Learning to Follow a God Who Constantly Calls us Forward

Shaping New Denominational Identities Around a Fresh Kingdom Vision of the Future

God constantly calls us forward, never backward. We often want to go backward, but God is not there. God is always directly in front of us. God was ‘back there’ but is now ‘right here’ wooing us to himself and towards bigger and better things. The biblical story depicts this calling forward by God. God […]

God

While I could simply share this video link on my Facebook writer’s page, the views expressed here by Benjamin L. Corey in response to the main objections to Christian nonviolence so clearly communicate my own position on the subject that I thought it appropriate to include it as a blog post.

What Ben does in this short video (20 mins.) is respond to the main objections against Christian pacifism from a biblical and theological perspective. No doubt there are other arguments that have been formed, but these certainly highlight the most prominent ideas.

I like what Ben has been able to do in a relatively short time-frame. In a clear and concise way, he has been able to respond with what I believe are the main reasons many of us believe the Gospel of Jesus is ultimately a Gospel of peace. That peace lies at the center of Jesus’ new kingdom and forms the basis of our witness as those who follow him.

Ultimately, the whole of Jesus’ teaching and example point us in this direction. And, the most powerful demonstration of enemy-love comes to us as Jesus hung on the cross pronouncing forgiveness on all – including those who put him there.

For these and other reasons, I hope you find this video presentation helpful.

May I also recommend Brian Zahnd’s book, A Farewell to Mars: An Evangelical Pastor’s Journey Toward the Biblical Gospel of Peace as a great resource to further dive into this important discussion.

Peace.

LIKE THIS post?
SIGN UP FOR MY BLOG UPDATES AND NEVER MISS A POST!

a more christ-like God

A More Christ-Like God: A More Beautiful Gospel

In A More Christlike God Bradley Jersak takes us on a journey that effectively brings together what a number of Christian authors have been saying for some time now. He does it in a manner that is faithful to Scripture, though not strictly faithful to various popular interpretations of Scripture. He also does it in a clear and engaging way. It’s not light reading, but it is easy to read and understand.

Those who want to object to any of the things he says should not be able to say they don’t get it. He is so clear that any misrepresentation of his arguments will almost certainly have to be willful. It will be interesting indeed to see the critical response to this challenging work. Critics there will be, but none who can honestly say they misunderstand him.

What I hope to do in this review is present an impression of the text that is as faithful as possible to what I hear the author saying. In so doing, I hope this review will encourage you to read/study the book for yourself and make up your own mind. It is set up in a way that could even be used for group study, with questions at the end of each chapter, a helpful glossary and some guidance regarding other literature in a similar vein.

Parts I and II, Chapters 1 to 8 – Don’t miss the Bill Maher quote early on. It will cause your head to nod in recognition, eyes to roll or blood pressure to shoot upward, depending. The author’s interview with Jess will cause some to throw the book across the room. Pick it up later, and read on. It will provoke. “Do we ourselves need hell to keep our envy of sinners at bay?” “Were these questions a sign of heresy or sanity?” Miss, under no circumstances, the Revivalist-Pharisee-Santa.

Don’t skip over the politics “Genuine freedom is a gift of Christ’s sacrificial love, not the vacuous promises of grandiose political movements or sabre rattling politicians.” Enjoy clever wordplay “Freedom can ‘make babies’, but only love raises them!” Be amazed at what is still controversial in Christian theology “Love is not merely one of God’s attributes. Love is who God is in his very nature.” Consider an old/new view of the scope of redemption. “We cannot allow that the sacrifice of Golgotha has proved powerless to redeem the world and conquer hell. Otherwise we should say: creation is a failure, and Redemption is also a failure.” Quote from Father Alexandr Turnisev.

Throughout the book enjoy pages of long supporting quotes from Scripture and a refreshing reticence to ‘proof text’. And, especially in the final chapter, see some prime examples of how proof texting can lead to misleading results that can be quite harmful. Actually, this theme of looking a larger swaths of Scripture readings as opposed to short proof-texts is an important part of the ethos of this work. One of my favourite quotes: “The Cross reveals God’s person (who he is) but also his kingdom (how he reigns).”

Get ready for lively, hopefully loving, debate in response to declarations like “…. if consent comes with an ultimatum tied to a deadline — if lack of surrender is threatened with eternal conscious torment — then the offer is devoid of real love.” Think about God’s sovereignty, and divine action as well “Yes! Christ does reign — he reigns in heaven and in the world, even over secondary causes. There is no question that he reigns; the question is, how does he reign?”

