Archive for the 'grace' Category

“If you judge people, you have no time to love them.”
Mother Teresa

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I started reading Michael Spencer’s “Mere Churchianity” yesterday. Leave it to the iMonk to not even make it through one chapter without making me stop dead in my tracks. Although I love Tim Keller’s “The Prodigal God“, Spencer has managed — in three paragraphs — to make me reconsider the entire parable of the prodigal son more than Keller did in an entire book. In examining the part of the story where the prodigal son realizes that he’s at the end of his rope, and so he creates the plan to return to his father’s house and ask to be a servant, Spencer writes:

… our boy decides that his dad could help him escape his pigpen lifestyle, but he doesn’t want to deal with the full implications of his stupidity. So he creates a plan for apologizing to his father, whom he (rightly) assumes will be angry. That plan includes negotiating the son’s new role in the family — that of servant. He will live out back and be useful, but he won’t be a son any longer.

His plan should sound familiar to all of us, since it is the religious answer to our problem as human beings. It seems like the perfect solution, since it’s our idea. But it’s never God’s idea, since he’s not into religion.

Religion is our negotiation with God to try to get his help in exchange for our good behavior. We promise to do what we’re told, and we expect God to reward us. This is a straightforward business arrangement, and we fully expect it to work. Meanwhile, we talk about being God’s child as if we’re family. But in our performance-for-reward arrangement, things don’t operate on grace. Under the rules of religion, God is kept at arm’s length and is expected to be involved only to the degree that he gives us what we think we deserve.

Um. Wow.

To be honest, until yesterday, I had always seen the prodigal’s plan as misguided (especially since I knew the ending of the story), but well-meaning. In retrospect, the latter is incredibly untrue.

In Yiddish, it’s chutzpah.

In the Old Testament, it’s filthy rags.

In the New Testament, it’s skubala.

In plain English, it’s pride, arrogance, stupidity, and pure crap.

When am I going to learn what grace is really about?

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(And yes, this title is a riff off of one of the more measured — but still wrong — criticisms of Piper’s decision.)

It was noted earlier this year that John Piper has invited Rick Warren to speak at this year’s Desiring God national conference. This has been public information for at least a couple months, but was more formally announced in recent days.

When this announcement was made, to quote Tillie in Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner? , “all hell done broke loose”.

Now, admittedly, I was a bit surprised by the invitation. There are some things that Warren has written which strike me as being in error, as best as I interpret Scripture. And, then there’s those dang Hawaiian shirts.

But, on the other hand, some of the criticisms of Warren take asininity to a height that would give a Sherpa a nose-bleed.

Either way, I wouldn’t consider Warren to be part of (what I affectionately have termed) “the Piper posse”. But hey, I have a great appreciation for Pastor John. And ya know what? Before further investigation into any issue, if he and I disagree on something, I’m putting my money on him turning out to be the one who is right.

Does that mean that I give him a free pass and blindly follow whatever he says or does? No, not by a long shot. (And I’d venture to say that he wouldn’t want that, either.) In fact, I know there are some issues that he and I disagree on, and I’m fairly certain that my view is correct.

There is, admittedly, a part of me that wants to say, “C’mon; this is John freakin’ Piper we’re talking about!!” But even setting aside any “celebrity pastor” status, we have to look at the man’s track record. And ya know what? At the end of the day, we’re talking about the track record of John freakin’ Piper.

(And the circle of life is complete.)

Seriously, if I’m going to claim anything even approximating intellectual honesty, I need to hear him out even if he says that all 43-year-olds should be painted purple and hung upside-down from a flagpole next Wednesday. Granted, that one would probably need a long expository explanation; but, to whatever degree I ought to give the benefit of the doubt to any Christian brother or sister, Pastor John should be getting it ten-fold.

