I have been rebuked in different degrees by many for  wasting time with this philosophical, theological  stuff.  I’ve been told to “just trust the bible and get on with it”. Of course, these rebukes and accusations of wasting time and being told to “get on with it” are more my take on what I felt was being said then the actual words coming out of the mouths of those saying them. Because of all this, I feel that I should give an explanation as to why I pour so much energy in this pursuit.


Worship is an act of religious devotion usually directed to one or more deities. The word is derived from the Old English worthscipe, meaning worthiness or worth-ship — to give, at its simplest, worth to something.

It is my conviction that we become like what we worship. There are all kinds of people that worship God. The problem is that the God being worshiped is not always the same. There are many images of God even within the Christian faith. Many or most, if not all, of these images are idolatrous, they are fashioned out of our own minds.

I think that with the birth of Christianity came the birth of a new spiritual discipline: theology. Theology has to grow to be a new task, the prayerful reflection on and invocation of the one true God. That is why in Romans 12, Paul, summoning people to obedient worship, says “you have to be transfromed by the renewing of your mind.”

It is not enough to coast along, following a few rules, doing a few odd things here and there, hoping it will all work out. It is not enough to “just follow Jesus”. We need to follow the Jesus that is the result of theological discipline. And we cannot simply follow the Jesus of our ancestor’s discipline, we have to make Jesus real to us and in our current cultural context.

I believe that all of us needs to be engaged in this discipline to some degree. Not every one needs to be active primary participants, but we all need to be active listeners and be willing to put in two cents from time to time. Because I believe that this discipline is not a personal one but a communal one.

Thanks for your gracious response, John. Just to clarify: I am seeking to distance myself from a vicious, violent, and as you say, monstrous image of God. Nobody thinks they hold such a view, and I imagine that nobody consciously does.

But … I wonder if we can try to imagine what it felt like for Jews during the pogroms in Europe to have Christians call them “Christ-killers,” to burn, kill, and exile them … I wonder if we can try to imagine what it felt like for the Native Americans in our own history to be called savages and Canaanites (thus placing them in a category for “biblical genocide”), and then to watch our ancestors systematically steal their lands, relocate them to reservations, eradicate their culture, and so on. We could similarly try to imagine what it was like to hear the gospel from the same people who were colonizing … Then I wonder if we can imagine what it feels like today to be Muslim, or Hindu, or gay, etc., and become the focal point of fear, rage, distrust, fury, disgust, and so on … again, in the name of God and “Jesus.” I wonder if we can imagine what women feel like when the Bible is used to tell them to be quiet and do what they’re told … again, knowing that you probably don’t do this, but a lot of men still do, and even more used to do so even a few decades ago …

On top of my intellectual and spiritual responsibility to interpret the texts wisely and responsibly, I feel an ethical responsibility to interpret the texts with “the other” in mind. Perhaps that will help you understand where I’m coming from.

I don’t think the 6 line narrative (as I described it) is biblical – you may. You may not think that narrative – as I described it – is common; I do. You may not think the Christian faith has portrayed a monstrous image of God to the world very often; I wish that were true but don’t believe it is. I imagine you think that eternal conscious torment can be held without producing the ugly social consequences it has for “the other” in the past; that’s not a risk I can take. But If you share my concern that in the present and future we don’t portray – in word and deed – a monstrous image of a violent God to the world, then we can work together on behalf of “the other,” and I’m glad for that.
a comment(#78) by Brian McLaren on a post by Scot McKnight (emphasis mine)

I only wish I could be so succinct. This is the third post by Scot in a very heated dialogue on Brian’s portrayal of Christianity’s God and gospel in his new book, ANKOC.

For those not familiar with Brian’s 6 line narrative, it is:

  1. Eden/perfection,
  2. Fall,
  3. History/condemnation,
  4. The offering of salvation,
  5. Heaven/return to perfection or
  6. Hell/eternal punishment

Another commenter states: “a real atonement also requires things like real[punitive] judgment”

I ask, “Why?”

