The Dictionary of Evangelical

Dear friends,

A while back I shared some of my favorite passages from The Book of Evangelical. Well, funny story: I was at a yard sale last weekend and happened upon a rare copy of The Dictionary of Evangelical. Naturally, I snatched it up. I had to share.

-David

Latin dictionary

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Are We Called to be “On Fire”?

A few years back somebody described me as being “on fire for God.”  I was surprised. Me, “on fire for God?” But I was just me! Apparently I was, though. It showed.

I read a book by Eric Ludy once in which he wrote about talking to an older Christian about his fiery passion and the older Christian telling him that it fades. He really didn’t want it to fade. He pledged that it never would.

I think it was Diana Butler Bass who lamented that the options for Christians seem to be knowledge on ice and ignorance on fire. I repeated that quote to an Assemblies of God friend, and he commented that the Assemblies of God Theological Seminary slogan is “knowledge on fire.”

And of course, there’s the misattributed John Wesley quote about how if you’re on fire for God, the world will show up to watch you burn.

As I fought to get a campfire going a few weekends ago, I remembered the lyrics to the song “Settle on My Soul,” as performed by the band The Martins. The song envisions faith as fire as well: “Before the embers fade, stir the ashes of my faith.”

I’m not sure which way it came, but culture also celebrates fire – particularly, the fires of romantic love. In the song “Remind Me,” Brad Paisley and Carrie Underwood take on the persona of a couple for whom the fire has faded. They sing about how they used to be “So on fire so in love,” and regret that their relationship has dimmed to embers.

I don’t think this is quite right.

fireBig fires with high flames are exciting. If you don’t know exactly what you’re doing (and probably even if you do), it can take a while to build a fire, though. Dry wood is important. You also need plenty of air. And it requires work to keep it going the way it is in the picture. A lot of work.

I don’t think anybody has time for that.

The fire in this picture took a while to build. It’s this high because we had just tossed on a bunch of new, dry wood. But it didn’t stay that way. Eventually, it faded down until it looked more like the second picture.

And that’s good.

Big roaring flames are sexy, but you can’t cook much over them besides marshmallows and hot dogs. They look exciting, but as Kristen often reminds me, you can’t cook anything substantial on them until they’re down to hot coals. And I think coals might be a better metaphor.

Kristen and I have been married for over three years now. We’re still delighted to see each other when she gets home from work, but we don’t have that “whoosh” of excitement that we did when we were dating and I was working at Jumonville and only got to see each other once a week. That would be an exhausting emotional roller coaster ride if we did it every day. We still stir the embers and occasionally put on more wood, but our relationship doesn’t require embersthe constant second-by-second attention it did then. There’s still fire, but it’s less fireworky. It’s more useful now. It’s something you can sit around and hold a good conversation with close friends around. It’s something we can build a life on. It’s not a paper fire that’s all whoosh and then everything’s gone. The big logs have caught.

My faith has shifted down to embers too. Ignorance is paper. Knowledge is hardwood. It burns slower. Sometimes you get fireworks, but usually, it’s a slow, unimpressive burn that is capable of doing the work it’s meant to do.

By all means, let us celebrate the whoosh and roar of fresh fire – and let us hope that it will come to have the valuable strength of a slow burn that’s been going a long time and will be sustainable for a long time to come.

Is Socialism Unbiblical?

This morning, one of my wife’s friends sent her a link to a blog post condescendingly titled “Dear Liberal ‘Christians’: No, it’s Not ‘Christian’ for the Government To Redistribute My Money“. I call the title condescending because the word “Christian” is in scare quotes. Like a frightening number of other blog posts from all across American Christianity on both sides of the political spectrum, in the title alone, this post suggests that those who do not agree with the author are not Christians.

It’s tempting for me to join Ms. Kirchoff in saying that my political position is so much closer to what scripture teaches that those who don’t agree are so far wrong that they’re not even Christians. But what happens if I do that? I will insult my fellow Christians by refusing to give them the benefit of the doubt that their faith is sincere. There will be no chance made available for grace, and (if what I am saying is true) it will close them off to being guided into more truth and simply enrage them.

The post in question followed the tone in the title by being patronizing – including the utterly delicious phrase “In short, no. You’re wrong here too. Sucks, don’t it?” which, having admittedly typed similar sentences, I have no doubt felt utterly delicious. Then the author engages in name-calling, referring to a liberal Christian who might be reading her post in the second person as a “miserly crapweasel.”

She ends the post with this: “You’re just being an easily exploited rube with zero critical thinking skills. No, your Jesus fish will not absolve you of this one.” Now, unless this post is only for people who agree with her, she’s wasting her time here because if liberal Christians, as she says, have “zero critical thinking skills,” they won’t even be able to properly engage with her post and will just leave angry comments.


