Category Archives: Christianity

On Charismatic (Non-)Relationality (or “Treasure Hunting” is Theologically Weird)

“The love of God is just emanating off of you, man… You are just a witness to God’s love, in the name of Jesus…”

The guy took his hand off my chest, and awkward silence ensued.

“What’s your name?” I asked, hoping to kill the awkwardness. As much as I love it on The Office, I – like every other human being – really don’t enjoy awkwardness very much.

“Sean. Yours?” He replied.

“Chris. Can I help you with anything, Sean?” I said. (Can you feel the awkwardness of my words, even as I type them?)

This was an actual scene that happened in the office that I work in, just a few days ago. I was up in our front lobby (I work at a conservative, Evangelical university), when a student came up to me and started spouting off quasi-spiritual nonsense about what God was doing and would do in my life.

I’m even further ashamed to admit that this is the type of Christianity that I participated in as a teenager, albeit for a short period for time. In my later teen years (c. 2006-2008), I was very influenced by the up-and-coming charismatic Christian movements (Jesus Culture, et. al.). This didn’t happen directly, since I didn’t listen to many sermons or read many theological books at the time. Most of it was musically- and group-induced (i.e., my thinking about God largely came from listening to Jesus Culture’s first couple of albums and talking about God with a particular group of friends). I had a group of friends in my town that were pursuing gifts of the Spirit in response to some perceived spiritual dryness they felt at their churches. I can explicitly recall several events I participated in that sought after a felt “move of God.” One of these events was called “treasure hunting.”

9688054-treasure-map“Treasure hunting” is a term used for a planned event where a group of Christians deliberately comes together to seek after specific visions and prophecies from God in order to bless and/or pray for specific people. In particular, our group came together to pray for about an hour ahead of time. We got out notebooks and pens, spent time in contemplative prayer as a group (occasionally someone would speak out a vision or something they felt was important) and wrote down images that popped into our minds that we felt were important. This could range from colors and shapes to numbers or specific words. When we were done, we all got in our cars and drove to the local Wal-Mart and the common town area. At this point, we basically sought out people that might have corresponded with the images/words given to us by God. If we happened to encounter someone whom we felt corresponded with our previously received images, then we were supposed to talk to them about Jesus, pray for them, or ask for physical healing. Then, the goal was to move on to the next person, until we felt like our task was completed.

Now, theological issues aside (especially considering I hardly view God as a God who works in this way anymore), the most irksome part of this type of theological thinking, to me, is the way it disassociates the people involved in the process. The guy that came into our office a few days ago was not interested in building any kind of relationship with me. I suspect that he desired (maybe sub-consciously) to make himself out to be a sort of spiritual guru. He had a “word from God” for me that he wanted me to accept, despite the fact that I didn’t even know his name. The same can be said for my “treasure hunting” experience. Though I only did it once, I feel ashamed to even think about it now. I wanted to show people I had some kind of quasi-gnostic, divinely-inspired knowledge about their lives.

What I didn’t want was to get to know them. I didn’t want to hear their story for its own sake. They weren’t people to me, they were projects.

I suspect the same was true for me and Sean a few days ago.

To be honest, the most significant aspect of theology for me lately has been focus on community and authentic relationships. I may enjoy writing/speaking/thinking about theological issues, but those pale in comparison to my desire for open, honest, legitimate relationships with people. When we view God as some kind of magical deity that only gives knowledge to the few that earnestly seek that knowledge in a specific way, relationships become secondary to our desire for the next divine “encounter” we might experience.

Why Monkeys Need “Salvation” – Part 3

This is part 3 in a series on Evolution, Original Sin, and Atonement. To start at the beginning, click here.

In my last post, I spoke a little bit about the scientific evidence for evolution. I don’t consider myself a scientist in the slightest, but I figured a Biology 101 review would be helpful. I understand there may be many of you the reject the evidence for evolution, but you should be aware that the theory of evolution is virtually incontrovertible within the scientific community. It is the paradigm by which countless other disciplines operate, and (considering what I’ll be talking about today) it is totally compatible with a Christian worldview.

