There’s a pretty sweet song you can enjoy during the first half of this video, but the real fun starts at the 3:37 mark.
Meet televangelist Danny Davis.
He’s got a mullet.
And miracle oil.
Do you really need to know anything else?
There’s a pretty sweet song you can enjoy during the first half of this video, but the real fun starts at the 3:37 mark.
Meet televangelist Danny Davis.
He’s got a mullet.
And miracle oil.
Do you really need to know anything else?
This post is a follow up of sorts to the “Why I Hate Religion, But Love Jesus” post from the other day, but more so it is a fleshing out of things I’ve been thinking about over the past several months.
So, forgive me in advance once again. This won’t be my shortest post.
First, a story.
There’s a great episode of The Office in which Dunder-Mifflin is getting ready to launch their new website. As part of the launch they send invitations out to all of their regional branch managers inviting them to the launch party. Naturally, the regional manager of the Scranton branch, Michael Scott, gets an invite. So, he talks Jim into driving him to the corporate party in New York. When the two finally make it to the outskirts of the city Jim asks Michael for the exact address of the club where the party is being held. Michael tells Jim that the club’s name is “chatroom” and apparently they will need a password to get in. It’s at this point that Jim turns the car around and heads back to Scranton.
You see, Michael assumed that he knew what the invitation said. He assumed that since his former protégé Ryan was in charge of the launch he would be invited to the main party in New York City. So, he never bothered to actually read the invitation. It wasn’t until he did that he finally understood that the invitation was to the online webcast of the party.
I think most of us suffer from Michael Scott Syndrome. We have so many years of personal context built up around us from what we’ve learned via Sunday School teachers, pastors, parents, and pop theology books that it has become so ingrained in our subconscious it prevents us from reading or hearing what is actually being said about the faith. This is particularly true as it pertains to the Bible.
We have so many sacred cows in evangelicalism (inerrency, creationism, gender roles, sola fide, etc.) which have been impressed upon us since birth that it becomes all but impossible for most of us to recognize that many of the passages we string together to make our case for these theological positions don’t actually, or to more specific, they don’t literally say what we think or want them to say; especially when we place those passages in context.
This doesn’t mean it is impossible to interpret particular passages to support our conclusions. However, if we want to be truly faithful to what the broader Biblical narrative actually says, then we have to find a way to set aside our predetermined conclusions about what each passage “means” before we pick up our Bibles. Only then can we attempt to read the words that are actually on the page.
For example, in the previous post I stated that Jesus never preached salvation through faith alone. That is true. Passages from Ephesians and James, among others, were tossed out to prove that Jesus preached sola fide. The problem of course is that Jesus didn’t write either of these letters. Nor did he write any of the books of the Bible.
That is not to say that a case can’t be made for sola fide based on other things that Jesus said coupled with statements made by other Biblical writers. However, if this theological tenet is to be accepted as the gospel truth, then we should make sure we understand both where it came from and what it really means. And therein lies the problem. Sola fide, though derived through interpreting particular biblical passages, is in fact a product of the Reformation (1400 years after the New Testament was written). This doesn’t necessarily nullify its potential truth. Where we run into problems is our modern understanding of this 500 theological tenet. We believe in the myth of sola fide.
Here’s what I mean…
The idea of salvation through faith alone begins its formulation under the great reformer Martin Luther. In his introduction to Romans he writes,
Hence it comes that faith alone makes righteous and fulfils the law; for out of Christ’s merit, it brings the Spirit, and the Spirit makes the heart glad and free, as the law requires that it shall be.
Taken out of its context, it would be easy to read this as Luther claiming that all Christ requires of us is faith or belief, by which we mean intellectual assent to the truth of his life, death, and resurrection. However, this is not at all what Luther believed. Rather, it is the myth of sola fide that has developed in the centuries after Luther’s death. For Luther, good works were just as important as “believing” or “accepting Jesus as your Savior”. In that same introduction to Romans he writes,
Faith cannot help doing good works constantly. It doesn’t stop to ask if good works ought to be done, but before anyone asks, it already has done them and continues to do them without ceasing. Anyone who does not do good works in this manner is an unbeliever….Because of it, you freely, willingly and joyfully do good to everyone, serve everyone, suffer all kinds of things, love and praise the God who has shown you such grace. Thus, it is just as impossible to separate faith and works as it is to separate heat and light from fire!
For Luther our faith in Jesus was not momentary intellectual assent to Jesus’ existence. For Luther, faith is transformative. It absolutely results in good works, in a particularly way of life that is distinctly reminiscent of the life of Jesus. Like the Biblical writer James said 1400 years previously, Luther was adamant that if faith is not embodied by good works then a person is an unbeliever. For Luther, there is no salvation for unbelievers, therefore there is no salvation for Luther apart for good works.