Consider weighty issues such as the meaning of how we are the ‘image of God’. “What if the image we carry is that of omnipotence laid down?” Consider how simple and easy Adam and Eve’s obedience (and ours) could be, and marvel at how we never can pull it off (on our own). “We are not even called to do anything! We are simply asked to refrain from something while being filled with innumerable delights.” (Gen 2:16). Wondering if we can save ourselves? “I am not suggesting that we were partners in Christ’s foundational work of salvation. Christ was the only human partner who, because he is also divine, could provide for the redemption of all.” …….. “Our participation is mutual but not equal. He is the Gift-giver and we are the recipients. He is the Saviour and we are the saved. He is the Lover — we, the beloved.”

What about prayer? A short but very powerful section gets to the heart of the matter. Here’s what I took away from this part. Praying “Thy will be done” doesn’t mean that we think God may do nothing regarding the matter. It does mean that we are not going to dictate what he will do, while fully expecting him to actually carry out his will in the matter. It especially means that we stand ready to be the vessel through which his will in this specific case will be realized. And a quote that captures the central theme of the book (as seen from the first eight chapters). “If God’s consent allows necessity (the secondary causes of natural law and human freedom) to work — to our joy and sorrow — God’s grace participates (by the Holy Spirit) in the world wherever willing partners (first and most of all Jesus Christ) actively mediate his reign of love and care into the world. The Incarnation is God’s supreme act of grace — of participation, partnering, sharing — in the world afflicted by secondary causes.”

Chapter 9  – This is the most challenging, and one of the most important chapters. It’s about how to think in a Christlike manner in the face of all the things that go wrong in this life. It particularly focuses on the horrible, suffering-causing things that cannot be explained by pointing to evil people or systems. Why does nature hurt us – from gravity to tsunamis, to fire to disease, and so much more. Why doesn’t God just fix it?

Jersak refuses to try to answer this in a way that can be satisfactory without faith. In fact, he rejects all attempts to develop theodicies accessible to pure reason, calling them worse than unhelpful. His foundation for this, as it is throughout the book, is the Cross of Jesus Christ. The divine suffering there, he argues, included every imaginable suffering humanity has ever experienced. We cannot suffer anything that the crucified Lord hasn’t already suffered, and is not presently suffering. As the events of Good Friday reveal, God himself refused to save himself from taking on all of the suffering of the cosmos. So, in fact, he did do something about it, and is doing something about it. This includes, perhaps especially includes, the suffering we may feel when we can’t possibly believe any of this, and dismiss it as drivel. And when we reject God, when we turn our face away and suffer the consequences, is that just us acting in our unique, ornery way?

Are there spiritual actors that play a role as well? Here’s where Jersak may make some progressive and liberal Christians squirm a bit. He recognizes the reality of evil, outside of humanity. In no way does he downplay the sin inside humanity, but he is open to the abundant scriptural witness of the spiritual nature of evil. These two paragraphs are an inadequate representation of this fine chapter, and a bit from a chapter to come.

Like many other parts of the book, there are statements that jar, long-standing ideas severely challenged and more. But there is healing here too. Careful rereading, meditation, prayer will be required of the reader, but the honesty with which this toughest of all subjects is approached will be visible to all. If I may make a recommendation, read both this chapter and Greg Boyd’s “Is God to Blame?”

Part III Chapters 10 to 14 –  If we ignore or even defy gravity we unfailingly encounter serious consequences. We don’t suffer the wrath of gravity, but we do suffer. We could say that we suffered the wrath of gravity, and if we did everyone would know what we meant. It’s like that with lots of things in this cosmos that is given space and allowed to be and to become by an almighty God. So argues Brad Jersak in this last section entitled Unwrathing God.

But many believe that God is not like gravity, to which Jersak answers, of course, God is not (only) like gravity. That’s a metaphor like any metaphor, only as useful as far as it goes. Coming to grips with what’s missing in this metaphor is the main challenge of this section. Jersak argues that God knows, intimately, the nature of his cosmos. So, he knows human nature as well. He knows we often do try to defy reality. We act as if there are no material limits, we act as if nature doesn’t matter except as our servant, just to give two instances. But mostly we all are far too prone to act toward others as if what matters most is me, my tribe, my ‘race’ my country my ideas, my theology.