Evolution & Inerrancy

The major issue that many Evangelicals come up against when trying to reconcile evolution and the biblical text is the creation account found at the beginning of Genesis and the story of Adam (not to mention all of the doctrines affected by the reality of evolution). The problem here is that most Evangelicals feel that they must accept the doctrine of the inerrancy of Scripture, which forces them to read the Genesis creation account(s) non-critically, and in the same manner as a scientific textbook – this, in my opinion, is a colossal mistake.

Article 12 of The Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy reads as follows:

We affirm that Scripture in its entirety is inerrant, being free from all falsehood, fraud, or deceit.

We deny that Biblical infallibility and inerrancy are limited to spiritual, religious, or redemptive themes, exclusive of assertions in the fields of history and science. We further deny that scientific hypotheses about earth history may properly be used to overturn the teaching of Scripture on creation and the flood.

In other words, the creators of the doctrine of inerrancy would say it is inappropriate for sound reason and historical and scientific evidence to trump a story written by ancient people regarding the origins of the earth and of humanity. Despite all of the evidence to the contrary, holding to inerrancy forces Evangelicals to reject a scientific theory that has been proven and tested by scientists for decades.


David Hayward –

This is not to mention the fact that the term “inerrancy” is found nowhere in the biblical text itself, nor is the idea that every word of the biblical text must be historically factual for it to retain its authority within Christianity. To say that the writings within the Bible are inerrant (and must be to maintain its authority in matters of faith and practice) imposes particularly modern ways of thinking onto a book of ancient writings. The Bible was never meant to conform to this kind of modern scrutiny. It can’t, and we shouldn’t expect it to.

Evolution & Adam

If we lose the idea that the Bible is inerrant, but still remain adamant about its authority for matters of faith and practice, this means that we still need to figure out what to do with the Genesis creation account(s) and particularly the story of Adam – if we are to accept evolution as true. Just as the discovery of a heliocentric galaxy shook the foundations of pre-modern Christianity, but is now widely accepted because of our misunderstanding of what the Bible meant in certain places, the same can be said for the discovery and acceptance of evolution and its relation to our understanding of God and Scripture.funny-Adam-Eve-white-evolution

In general, biblical scholars date the writing and compilation of much of the Hebrew Bible to the exilic and post-exilic periods. (VERY) Broadly speaking, after being kicked out of their land, Israel needed to find a way to maintain its identity as the people of Yahweh and their relationship to God. As such, the creation account in Genesis – and particularly Genesis 2 and 3 – reveals Adam as a type of “proto-Israel.” In other words, the story of Adam can be better understood as Israel attempting to understand itself and its actions through a mythological character (where myth is an ancient, pre-scientific way of understanding origins – see Peter Enns, Inspiration and Incarnation).

The parallels between Israel’s history and the story of Adam are pretty stark. Enns shows a few of the parallels at BioLogos:

Israel’s history as a nation can be broken down as follows:

    • Israel is “created” by God at the exodus through a cosmic battle (gods are defeated and the Red Sea is “divided”);
    • The Israelites are given Canaan to inhabit, a lush land flowing with milk and honey;
    • They remain in the land as long as they obey the Mosaic law;
  • They persist in a pattern of disobedience and are exiled to Babylon.

Israel’s history parallels Adam’s drama in Genesis:

    • Adam is created in Genesis 2 after the taming of chaos in Genesis 1;
    • Adam is placed in a lush garden;
    • Law (not to eat of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil) is given as a stipulation for remaining in the garden;
  • Adam and Eve disobey and are exiled.

An understanding of Adam as “proto-Israel” greatly helps in the attempt to maintain some sense of biblical authority while also allowing scholars and scientists to honestly observe and interpret data without being bound to some false interpretation of Genesis as a divinely inspired scientific textbook that trumps our ability to observe and interpret natural phenomena.

