In Christianity Today, Eric O. Jacobsen writes about how we understand the new creation

A key to this significant paradigm shift has been a reconsideration of the provocative text in the second half of 2 Peter 3:10. As the King James Version has it, “The earth also and the works that are therein shall be burned up.” One common way to understand this text is that the earth and sky (heaven) will be completely annihilated, then later replaced with a brand new heaven and earth.

However, another possibility—and the one that some of the more contemporary translations use—is that the earth and everything on it will be disclosed or laid bare. That is to say, the fire will not annihilate the entire earth, but will refine it by burning away everything that is unworthy (Malachi 3:2-3). This newer translation seems to fit the context better, as the author had just made a parallel reference to the destruction of the Flood, which wreaked havoc on creation but didn’t annihilate everything.

We’ve talked about and argued about this with each other and our readers in the past. We’ve all been up in arms over various doctrines that we are passionate about. And while I believe that our doctrine shapes and defines how we live our lives, I have a hard time believing that we’ve got it all together. Or that those of us who have argued for a refiners fire have let that belief shape us enough. We look at the evil around us with sadness but do nothing to participate in God’s redeeming work. Well, I don’t really think that. I’m sure you do something to that end, but when I see stories like this -

I wonder about the work that the church is participating in. I live an hour away from Indianapolis. Sex trafficking has been on my radar as a problem the church in the U.S. needs to be aware of and working on. We’ve done nothing. 11 Catholic churches worked on this effort. A lot of our churches are invested in a lot of good and Godly work around this world and in their communities. I get that. I encourage that. But this isn’t another tax seminar, or specialized conference, or study series, or the latest book that can be ignored because there is something better to do with our time. This is mercy for the hurting, justice for the abused, humility for the proud.

We didn’t start the fire
It was always burning
Since the world’s been turning
We didn’t start the fire
No we didn’t light it
But we tried to fight it

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Recently a friend of mine messaged me to ask me what I thought about this article.

Things got a little out of control so I decided to post it since I’d spent so much time on it.

Let me begin by saying that I don’t believe the scriptures endorse any economic system, and I believe a case could be made that it rejects all of them in some sense.

It probably won’t come as a surprise to you, but I’m a little stunned at how terrible this article is. The author’s bio seems to indicate he’s a Jewish Rabbi who has lead congregations but I feel like this level of misunderstanding of scriptures is usually one seen only in publications that are overtly secular, with no understanding of scripture outside of a few verses casually read. Take for example, his use of the scripture “six days ye shall work”. The claim made is that this is an affirmation “that on a day-to-day basis work is the engine that brings about man’s inner state of personal responsibility”. However, this is the opposite intent of that scripture. Now, I don’t know precisely which scripture the author is referencing because that phrase is used approximately 9 times in the Torah. They are the commands concerning the Sabbath. And generally they go something like this: “You have six days each week for your ordinary work, but on the seventh day you must stop working. This gives your ox and your donkey a chance to rest. It also allows your slaves and the foreigners living among you to be refreshed.”

What was unusual about this command was not the command to work, as the author claims, but rather the day of rest. The ancient world in which the scriptures were birthed wasn’t really filled with lazy people. For example, the Romans had a five day week, and you worked all five days. The command to take a day off each week was extraordinary. So extraordinary that in Exodus 31.17 God tells his people that this day off each week is “a permanent sign of my covenant with the people of Israel” Not only was this an act pointing to God as creator, but also as provider. It was an acknowledgement that even when it would benefit survival to work all the time their faith in God is such that they will take a day off out of every seven for worship and rest, and God will provide for them. The claim that this command is an endorsement of work misses the point of one of the central commands of God to his people. Coming from a Jewish source I can’t believe this came from ignorance or only casual familiarity with scripture. I suppose I’ll have to be gracious and believe that it comes from being blinded by his commitment to an economic theory over and above his religious commitments.

You probably overlooked this statement (or I should say I overlooked it the first two times reading through): “Regarding mankind, no theme is more salient in the Bible than the morality of personal responsibility.” Frankly, this is such a misjudging of the scriptures its breathtaking. The story of the scriptures is of God working to free his people. From stories like God sending home most of Gideon’s army, to David defeating Goliath, to the work of Christ himself the theme is that God is powerful and God saves his people. A Bible that is thematically about personal responsibility is a Bible in which everyone is abandoned by God.