And yet we’re hearing nothing but criticism for Piper’s decision. Some of it may be valid; some is tiresomely obtuse, rehashing sad (and untrue) whacks at Warren; and some of it takes the form of crap like this (referring to Piper’s upcoming sabbatical):

If [I] had just endorsed Rick Warren and brought him to my conference, I’d take a sabbatical, too. Permanently.

But all of it (that I’ve seen, anyway) is ostensibly coming from those that like and/or admire Piper. With friends like these ….

What I am completely incredulous about, though, is that Piper made clear why he made this decision and some of the criticisms actually quote his reasoning — verbatim — and yet miss the whole thing. Part of what Piper said was this (emphasis mine):

When I wrote [to Rick Warren] … I said “the conference is called ‘Think: The Life of the Mind and the Love of God.’ I want you to come. You are the most well-known pragmatist pastor in the world. I don’t think you are a pragmatist at root. Come and tell us why thinking Biblically matters to you in your amazingly pragmatic approach to ministry.”

One of the corollaries to Occam’s Razor says, “Never attribute to malice that which can be explained by stupidity.” In that spirit, I’m going to assume that those who quoted Piper (and yet totally whiffed on the content of the quote) did so out of a mistake and not a willful blindness born of a hatred for Warren. So let me spell it out. And let me do so by past example.

A few years ago, Piper invited Mark Driscoll to speak at a DG conference. The God-blogosphere was all abuzz with what a Bad Idea this was. Most of it surrounded predictions that Driscoll’s invitation would result in a plague of locusts in downtown Minneapolis and a protest headed by Chris Rock and Quentin Tarantino over all the foul language that Driscoll would use.

And when, at the conference, Piper gave Driscoll a mild bit of fatherly admonishment, many of the critics took this as validation of their prognostication, as though Piper had rent his clothes in agony and apologized for screwing up so badly by inviting Driscoll. When Piper heard that his words were being used to bash Driscoll, he was appalled.

Now, I don’t know if you’ve noticed (and if you only listen to him to find new stuff to criticize, then you probably haven’t), but Driscoll has become a bit more mature and a bit less rash over the last few years. In short, Mark is growing. While all credit goes to God on this one, I’d bet dollars-to-doughnuts that his relationship with Piper is one of the tools that God is using in this process. And maybe, just maybe, the fact that Piper invited him to speak at DG helped to show how much Piper meant business.

So now Piper is cultivating a relationship with Rick Warren. And here’s what I hear Piper essentially saying:

There are many ways in which you and I, foundationally, believe the same things. Now in my sphere, the way that this plays out in my life and the lives of many of my peeps is XYZ. But in your life, this plays out differently. Show us how you get from point A to point B.

Honestly, this is a challenge that Piper has presented to Warren. But not in the sense of throwing down a gauntlet. I believe that Piper truly believes that there is a path from point A to point B, and he is genuinely interested in seeing how this plays out. Right there is enough reason for Piper to have extended the invitation.

But even if we assume the worst, and there is not a path from point A to point B, and Warren falls flat on his theological face, who’s to say that the whole Piper posse influence doesn’t cause Warren to step back and think some things through? While Warren is not a young buck (so he probably won’t have the Timothy-Paul relationship with Piper that Driscoll has), it’s hard to imagine him being involved with someone God is using mightily and not being affected in some way.

There are only three conclusions that I can reach about much of the virulent criticism:

  1. There are many professing Christians out there that not only think that Warren is in error, but genuinely believe that God is totally incapable of changing him. Even if we set aside the laughable nature of such a view, it becomes even more ludicrous for someone to claim any affinity for Piper — someone who is all about God’s sovereignty — and yet believe in such a wimpy God. It would be more logical for Ahmadinejad to claim that he greatly admires the teachings of a particular Hasidic rabbi.
  2. There are many professing Christians out there that think that the worst will happen — Warren’s head will start spinning and he’ll vomit pea soup from the pulpit at Bethlehem — and yet Piper won’t do or say anything. An examination of Piper’s track record would indicate otherwise. At one conference (and I’m not even sure it was his conference), one speaker said something with which Piper strongly disagreed, and when it came his turn to speak, he made no bones about the disagreement before launching into his message. (This viewpoint also points to a God who is totally incapable of protecting His sheep from error. See previous comment about Ahmadinejad.)
  3. There are many professing Christians out there that don’t want to see certain people drawn closer to God, because it would upset the apple-cart of their philosophical belief system — something that I doubt God gives a rip about.