Through a combination of misinterpretation and overzealous freedom fighters, this dual emphasis on faith and works was lost. What resulted was 2 different versions of sola fide. On the one hand there was Luther’s sola fide in which faith comes from God alone, transforming us and empowering us to be the Christ-like people God intended us to be. Then there is the modern myth of sola fide in which “faith alone” (by which we mean intellectual assent) is all that is necessary for a get out of hell free card.
The hate of the Roman Catholic Church that brewed during the Reformation continues to fester today, enabling this later form of sola fide to become the dominant narrative of salvation. As a result, any notion of “works” being attached to salvation is the basest form of heresy simply because good works “reek” of Catholicism and as any good American Protestant Evangelical will tell you, “Catholics aren’t Christians” (insert sarcasm font). As Protestants we are willing to concede that good works are icing on the salvation cake, but we make it clear that they are neither required nor fundamentally relevant to our salvation.
This was not at all what Luther taught, it wasn’t what Jesus preached, and it isn’t what the Bible as a whole teaches, no matter our best efforts to cherry pick a few passages which on the surface seem to indicate otherwise.
If we can get beyond our Michael Scott Syndrome and read the actual words that are found in the Gospels we will see that Jesus never affirmed the modern myth of sola fide. Absolutely, Jesus spent much of his time criticizing the legalism of the religious leaders. However, there is a tremendous difference between legalism and good works. Legalism oppresses people. Good works can, through the power of God, change lives for the better.
Jesus was profoundly concerned with how we live. As I have pointed out before we see this clearly in Matthew 25, but we also see it exemplified in every moment that Jesus taught about quarrels or clothing, when he healed the sick , or when he simply shared a meal with outcasts.
Simply put, it is no coincidence that Jesus spends the vast majority of his ministry teaching people how to live, not teaching them how to “believe”. God became man in the form of Jesus of Nazareth, not so that we could have another doctrinal tenet to agree to, but in order to show us how to live. And as if to clear up any doubt that simply confessing belief in Jesus was not necessarily enough to “get into heaven, Jesus said “Not everyone who says to me “Lord, Lord,” will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.”
Likewise, while Paul certainly locates the impetus of salvation in the grace of God (where it should be), he was very concerned with living a particular way of life. Like Luther who would follow him and Jesus who preceded him, Paul also believed that “good works” were essential to the Christian life and in fact to our salvation. This is both why the vast majority of his letters deal with how early Christians were to live (not just believe) and why he writes that we are to “work out our salvation with fear and trembling.” Paul understood that salvation does not begin and end at the moment of “belief”. Rather, “acceptance” is simply the first step of the journey in which we become the hands and feet of Jesus through whom he extends salvation to the entire world.
Aside from the underlying bigotry that shapes the modern myth of sola fide, I think the myth itself speaks to a profound misunderstanding of what salvation is all about. Viewed from the modern myth of sola fide, salvation is about intellectual assent to the reality of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection so that we will not go to hell for not believing the wrong thing. However, there are serious problems with this.
If our salvation rests upon our “acceptance” of it, then salvation is not dependent up Jesus, but our own confession. In that way, salvation is very much accomplished through our own works. Likewise, though we try all sorts of mental gymnastics to avoid it, if our role in salvation is exhausted by our “belief” or “acceptance”, then we are liberated from having or needing to live any particular way of life. It was the church in Corinth that first picked up on this apparent loophole. If our actions don’t matter in regards to salvation, and in fact, if God’s grace is the response to our sin, then shouldn’t we continue living however we want (in sin) so that God’s grace will abound all the more? Paul had an answer for this Corinthian proposition: “Hell no!” (Paul’s words, not mine)
So then, how are we saved?
What I think we learn from Jesus and the writers of the New Testament is that our “acceptance” of salvation is not a one off moment that happens during a prayer at an altar. Instead, “acceptance” is a process. It may start at the altar, but that is just the beginning of the journey of salvation.
I think it would be helpful to think of salvation as a drama. Jesus’ salvific actions, or as Paul wrote Jesus’ “faithfulness” to the Father, are the opening and closing acts of salvation. However, there is entire play that takes place between the moment Jesus walks out of the tomb and when he returns in glory. During that time we participate in the divine drama. Simple intellectual assent does not constitute participation. What is required of us is a truly Christ-like life, so that “the world may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven”. It is this pointing towards God that is our responsibility in the divine drama of salvation and redemption. We live a particular way of life in order to show others the way to Christ and prepare the world for the coming of the kingdom of God to earth as it is in heaven.
We must abandon the false dichotomy between salvation that is divorced from good works and salvation that is defined by good works. There is a middle ground in which salvation is given freely by God, but which also demands a particular way of life.
