“We don’t win if they lose”

Before changing the station in disgust, I meditated on what he had said. It dawned on me that it was this very type of attitude that ruined my faith some years back when I was a part of the Evangelical church. We are the winners and that means that everyone else loses. And by loses, I mean they lose everything. They go away into the outer darkness, to cry out for their mommies and daddies, wives and husbands, and sons and daughters, only to have them never come. And we, the ones who never go to their aid—either because we don’t want to or can’t—are supposed to think of our salvation as a victory.

And this gives us hope? Hope for what? Hope that when our loved ones are lost from us for all eternity that the best heaven God could come up with would require either a hardening of our hearts or a full frontal lobotomy?


Redeem the time 

It turns out Tim LaHaye wasn’t part of a special generation. And he wasn’t right about 2016. This world has outlasted him, just as it will outlast us all. And what we do here matters. Redeem the time you have here and make the most of it, don’t just waste it awaiting a Rapture that will never come.


An interesting series on Christian Universalism

Tony Jones is exploring a topic within theology that I find fascinating – Christian Universalism. I prefer to think of it as “Christocentric Universalism,” because what he’s really writing about is whether or not all human beings are ultimately saved through Jesus. He’s not considering Unitarianism, or as I call it, “all roads lead to home.” And he’s not really considering pluralism.

He’s asking whether or not what God has done through Jesus is enough to save all humanity.

His piece in the series today argues that Jesus’ cosmology was wrong, that we need to acknowledge that, and we need to abandon that faulty cosmology in light of what we now understand (however incomplete).

But it raises an exegetical problem as well: Jesus held an incorrect cosmology.Yes, of course our cosmology is probably wrong as well, or at least incomplete, but that doesn’t make Jesus’ cosmology any more right. Both Jesus and John the Baptist seem clearly to have embraced the ancient Hebraic belief in Sheol/Gehenna/Hades — i.e., a physical place of fires that the bodies of the damned are thrown. It seems merely wishful thinking when Aquinas, arguing that Jesus had full and perfect knowledge of all things, wrote, “Christ perfectly knows all human sciences.”

So we’re left with this conundrum: What do we make of Jesus’ teachings on Heaven and Hell if he believed that he existed in a geocentric universe and lived on a flat Earth? This is not unlike the conundrum regarding the Gospel writers (and Jesus) diagnosing “Legion” with demon possession, when today we would most likely consider him beset by schizophrenia.

The only option I see is to relativize Jesus’ (and Paul’s and the Apocalyticist’s) teachings on Heaven and Hell. By that I mean we must put their teachings in conversation with what we now know about the nature of the universe and the cosmos. We have to make them relate to our current understandings. ”Relativize” is a big, scary word to some Christians, but it’s exactly what we do whenever we take an ancient, biblical teaching and apply it to a modern setting.

I, for one, agree with what he’s saying here, and it isn’t theologically uncomfortable for me. If we take the doctrine of the Incarnation seriously, we must acknowledge that Jesus was fully human, and thus, he was susceptible to the “science” of the first century. So to “relativize” Jesus’ cosmology isn’t problematic for me. Jesus operated under all sorts of assumptions that no post-modern Western assumes today, and cosmological assumptions are just one easy example.

The rub for some, though, will be the implications of the cosmological shift, i.e., are Evangelical Christians willing to accept that hell – as an actual place in the Universe as we understand it – is a nearly nonsensical concept? I don’t think so.

But frankly, I’m very interested to see what you think. For those of you who are believers, were believers, or have knowledge about the Christian faith (or even other faiths!), what do you think of the arguments and questions Tony is posing?

Don’t let your theology migrate north

My challenge to you is to learn from the mistakes of your Presbyterian, Episcopalian,  and Methodist forbears: Don’t let your theology migrate north – and by “north,” I mean up, from the heart to the head, from the streets to the ivory tower.  Forget about trying to impress the Ivy Leaguers – they’re the past, not the future.  And forget about “trickle-down” modes of theological education, where the smartest person in the room teaches the next one down, and so on and so on.  That, too, is the past.  Instead, learn how to blog.  Tweet your theology.  Write popular books instead of monographs.  In other words, teach everyday people how to think theologically.