Perhaps there is a fourth, more charitable, conclusion out there. But, frankly, I ain’t holdin’ my breath.

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HopeOver the past 20-odd years, I’ve had a number of opportunities to teach and/or counsel high school youth groups, along with some additional experience w/ folks struggling with addiction recovery (groups that have more in common that you might think).  One of the common topics that I’ve found that these people have struggled with is the concept of decoupling forgiveness from the consequences of sin.

“If you have forgiven me, then things must go back to the way things used to be…”, so the argument goes.  “If you are still going to treat me different/punish me, then you really haven’t forgiven me,” is cry of the addict, and it is the siren call of the addicts’ enablers in allowing the abuse to continue.  In addictive/abusive relationships, it is quite common for the abusers to manipulate those around them by taking a key component of Jesus’ teaching about living in the Kingdom – the concept of forgiveness – and twisting into something antithetical to its purpose.  As the saying goes “the best lies are the ones that contain the most truth”..

And without a good grounding in the Word, it is easy to fall for this lie, which is why so many do.  And, as so many of the key threads of Jesus’ teaching do, the decoupling of forgiveness and consequences begins in the Garden of Eden.

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Based on the common P2P as shorthand, I offer up F2F as shorthand for “Face to Face.” This is how we should envision ourselves as we post and particularly comment – be it on this blog or any other.

This was driven home to me, recently, in a quite experiential manner. I had a discussion, in real life, with a person face to face, on a topic… a topic I had also recently engaged in on this site. “Recent” is relative, so there is no point conjecturing to which thread I refer.

What struck me in hindsight was my demeanor when arguing a theological point F2F compared to the same argument on the web. The obvious advantages aside (e.g. – body language, facial expressions, history), our F2F discussion was equally impassioned yet it lacked the common escalation I so often engage in on the web. I am not sure why this is. I suppose it is hard to become frustrated and blunt when sitting across the table from someone. I suppose it is harder to be come angry and escalate the rancor when the person’s response (which include their own anger and hurt) are readily visible. There is still something removed and anonymous when arguments are held on the web – even when they are between people who have a history F2F.

We see this all too often in our favorite ODM sites. I am convinced they label people way too eagerly, of course, but I bet (I certainly hope) that they would not be so quick and eager if they knew the person, if they bothered to conceive their point of view, if they engaged them F2F.

We are guilty of this as well. For all the ways in which we struggle to be different… for all the ways that we actually are different… for all the way I believe our approach is superior and more in the spirit of our Lord… I am guilty of saying things in such a manner as I would never dream of doing to a brother/sister in Christ F2F… We are guilty of saying things in such a manner as I would never dream of doing to a brother/sister in Christ F2F.

Maybe P2P is a good reminder: peer to peer. “Peer” – a person of the same legal status. If I do not know this is even more true of those of us in Christ, I don’t know noth’n,

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Ephesians 2:4-6 (NKJV – emphasis mine) — But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up together …

I have noted before on my blog that legalism mocks God’s grace. If we are raised in a home that doesn’t perform “worldly” externals, and all Christianity is about is not doing those “worldly” externals, then God hasn’t really saved us from much — we weren’t dead in our trespasses; we just had the sniffles.

A couple weeks ago, Neil wrote about labels, and how they can be helpful at times — and downright useless and silly at other times. The latter issue was the larger portion of his post and (although he didn’t initially identify it at the time of the writing), I was one of the people that he wrote about who had been incorrectly and unfairly labeled. (He later went back and filled readers in on who the label-ers were. ‘Twas a hop, skip, and jump from there to figure out who the label-ees were.)