There are few people who have reminded the church of this need for “good living” more powerfully than the great theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer. It was he who wrote,
Cheap grace is the deadly enemy of our Church. We are fighting today for costly grace. Cheap grace means grace sold on the market like cheapjacks’ wares. The sacraments, the forgiveness of sin, and the consolations of religion are thrown away at cut prices. Grace is represented as the Church’s inexhaustible treasury, from which she showers blessings with generous hands, without asking questions or fixing limits. Grace without price; grace without cost! The essence of grace we suppose, is that the account has been paid in advance; and, because it has been paid, everything can be had for nothing….Costly grace is the gospel which must be sought again and again, the gift which must be asked for, the door at which a man must knock. Such grace is costly because it calls us to follow, and it is grace because it calls us to follow Jesus Christ. It is costly because it costs a man his life, and it is grace because it gives a man the only true life. It is costly because it condemns sin, and grace because it justifies the sinner. Above all, it is costly because it cost God the life of his Son: “ye were bought at a price,” and what has cost God much cannot be cheap for us.
In short, to pretend as if nothing is required of us after we “accept” God’s free gift of grace is to cheapen, dishonor, and ultimately render mute Jesus’ sacrifice. Perhaps for no other reason than this, the modern myth of sola fide must be just that, a myth.
There are plenty of examples that we could use in the modern church to exemplify how the myth of sola fide is carried out to the detriment of all. However, I think it would behoove us more to see how God responds when our faith is defined by the myth of sola fide. To do that, we need only to look at the book of Isaiah and a story I have mentioned here many times before.
This was the time of Solomon’s temple, when the kingdom of Israel was flourishing. In many ways, it was a time very similar to our own, not least of all because their relationship with God had come to defined by “faith alone.” They believed that God created them. They believed that they were His chosen people. They prayed and when necessary they went to the temple to make burnt offerings. So what did God think of their version of sola fide?
“The multitude of your sacrifices—
what are they to me?” says the LORD.
“I have more than enough of burnt offerings,
of rams and the fat of fattened animals;
I have no pleasure
in the blood of bulls and lambs and goats.
When you come to appear before me,
who has asked this of you,
this trampling of my courts?
Stop bringing meaningless offerings!
Your incense is detestable to me.
New Moons, Sabbaths and convocations—
I cannot bear your worthless assemblies.
Your New Moon feasts and your appointed festivals
I hate with all my being.
They have become a burden to me;
I am weary of bearing them.
When you spread out your hands in prayer,
I hide my eyes from you;
even when you offer many prayers,
I am not listening. Your hands are full of blood!
Wash and make yourselves clean.
Take your evil deeds out of my sight;
stop doing wrong.
Learn to do right; seek justice.
Defend the oppressed.
Take up the cause of the fatherless;
plead the case of the widow.
It was this context which set the stage only a few chapters later for the famous messianic prophecies that predicted “The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.” Jesus was coming to save Israel from their sin. If context tells us anything, and it usually does, then according to Isaiah chief among those sins was a faith defined by “faith alone” and personal piety. This is a sin we still need saving from today.
In closing, let me be clear. I firmly believe that our salvation is grounded in the grace of the Father extended through the faithfulness of Jesus by the power of the Holy Spirit alone. There is no amount of good works we could do on our own to earn salvation. However, while we are not saved as a result of our good deeds, neither are we saved apart from them.
Therefore, I think it is critical to make a distinction in what exactly it is that we believe. For many of us, we believe that a person has faith or believes in Jesus when they agree that he was born, lived, died, and rose again. However, this is not the sort of faith Luther or the early church had in mind. Even the devil and his angels believe in the reality of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. The true confession of faith in the early church, and the church today, is “Jesus is Lord.”
There were plenty of other gods and men who had died and been resurrected during the era of the early church. What made the church distinct was not just the idea of resurrection, but more so that this man from Nazareth who had been resurrected wasn’t simply another god-man. He alone was Lord of a heavenly kingdom that was beginning to dawn on earth in and through them.
To claim “Jesus is Lord” is much more than intellectual assent to historical reality. It is a transformative confession that has the capacity to reshape both our lives as well as the world around us. As Lord, Jesus is the one we follow by living a life that reflects the life that he lived. “Jesus is Lord” is the recognition that all things belong to him alone and as such nothing is outside the realm of redemption and repurposing for use in the kingdom of God.
If we are to be the Christ-like people of God we are called to be, then it will not happen through faith in a list of beliefs “alone”. It will only come about when the confession “Jesus is Lord” ceases to be merely a pleasant thought, and instead becomes a way of living and being in the world through which all of creation is oriented towards its Creator so that the kingdom of God begins to dawn “on earth as it is in heaven”. This is the sort of “faith” we are called to have.
Grace and peace,
This is AWESOME….
After reading through several comments from yesterday’s “Why I Hate Religion, But Love Jesus” post, I thought a bit of follow up was needed.