Let’s shift focus to the author’s view of money and power. The author takes as an assumption that the accumulation of money and power are desirable. Look at his endorsement of a powerful military, as well as the assumption that the best economic system is the one that produces the highest GNP. These assumptions are easy ones to make in our present day, however, they were also easy ones to make when Jesus burst on the scene. That was, after all, precisely what the Jewish people were waiting for. A king, a military commander who would make the streets run red with Roman blood, and bring about a larger GNP for the chosen people. We see this expectation run into the buzz saw of Christ’s goals in John 6.14-15:

When the people saw him do this miraculous sign, they exclaimed, “Surely, he is the Prophet we have been expecting!” When Jesus saw that they were ready to force him to be their king, he slipped away into the hills by himself.

What Christ continually teaches is that he came to establish an entirely new order. One that was based on servanthood, and denial of self, rather than building up the self as glorious, and powerful. What the Jewish people wanted was to out Roman the Romans. What Christ wanted was to be the anti-Caesar of a new Kingdom that would be the anti-Rome. In Matthew 20 Jesus teaches explicitly about it: “But Jesus called them together and said, “You know that the rulers in this world lord it over their people, and officials flaunt their authority over those under them. 26 But among you it will be different. Whoever wants to be a leader among you must be your servant, 27 and whoever wants to be first among you must become your slave. 28 For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve others and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

In light of this teaching, is it faithful to the scriptures to say that an economic system should be evaluated by the light of scriptures based solely on its ability to garner GNP, and produce a military capable of shattering rivals?

The author also makes a claim that capitalism is obviously Judeo-Christian because Judeo-Christians created the US, and the US is capitalistic. This paragraph is the one I refer to: “No country has achieved such broad-based prosperity as has America, or invented as many useful things, or seen as many people achieve personal promise. This is not an accident. It is the direct result of centuries lived by the free-market ethos embodied in the Judeo-Christian outlook.”

Is the Judeo-Christian outlook also overtly racist? You know where I’m going with this just by that question. The reality is that America has been a racist country from its outset. And the less Christian it has become overall, the less racist it has become. I would, personally, deny that racism and the scriptures go hand in hand, but if you accept that the state of America defines what is Judeo-Christian as the author does when it comes to capitalism, then it is consistent to reason in the same way when it comes to things like race.

While I agree that being made in God’s image means we are creative, and that work is good, I disagree with his characterization of entrepreneurial creativity as the norm for capitalism. Obviously, there has been some of that as we have things like sweet little coffee shops, Findley Market, Etsy, and a variety of other such endeavors. But the norm has been to treat humans as labor units. Coal miners, factory workers, assembly lines, and other such machines of economic activity all were focused on humans as labor units and nothing else. It took government involvement such as anti-trust legislation and the NLRB to get anything resembling fair treatment of workers. And, I would add, this has continued as much of what we laud as creative enterprise such as Apple is only made possible by viewing a massive Chinese workforce as units of labor and nothing more.

The author sneaks into his writing the idea that only a capitalistic society believes people should work. He spends a lot of time linking the idea of work to scripture and then through scripture to capitalism. However, a survey of collectivist oriented cultures would demonstrate that’s just not true. The only difference is the motivation. Working for family, city, and country is the motivation rather than for self through earning money is found throughout collective thinking cultures, many of which are found in the east and so are not Judeo-Christian in addition to not being capitalist.

One final point that I think caps off the view that this author has allowed his idealization of capitalism to overwhelm all other views, obligations, and scripture itself. The author states: “More than any other nation, the United States was founded on broad themes of morality rooted in a specific religious perspective.”

Really? So all those countries that rose to power and political independence in the wake of the Reformation like Germany, France, England and Spain are all less founded on broad themes of morality rooted in a specific religious perspective? Countries founded with state churches, where the churches wielded actual political power weren’t founded with morality with a specific religious perspective above and beyond that of the United States? The more I think about this the more absurd it gets. I can’t not think of countries that were founded with morality with a specific religious perspective.

There are certainly cases that can be made for an individuals’ participation in capitalism, but this isn’t a source for those arguments, in fact, I’m not really sure what this is a source for other than misguided application of scripture.

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First in a long series of Monday posts designed to incite the masses. Unless of course the mob wins. In which case, we’ll just have anarchy.

No, things were not better then and they are no worse now. I was reading an article about St. John Chrysostom who lived in the latter half of the 4th century and is known for his practical and relevant sermons. He’s got some good stuff that (with a little linguistic adaptation) could be preached this Sunday and you wouldn’t even know the guy has been dead for 1600 years. Spending too much time on sports or entertainment anyone? Need to spend more time around the dinner table talking about your faith with your family? Makes you wonder if there is anything new under the sun.

I’m amazed at how much time we waste. Sure, with entertainment and what not, but more so with trying to get other people to see how we are right and they are wrong. About everything. Politics, sports, ministry, theology. Man, this is kind of flying in the face of inciting people to rant and rave in the comments. I guess I’m okay with that because we really wasted a lot of time arguing about stuff. Most of which didn’t actually have any bearing on our lives.