From Tony Jones’ recent paper, which was presented at the Society for Pentecostal Studies.

He’s Just Not That Into You

In Evangelical jargon these days, there are two statements that you will inevitably will hear if you’re involved in the movement for any significant length of time.

“I have a personal relationship with Jesus.“

This phrase is understood to be analogous to Jesus’ relationship with the 12 during his life and ministry. For example, Jesus asked probing questions of his disciples, and vice-versa; Jesus shared meals with his disciples; and Jesus modeled a lifestyle worth replicating in our own. Obviously, we Evangelicals don’t mean that we have this relationship physically; instead, we have it spiritually or mystically – but we claim that we absolutely do have it. The statement isn’t meant metaphorically; it’s meant literally. When you are born again you are directly connected to God through Jesus who has direct fellowship with each individual Christian.

The theological claim that is being communicated through this statement is that the Creator of the universe cares for and loves you. In other words, you are important to God.

“It’s Not About You.”

I remember hearing this refrain for the first time in high school. The song “Jesus, Lover of my Soul (It’s All About You)” had become widely popular. Every church seemed to be singing it, every worship band seemed to be remixing it, and youth groups gathered around bond fires while this played in the background (well, at least mine did!).

The first verse goes,

It’s all about You, Jesus
And all this is for You
For Your glory and Your fame
It’s not about me
As if You should do things my way
You alone are God and I surrender
To Your ways

The theological claim that is being communicated through this statement is that Christianity is ultimately about Jesus and Jesus’ mission to reconcile the world to Himself, and we, as Christians, are called to participate humbly in that mission.

He’s Just Not That Into You?

I recently began reading the blog, Exploring Our Matrix, by James F. McGrath of Butler University. He recently wrote a post that was inspired by the film, He’s Just Not That Into You.  (Spoiler Alert! If you haven’t seen the film and want to – P.S. why would you? – then stop reading.)

The movie begins with a girl being pushed and called names by a boy in a playground. The girl’s mother explains to her that the boy must have done these things because he has a crush on her and likes her. This, it is suggested, is at the root of the attempt women sometimes make later in life to interpret a man’s apparent lack of romantic interest, meanness and various things as meaning something other that appears to be the case when the words or actions are taken at face value.

McGrath sees an interesting parallel between the way the girl’s mother explains flirtation and courtship and the way we sometimes think about God.

If something happens to a religious believer that doesn’t immediately make sense in term of being cared for by a loving and all-powerful God, ways are found to explain away the apparent contradiction. God is just testing you or allowing you to be tested. Satan is trying to trip you up because you love God, and/or God loves you, so much … he won’t put you through anything you can’t handle.

In other words, meanness doesn’t always entail dislike; in fact, sometimes it’s the other way around.

Where McGrath’s analysis gets interesting (and where it relates to the two claims I presented above) is his claim that we tend to interpret events as primarily being about us, and that can be dangerous, or at least misinformative, when we think that way about God.

I propose … that “God just isn’t that into you” in a somewhat facetious, tongue-in-cheek manner. But in a sense, that is what it can feel like when one goes from thinking of God as an anthropomorphic heavenly ‘significant other’ to acknowledging that the universe and/or God’s plan for it may well not revolve around you. The idea that God is not compelling people with important business to nonetheless get in their cars and leave so that you will find a parking spot can be as troubling as the realization that another person’s apparent lack of romantic is in fact what it appears to be, rather than merely an indication that the person hides his or her feelings well, or something else of that sort.

We Evangelicals have created an interesting juxtaposition. On the one hand, we claim, “Jesus loves you and wants relationship with you,” which indicates at the very least that Christianity is about the individual. But on the other hand, we claim, “Christianity really isn’t about you; it’s about Jesus.” And most of us wouldn’t hesitate to affirm either claim.