Unfortunately, for any “fact-checkers” out there, the background of my incident can’t be accurately checked, as the moderators of the site on which I was labeled chose to conveniently excise large parts of the exchange in which either (a) I made a strong point or (b) they looked foolish in retrospect. But that’s not why I’m writing this, anyway …

I was attempting to answer the question “Is Francis Chan emergent?” by noting that the important question was not whether or not someone had attached a label to Chan, but whether or not what he teaches/writes is the truth. As the questioner appeared to truly be researching Chan, but coming up empty, I pointed her to a couple of book reviews and a brief (and, for me, convicting) video by Chan.

(For what extremely little it was worth, one of the book reviews included a quote from Chan that pretty much answered her irrelevant question.)

Having just made the point that the issue was truth (not labels), the very next comment — by a moderator, no less — asked me if I was emergent. Quite frankly, I was stunned at how incredibly and thoroughly he had missed my entire point. I felt like tapping the mic and asking, “Is this thing on?”

I temporarily evaded the question, as it was no more relevant for me than it was for Chan. However, after a while, it became obvious that I was never going to get that point through, even though I repeated it numerous times in different ways. So I just (metaphorically) threw up my hands and answered their question. I worked off a list of teachers/writers that one of my accusers had provided, and (I’m sure to their utter shock) largely agreed with their stances on these men.

But then I “messed up” and dragged God into the conversation (what was I thinking?):

Bottom line though: While none of those men are on my bookshelf, I do not think God incapable of using them to speak truth to me.

The responses to this statement (all of my others “disappeared”) made things abundantly clear — they were so utterly focused on these men, that they totally (dis)missed God. One can only come to the conclusion that they do think God incapable of using those men.

There was even a great, though certainly unintended, illustration of this. One of the moderators has an image in his signature line — riffing off of President Obama’s “Hope” slogan — that says “Hopeless” (complete with the same logo in the “O” as was in the original). While no fan of the president by a long shot, I have to note that this image says infinitely more about the moderator’s view of God than his view of the president.

I ran across a post on another blog today about some truly horrific people — murderers, drunkards, adulterers, pimps, prostitutes — the scum of the earth. Oddly, they’re all characters cited in Genesis, many of whom were greatly used by God. And some of them don’t even have the “good” testimonies of how they did all that bad stuff before they met God, and walked the straight and narrow ever since.

The phrase “another gospel” (riffing off Galatians 1) has been perverted in its overuse to mean “that with which we do not agree”. And, to be sure, I saw that phrase used often in the discussions surrounding Chan and others. But to claim (even indirectly) that God is incapable of using anyone requires not only the ignoring of large portions of Scripture, but an outright mockery of God’s grace and the heart of the gospel message.

That, my friends, is truly “another gospel”.

Galatians 1:9 (NKJV – emphasis mine) — As we have said before, so now I say again, if anyone preaches any other gospel to you than what you have received, let him be accursed.

Don’t blame me — I didn’t say it.

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We need to listen attentively to every conversation, read discerningly every book, if we hope ever to discern the truth and implications of the love word.–Eugene Peterson, Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places, 311

Nineteen Years

For nearly nineteen years of my life I have gone to bed with the same woman every night. The darkness comes upon earth, the doors of the house are locked, the children are tucked into their beds and then I climb into bed and roll onto my side. Then I gently scootch as close as humanly possible next to my wife, my bride, my girl; my girl of nearly nineteen years. She is usually asleep because, for the better part of those nineteen years, I have been a preacher or a student who does his best work at night after the darkness has fallen upon earth, the doors have been locked, and the children tucked into their beds.