This person to person rebellion against the reality of God’s cosmos is one of the most damaging aspects of our turning our face away from God. But then, and here Jersak is adamant, God never turns his face away from us! In fact, he turns toward us so much that he lets us abuse his good creation at will, he lets us abuse each other, even violently, and, when we try to explain all of this mess, he lets us abuse his good name in the most ugly ways imaginable. How does Jersak know this? Where’s the evidence? He points to the Cross and what happened (and still happens) there.

Conservative and post-conservative Christians need not worry, the real Resurrection is central to his argument, but, as he helpfully quips, “But honestly, even if Hitler had been resurrected fifty times, I would still not love and worship him!” Jersak places his faith in the one who rose from the dead, because of what he did, and accomplished before he rose from the dead. The Resurrection is the proof, through faith, that such faith is not misplaced.

Atonement does not escape the radar, nor are the ‘atonement wars’ entertained (too much). It’s too complex and contested to go into here, I just want to report that it’s there. But, I will yield to the temptation to relate three telling quotes: On punishment: “When we see sin as a fatal disease that produces ugly symptoms and a sure death-warrant, we see how useless punishment is as a cure.” On appeasement: “God the Judge is not awaiting appeasement from God the sacrifice. On substitution: “Did Jesus ‘take a bullet for us’? Yes! ….. (but) God is not the one holding the smoking gun. We are.”

Do read the book. It is a mighty challenge to us all. To followers of Christ, it will challenge the way we practice our faith, think our theologies and read/interpret the Bible. To seekers (that is everyone), it offers a view of God, creation, people, sin and redemption that is most likely quite different from what you have heard, and perhaps grew up with — different but, for many, it will also strike a strong familiar chord, with some different jargon and angles.

As an effective summary, the final chapter takes all of what came before and distills it into a very inviting presentation of the gospel – literally the old, old story, the restorative gospel. If you read no other part of the book, read this. Compare it with other versions you have heard. See what you think.

———————-

Special thanks to Dr. Bev Mitchell for his helpful review of this outstanding new book.

LIKE THIS post?
SIGN UP FOR MY BLOG UPDATES AND NEVER MISS A POST!

farewell to mars

A Farewell to Mars: An Evangelical Pastor’s Journey Toward the Biblical Gospel of Peace

Jesus taught that peace is the radical reality of the kingdom of God. But are we bringing a message of peace to this world? Author and pastor Brian Zahnd walks readers through his own journey from embracing violence to pronouncing peace, using Scripture, prayer, study, and reflection.

From the prophecies of Isaiah to the teachings of the Prince of Peace Himself, Scripture unveils a God who desires peace for His people. God’s kingdom would not be managed and defended by wars, violence, and vengeance. This kingdom rises up out of the rich soil of sacrifice and surrender. In Farewell to Mars, Brian Zahnd challenges readers to follow the teachings of Jesus, just as we strive to follow the person of Jesus.

LIKE THIS post?
SIGN UP FOR MY BLOG UPDATES AND NEVER MISS A POST!

“I Will Follow Jesus No Matter What the Cost.” Really?

When we make the declaration to follow Jesus ‘no matter what the cost,’ I wonder if we really know what we’re promising? I wonder if such a statement is oftentimes ‘made in the moment,’ without much thought as to what it actually entails? Do we really know how we will respond when faced with the most […]

follow Jesus

Are Churches Replacing Presence with Atmosphere?

I read this question in my Twitter feed a few days ago and knew the person was on to something. “Churches are replacing presence with atmosphere. True? I think so.” I have to agree – contemporary church gatherings have become very good at creating atmosphere and packaging it as presence. Contemporary churches have become good at creating atmosphere and packaging […]

church

A Conversation with Leonard Sweet on the Future of the Church

leonard sweet

A Few of my Favorite Quotes From the Interview “Jesus is already in our future and he is inviting us to join him in what he’s already doing there.” “You grow a soul from the ground up.” “There is no artist in history that has painted Jesus singing.” “There is only one singularity that matters […]

Entertainment Fatigue

Why People Are Growing Tired of the Church's Glitzy Stage

When a local church creates and perpetuates a culture of entertainment in an attempt to build a congregation, it will only be a matter of time before they begin to experience the negative consequences that emphasis will bring. Over the past number of years I have observed that when a church centers their congregational structure […]

entertainment fatigue
searching for sunday

Searching for Sunday

New York Times bestselling author Rachel Held Evans embarks on a quest to find out what it really means to be part of the Church.