Personally, I would understand the two claims to be dialectic in nature, but I can’t help but conclude that we’ve overemphasized the former at the expense of the latter – at least in pop Evangelical culture, language, and theology. I think that we have overemphasized the “personal relationship” analogy so much that we’ve missed the fundamental claim of Christianity, that God is reconciling the world to God’s self through Jesus. And although that fundamental claim certainly includes you and me, it’s much bigger than us.

With McGrath, I would challenge us to do some rethinking.

So I will pose this statement as food for thought (paraphrased from McGrath):

When it comes to relating to God, the key is to recognize that “He’s just not that into you.” The universe and God’s purpose for it includes but does not revolve around you or me.

What do you think?

Is “Calling” too Confusing?

As an adolescent, I remember agonizing over what I was ‘supposed’ to do with my life. Early in life I knew that  I wanted to be in the people-serving business, and I sincerely believed it was my ‘calling’ to do so. I still do, for the record. But as an adolescent, that general commitment to helping and serving others was just to generic – I thought that there was one and only path with one and only job with one and only purpose for me. Was I to be a senior pastor who got up and preached every week? Should I open a homeless shelter that fed and trained homeless people? Or maybe I should join an international relief organization to demonstrate the love of Christ that I’ve experienced to others?

What is my calling?

That was the essential question, the one that demanded an answer. Or, to put it another way, “What if I don’t figure out what my calling is? What if I ‘miss it’?” I definitely did not want to discover the answer to that.

To make a long story short — Fast forward a handful of years to college, where we had a wonderful chaplain who loved helping students grapple with questions just like that. He helped me think of these important questions in the context of the Apostle Paul’s missional lifestyle. To put it briefly: from what we know about Paul, Paul didn’t spend time agonizing over the question, “What is the one job I must do in order to live into my calling?” Instead, we see Paul living out his calling – to say and do the love of Jesus – wherever life took him. In other words, the Christian calling, that is, the life every Christian is asked to live by Jesus, is generic. And that’s not a bad thing. Love God and love your neighbor in whatever situation life throws your way.

As The Resurgence puts it:  

Our Call Has Already Been Issued

Christians don’t need to be specially "called" to live language-of-calling-1missionally; it is inherent in being a disciple. To become a disciple of Jesus means that you evaluate your passions and talents in terms of how they can best be used to spread God’s kingdom. The call has already been issued: "Glorify me in all that you do. Love and serve your neighbor. Go into the world and preach the gospel to every person." That’s it.

Each person must evaluate how they have best been suited to fulfill that call, but the call is clear. If you are a businessman, you are to do excellent work to the glory of God, to the benefit of humanity, and to the testimony of Christ in your community. You don’t have to wait on a special call to begin to do so—you’ve already received that call as a Christian. We talk about finding God’s will; it’s not lost.

In my view, this doesn’t mean that there aren’t specific times, places, or activities to which we are called; I think that does happen. But, it does mean that we don’t need to agonize about what we should or must do; that part’s already been settled, and there’s no need to distress over it. Instead, simply get up and do it.

Loving Your Neighbor: The Water Project

Jesus said,

‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ The entire law and all the demands of the prophets are based on these two commandments.

I’ve been having some rich conversations lately about faith, skepticism, and social action (mostly) through the wonderful medium that is the Internet. In the course of conversation, I’ve made the claim that Christianity can be an incredibly powerful source of social change, justice, equity, and charity. As a Christian who’s been involved in the church for my whole life, such a claim is self-evidently true. I mean, I’ve seen it happen with my own eyes and contributed it to it in a variety of ways in my own life. But I take that experience for granted, experience that others with whom I converse regularly do not share.


So I began thinking about the people and organizations I was familiar with who were doing this type of work in the world, i.e., loving their neighbors altruistically – with no strings attached. Hence, the title of this post (and hopefully some more to come!).