She does not mind; too much. Most of the time she awakens from her slumber and scootches back against me and I feel our warmth mingle and dance like the flames from two candles mingling and becoming one. I hold her close for several minutes until my hyperactivity disorder kicks in and I am forced to roll on to my other side. Of course she follows; without fail. We do this a few times before we settle into a comfortable deep sleep.

What is amazing to me is that she lets me. And, no matter how much we have argued or complained at each other during the hours of sunlight, when we get under the covers—we always sleep under the covers—there is only room for one of us in the bed. So we sleep next to one another. In the early days of our marriage (and again during our senior year at Bible college) we slept in a twin bed. It was only sometime within the last three years we graduated to a queen size bed.

Nearly nineteen years.

Nearly nineteen years of room for one.

Nearly nineteen years of shared warmth.

It’s like all those hurtful things we have said and done to each other vanish once the covers cover, the pillows absorb, and the flesh melds. I’m not talking about sex. I’m just talking about the closeness, the oneness, the friendship of a lover who is closer than a friend; closer than God.

And if you don’t think I’m telling the truth about that ‘closer than God’ remark, then look back to Genesis where we are told about God making man and woman, husband and wife. There you will see, as I saw one day, what God saw: “God saw that man was lonely, and this was not good.” So what did God do? Send his Holy Spirit? Infuse man with a dose of religion? No. Instead, he made the man a bride, a woman, a lover, and a friend.  She was flesh of his flesh, bone of his bone. It was the first and only time in the history of the world that a man gave birth.

The rest, as we say, is history; or future.

So in a sense, the woman has a power that even God does not have. Man was alone, lonely, when it was just him and God. That loneliness went away after God made the woman. I’m not saying God created the woman to ‘cure’ the man’s problems, but rather the man’s problem was cured when God gave him the woman. Eve satisfied a place in Adam’s life that God did not and, presumably, could not.

That’s a powerful way to see Eve. It’s a powerful way to see my wife.

8 Months

I have worked my way through a tremendous amount of suffering over the last several months. I have fleshed it out here quite a lot. It has not been a happy time for the most part. Constant worry about how I would pay my bills. Deep depression at the fact that I was no longer fulfilling my vocation on this earth. Anger that I was (am) working at a job that is frustrating and purposeless. Distress that I have essentially been forced out of my denomination of ordination. Embarrassment before my peers and friends who have not been kicked out of their pulpits—jealous that I am no longer a part of the ‘club.’ Sinful because I was no longer under the constraints of maintaining the ‘pulpit demeanor.’ Fear that my children might judge the church, or Christ, because of the actions of one congregation.And worse. All of this haunts me day in and day out.

Prayerless because I have been terribly angry with God for allowing evil and greed to prevail in my former congregation—because he did not answer my prayers but remained silent. Incredulous that none of the elders, deacons, preachers, or members of the other congregations in my denomination (in my part of the world) have reached out to me, my wife, or my sons—those who were my friends, those with whom I worked, served, and prayed, those who had formerly listened to me teach and preach the Gospel, those who formerly counted on me to lead, visit, conduct funerals or weddings or prayer retreats. Stupefied that I was hung out to dry after nearly ten years of service to the same congregation whom I loved and cared for deeply. Disappointed that I rarely see my sons or my wife because of the work and school schedules we have to maintain. Frustrated because it seems God has taken away all that I thought I was supposed to be and replaced it with things I never imagined myself to be.

I have no other words to describe it, although I’d like to. This is what Renee has had to deal with for…well, forever. And yet, she’s still with me; we are still one.

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“One of you will say to me: “Then why does God still blame us? For who resists his will?” But who are you, O man, to talk back to God? “Shall what is formed say to him who formed it, ‘Why did you make me like this?’ “Does not the potter have the right to make out of the same lump of clay some pottery for noble purposes and some for common use?” (Romans 9:19-21)

If you would, please allow me some pastoral license that I might rip this passage of Romans out of its intended context for a moment or two in order to illustrate a point. I realize it probably has very little to do with what I am about to write and share with you, but I think at this point in time I can rightfully  be accused and found guilty of worse.