Like millions of her millennial peers, Rachel Held Evans didn’t want to go to church anymore. The hypocrisy, the politics, the gargantuan building budgets, the scandals—church culture seemed so far removed from Jesus. Yet, despite her cynicism and misgivings, something kept drawing her back to Church. And so she set out on a journey to understand Church and to find her place in it.

Centered around seven sacraments, Evans’ quest takes readers through a liturgical year with stories about baptism, communion, confirmation, confession, marriage, vocation, and death that are funny, heartbreaking, and sharply honest.

A memoir about making do and taking risks, about the messiness of community and the power of grace, Searching for Sunday is about overcoming cynicism to find hope and, somewhere in between, Church.

A Few of My Favorite Quotes

Death and resurrection. It’s the impossibility around which every other impossibility of the Christian faith orbits. Baptism declares that God is in the business of bringing dead things back to life, so if you want in on God’s business, you better prepare to follow God to all the rock-bottom, scorched-earth, dead-on-arrival corners of the this world – including those in your own heart – because that’s where God works, that’s where God gardens.

What makes the gospel offensive isn’t who it keeps out, but who it lets in.

At it’s best, the church functions much like a recovery group, a safe place where a bunch of struggling, imperfect people come together to speak difficult truths to one another.

It seems those most likely to miss God’s work in the world are those most convinced they know exactly what to look for, the ones who expect God to play by the rules.

Church is a moment in time when the kingdom of God draws near, when a meal, a story, a song, an apology, and even a failure is made holy by the presence of Jesus among us and within us.

This is what God’s kingdom is like: a bunch of outcasts and oddballs gathered at a table, not because they are rich or worthy to good, but because they are hungry, because they said yes. And there’s always room for more.

I don’t know exactly how Jesus is present in the bread and wine, but I believe Jesus is present, so it seems counterintuitive to tell people they have to wait and meet him someplace else before they need him at the table. If people are hungry, let them come and eat. If they are thirsty, let them come and drink. It’s not my table anyway. It’s not my denomination’s table or my church’s table. It’s Christ’s table. Christ sends out the invitations, and if he has to run through the streets gathering up the riffraff to fill up his house, then that’s exactly what he’ll do. Who am I to try and block the door?

This isn’t a kingdom for the worthy; it’s a kingdom for the hungry.

But the table can transform even our enemies into companions. The table reminds us that, as brothers and sisters adopted into God’s family and invited to God’s banquet, we’re stuck with each other; we’re family. We might as well make peace. The table teaches us that faith isn’t about being right or good or in agreement. Faith is about feeding and being fed.

It has become cliche to talk about faith as a journey, and yet the metaphor holds. Scripture doesn’t speak of people who found God. Scripture speaks of people who walked with God. This is a keep-moving, one-foot-in-front-of-the-other, who-knows-what’s-next-deal, and you never exactly arrive. I don’t know if the path’s all drawn out ahead of time, or if it corkscrews with each step like in Alice’s Wonderland, or if, as some like to say, we make the road by walking, but I believe the journey is more labyrinth than maze. No step taken in faith is wasted, not by a God who makes all things new.

When we check our pride long enough to pay attention to the presence of the Spirit gusting across the globe, we catch glimpses of a God who defies our categories and expectations, a God who both inhabits and transcends our worship, art, theology, culture, experiences, and ideas.

Sometimes I wonder how much I’ve missed because I haven’t bothered to look, because I wrote off that church or that person or that denomination because I assumed God to be absent when there is not a corner of this world that God has abandoned.

So church is, essentially, a gathering of kingdom citizens, called out – from their individuality, from their sins, from their old ways of doing things, from the world’s way of doing things – into participation in this new kingdom and community with one another.

I highly recommend this book for the searching and the found. It will take you on a journey of loss and discovery – not on a straight path and through an open door, but on a meandering, criss-crossed expedition of faith. A faith that finds and re-finds its center in the place of Jesus’ church, with all of its beautiful chaos and unstructured order.

May we all find ourselves continually searching for Sunday.

LIKE THIS post?
SIGN UP FOR MY BLOG UPDATES AND NEVER MISS A POST!

Blinded by Expectations

When Our Picture of Jesus Meets the Real Thing

Throughout the Gospel accounts to the first chapter of Acts, we are confronted with story after story that highlights the dilemma that erupted when cultural expectations surrounding the Messianic identity of Jesus met with the real thing. The vast majority of people living in Israel at the time would have believed the primary identity of […]

Jesus