the triune God (Father, Son, and Spirit) to completely restore broken image-bearers (Gen. 1:26–27) in the context of the community of faith (Israel, Kingdom, and Church) through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ and the gift of the Pentecostal Spirit, to union with God and communion with others for the good of the world.

The gospel may be bigger than this description, but it is certainly not smaller. And as we declare this robust gospel in the face of our real, robust problems, we will rediscover just how different it is from the small gospel we sometimes have believed and proclaimed.

(HT: Emergent Village)

How do you interpret and apply Scripture?

Take a look at Scot McKnight‘s Hermeneutics Quiz and determine how you personally interpret and apply the Bible. You just have to answer a handful of questions, all multiple choice, and it returns a numerical position on a scale ranging from more conservative to more progressive treatment of the Bible.

Here are my results if you’re curious:

The Hermeneutics Quiz
Score: 71
Evaluation: You scored between 66 and 100, meaning you’re a progressive on The Hermeneutics Scale.
Explanation:

The progressive is not always progressive. Those who score 66 or more can be seen as leaning toward the progressive side, but the difference between at 66 and 92 is dramatic. Still, the progressive tends to see the Bible as historically shaped and culturally conditioned, and yet most still consider it the Word of God for today. Following a progressive hermeneutic, for the Word to speak in our day, one must interpret what the Bible said in its day and discern its pattern for revelation in order to apply it to our world. The strength, as with the moderate but even more so, is the challenge to examine what the Bible said in its day, and this means the progressives tend to be historians. But the problems for the progressives are predictable: Will the Bible’s so-called “plain meaning” be given its due and authoritative force to challenge our world? Or will the Bible be swallowed by a quest to find modern analogies that sometimes minimize what the text clearly says?

Here’s a sampling of some of the questions:

The Bible’s words are:
1. Inerrant on everything.
2. I fall somewhere between No. 1 and No. 3.
3. Inerrant on only matters of faith and practice.
4. I fall somewhere between No. 3 and No. 5.
5. Not defined by inerrancy or errancy, which are modernistic categories.

Homosexuality’s prohibitions in the Bible are:
1. Permanent prohibitions reflecting God’s will.
2. I fall somewhere between No. 1 and No. 3.
3. Culturally shaped, still normative, but demanding greater sensitivity today.
4. I fall somewhere between No. 3 and No. 5.
5. A purity-code violation that has been eliminated by Christ.

Discerning the historical context of a passage is:
1. Unimportant since God speaks directly to me.
2. I fall somewhere between No. 1 and No. 3.
3. Often and sometimes significant in order to grasp meaning.
4. I fall somewhere between No. 3 and No. 5.
5. Necessary and dangerous to avoid in reading the Bible.

So, what’s your score? Any thoughts on any of the specific questions? I think this could be a good one for discussion…

(HT: Emergent Village)

NT Wright – What political party/platform would Jesus run on?

When asked a question about Jesus, and what political platform or party he would run on, the oh-so-fabulous NT Wright had the following to say:

This is of course an impossible question, like ‘If the sun were to rise in the west, would it be green or blue?’ In other words, by agreeing to the terms of the question you make it impossible to give an answer based on anything other than highly distorted speculation.

Jesus didn’t run for anything. He acted as if he were a different kind of ruler altogether, with a ‘kingdom’ that didn’t originate from the present world (otherwise, he said, his servants would fight to rescue him) but instead was meant FOR this present world, to transform and heal it. The present way we do politics and government is, alas, part of the problem, and he would have challenged it (its huge cost, its pretense of participation which is shamelessly manipulated by the media, its cult of personality, its ignoring, all too often, of the actual needs of the poor, etc. etc.) just as he challenged the power structures of his day.

The real question is, what sort of a cross would today’s system be intent on using to kill him?

(HT: Matt @ Running with the Lion)

love wins

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UPDATE #3 – (2/26/2011)

The internet is buzzing today about Rob Bell’s new book, called Love Wins.  Some prominent folks in the Reformed/Calvinist camp watched the promo video he put out, and have decided that it clearly means that Rob Bell is a universalist.  Well… why don’t we all just wait and read the book first. 🙂  But in the meantime, since this post is getting so many hits today, I figured I’d at least point people towards the video in question:

And now, back to my original post.  Thanks for stopping by!  And let’s remember that as followers of Jesus, if we don’t have LOVE, then we don’t have anything.

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Again, let me preface this post by saying that I may be sounding like a broken record again, but I think it’s with good reason because Rob Bell is the only person saying the things that NEED TO BE SAID AND HEARD. At least, the only person that can be heard by a large audience anyways, since I have no way of hearing about this stuff from “Joe Schmoe” the Senior Pastor at “Grace Bible Fellowship Community Chapel” even though he may be TOTALLY spot on with this stuff… OK, that’s enough of a preface. I’ll get on with it now:

LOVE WINS

Has anyone seen this on a bumper sticker or t-shirt before?  I haven’t, but I’ve heard about it. And this is the message that, as best I can tell, started it. Rob Bell spoke about the Cross and Jesus and what it means to the world as a whole, beyond the purely personal answer of “getting my butt out of hell” that we’ve been so fond of making the top priority.

You really should give this a listen if you’ve got a few free minutes… Maybe throw it on your mp3 player or burn it to CD and listen to it while you drive somewhere (that’s usually what I do). But the main point is this:

The cross is God’s way of saying, “Love Wins.”

I think his point is that the way that the entire universe works RADICALLY CHANGED through Jesus’s life and death on a Roman cross. He lived a life, filled with all the same opportunities for evil and injustice that we experienced, and yet NOT ONCE did he sin by responding in any way other than with love, forgiveness, etc. And then to top it off, he was defeated and killed by the “powers-that-be” of the day (Rome) and yet somehow turned that loss into a win for the Kingdom of God by not staying dead… 🙂

So how did all that RADICALLY CHANGE the universe? By making it so that the people that appear to be the winners, are actually losing… and the people that appear to be losing, are actually winning… And that in all situations, with all people, and in all ways, LOVE WINS. Revenge will no longer gain you any ground in this world (even though on the surface it may appear to) and instead, we should Love (even though on the surface it seems foolish).

I feel like all of this stuff, for the most part, isn’t (or at least shouldn’t be) news to anyone who calls themself a Christian or a follower of Jesus, but if we stop for a second and ask ourselves “Do I respond with Love in every situation and circumstance that comes up during my day?”…

On most days, can we honestly say that we even TRIED to do this? I know that until recently, it didn’t cross my mind at all…

What would it look like if we even just made an ATTEMPT to do this everyday… How many people around you would be FUNDAMENTALLY CHANGED if you started doing this… And thus, how many systems and institutions that we’re all a part of would start to change if the people in them started to change… How much of what Heaven is about would start to happen right here, right now…

I know that ultimately this life will always be filled with problems and evil because Sin exists in the world, but doesn’t this start to make you think that maybe… just maybe… this is what Jesus was talking about when he taught His disciples how to pray:

Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name,
your kingdom come,
your will be done
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us today our daily bread.
Forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from evil.

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UPDATE #1  ( 8/9/08 ): I get so many hits on this post from people searching for “love wins bumper sticker”, so I decided that I would point people to a site that I found that actually sells the stickers, in case anyone is interested in getting one.  http://www.lovewins2.com (I’m not affiliated or connected with this site at all, FYI)

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UPDATE #2  ( 8/8/09 ): Mars Hill itself is apparently now selling the “Love Wins” stickers, for only a buck a piece!  You can order them here. Thanks to commenter grandrapidion for providing the link!