I’ll elaborate more on my issues with “sola fide” later. Today, I want to talk about the importance of words.
One comment that came up time and time again yesterday was that Jeff Behtke, the poet in the video, meant something other than the actual definition of “religion” when he said he hated religion. The idea being that “today’s generation” (of which both he and I are members) really means “legalism” when they/we say “religion.”
I agree, that the word “religion” is often used today in connection and even sometimes interchangeably with “legalism”. However, at least in the case of this video that defense is like a barrel with no bottom. It holds not water.
Bethke is a poet. Whether you dabble in this art or master it like Emerson and Thoreau you don’t choose words haphazardly. So, to claim Bethke uses the word “religion” arbitrarily, or worse, that his only understanding of that word is its slang variant is to imply that he is either ignorant or illiterate. While I’m not the biggest fan of his poetry, I have to believe that Bethke is more than aware of the meaning of the words he chooses, particularly when those words are spoken in the context of a subject so obviously important to him.
Furthermore, if we try to play the “words don’t mean what everyone has agreed they mean” card, then we might as well go ahead and toss out not only the dictionary, but language itself. If words have no set, agreed upon meaning, then communication is impossible.
For example, imagine going to McDonalds and ordering a cheeseburger and french fries. If words have no set meaning, then you have no way of knowing what guy at the drive-thru is actually going to give you. Instead of a cheeseburger and french fries you’re just as likely to get a rock and ball of string if the meaning of the words “cheeseburger” and “french fries” is completely relative. (Although to be fair, sometimes the cheeseburger and fries do taste like a rock and string.) Those words might describe food to you, but if context determines definition and the drive-thru guy doesn’t share your personal context then we need to ditch the microphone/speaker setup and start handing the cashier drawings of what we would like to eat.
Either words have agreed upon meanings and limits to those meanings or words are meaningless.
Finally, the old, tired argument “you don’t know his heart” is complete and utter nonsense. It was Jesus himself who said “But the things that come out of a person’s mouth come from the heart.” (Matt. 15:18) We can only “know someone’s heart” through their words and deeds. If Bethke’s heart is not displayed in this video then why in the world did he take the time to write the poem, arrange a film shoot, film his performance, edit the film, and then post it all on YouTube?
Once again, if someone speaks, but the meaning of their words can be something different than the meaning that has been attributed to those words by society, then communication through either the spoken or written word is impossible.
So, we are left to take Bethke at his word. That is to say, all we can respond to or critique are the words he chose to use.
Those words are quite clear. He hates religion. And his description of religion, that it “build[s] huge churches”, preaches things to people, and provides “behavior modification” sounds pretty spot on to the collectively held definition of the word.
That is not to say I think relationship is unimportant. It’s essential. For me, it is through my relationships with other Christians that my belief in a resurrected Jesus is affirmed.
It is true that Jesus didn’t come to establish a new religion. It’s also true that he didn’t come to abolish religion either. When he hung on the cross and cried “it is finished”, he wasn’t talking about religion. No biblical scholar I’ve ever heard of would support that thesis.
What was finished was Jesus’ struggle to breathe as his lungs collapsed under the weight of his own body. What was finished was his earthly life and ministry.
What was beginining was a new faith, dare I say, I new religion. The old way of Judaism wasn’t abolished, but as Jesus himself said, it was fulfilled when he walked out of the tomb on Easter Sunday.
What was beginning was a religion based on grace and a risen Savior. That religion was and continues to be a very good thing.
Grace and peace,
You never know when puppet Satan might get you!
Thankfully, there is catchy tune you can sing that will teach you how to chase the devil away.
So, learn this song today or succumb to the power of Beelzebub!
My apologies for the long post, but I thought this video, which is quickly going viral, is in need of some thoughtful reflection.
If you have Christian friends and you’ve been on Facebook in the past 48 hours, then chances are you’ve already seen it.
As of “press time” the video was already closing in on 1 million views on Facebook after having only been posted on Tuesday. No question about it that’s impressive.
Aesthetically speaking it’s not hard to see why. It definitely has “the look” and “feel” (however you define those words) that appeals to a 18-35 year old demographic (with a little leeway in both directions).
As a Christian person in that demographic I should probably “like” it and share it with all of my Facebook friends.
But I don’t like it.
Now, to be fair I do think Jeff Bethke (the guy in the video) makes some good points about voting Republican, sexuality, and Christian identity being defined by your Facebook status.
And, once again, the production quality is great and the speaker is very articulate. That’s not my issue.
My issue with this video is that it panders to a false, but widely accepted Protestant Evangelical narrative; one which has come to supplant Christianity itself as the “true gospel.”
Here’s the narrative in brief:
Jesus came to abolish religion. Then the church came along and re-instituted it, telling people there was a particular to live in order to be a Christian. Now, we need once more to be liberated from the shackles of religion in order to be able to “freely” worship Jesus.