What we simply cannot do is try to retain “inerrancy” as a doctrine if we are going to accept evolution as a scientific reality. It is not a claim the Bible makes about itself, nor does it affect the authority of the Bible in the faith and lives of Christ-followers.

The Breakfast Club Dilemma (or Belief Is Only Sustained by Unbelief)

Peter Rollins wrote a post a while back entitled “The Problem with Unbelief Is That It Enables Us to Believe Too Much.”

The general idea is this: the problem with most people’s adherence to a fundamentalist belief (although I would argue that his definition of “fundamentalist belief” is broader than my own) is that it requires the use of disavowed unbelief – in other words, I can’t adhere to beliefs like “God will send everyone who doesn’t ‘believe’ that Jesus died for their sins to hell” without temporarily suspending that belief every day. Otherwise, my life would like remarkably different. At the very least, every second of my life would need to be consumed with the motivation of trying to get people off of the path towards hell and onto the path to heaven – which, in this scenario, would be to convince them somehow to “believe” that Jesus came and died for their sins.

Let me say that again. If I really, truly, honestly believe that every single person I know that doesn’t “believe in” or have “faith in” Jesus as the savior of the world will spend an eternity being tormented due to their lack of belief, I am morally obligated to spend my every waking moment trying to convince those around me to have faith in Jesus, knowing their fates are sealed otherwise.

Breakfast Club

This truth can also be seen in other everyday scenarios. For example, my mother and I used to enjoy – and still do – watching The Breakfast Club. Personally, we both find the movie hilarious and even emotionally moving at parts. However, the movie’s contents present a problem for a person who genuinely believes in non-Christians will go to hell due to non-belief. In order for us to actually enjoy the movie, we had to suspend our belief that those actors were doing “ungodly” and “unholy” things, and they were going to go to hell for it. If we had honestly believed our beliefs and taken them to their logical conclusions (that every individual actor in that movie, due to their actions, was certainly going to hell), we could not have actually enjoyed the movie. Rollins says it this way:

The point here is that the unbelief allows the communities to get the psychological pleasure from the beliefs that they hold (treating them as a security blanket) without having to confront the horror of them.

Our claimed “belief” was only sustained by a disavowed unbelief.

That is, according to our actions, we didn’t – couldn’t – actually believe those people were going to hell.

If we lost the disavowed unbelief, we would have had to encounter the true horror of our beliefs (in this case, that we believed in a God who would torture these people for eternity in hell). In encountering the claimed belief, we would have had two options: change our posture towards the movie (i.e., stop enjoying it – how could we, knowing those people were going to be suffering for their actions?) or lose the belief itself.

#progGOD – Incarnation Redeems the Mundane

Tony Jones is hosting another #progGod “Open Source Theological Conversation” over the internets.

I didn’t participate in the last one, mostly because of school. The premise of the conversation is simple: Tony has asked Christian bloggers who self-identify as progressive to answer the question, “Why an incarnation?” What is the point, and what are the implications?

Honestly, if I really try to think about the idea that God (whatever, or whoever, that is) became a human –

That God took on human flesh.

That God probably picked his nose.

That God took a dump – several, in fact.

That God had B.O.

That God enjoyed the taste of food and wine (yes, real alcohol).

It doesn’t even make sense to me. Not even a little. I can tell you that my idea of “God” must be horribly wrong most of the time, because the “God” that I normally postulate doesn’t – can’t – do those things. Those things are somehow below the “God” that (I think) I believe in. But, according to the story of Christianity, that’s exactly what countless others within the faith have said they believed.

Further, I don’t typically like to think about the apparent vanity (re: Ecclesiastes) of life in general. Day in, day out, I go to work, do some school work, eat some food, spend some (hopefully meaningful) time with my family, go to sleep, and wake up to do it again. Every. Day. I’m going to do this for the majority of my life. And then I’m going to die. The apparent mediocrity and mundaneness found in life is absolutely overwhelming if I think about it too much.