The short and long of it is that I have no excuse. “Who are you, O Man, to talk back to God?”

I went to my doctor yesterday. I usually go to my doctor not because I have any particular ailment but because I want to talk, blow off some steam; make sure I’m not crazy. He listens. He offers me some pills if I ask for them. He gives me advice, like he did yesterday, that resembles anything but modern medicine: Go out for a twenty minute walk each night, take note of the position of the moon, and keep a journal of your moods in relation to the moon. OK. I’m not having menstrual irregularity, but I’ll try.

Or, he’ll say, without a hint of irony, “Well, the Chinese say…” and then, “maybe we could do some acupuncture.” If my insurance company knew this is what me and my doctor were talking about I suspect the bill would be entirely my responsibility. I think he knows me well enough to know that when I come in to see him I am not there to talk about my kidney stones or hemorrhoids or my nightmares. Strangely enough, I think he knows I am there to talk shop which, in our case, is theology; or Zen; blades of grass; grace.

So he asks how I have been and it spills out of me like the Niagara River over the edge. I tell him that since August of 2008 my life has been a train wreck. I sit there on the paper covered bench-thingy, hunched over, and my sadness pours out of me as if he were Jesus or my pastor. I sit there in the cold, barren dung-heap of an office, scratching myself with a pen cap confessing to him my pain. “124/76,” says the nurse. “Is that good?” I ask. “Yes, excellent,” she replies. “Well, that’s because I don’t carry stress in my chest, but in my abdomen.”

Kidney stones. Diarrhea. Constipation. Hemorrhoids. Cramps. Gas. I’m a walking advertisement for Pepto Bismol and Milk of Magnesia. Aleve is really nice. I can’t tell the twenty-four year old shapely brunette nurse any of this. No, I am a fine specimen of man. I stand tall and crack some jokes. She barely laughs, but is courteous nonetheless; she humors my wit. Later she will come in and clean a couple of spots on my skin that will be operated on by the doctor. So much for my bearded, manly presence: There I lay in a ripped gown, half naked, raising my boxer shorts and covering myself while this nurse preps me for surgery.

I know you don’t want to hear it, but there it is.

“Well, since August of 2008 here’s the story. My brother in law, who was thirty, died from a brain tumor…”—‘he didn’t die from it, but with it; so say the Chinese’ he interrupts—“and that set off a string of events that I haven’t been able to figure out yet.”

“My wife and I were buying our first house; after 17 years of marriage we finally could. Then Bobby died. Then the shit hit the fan at the church. In July 2009 I was fired. That quick. They called me on my last day of church camp and told me to be at meeting the next day (they had been having meetings behind my back for some time). I knew it was coming.” By now it is pouring out of me even faster. “But there was nothing I could do. They had lost confidence and blamed me for twenty some years of no growth. I shouldn’t be talking to you about this. We had just bought a house. My brother in law—what’s up with all the brain tumors going around anyhow?”—‘It depends upon who you talk to,’—“I’m sick of it!”

Silence.

But I was talking to him and he was listening. I was spilling my guts to a practitioner of Chinese medicine, who is more in tune with the Ohio State Buckeyes than with Jesus, and who was furiously typing away our conversation on his laptop even as I am now reporting my version of it on my laptop. I visit my doctor maybe once every two years. I noticed that the lobby was empty when I arrived; he knows.

He knows I won’t listen to his advice about cholesterol and that I won’t take pills. He knows that I don’t really care too much about having my prostate examined even though I am nearly 40 and should. He knows that even if I take pills it will be for a week and then I’ll throw them away.