“to address the systemic and individual evil rampant in human reality”

How about the systemic and divine love and forgiveness rampant in God’s reality as revealed in Christ.

Why cannot God JUST forgive? Why must the Almighty “come in Wrath to destroy the Devil and evil men”? This same God who will smite his enemies requires me to love mine. This same God who will allow some to be consciously tormented eternally – either through His ‘good will’ or by sitting back and letting it happen seems to require more from me. Besides, forgiveness that is the result of Christ’s work on the cross is no forgiveness at all, it is appeasement. We have Christ dieing on the cross to appease an wrathful God.

I struggle to believe that our theological beliefs and doctrines have no effect on our attitudes or actions. This “conventional soul-sort” theology can’t but help lead us to an us/them mentality. I am not putting a morality value judgment on this us/them, however, taken to the extreme we see the actions against Jews, native Americans, gays and Islamic people as Brian pointed out in his above comment.

Scot’s posts and the resultant comments have been relatively civil in the often divisive McLaren War resulting from his new book.

[see part one]

  1. God’s redemptive love extends to all. It is His will that all come into a redemptive relationship.
  2. Because of who he is God will accomplish his will. All that He desires to be redeemed will be.
  3. Some will never be redeemed. They will be separated from God, they will perish, or they will suffer conscious eternal torment.

Recall that Ultimate Reconciliation chooses to believe 1 & 2 in our list. And just as Calvinism and Arminianism views weigh the verses that support their position and use those verses to interpret those verses that oppose their view, why couldn’t the univeralist verses be used to interpret the others? And which view would you say has the better image of God? The Calvinist, which states that God chooses some for salvation and some for damnation? The Arminian in which God is either powerless to save all or lets finite/ fallible people make an infinitely important choice of their eternal destination? Or the univeralist, who believes that God desires reconciliation of ALL and will see to it that ALL are reconciled?

As part of this idea of Ultimate Reconciliation, lets look at just how radical the gospel may be. For most of our modern Christianity, we have come to adhere to a theory of justification that is laid out in the so called “Roman Road to Salvation”. In a nutshell, this is summed up in the idea that we all fall short of God’s requirements (both gentile and Jew). We all have sinned and deserve judgment and death. God’s grace provides us a way through faith in Jesus. This faith in Jesus brings us into a state where we are no longer under condemnation. AMEN.

The modern reading of Paul’s letter to the Roman’s has Paul laying out the Gospel in Rom 1-4. Could this be a wrong reading? Could this reading be the result of Luther’s self condemnation? Through Augustine’s idea of original sin? Could it be possible that we are missing something in translation?

There has been much debate in recent times in Pauline scholarship. Out of this controversy comes a book that lays out a possible alternative understanding of the early chapters of Romans: The Deliverance of God: An Apocalyptic Rereading of Justification in Paul.

In this book, Douglas A. Campbell puts forth a theory that the early chapters of Romans should be read in a rhetorical manner. Where we read the outline of the gospel in Romans 1-4, Douglas suggests that Paul is actually arguing against the false gospel that has plagued his ministry. It is the gospel he wrote against in Galatians and that is written about in Acts 15. This false gospel says that though salvation comes through Christ, we still need to obey God’s laws; therefore circumcision is a requirement. So Paul is countering the arguments of a hypothetical teacher of the false gospel in the opening pages of this letter.

Apparently, the original Greek has distinct language changes that reveal when the false teacher is speaking and when Paul is responding. The teacher condemns the gentiles, Paul comes back with “for that with which  you judge another, you condemn yourself.” This rhetorical style goes back and forth to where the false teacher calls upon father Abraham and God’s covenant of circumcision and Paul counters that Abraham was credited with righteousness before circumcision.

For a good review of Douglas’ extensive book, see Richard Beck’s blog: (Notes on The Deliverance of God:Part I, Part II, Part III, Part IV, Part V, Part VI, Part VII, Part VIII, Part IX, Part X, Part XI, Part XII) Note: part xii provide the alternative rhetorical reading of Romans 1-4 with comments. See my copy without the comments.