God, however, decided to do something ridiculous. According to our story, God fully participates in the seemingly mundane and meaninglessness of life. God incarnates the fullness of God’s very essence inside of a measly, fragile, human being.

And by doing so, God does something beautiful. God participates with humanity – experiencing pain, suffering, anxiety, and the feeling of meaninglessness. God even experiences God-forsakenness at the point of death. And by doing so, his experience redeems the mundane that we all experience. It doesn’t make the mundane any less so; it simply reveals God as utterly and irrevocably immanent.

Evolution, Original Sin, and Atonement (or Why Monkeys Need “Salvation”) – Preface

This post is a preface/intro to a series I’m starting on synthesizing the theory of evolution with Christianity. I plan on writing a post at least once a week on this topic (hopefully more, but we’ll see).

I’m about to graduate with my B.A. in Theological Studies. I basically finished my final assignment this week, which means I have had time to do some reading that I actually want to do. My book list has at least 50 books on it, and that’s just ones I could think of off the top of my head. I was so excited to finally get started this week, and my first choice (since it was at the library) was Peter Enns’ The Evolution of Adam.

While reading it, I was struck again and again by how much the acceptance of the reality of evolution will truly change a theological system if that system doesn’t allow for anything other than special creation and a historical Adam. The acceptance of the theory of evolution as true (which I do) is a step that takes serious consideration, especially for Evangelicals. (As an aside, I’m guessing the best way to classify myself at the moment is some kind of progressive [little e] evangelical… whatever that means.) Anyway, the point is, most of the Christians I am in contact with are Evangelicals in the strictly fundamental sense – for the most part.

Because of this, my desire is to show those around me that not only is it simply acceptable to accept evolution as true – it’s necessary. It’s especially necessary if the Evangelical community is going to have any kind of credibility with the rest of the world in the future. However, this also means that the Evangelical theological system needs to change dramaticallySpecifically, I think the acceptance of evolution affects two major areas, which I’ll be addressing in the series:

  • Original Sin
  • The Atonement

Of course, these aren’t the only theological areas evolution affects. It will, of course, also affect our understanding of the nature of God’s relationship to the universe, God’s character itself, the very being of God, and so on. However, this series’ focus will be on the two subjects outlined above.

At the outset, I should also mention one other issue. This will probably have some kind of effect on how many of my readers view my understanding of the rest of the posts in this series, but it needs to be said. I do NOT affirm that Scripture is inerrant (and I’m a little iffy on infallibility as well, but I’m not sure that’s relevant). To be clear, I am not saying that I think Scripture is useless or simply another document that is inspired in the same way that Shakespeare or whatever is an “inspired” piece of work.

Rather, I am strictly Neo-Orthodox in my understanding of Scripture. Karl Barth, the father of Neo-Orthodoxy probably spells out my view of Scripture best. He says that Scripture itself is not the Word of God, but the Word is an event, to which Scripture is a witness. And although the “witness is not absolutely identical with that which it witnesses,”[1] it can still be trusted to convey the Word of God in some sense – even while we cannot necessarily trust it to always convey propositional, historical truth.

Peter Rollins takes this idea slightly further, saying,

The idea of the “Word of God” becomes pale and anemic when reduced to the idea of a factual description of historical events. The words of the Bible, wonderful as they often are, must not be allowed to stand in for God’s majestic Word, as if the words and phrases have been conferred with some sacred status and the phonetic patterns given divine power.[2]

All this to say, my view of Scripture may or may not be similar to yours. Nonetheless, approach this series with an open mind, and at least be willing to question some longstanding beliefs you might be holding. You wouldn’t want those to become idolatrous, would you?
DISCLAIMER: My views are not the views of Southwestern Assemblies of God University. I in no way represent the views of the Assemblies of God or SAGU in this particular post or any posts or articles found on this blog.

