Scot McKnight had a very interesting post last week concerning a recently popular“scapegoat” atonement theory about Jesus’ cross based on the cultural theory of French philosopher Rene Girard. The scapegoat theory’s basic idea is that God the Father doesn’t demand Jesus’ blood as the price for humanity’s sin, but that we humans needed Jesus to be our scapegoat so that we could be liberated from our sin. McKnight contends that the Girardian view doesn’t count as an atonement theory because in his interpretation of the scapegoat theory, “we side with Christ and God and not those who put him to death.” McKnight says that for an interpretation of the cross to be atonement as such, it must implicate us in the death of Jesus, “the cross [must be] in some way against us.” Interestingly, McKnight’s terms for a valid atonement theory don’t delegitimize Girard’s scapegoat theory nearly as much as they invalidate the default evangelical understanding of the cross as the satisfaction of God’s wrath. I heartily agree with McKnight’s understanding. Humanity crucified Jesus, not God; it is our needs which the cross satisfies, not God’s. Continue Reading
My wife and I watched “12 Years A Slave” this weekend. Needless to say, it was a hard movie to watch. As a pastor, what pained me the most were the parts where the slave-master would read self-serving passages out of the Bible to his slaves to put the stamp of God’s word on his authority as a master. I remember reading in Frederick Douglas’s autobiography that the crueler a master was, the more scripture he would quote. It made me wonder about the theological legacy we’ve inherited in white American Christianity from our slave-holding ancestors.
Growing up in the church, I would often hear the phrase, “We’re just pilgrims passing through,” usually in response to someone’s passion for changing the world. It means that since this is not our “true home” (heaven is), we shouldn’t worry about what happens to our world other than keeping our family safe. Hebrews 11 talks about the Israelite patriarchs who “confessed that they were strangers and foreigners on the earth” (v. 13), not because they considered earthly life irrelevant compared to “heaven,” but because they “desired a better country” (v. 16). Those who see our lives on Earth as a brief visit are tourists; those who are seeking a kingdom of God that requires more than one lifetime to build are pilgrims. Which are you? Continue Reading
When you grow up evangelical, you view everything about politics through the lens of your religious experience. Other people are shaped most fundamentally by their connection to military culture or their work with the poor or their passion for science or something else. I honestly cannot think about political issues from an objective rational perspective; I’m almost entirely a reactionary. There is one analogy that shapes the political landscape for me: I am rabidly opposed to anyone who reminds me of the fundamentalists who have questioned the validity of my Christian faith throughout my life. The problem for the Republican Party is that Ted Cruz and the “constitutional conservatives” holding them hostage fit this analogy perfectly, and that’s why I suspect they are completely alienating what might be dubbed the Rachel Held Evans bloc of twenty-to-thirty-something moderate evangelicals like me who hate fundamentalism and hate being called “liberal.” Continue Reading
First, I realize evangelicals or millennials are popular punching bags, and I’m not interested in bashing either. The words are utterly imprecise social labels that somehow capture a dual identity I find in myself, even though as a newly 36 year old United Methodist pastor, I’m supposedly not either. A recent HuffPost article “Why Generation Y Yuppies Are Unhappy” talks about the way children of baby boomers are dissatisfied with their careers because they’ve been indoctrinated into thinking that they’re supposed to be special and important when they grow up. I resemble that remark. But what’s more troubling to me is the thought that I might be perpetuating this problem through how I talk about vocation and spiritual gifts as a pastor. There’s a unique form of vocational cheerleading done by evangelical pastors like me that I don’t think you would find in the homilies of the Catholic, Orthodox, or mainline. Continue Reading
To paraphrase that annoying hit dance song “Party Rock,” everyday we’re posturing. What I mean by “posturing” is that our conversations are constant performances of self-definition, at least those that happen in cyberspace where words are all that we are. Because conversation itself has turned into a primary object of our analysis, we do a lot of meta-conversation, talking about talking about things. The Christian blogosphere talks a lot about talking about sin, which is different than talking directly about sin. It is in these meta-conversations that a tired debate cycles endlessly: “Why do we need to talk about talking about sin all the time? Jesus ate and drink with sinners.” “Ah… but he would always tell them to go and sin no more.” Understanding the distinction between talking about sin and talking about talking about sin is critical if we are to avoid talking past each other as seems to have occurred in a recent sin meta-conversation between Rachel Held Evans and Kevin Watson. Continue Reading
What comes to mind when you hear the phrase “weightier matters of the law”? It sounds like they would be the parts of the Bible that are hard for a modern world to accept. Evangelical Christians in our time tend to litmus-test their faith according to their loyalty to what they see as the “weightier” parts of the Bible that clash with modern sensibilities, whether it’s young Earth creationism, the eternal conscious torment of hell, a complementarian account of gender, or opposition to homosexuality, to name the top four. But what does Jesus say are the “weightier matters of the law” in Matthew 23:23? Continue Reading
For the past several months, I’ve been watching the conversation unfold as the evangelical feminist movement has declared war on the modesty culture that predominates fundamentalist churches where youth pastors and other church leaders enforce a strict dress code on teenage girls and teach them to take responsibility for protecting men from their lust. I came across a particularly heartbreaking example of a girl whose weight gain caused her youth leader to send her home from church for wearing jeans that were “too tight.” In any case, one of the core assertions being made by female feminist bloggers is that male attraction and lust are two completely different things.I have been struggling with this assertion because it seems rooted in ideological necessity and not in the first-hand experience of the male brain behind the gaze which I have actually lived through. Continue Reading
In Brian Zahnd’s May 26th sermon “New Creation (Not Evacuation),” he confronts the neo-Gnosticism of the evangelicals who think we can trash the Earth because God’s just going to blow it up anyway, taking on in particular the key prooftext of the rapture fan club, 1 Thessalonians 4:17. Zahnd uses the analogy of going to the airport to receive a relative who’s been away on a long trip, like a military deployment. People who read rapture in 1 Thessalonians 4:17 are like someone who goes to the airport to pick up Jesus, except that they’ve packed their suitcases to get on an outbound plane rather than getting their house ready to receive Him. There’s a lot of good stuff in Brian’s sermon but the best part is a poem he wrote about the holiness of belonging to this world.
To prepare for Pentecost, I’ve been reading Pentecostal theologian Amos Yong’s The Spirit Poured Out on All Flesh. Yong argues for a “pneumatological soteriology” (Spirit-centered account of salvation) that “would be in contrast to soteriologies that tend to bifurcate the work of Christ and of the Spirit… articulated by Protestant scholasticism… [in which] Christ provides salvation objectively (e.g., in justification) and the Spirit accomplishes salvation subjectively (e.g., in sanctification)” (82). In the prophecy from Joel that Peter quotes on the day of Pentecost in Acts 2, God makes an incredible promise: “I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh.” What if this statement is taken as the centerpiece of God’s salvation of humanity and the world? What if the salvation made possible through the cross and resurrection of Jesus Christ finds its full expression in the perpetual Pentecost poured out by the Holy Spirit? Continue Reading