So, where we read Romans 1-4 as the presentation of Paul’s gospel, Douglas puts forth that Paul is really arguing against the false gospel. If this is true, then maybe, just maybe, the gospel that we put forth today is a bastardize gospel that has much more in common with the Judaizer gospel Paul fought so hard against. Though this reading does not necessitate a Universalistic understanding, and the Universalistic understanding does not depend on this reading, the two do fit nicely together.

As one who is sympathetic to Christian Universalism, this theory is very intriguing. I look forward to hearing a rebuttal from the NT scholars that reject it.

In relation to redemption, who do you say that God is?

There are three different conclusions that are equally biblical:

  1. God’s redemptive love extends to all. It is His will that all come into a redemptive relationship.
  2. Because of who he is God will accomplish his will. All that He desires to be redeemed will be.
  3. Some will never be redeemed. They will be separated from God, they will perish, or they will suffer conscious eternal torment.

Each of these statements can be backed up in the scriptures. But at any time, only two will ever be true.

Calvinism: God wills that only some will be redeemed. All of these will be redeemed while the rest of humanity will suffer whatever awaits them after this life – they will perish, become totally separated from God or they will suffer eternally in a tormented state. God is God and He will accomplish this! (2 & 3) God’s redemptive love does not extend to all.

Arminianism: God loves and wills for all to be redeemed; however, many will not be in the end. (1 & 3) God’s will that all be redeemed will not be realized.

Most of today’s believers would have no problem picking a side in this historical debate between Calvinists and Arminians. Most would also generously call the other view sufficiently orthodox. But who is the God of these options? If these are my only choices, I am left with a choice between an unjust and unloving God, on the one hand, and a defeated God, on the other.

No matter how you spin it, the Calvinist’s God is a cruel monster who creates many to be cast aside at the end of times. Don’t get me wrong, this may be who God is. But if this is God, I will take the high road and rise up in rebellion against him even though I spend eternity in hell. As Richard Beck say’s, “God is not worthy of my praise just because He is God; He is only worthy of my praise if He is Good.” And to be completely honest, much of the imagery of God in the Bible is not worthy to be praised. A God that calls for human sacrifice(Genesis 22:1-18; Joshua 7:15; 1 Kings 13:1-2; ), the slaughter of innocent babies(Hosea 13:16; Psalms 137:9) and the genocide(Joshua 1:18; 6:21; 10:40-41) is not a God that I will follow.

On the other hand, the Arminian’s God is a) unloving or b) impotent. If God has the power to give eternal life to all but chooses to let unknowledgeable men to choose death, He is like a parent that lets her infant child to run into the midst of a busy freeway in order to not override that child’s free will. I know of no one who would say that such a parent was not guilty of horrendous evil. That leaves us with a God who would save all if he could, but he can’t. He does not have the power to challenge man’s freewill. This is the closest God in the Calvin and Arminian camps that I could follow. The only thing that would keep me from this is if this God created the universe. Because if he created the universe, he did it in a way that condemns many, if not most, of humanity that ever lived.

Am I left with any other option?

How about a God who desires all to be saved and will accomplish His desires! (1 & 2) This is a God worthy of my praise. The sad thing is that though Christian Universalism/ Ultimate Reconciliation is a) no less biblical and b) the most Good image of God, it is the one that the majority of Christians reject as a damnable heresy.

That being said, I am completely satisfied to be called a heretic!

[to be continued]

Our perception [of truth] is the “truth” we live in, isn’t it?
Deception and denial are tricky little beasts, for the simple reason that we don’t know we are in denial, because we are…well…in denial. It’s a self-perpetuating system that is driven by the filters in our mind.
read more

How much are we stuck in a false worldview because of the ‘truth’ we live in? As a christian, what I believe about God affects my actions, my attitudes, my politics and my relationships. What I believe about God does not affect my salvation!(Thank God.)

Here is some interesting – and disturbing – facts. In a number of polls in the USA, Christians rank higher then other world views in supporting torture. Also, the more conservative, the more support.  I mustn’t be conservative, because I find this appalling!