[1] Karl Barth, “The Doctrine of the Word of God,” Church Dogmatics (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1956), 463.

[2] Peter Rollins, The Fidelity of Betrayal: Toward a Church Beyond Belief (Brewster, MA: Paraclete Press, 2008), 56.

A Church Rant, Part 2 (or Why I’m NOT Emergent)

A little over a year ago, I began to identify myself as an emergent Christian. While there are several definitions of emergent Christianity and what it looks like, generally speaking, emergence Christianity is a progressive-leaning form of the faith that typically doesn’t hold to many of the traditional, Evangelical doctrines (the belief in a literal hell, the understanding of the Bible is completely “inerrant” or “infallible,” etc.). Its goal, in general, is to be open to the changes brought about after the rise of post-modernity, and to find a way to follow Christ in the midst of those changes. Peter Rollins, of whom I have written about before, is one of the top philosopher/theologians within the emergent movement.

Recently, Elaine and I went to a church called Church in the Cliff in Oak Cliff, just south of Dallas. The church website identifies the church as “a post modern, emergent, open and affirming, truth seeking community of faith.”

Because I identified myself as “emergent,” but had never actually been to a church that labeled itself as such, I figured it was time to see what a truly emergent church looked like in the real world. I was really excited about this, because I thought that this might be the kind of church that I was looking for. I’ve been so desperate for a church that truly revolves around community, open conversation, and holds Scripture as the epicenter for practice and belief (rather than simply using it as a pedestal for a position or life-principle) – I thought we might have finally found the place.

I was wrong. What I found, instead, is that I am definitely not emergent. Or I’m at least much more moderate than I previously thought.

The week that we went to this church, the whole Chick-fil-A controversy was happening. In case you’ve forgotten (I’m sure you haven’t) the CEO of Chick-fil-A came out in support of traditional marriage (big surprise) in an interview. This sparked outrage amongst Christians and non-Christians alike who stand for marriage equality. Yada, yada, yada, people boycott or support Chick-fil-A based on its CEO’s view of traditional marriage, the country is further divided… you get the picture.

Go figure, Church in the Cliff’s service revolved around the issue of homosexuality and the church. Now, I’m not here to talk about my views one way or the other on marriage equality and the proper biblical view of homosexuality. For me, the focus is how this specific, self-labeled emergent church dealt with the issue.

When we arrived at the church, the people were all extremely friendly and welcoming. This is something I expected, and was actually quite glad to experience. However, I noticed in our introductions to various people in the church, the words “inclusive” and “inclusion” were a major part of the dialogue, even in passing.

The entire service (which was filled with lots of liturgy and Scriptural/apocryphal readings I was kind of uncomfortable with, simply because of my lack of familiarity) revolved around the idea of loving and accepting “the Other.” Basically, the idea is that we are to do our best to understand, empathize with, welcome, and love those who are different (and hold different views) than ourselves.

Here’s the thing: I think that’s all well and good. I think that’s exactly what Jesus did with us. Jesus, as the Son of God (something completely foreign to humanity [see John 1]) saw us in our sin and our brokenness, and came to dwell among us as the light of the world, taking on flesh and blood in complete solidarity with the human race.

The disconnect for this church, however, was that they failed in their attempt to be truly inclusive in the manner that they presented the issue. Rather than framing the question of homosexuality and homosexual marriage in a way that allowed for honest conversation between those who were on both sides of the issue (and those caught somewhere in the middle), the language used was filled with vitriol and malice towards those who disagreed with their viewpoint. The transcript from the main speaker is found here. One can see throughout the speech that the speaker was not interested in any kind of dialogue in the matter. Case in point:

In short, [Evangelical “culture warriors”] oppose homosexuality and all other manner of queerness because it upsets their apple cart.  Their apple cart holds all the power.  They control access to God.  They control access to money.  To justice.  To love.  What the culture warriors are really after is to maintain the status quo.