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Never forget my friends, no matter what you may have heard or what has been said, the overarching plot of the Bible is a positive story. It is a  story of redemption. It is the story of Ressurection. It is an invitation to be a part of God’s family. No matter where you have been or what you have done, He loves you. He died and rose for you. Nothing you have done or will do can make Him live you any less or more than He already does. God loves you.

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Slavery is nothing new.  Check out this blog post by Michael Bird on the early church and slavery.

Slavery is also not just something that happened in the past…. or something from third world countries.

Click to go to their website and read details on each report of human trafficking.

Yes, that’s Richmond, IN with a report. As well as Cincinnati, Dayton, and Indianapolis. Think of all the occurrences that haven’t been reported on that website. I recommend checking out NotForSaleCampaign.org as they have some powerful stories of human trafficking in the U.S. (and around the world).

I love this question from Bird’s post I linked above, “So what the smurf did you do after church last Sunday? Go out to a restaurant for lunch, went home for a nap, did some light shopping, or mounted a rescue mission for slaves?”

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Some time ago, I noted some problems with Why We’re Not Emergent by Kevin DeYoung and Ted Kluck. One of the more ludicrous issues was the ex cathedra declaration that it was fair game to lump all emergent leaders together:

when people endorse one another’s book and speak at the same conferences and write on the same blogs, there is something of a discernible movement afoot.

Never mind that none of these actions — either separately or together — really mean anything, let alone that they constitute “a discernible movement”.

More recently, on his post about the term “Young, Restless and Reformed”, DeYoung states that he is

afraid the label is often used in a way that makes YRR sound like an organized movement with official standards and spokesmen.

He then goes on, in detail, to show how it is not.

Four years ago, he declared that A+B+C=D.  Now “D” (by that declaration) applies to his team. And he doesn’t like it.

Changing horses mid-stream is a tricky thing.

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I doubt I’ll ever forget the day.  There are a series of days burned into my memory. My wedding day. Graduations (both mine and friends). My kids birth. The phone call from my dad telling me that my mom had died. The day Rob put his hand on my shoulder.

It was dark in the shed. “I come to the garden alone…” was being sung by pastors all over. I had prayed 30 minutes before that I needed some confirmation from God about the direction I thought He was taking me. I knew there were dark nights ahead. My soul lanquished inside of me. Raw wounds stung my heart and bled all over the place.

My wife and I had been at our current church for 18 months. They had lied to us throughout the process until we moved there. My wife was hurting. My bloody soul was literally in shock. I felt used, abused and betrayed by the church, Christ’s bride. Now, I was going to move my family to Michigan without a job? And I was going to have to tell people that we moved because God told me to do it? To say, I didn’t trust the church would be an understatement (and this was before I knew about angry “christian” bloggers).

So I prayed, “Dear God, I’m going to do what I believe you are telling me to do one way or another but I need a sign. I know it’s weak to ask for a sign but I need one. I need one for the cold, dark nights of doubt that I am sure are coming. I need one because my faith will be tested. If You would, I’d like to ask…I mean, I was hoping…Here’s the thing God, I’m going to go up on that stage and I’m going to pray right at the foot of that cross. I’m going to pray and if I really am hearing You, would you have someone from staff here touch me? I don’t care if it’s a preacher, or a janitor. I just need a ‘I asked the LORD and He answered me’ moment, if you know what I mean God.”

Then I went and prayed.

As I was getting ready to get up and call it a day. I felt a hand on me. I looked up and it was Rob sitting there just offering me comfort. God moved in my soul at that moment. That was January. We moved to Michigan in April. It has been the best decision we ever made. We’ve since left Mars Hill so that our family could worship in the community in which we actually live. We want to give our kids roots and Mars is about 40 minutes away.

But man, the things I learned while I was there! The healing that occurred in my life. I am not sure I can do it justice. God used Rob and Mars to bring healing to my life, and that of my family. He Rob and Mars to help me get over my hurt with the church. Rob taught me the best way to answer your accusers because he did exactly what Jesus did and ignored them. Rob taught me that Love Wins. Rob preached three of the best messages I have ever heard on forgiveness.

Sure, he preached things I didn’t agree with all the time. He said things that made me stop and scratch my head once in a while. He also taught me that it’s OK for people to disagree. We can disagree and still be brothers and sisters in Christ. Being creative doesn’t mean you hit a home run every time. You know you have really good material when the stuff you’re cutting out and leaving on the floor is really good.

He also taught me that we can have real live humans that we look up to. Before Rob, I used to say that my heroes were all dead, that way they couldn’t let me down.