The Water Project.  Here’s who they are, what they do, and why they’re doing it:

Who We Are

The Water Project, Inc. is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization that’s bringing relief to communities around the world who suffer needlessly from a lack of access to clean water.

What We’re Doing

We help raise both awareness and the funds needed to provide the most basic and life-sustaining need of people…clean water.

We do that by connecting donors to water project implementers who are providing clean water to under-developed nations efficiently and sustainably.

We work closely with partners around the world who identify, implement, report on and follow up on each project. We share this information with our supporters through innovative tools online that inspire confidence in the work being done and the impact it has.

Why We’re Doing It

We believe that providing clean water restores hope by enabling our partners to make a "whole-life impact" in the communities they serve through their broader development activity. We desire to see access to clean water enable schools to thrive, people to get back to work, farming to provide enough food to earn a living, and suffering to be alleviated as health improves.

We believe the issues facing Africa, India and other under-developed parts of the world are not simply today’s problems. We know that a lack of clean water stands in the way of tomorrow’s hope. And we’re sure that together we can change that.

Are We a "Religious Organization"?

No. We are simply a Christian non-profit.

Religious organizations are organized and recognized differently than public benefit charities. The work we do through The Water Project is for the good of the general public. The reason we do this work is because we are Christians. We believe that important distinction allows us to work with people of all backgrounds and faiths for the benefit of all people. Our projects do not discriminate on the basis of race, creed, ethnic or religious backgrounds. We serve others.

We believe that bringing water to those who need it most is a natural expression of how Jesus Christ teaches us all to live. We believe these essential, life-sustaining projects will help enable our partners to demonstrate what loving one’s neighbor is all about. We believe these water projects relieve suffering, open doors to education, stimulate economic development, and most importantly introduce a true and lasting hope.

So simply put, we follow the teaching of Jesus who has called each of us to act, in this world, for peace and justice by loving our neighbor — however, whenever and wherever we can.

We exist to see the world changed through this love. It is a simple message of hope in an increasingly difficult world.

That’s a pretty clear picture of what it means to love your neighbor, I think. We love because we are loved, and love doesn’t distinguish among race, creed, ethnicity, or religious background (or lack thereof). And there are no strings attached – there is a need, and the need is being met, period.

The Water Project is on Facebook and Twitter, and you can follow them here. You can help support them by giving “Twollars” (I’m not kidding), which doesn’t cost you anything but a few seconds of time. Details are on their site under “Action Alert.”

What do you think? Do you have a favorite charity or philanthropic effort that you want to share? What about a personal story?


Some humbling reading…

“White privilege.”

I first heard the term in college in the same course that I heard about “White Flight” for the first time: Sociology 101.  CHAPMAN_MARY_MITCHELL_3.JPG

I remember being angry the first time I heard about it, and I suppose that’s probably how a lot of white men feel when they hear the terms for the first time. But, over time, I began to see the merits of the arguments… I don’t agree with everything I’m about to copy and paste here, but that’s a part of the point. This is a voice that’s fundamentally different than mine, and perhaps yours, and it’s worth hearing, digesting, and responding to.

Some words from Mary Mitchell:

The following essay recently landed in my e-mail. The author is Tim Wise, and the article first appeared at BuzzFlash.com, but I’ve heard the same sentiments expressed by friends and associates:

For those who still can’t grasp the concept of white privilege, or who are constantly looking for some easy-to-understand examples of it, perhaps this list will help.

White privilege is when you can get pregnant at seventeen like Bristol Palin and everyone is quick to insist that your life and that of your family is a personal matter, and that no one has a right to judge you or your parents, because "every family has challenges," even as black and Latino families with similar "challenges" are regularly typified as irresponsible, pathological and arbiters of social decay.