Really? Nearly all of the Evangelicals I’ve met that oppose homosexuality are not doing so from a place of hatred or malice. Some do, of course. Most, however, simply want to follow in the true way of the Lord, regardless of the consequences. And, I daresay, rhetoric like this doesn’t serve to change people’s minds in the slightest. It only fuels the fire of divisiveness in this country.

If those who are emergent truly desire honest conversation, authentic community, and want to truly follow the way of Jesus, this is not how to do it. A group of people cannot have its epicenter be simply the disillusionment with Evangelicalism or institutionalized Christianity. The hermeneutic cannot simply be about inclusivity. That will only lead to further division.

This is why I’m not emergent. At least, not that kind of emergent. My desire, in rethinking traditional Evangelical doctrines, is not to be further divisive or ostracize myself from a particular group of people simply because I’m offended by a particular stance. My desire is to seek out Truth and follow the way of Jesus in a manner that is both unconditionally loving and truly authentic.

A Church Rant

So, elephant in the room: I’ve been MIA from blogging for a while. I probably should have warned my few readers that I would be doing so somewhere around the beginning of June. I have been taking three classes through SAGU and UAA over the summer, working, being in a wedding (way to go, Perrys! [Perries?]), being a counselor for Royal Family Kids Camp, going to Oklahoma City for work (where, by the way, I found an AWESOME coffee shop). All that to say, sorry I’ve been gone. I really have been wanting to jump back into blogging, but I simply haven’t had the time. Or something to write about, to be honest.

I do have something now, though, I think.

I want to write about Church.

It seems like everyone is either writing or talking about church these days. Take Rachel Held Evans, for example, in her candid post about Sunday Mornings. That post was something I related to on so many levels, especially in the past year.

I can’t begin to tell you how much I have begun to relate to those who have decided to leave the Church altogether. Perhaps I should say that I strongly empathize with those who want to leave institutionalized Christianity. I very much believe in the Church and what it can be. I believe the Church can be a catalyst for change in the world, and an authentic community of people. The Church can be the place where people can encounter the truly divine, both in the form of utter transcendence (real encounters with God) and complete immanence (real, loving, non-judgmental encounters with people).

The problem isn’t that most people I talk to about this would disagree with me. In fact, most of the (individual) Christians I know want to see those exact same things in a community of people that they meet with and share life together with regularly.

The problem is that nothing is being done about it. I’m sure there are lots of well-meaning Christians out there, diligently going to Sunday morning services every week because they would feel guilty if they didn’t do so. They may get “their fill” of worship time and some (hopefully) decent biblical teaching. But then the hour-and-a-half service ends, they shake a couple of hands, and they go about their merry way.

I know, because I’ve been there.

I know, because that’s what my family and I have done for the past year.

We didn’t feel like we belonged, we didn’t feel connected, and we didn’t feel like we were a part of a community that wanted to truly share life together.* Instead, we were going through the motions.

When Elaine and I figured this out a couple of months ago, we basically decided to stop the play-acting. We knew what was going on, and we figured if our home church wasn’t providing what we felt like a church community should, then we ought not to go. (Not to mention the fact that the summer provided a good way to avoid making the decision anyway, given the several activities we had going on.)

I’m not saying I have the answer. I really wish I could say that. I have lots of ideas about how I think the Church should function. I just don’t want to be the guy that thinks he knows a better way, just to simply plant another church and become a part of the system I so desperately want to see transformed. I just don’t know that I see any other way to do it.

So what do you think? Does transforming the Church mean getting rid of institutionalized Christianity entirely? Does it mean planting new church communities with (hopefully) different values? Do you think anything needs to be done at all?

*I should say that I absolutely do not begrudge my previous church that I attended in ANY WAY. I loved what Creekwood Church did for my family, and I would not change the fact that we were a part of that community for the few years that we were.