It sounds nice. And if you were to survey most people walking out of Protestant churches this Sunday morning, I feel pretty confident is saying that most of them would agree it’s the gospel, or at least pretty close to it.
But it’s not. In fact, there’s very little in either that narrative or the narrative presented in the video above that are actually true.
Here’s the problems as I see them…
1. We don’t know what our target is.
Religion is not the evil Bethke or so many others portray it to be. Simply defined religion is “a cause, principle, or system of beliefs held to with ador or faith.” See? Not that scary.
In fact, religion can be very good.
For example, how do we know what Jesus taught? We read it in the Bible. Where did that book come from? Well, as much as we may not want to hear it the Bible is a product of religion. It didn’t magically fall from the sky one day. It was written by men (and possibly a few women) who were members of a religious community which was marked by a common “cause or system of beliefs.” It was that religious community that gave importance and meaning to these particulars books, letters, and writings and not others. Then that religious community organized and appointed councils to canonize those books and called them the “Holy Bible.” In other words, without religion there is no Bible.
Likewise, there are countless soup kitchens, food pantries, medical clinics, and schools that minister to countless men, women, and children across the globe every day. Who organizes, funds, and operates the vast majority of these places? Religious organizations.
Simply put, Christianity is and always has been a cause (Jesus) or system of belief (the gospel) that we hold to with ador and faith. And that’s ok.
2. When we seperate Jesus from the religious community then we are left with a Jesus out of context whom we are free to shape and mold in any way we see fit.
In other words, the “Jesus and me” gospel this video and so many of us proclaim is a path that has only one destination: idolatry.
Not the kind of idolatry that has us bowing down to golden calves, but the kind that has Jesus looking and acting suspiciously like ourselves.
At the end of the video the claim is made, as it is in so many of our churches, that when Jesus was “dangling on the cross he was thinking of you.” As nice as this might sound I find it to be the height of egomania. Aside from the fact that we have no way of knowing what Jesus was thinking on the cross (not least of all because the Bible doesn’t tell us), when we direct all of Jesus’ thoughts and actions to ourselves as individuals, then both the narrative of Jesus as well as the understanding of that narrative are exhausted by our own personal experience. In other words, Jesus becomes all about “me”, so we shape and form him in our own image, in ways we see best to meet our own needs and desires.
“I” don’t own Jesus and neither do “you”. Jesus belongs to the church and the church to Jesus. This is why we are “the body of Christ.” A hand cannot say to the body “I don’t need you”. Likewise, we can not take Jesus outside of the church and have any hope of truly understanding him or what he taught.
3. Jesus didn’t have a problem with religion, he had a problem with legalism.
Obviously legalism stems from religion, but anything can be turned into legalism, even grace. People have been spreading the “Jesus is here to abolish religion” message since the beginning of his ministry on earth. Since he was around to actually respond we should probably listen to what he thought about this message. It may come as a shock, but he wasn’t a fan. In fact, he rebuked these people saying “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.”
Jesus’ issue wasn’t with the Jewish faith, i.e. religion, which he himself was a part of. He took issue with those who would use God’s commandments to exploit and oppress others. This is a profoundly important distinction.
Furthermore, what do we do with Jesus’ declaration “on this rock I will build my church” if we think Jesus hated organized religion? Sure, we could take the popular sentimental route and talk about how the church isn’t a building or an institution. Which certainly has some truth to i. But if we go in that direction we’re going to need to explain our reasoning to the early church who would strongly disagree with us. Likewise, we’ll need to go ahead and toss out the New Testament since all of Peter and Paul’s writings (along with at least Luke-Acts) address the life, structure, and function of the church both spiritual and physical.
4. If you’re looking for the person that hated organized religion, by which you really mean “the institutional church”, then you’re looking for a guy named Martin Luther, not Jesus of Nazareth.
Without Martin Luther Bethke doesn’t make this video. Likewise, without Luther we’re all Roman Catholic. Not that that would be an awful thing.
It is Luther, not Jesus, who raises such a fuss about the institution of religion and rightfully so. The church during his day was profoundly corrupt at the highest levels and was in deep need of reform. Note, however, that even Luther was interested in “reform” (thus the term “Reformation”), not “abolishment”.
Likewise, nowhere in the Gospels does Jesus say he hated religion, neither does he ever call anyone fools for being religious. That’s the popular mythos, but go back and actually read the Bible. It’s not there. Certainly Jesus wasn’t a fan of Pharisess and Sadducees, but once again he hated their legalism and exploitation, not the religion to which he, as a Jew, was also a part of.
If you say that Jesus, who was a devote Jew, hated religion then you also have to say that Jesus hated himself because he was religious.