“Maybe it was about pride,” I say. ‘It’s always about pride,’ he responds. Dammit. I was hoping it wasn’t. “Seriously, I’m working at Blockbuster Video. I spent four long years learning how to do something I am not now doing. Death. Major life changes. Career changes. Age. Am I going nuts? I studied hard to be a preacher and now I’m not. I’m working at Blockbuster, not contributing anything to the world. And let’s not even talk about how this has upset my sons. My eldest questions church, is uncertain of God. Behavior issues. All three have struggled in school since we lost our church of nearly ten years. And my wife? Am I losing it?”

‘No.’

He then goes into this long, thoughtful monologue about the Chinese and how there are no accidents and how God is in the blade of grass and acupuncture and the moon and menstrual cycles and half a dozen other things. I nod thoughtfully. “I shouldn’t be talking to you about this.” I always say that because I don’t want the doctor to think that the things I believe faith is supposed to do are not being done—you know, like giving me courage, making me holy, giving me peace—“I am not happy; I have no peace; I’m all out of balance; can’t find an even keel…”—I don’t want him to think that Jesus is a failure just because I am.

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So it’s 6:09 AM, Wednesday. I haven’t slept at all, and I won’t be anytime soon. I have to work in three hours so there is no point in even trying. So here I am: awake and blogging.

I have recently blogged about Shane Claiborne’s book Jesus for President and some of that blogging caused heated exchanges and much good, very good, and worthless conversation. I’m intrigued by Claiborne–not least because of the really cool glasses he is often pictured wearing–but also because he irritates me, sort of like that sand that gets stuck in swim trunks after a day at the beach. There are few people who irritate me in such a way and yet, like the beach, I still go back. Not too often, but enough.

He recently wrote an article for Esquire. Well, it was a month ago. I don’t know if you read it or not but he (or the editor) titled it, What If Jesus Meant all that Stuff?. The article is written in the form of a letter to his ‘non-believing, sort of believing, and used to be believing friends.’ I like that. Those are the people he should write to. Here’s how he began:

I feel like I should begin with a confession. I am sorry that so often the biggest obstacle to God has been Christians. Christians who have had so much to say with our mouths and so little to show with our lives. I am sorry that so often we have forgotten the Christ of our Christianity.

Forgive us. Forgive us for the embarrassing things we have done in the name of God.

The other night I headed into downtown Philly for a stroll with some friends from out of town. We walked down to Penn’s Landing along the river, where there are street performers, artists, musicians. We passed a great magician who did some pretty sweet tricks like pour change out of his iPhone, and then there was a preacher. He wasn’t quite as captivating as the magician. He stood on a box, yelling into a microphone, and beside him was a coffin with a fake dead body inside. He talked about how we are all going to die and go to hell if we don’t know Jesus.

I admire Claiborne. He is in the trenches of the place he lives, with the hurting and weak. He, obviously, has great compassion for the people of the world–the down and out, the weak, the poor, the hopeless, and helpless. It is nothing short of the ministry of Christ and I’m glad that he does it. I’m not criticizing that at any level.

Nor am I particularly concerned with his theology either. He has some important things to say and I think he gets a lot of it right–in the sense that I also get a lot of it ‘right’. He’s a fan of grace, as am I:

In closing, to those who have closed the door on religion — I was recently asked by a non-Christian friend if I thought he was going to hell. I said, “I hope not. It will be hard to enjoy heaven without you.” If those of us who believe in God do not believe God’s grace is big enough to save the whole world… well, we should at least pray that it is.

This is not a post about universalism. I don’t particularly care one way or another whether any of us believe all will or will not be ’saved.’ You won’t change my mind, and I’m not asking you to change yours. Nor is this a post about the merits of hell either. I don’t particularly care if you believe hell is a place we go or if it is right next door to your house.

What I am concerned about is this idea that Claiborne feels the need to apologize for me, for you, for other Christians as if he has been appointed to such a place. God himself doesn’t feel particularly compelled to step down out of heaven with his megaphone and apologize for us so why should Claiborne do so? Part of the idea of Claiborne’s article is that God did not come to condemn the world but to save it and then, as if speaking out both sides of his mouth at the same time, he condemns the very ones God has already deliberately saved–Christians. Why? Because he disagrees with the way some Christians convey the message and the use of some of the words that Christians use in doing so. (Condemn might be a harsh choice of words here, but hopefully, even if it is hyperbolic, you get what I am saying and won’t get stuck in that moment.)