They found that 62 percent of white evangelical Protestants believe “the use of torture against suspected terrorists to gain important information” to be often or sometimes justified.
read more

The poll by Pew Forum found 49% of the total US population thought that the use of torture against suspected terrorists is often or sometimes justified.

Total Population: 49%
White Evangelical Protestants: 62%
White non-Hispanic Catholics: 51%
White Mainline Protestants: 46%
Unaffiliated: 40%
Attend religious services
At least weekly: 54%
Monthly or several times a year: 51%
Seldom or never: 42%

I am proud to say that I am not for torture – ever!

I am convinced that this comes from what I believe about God and what I believe about humanity, even though when this poll came out I would have been counted among those that were more likely to accept torture (today I am now counted among the unaffiliated who seldom or never attend a religious service).

“You are the salt of the earth. But if salt loses its flavor, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled on by people. You are the light of the world. A city located on a hill cannot be hidden. People do not light a lamp and put it under a basket but on a lamp-stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before people, so that they can see your good deeds and give honor to your Father in heaven.
Matthew 5:13-16

But as for you, communicate the behavior that goes with sound teaching. Older men are to be temperate, dignified, self-controlled, sound in faith, in love, and in endurance. Older women likewise are to exhibit behavior fitting for those who are holy, not slandering, not slaves to excessive drinking, but teaching what is good. In this way they will train the younger women to love their husbands, to love their children, to be self-controlled, pure, fulfilling their duties at home, kind, being subject to their own husbands, so that the message of God may not be discredited. Encourage younger men likewise to be self-controlled, showing yourself to be an example of good works in every way. In your teaching show integrity, dignity, and a sound message that cannot be criticized, so that any opponent will be at a loss, because he has nothing evil to say about us. Slaves are to be subject to their own masters in everything, to do what is wanted and not talk back, not pilfering, but showing all good faith, in order to bring credit to the teaching of God our Savior in everything.
Titus 2:1-10

So that. Our lives need to be lived in a way so that. This is not in regard to morality per se. It is very much dependent on cultural context. And I see no reason that we cannot apply this to doctrines and theology as well. Not that a theology should be rejected if it is unpopular, but we should take a second look at it.

For instance, the doctrine of slavery:

  1. Slavery is an idea that the bible condones.
  2. Our current culture does not condone slavery.
  3. How should we as Christians view slavery?

We can now go back and find other ideas throughout the bible that we can now allow to supersede the idea of slavery. What are the other theologies, practices and ideas that we should take a second look at? After all, very few theologies are found unquestionably in the scriptures. For instance, even the trinity is a doctrine that developed over the course of 300 years before it was hammered out and became creed.

My theological pick is ‘original sin’, the fall and the penal substitution view of atonement. My cultural practice pick is anything that reeks of a money grab.

What are your picks?

Orgasmic Holiness: A life style live in such a manner that others say, “I want what he has.”

“According to a Baylor University Institute for Studies of Religion survey, America’s most common four notions of God are: authoritarian, distant, benevolent, and critical.”

Authoritarian God.

Angry at earthly sin and willing to inflict divine retribution. (Approximately 32 out of 100 who profess to believe in God most closely align themselves with this image. Regionally in the United States, this image is predominant in the South.)

Distant God.

A faceless, cosmic force that launched the world but leaves it alone. (Approximately 23 out of 100 who profess to believe in God most closely align themselves with this image. Regionally in the United States, this image is predominant in the West.)

Benevolent God.

Sets absolute standards for man, but is also forgiving — engaged but not so angry. (Approximately 25 out of 100 who profess to believe in God most closely align themselves with this image. Regionally in the United States, this image is predominant in the Mid-West.)

Critical God.

The classic bearded old man, judgmental but not going to intervene or punish. (Approximately 16 out of 100 who profess to believe in God most closely align themselves with this image. Regionally in the United States, this image is predominant in the East.)

read more…

So what is your notion of God?