5. Jesus never preached that we are saved by faith alone.
If there is anything that is at the heart of the modern Protestant Evangelical gospel it’s the belief in “sola fide”; the idea that we are saved by “faith alone.” Once again, your champion for this cause is Martin Luther, not Jesus. Jesus didn’t preach this idea and if you think there is such thing as a “Christian life”, then you don’t really believe in sola fide either. Absolutely, it is Jesus’ faithfulness to the Father that is the mechanism for our salvation, but we cannot willfully continue in sin and claim to have accepted this free gift.
Bethke says that religion is just “behavior modification, like a long list of chores.” I think this speaks to a profound “don’t tell me what to do” attitude that dominates, if not defines, my generation. If you don’t what to be told that you’re not perfect and are in need of change, then Jesus is not the guy you want to speak to. To claim that “religion” is trying to tell you how to behave, but Jesus doesn’t want to tell you what to do demonstrates at best a profound ignorance of the Bible, in particular the Gospels themselves, and at worst a dangerous self-centeredness that is fundamentally antithetical not only to the Christian faith, but to Jesus himself. Jesus’ entire ministry was centered around how to live a particular way of life, or as Bethke it “behavior modification.” To call it “a long list of chores” reveals a true lack of interest in fulling Jesus’ command to bring the kingdom of God “to earth as it is in heaven.”
Likewise, Bethke says “salvation is freely mine and forgiveness is my own.” Well, yes and no. As Dietrich Bonhoeffer would be quick to remind us “ye were bought with a price…and what was costly for God must also be costly for us.” Likewise, we don’t have ownership of our forgiveness. If we did then it would be something we purchased or earned which would be counter-intuitive to Bethke’s argument. And while he’s right that that forgiveness stems from the actions of Jesus and not our obedience, our obedience is the demonstration of our acceptance of that forgiveness. The two are not as separate as we have come to believe.
Of course, Jesus does tell us exactly who will be “saved” and who will not and he makes he clear that “not everyone who says ‘Lord, Lord’ will enter the kingdom of God.” When Jesus does describe how he will decide “who gets into heaven” he is pretty clear that he’s not all that interested in who “believed” that he existed. Rather, according to Matthew 25, he will ask each of us “I was hungry. Did you feed me? I was thirsty. Did you give me something to drink? I was naked. Did you clothe me? I was sick and in prison did you come and visit me?” These are the questions we need to be really worried about answering “yes” to, not whether or not we think Jesus existed, was crucified, and rose again. For, “even the devil and his angels believe these things and shudder.”
6. The premise of this video and the gospel it proclaims is simply disingenuous.
If you go to, participate in, and support a local church, whether it’s a huge mega-church, an “average” sized rural church, or a small house church that meets in somebody’s living room then you support organized religion. And that’s ok.
Even Bethke says he loves the church, but I think completely destroys the case he is trying to make. The church is organized religion.
When we try to deride “organized religion” as the instrument of Satan out to deceive the world, and then joyfully participate in organized religious activities like sanctuary worship on Sunday morning, Sunday School, Bible studies, mission trips, volunteering at the church’s soup kitchen, or even playing church softball then we ourselves are just as duplicitous and hypocritical as the message of this video.
7. When we create a dichotomy between Jesus and religion we simaltaneously create an unnecessary and dangerous antagonism towards the church and the people that participate in it.
Bethke says “If religion is so great, why has it started so many wars? Why does it build huge churches, but fails to feed the poor?” I’ll give the guy a pass for the first half of this statement. I assume he’s a product of our American educational system and if so, it explains his understanding of history or lack thereof.
It’s popular, if not cliche, to say that religions are the cause of all the world’s wars. Have they been that cause from time to time? Sure. But if do a little more digging (beyond what you see on the History Channel or in this case what Richard Dawkins tells you) you will discover that the vast majority of battles that have been fought were not started for religious reasons. And even those that supposedly were, often simply used the guise of religion in order to gain more territory or wealth for the king who went to battle. Obviously, we have the Crusades and the Protestant/Catholics battles in Britain, but beyond that the pickings get slim at least as it pertains to battles or wars that you’ve heard of. For example, did the conquest of the Roman empire (that’s several centuries of warfare) have anything to do with religion? Nope. Revolutionary War? Nope. Civil War? Nope. World War I? Nope. World War II? Nope. Korea? Vietnam? The Gulf War? Nope. Nope. Nope Sure you could make a case that the current battles in the Middle East have religious connotations, but it’s murky water there and that’s the point. Religion isn’t the great starter of war we’ve been told it is.
As for the second accusation that church fails to feed the poor. I don’t know how to label this charge anything but absolute ignorance. Even the biggest mega-churches that get so often get ridiculed for any number of reasons, almost always have ongoing outreach ministries. There are very few outreach organizations in this country or any other that are not faith-based or at least affiliated with a religious organization.