Rob taught me that you can be a flawed human, with a wealth of insecurities and still change the world.

Man, I’ve debated writing this post because I am sure that people are going to read it and want to attack him. There are going to be people who say that God didn’t really talk to me that day. I may actually lose business over this post. I’ve decided I don’t care. If it were not for Rob’s influence in my life, I might not be in church today. God used him in my life in a might way.

So like John Piper once famously (or infamously said), “Farewell Rob Bell.” I would add, “I and my family will miss you.”

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Just for clarification purposes, Sanballat is one the Bad Guys, and the “me” here is Nehemiah (one of the Good Guys):

Nehemiah 6:5-8
Then Sanballat sent his servant to me as before, the fifth time, with an open letter in his hand. In it was written:

It is reported among the nations, and Geshem says, that you and the Jews plan to rebel; therefore, according to these rumors, you are rebuilding the wall, that you may be their king. And you have also appointed prophets to proclaim concerning you at Jerusalem, saying, “There is a king in Judah!” Now these matters will be reported to the king. So come, therefore, and let us consult together.

Then I sent to him, saying, “No such things as you say are being done, but you invent them in your own heart.”

  • I won’t shoot the “open letter” fish in a barrel
  • Theoretically basing your accusations on what others are saying
  • Really pulling them out of your left armpit
  • Telling others what their innermost motives are
  • Oh, and being wrong about the whole darn thing

I’m not naming names or anything, but …

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It’s been a while since I had anything to say or anytime to say it. I don’t know if that’s a good thing or a bad thing. I’m not even sure I have anything to say now. A lot of things have changed since I last posted here or there or anywhere (0ther than Facebook) for that matter. I’m not even sure I remember how to do this blogging thing.

Many things have changed since I last posted here or there or anywhere. I have had a lot of time to think about a lot of things and I hope to explore some of it as I slowly begin to work my way back into writing about things like church and people like Jesus and books like the Bible. In some ways many of my thoughts on such matters haven’t changed a bit, but in other ways my thoughts, and perhaps more importantly, my actions, have changed drastically. There might be time to share thoughts on such matters later.

One thing that I hope to write about is how the Episcopal Church confiscated the building and property of the congregation we have worshiped with for the last nearly 3 years. They did so after a rather lengthy court battle which saw a judge scarcely even hear the argument before deciding against us and for them. (I hate using ‘us’ and ‘them’. It sounds so archaic and anti-everything Jesus came for.) They did so because we decided that the Episcopal Church is theologically wrong on certain issues. (They believe we are wrong too; a judge agreed with them.) Unfortunately, ‘they’ have more money than we do.

Another thing I hope to write about is my evolving relationship with Jesus–yes, that Jesus, the one who has been particularly and conspicuously quiet in my life for a while now. And yet, too, periodically, he has made such loud statements in the life of my family that I have had to run for cover for fear that it might be an archangel blasting his trumpet announcing the end of days. I still love Jesus, but it’s a different kind of love we have now. I’m not even sure I have words for whatever it has become.

Still further, I might tell you about my former church which has, for all intents and purposes, lost its identity. I amazed that so many of those who were confident the Lord had told them to remove me from the pulpit have, now, themselves, left the church. It’s a very strange irony and one that perplexes me greatly. There are a lot of things that perplex me these days not least of which is what it really means to be a christian and what it really means to belong to the church.

Church is a strange thing, a strange creature. It has been a funny thing doing church from the other side of the pulpit. If my relationship with Jesus has evolved, my relationship with the church has gone through two or three evolutionary cycles as my wife and I have tried to come to grips with the fact that we are, for all intents and purposes, orphans. (We love the Anglican church we worship with, but we also know that we are passing through there for a little while and that we really miss ‘our’ church.)

One thing I do know is this: when I start writing again on a more regular basis, I will be writing as someone who has embraced a career outside of the church. I will also be writing as someone who has been crushed by the church, hurt in ways that I wish I couldn’t describe, abandoned by a denomination that had little use for me and my family. My relationship with the church has changed drastically. This might be a good thing; it might be a bad thing. I’m not sure what sort of thing it is. All I know, at this point in my life, is that I’d like to think I am a gracious enough person to forgive the church and embrace the church, but I realize, truthfully, that the bottom line is that I am more blessed that the church continues to forgive and embrace me.

It seems to me that is what makes a church church.

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I’m thankful for a God who loves this fallen earth
Who redeems the lost and gives them worth
Whose ears and eyes are open
To the hopeless and the broken
Who will not abandon his mission
Of freedom and of abolition
Slaves now set free
Blind who now see
Orphans adopted and given a home
No longer abandoned or alone
Jesus the Christ has ransomed this race
By his death and resurrection and grace

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