There is a terrible incongruity in that, don’t you think? If God hasn’t condemned us (and Paul seems rather convinced in Romans 8 that he hasn’t; and won’t; and that no one can) then who is Shane Claiborne to do so? What right does Shane Claiborne have to apologize for me and my actions and my failures and my triumphs? What right does he have to condemn his brothers and sisters–simply because they do things differently than he does–while at the same time acting as if he himself is the father of all humility who alone has tread the path of righteousness? (Because that’s how he comes off at times with his apologies on behalf of me and you as if he somehow stands apart from all that is ugly about the church.)

You know how he sounds don’t you? We pejoratively refer to those who cast stones and heap scorn upon the church as ODM’s. There is an instinctive discomfort experienced by those who hear such things from other christians. Why do we shoot our own? No one has ever said, as Claiborne falsely dichotomizes, that Christianity spreads better ‘by force’, but who is to say his way (’fascination’) is any better? (Although Matthew 11:11-13 might suggest differently.) Who can say if God uses a preacher and a megaphone and a coffin or if God uses a man who grows vegetables in old toilets or if God uses humbled world leaders to accomplish his purposes? And who are we to criticize when he does? And who are we to apologize? I may not find street preaching particularly appealing or effective way of sharing the Gospel, but Jesus did and used the method quite often himself.

And who is Shane Claiborne to apologize for me? God has already ‘apologized’ for me: it’s called the cross. And the way I see it, no other justification is needed. That’s grace.

Maybe God used Slice of Laodicea to minister to the needs of people. Maybe God used Nooma to minister to the needs of people. Maybe Ghandi was a bag of hot air and his opinion of Christians is meaningless because he is DEAD. Maybe Mark Driscoll is just as effective as John McArthur? Who’s to say? I have a hard time reconciling this statement:

So if God should choose to use us, then we should be grateful but not think too highly of ourselves. And if upon meeting someone we think God could never use, we should think again

with his statements at the beginning where the street preacher with the megaphone is somehow the bad guy. If God can, and does, use anyone or someone (as Claiborne writes) we think he could never use (such as ‘bullhorn guy’), maybe we should take Claiborn’s advice and, well, think again.

Maybe he should too.

Look, I get his point: many (all) Christians have done many stupid things. OK. We get it. And humility is good. Right on! I’m with you. But we don’t need a spokesman and the world does not need apologies. All the ‘I’m sorry Christians are such a lousy lot of buggers who killed witches in Salem and Muslims in Jerusalem and did a  bunch of other unsavory things in the name of Jesus in hopes of converting a few’ will not change the world one iota. Enough of those apologies have been uttered or muttered.

If, as Claiborne rightly asserts, God can and does use people like murderous and adulterous king David, whoring and lying Rahab, slithering and scandalous Solomon, adulterous Samson, and the whole lot of them (just look at the list of nasties in Hebrews 11) and saved their stories as the articles of our faith, and didn’t apologize for doing so, then I think it is right to ask whether or not Shane Claiborne or any other ODM has the right to criticize fellow believers or apologize on behalf of Christians in this world who routinely make a mess of things and give unbelievers a reason to unbelieve.

If God is for us–that’s us: stupid, simple, weak, sinful, fragile, faithless, unkempt, makes bad choices, don’t honor God’s name properly, us, we, the church–then who can be against us? Shane, my friend, my brother: That’s the whole freaking point of grace! When I foul up, I will say I’m sorry for myself, to the person I hurt, for the sin I commit. I don’t need help thank you very much.

Who needs to apologize for us when He has already done so at Calvary?

For another point of view, click here.

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