There are several other points in this video that I could nit pick, but to sum it all up, what I think we have here, if not across the greater swath of protestant evangelicalism, is lazy, soundbite theology. We take bits and pieces of information that we hear on the news, read on the internet, or hear about through gossip at church and in turn create a narrative of a lost and dying church that is in need of our rescuing from the evils of religious boogeymen out to take over, or at least corrupt, the world.
That’s not to say there aren’t bad church or bad church leaders out there. There are. But to make such broad sweeping claims is naive, arrogant, ignorant, and dangerous.
Despite what Bethke claims religion and Jesus are not “two different clans” full of all the dichotomies he lists. The religion called Christianity exists only because of Jesus. It is certainly “man searching for God” (which is in no way a bad thing), but it was founded by “God (Christ) searching for man.” Simply put, false dichotomies do far more harm than good.
To make a long story, just a bit longer, I don’t think Jeff Bethke is evil, or that he’s out to deceive anyone. In fact, I’m sure there are plenty of things we would agree with. He’s just off-base with his theology.
So, please don’t get your theology from the internet. Find a church, also known as a religious community, to be a part of them. Listen to what they have to say. Learn from them. If they’re connected to the broader, orthodox church (and they probably are even if they play the “non-denominational” card) then they’re part of a people who have been doing this for at least 2,000 years. There will be bad apples in the bunch, but they are good people who have organized around a common cause (Jesus is Lord) and system of belief (the gospel) in order change the world. And in many corners of the world they are doing just that.
Grace and peace,
If you were to punch someone in public it would normally be labled “assault”.
If you’re Todd Bentley it’s called “divine healing”.
convulsing ”vibrating” on the ground after you’ve been sucker punched in the chest having previously suffered a broken sternum and ribs would normally be cause to call the paramedics.
If you’re Todd Bentley, it’s just the “power of God” at work
Is your faith this extreme?
Mine’s not. I’m a terrible skier.
I can stay up. It’s the stopping that I struggle with.
There’s probably a spiritual lesson there, but I’m too concerned with not dying on the slopes to figure what it might be.
I did something Saturday night that I’m not proud of.
Something I never thought even in my wildest dreams I would ever be capable of.
I changed the channel away from a NFL playoff game and tuned into the Republican debate.
Now, in my defense the Lions-Saints game was starting to get a little out of hand. Furthermore, I would like to pass some of the blame onto my beloved Tennessee Titans. Had they not failed to make the playoffs I would have either been A) celebrating a playoff win and drenching myself in postgame analysis or B) (more likely) sulking in silence on my couch mourning their loss. So, without either of those things to do I tuned to the Republican debate.
I was curious. Up until Saturday night I hadn’t really paid much attention to anything the candidates were saying. Why? Because despite what you may want to believe my vote, your vote, and the votes of anyone else who doesn’t live in Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina, or Florida are completely and utterly irrelevant. The Democratic nominee is a foregone conclusion and the Republican nominee will have been selected via the process of elimination (i.e. other candidates “suspending” their campaign”) before I or anyone else in the great state of Tennessee get the chance to cast our ballot.
Nevertheless I was, once again,curious as to what these would be leaders of the free world had to say.
So what did I learn from this less than epic debate? Everybody’s a bigot.
That’s not a shot at the Republican candidates. When I say “everybody” I literally mean everybody. You, me, the barista at Starbucks, the kid at the grocery store that bags your groceries, even your sweet, dear old grandmother; we’re all bigots.
Whether you think you’re a bigot or not is irrelevant. If you’ve ever disagreed with anyone about anything (it doesn’t matter what), then by definition you’re a bigot.
At least that’s what I gathered from the Republican debate last night and the greater conversation surrounding a topic the debate seemed to be preoccupied with: gay marriage.
I understand that this is an important issue for a lot of people, but are there not more pressing issues to talk about, i.e. the economy, the war in Afghanistan, healthcare, Iran, etc?
But this is not a post about gay marriage. It’s a post about how we dialogue when we disagree.
From what I’ve learned watching the Republican debate and broader political conversations, it appears that the idea of civil discourse is long dead and we have all reverted to playground name calling, especially when the topic is gay marriage.
Rightly or wrongly, before the debate ever began many, if not all, of the candidates were labeled ”bigots” for their stance on gay marriage.
So, how did the candidates respond to this accusation of bigotry? Newt Gingrich took the lead on this one one, calling those who accused the candidates of bigotry bigots themselves for their “persecution” of Christianity.
To review….don’t agree with gay marriage? You’re a bigot.
Don’t agree with people who don’t agree with your disagreement about gay marriage? You’re a bigot.
Ever notice how bigots are always other people?