White privilege is when you can call yourself a "fuckin’ redneck," like Bristol Palin’s boyfriend does, and talk about how if anyone messes with you, you’ll "kick their fuckin’ ass," and talk about how you like to "shoot shit" for fun, and still be viewed as a responsible, all-American boy (and a great son-in-law to be) rather than a thug.

White privilege is when you can attend four different colleges in six years like Sarah Palin did (one of which you basically failed out of, then returned to after making up some coursework at a community college), and no one questions your intelligence or commitment to achievement, whereas a person of color who did this would be viewed as unfit for college, and probably someone who only got in the first place because of affirmative action.

White privilege is when you can claim that being mayor of a town smaller than most medium-sized colleges, and then Governor of a state with about the same number of people as the lower fifth of the island of Manhattan, makes you ready to potentially be president, and people don’t all piss on themselves with laughter, while being a black U.S. Senator, two-term state Senator, and constitutional law scholar, means you’re "untested."

White privilege is being able to say that you support the words "under God" in the pledge of allegiance because "if it was good enough for the founding fathers, it’s good enough for me," and not be immediately disqualified from holding office–since, after all, the pledge was written in the late 1800s and the "under God" part wasn’t added until the 1950s–while believing that reading accused criminals and terrorists their rights (because, ya know, the Constitution, which you used to teach at a prestigious law school requires it), is a dangerous and silly idea only supported by mushy liberals.

White privilege is being able to be a gun enthusiast and not make people immediately scared of you.

White privilege is being able to have a husband who was a member of an extremist political party that wants your state to secede from the Union, and whose motto was "Alaska first," and no one questions your patriotism or that of your family, while if you’re black and your spouse merely fails to come to a 9/11 memorial so she can be home with her kids on the first day of school, people immediately think she’s being disrespectful.

White privilege is being able to make fun of community organizers and the work they do–like, among other things, fight for the right of women to vote, or for civil rights, or the 8-hour workday, or an end to child labor–and people think you’re being pithy and tough, but if you merely question the experience of a small town mayor and 18-month governor with no foreign policy expertise beyond a class she took in college–you’re somehow being mean, or even sexist.

White privilege is being able to convince white women who don’t even agree with you on any substantive issue to vote for you and your running mate anyway, because all of a sudden your presence on the ticket has inspired confidence in these same white women, and made them give your party a "second look."

White privilege is being able to fire people who didn’t support your political campaigns and not be accused of abusing your power or being a typical politician who engages in favoritism, while being black and merely knowing some folks from the old-line political machines in Chicago means you must be corrupt.

White privilege is being able to attend churches over the years whose pastors say that people who voted for John Kerry or merely criticize George W. Bush are going to hell, and that the U.S. is an explicitly Christian nation and the job of Christians is to bring Christian theological principles into government, and who bring in speakers who say the conflict in the Middle East is God’s punishment on Jews for rejecting Jesus, and everyone can still think you’re just a good churchgoing Christian, but if you’re black and friends with a black pastor who has noted (as have Colin Powell and the U.S. Department of Defense) that terrorist attacks are often the result of U.S. foreign policy and who talks about the history of racism and its effect on black people, you’re an extremist who probably hates America.

White privilege is not knowing what the Bush Doctrine is when asked by a reporter, and then people get angry at the reporter for asking you such a "trick question," while being black and merely refusing to give one-word answers to the queries of Bill O’Reilly means you’re dodging the question, or trying to seem overly intellectual and nuanced.

White privilege is being able to claim your experience as a POW has anything at all to do with your fitness for president, while being black and experiencing racism is, as Sarah Palin has referred to it a "light" burden.

And finally, white privilege is the only thing that could possibly allow someone to become president when he has voted with George W. Bush 90 percent of the time, even as unemployment is skyrocketing, people are losing their homes, inflation is rising, and the U.S. is increasingly isolated from world opinion, just because white voters aren’t sure about that whole "change" thing. Ya know, it’s just too vague and ill-defined, unlike, say, four more years of the same, which is very concrete and certain.

White privilege is, in short, the problem.