Certainly there are bigots in the world, people who are intolerant of any ideas but their own. However, when someone disagrees with you about something it doesn’t necessarily make them a bigot; even when the point of disagreement is something you’re passionate about. (I started to write “of immense importance”, but I’m not convinced that sexuality is nearly as important as we make it out to be.)
What strikes me as a bit perplexing in the battle of who is or is not a bigot, is that some really important issues apparently aren’t worth getting that upset about, at least not to the point that one needs to launch verbal grenades.
Take for example the issue of healthcare. This one is quite literally a life and death matter. Certainly the issue of homosexuality has resulted in murder in several countries around the world (including the Matthew Shepard tragedy here at home), but there is no greater cause of death in this country than heart disease. Debates have and continue to spring up all across the country about what people “should” or “should not” eat and what the government’s role is in the arena of public health. Just this last week a firestorm began in Georgia over a statewide billboard campaign against childhood obesity that featured images of overweight children. Several states require restaurants to list the calorie count for all of their menu offerings so that patrons can make a more “informed” decision. New York City has gone so far as to ban the use of trans fats in cooking oils. And it only takes a few clicks on the TV remote to land on a talk show or news broadcast and learn that what you’re eating is probably going to kill you.
And yet you don’t hear spokesmen from McDonald’s and Wendy’s labeling anyone bigots. There aren’t protests outside city halls by lovers of fast food denouncing politicians as instruments of Satan for taking away their trans fats. And have you ever heard a sermon preached on fried food being the path towards immorality and the destruction of our county?
Of course not. So why is it that we can at least feign civility when it comes to the literal death of our country, but the gloves come off before we even start talking about sexuality?
There are probably a lot a reasons for this, no least of all the sexually saturated culture we live in. But I think we could sum it this way: french fries will kill you, but homosexuality will send you to hell.
Or at least that seems to be the mentality driving the impassioned responses from both sides. Regardless of the actual, broader importance of any given issue, if it is something we are personally passionate about we elevate it to the height of importance and relegate our opponents to the depths of degradation. In other words, if I really believe in something and you disagree with me, then you can’t simply be wrong in your opinion you must the devil.
It is this sort of line in the sand, turn or burn, literal demonization of the “opponent” approach to debate that is at the heart of the problem with modern discourse regardless of what the issue at hand might be. Homosexuality, war, the economy, vaccines, you name it. Don’t agree with “me” and you’re not just wrong, you’re the personification of evil.
As rampant as this practice is in the political arena, there is probably no place where this demonization and name calling takes place more than inside the church. Except, instead of calling our opponents ”bigots” we brand them “heretics.” Which, if you know anything about the church, is worse than being a bigot.
You’re Baptist and someone wants to talk to you about their female pastor? They’re a heretic.
You’re Methodist and someone preaches about the innerancy of scripture? They’re a heretic.
You love the Bible and someone has the nerve to tell you they love it too, but also believe in evolution? They’re a heretic.
If there is one thing we most of us in the church seem to be able to agree on it’s this: There is no middle ground. Disagree with “me” and you’re literally going to hell.
There is on oft quoted line from, depending on who you ask, either St. Augustine or John Wesley that says “In essentials unity; in non-essentials liberty; in all things charity.” It would be easy to point to that quote and say “that solves it, let’s just do that.” But of course, that is much easier said than done as few of us, both inside the church and out, can see seem to agree on what the “essentials” are.
Yet, even if we can’t agree on the “essentials” of the faith or the “right” direction for our country, I think the last clause in the quote can and should still be our guiding principle.
Nothing is accomplished through name calling. Even if our opponent is in fact a bigot or heretic labeling them as such will never change their position. Rather, it will only urge them to retrench in their position and further their own conviction that they are a martyr for the cause of truth.
Charity towards others is our only way forward.
Charity doesn’t mean you cease to critique other people’s positions on any given subject. It means you do so with more grace and sophistication than a school yard bully.
Bringing genuine charity into our conversations of greatest, or even least, importance may not solve everything, but it at least begins to allow us to see each other as human beings made in the image of God, rather than potential emissaries of Satan. If we can get that far, then maybe, just maybe we can even begin to dream of actually loving one another as God first loved us. Then maybe, just maybe we could learn to live together in peace even when we passionately disagree.
There will surely be plenty of things to get angry about in the upcoming year. Presidential candidates will make stump speeches that will infuriate you and preachers like Mark Driscoll will say things that will leave us all flabbergasted with frustration.
But the test of 2012 will not be who wins the election or whose theological position is “proven correct”. The true test of 2012 will be how we speak and interact with one another as we debate these issues of “utmost importance”. Will we do so with Christ-like charity and grace ,willing to honestly listen to others regardless of their position, or will we allow ourselves to be consumed with the narcissistic need to be “right,” destroying everyone in our path for the sake of “truth”?
Hopefully, we can find the strength the leave the school yard behind and find a seat at the table of grace.
Grace and peace,