But what of the actual content of the post, tone aside? It’s mostly an argument from silence. The most biblical paragraph in the entire post is this one:

Jesus called his disciples to care for the least of these. The poor, the hungry, to clothe the naked, to visit prisoners, etc. This is Christianity 101. We all know it. As Christians we’re called to be Christ-like, to be his disciples, to preach his word. All good things. Put a giant check mark next to your Jesus fish.

So far so good. But what happens next is both surprising and not particularly biblical. It is essentially the libertarian argument that taxation is theft. Essentially the argument here (you can read it for yourself to verify my depiction) is that Jesus’ command “to care for the least of these” is for individuals and not for governments.

The central question, then, is whether Jesus wants the poor uplifted, the hungry fed, the naked clothed, and the prisoners visited, or whether he merely wants Christians to engage in these activities because they’re good things to do. Continue reading

(New) Reflections on the Prodigal

You’ve heard a million sermons on the parable of the Prodigal Son, but when the passage was read in church this morning, I heard three things that I hadn’t heard before:

1. When the younger son was away in a foreign land, he was working – he had a job – but the job was not providing enough for him to get by. What did he say to himself? “How many of my father’s hired hands have bread enough and to spare, but here I am dying of hunger!”

It may be because there was a famine, but nonetheless, the point stands: the father in the story made sure those working to build and maintain his wealth had all they needed and more.

So will we join with the Father in the story, represented by God, and make sure that everyone who works has food enough and to spare? Or will we condemn those who, like the younger son, work in a foreign land as “lazy,” their laziness proved not by their unwillingness to work, but by their poverty?!”

2. The younger son made bad decisions, it is clear. But what is the reaction of his father? Does he shrug his shoulders and say that the boy should’ve made better decisions, and if he had, he wouldn’t be in this mess? Does he provide him with a budget plan and suggest he attend Financial Peace University, and maybe then he’ll be worthy of not starving?

This is not what we find at all! The father immediately brings his son back into attire worthy of a son, and puts food in his belly, and throws a celebration.

So will we join the older brother in insisting that because people may have made bad decisions they are unworthy of a steak dinner or happiness? Or will we join the father in his ridiculous party for an irresponsible person who wasted his money on all sorts of things money shouldn’t be wasted on?

3. How fortunate he was to have a wealthy father. Many people who’ve made irresponsible decisions don’t get have a wealthy father to run home to when they make bad decisions or take a job that won’t support them.

But here’s the twist: The father in the story represents God. (If you think this is going to go Joel Osteen, I have another twist coming for you). The father represents God, whom Ephesians 4:6 declares to be the father of all.

So when we talk about “entitlements,” calling poor people “lazy,” let us remember at least two things: (1) the words of Ephesians, naming God the father of all, and (2) that the son in the story did nothing to earn the celebration. He just came home and there it was.

The older brother was, of course, furious, as he watched his dad, who still owned everything, take away some of the things he’d worked so hard for and give them to his brother who was starving.

The older brother, like many Christians, was confused about what made this son worthy of a celebration and of having more than enough. It was not his labor (he could’ve asked for the party at any time and had it). It was who his father was: the one who owned it all.

Beyond a Theology of “Nope”

When I was growing up, a couple pastors said the church they grew up in might as well have had a sign on the back that said “No,” because it was the answer to every question.

Can I go dancing?

No.

Movies?

Nope.

Sex?

ARE YOU KIDDING ME?!

Television?

Nope.

But it wasn’t just the churches they grew up in. It was also the churches they led. In fact, as I’ve been learning in my Church History 2 class, much of Protestant reflects this sort of Theology of Nope. Continue reading

What I can believe about God

After I shared yesterday’s post, I got some pretty cool comments. People say, “Don’t read the comments,” and they’re usually right, but in this case, do read the comments. So far, they’ve been pretty awesome.

My friend Chris asked some questions today that I really want to respond to.

David, I’m interested in seeing you write all this out positively. What do you believe about God? Knowing you, as I do, I see that your are wrestling with your old understanding of God. Yet, what can you affirm about God? Also, where do you ground these affirmations?

I don’t know what I believe about God anymore. Continue reading

The God I Don’t Believe In

The God I don’t believe in wrote the Bible through verbal plenary inspiration. What God wanted to be in there, word for word, is in there.

The God I don’t believe in is accurately represented in the Bible.

The God I don’t believe in controls the weather.

The God I don’t believe in sends sinners to hell for doing things he doesn’t like.

The God I don’t believe is definitely male-gendered and is best described with the pronoun, “he.” Preferably, “He.”

The God I don’t believe in is an autocratic dictator. What He says goes, whether it’s morally right or not.

The God I don’t believe in makes everything happen. For a reason, of course.

The God I don’t believe in sends LGB people to hell for having sex with people of the wrong gender, TQ people to hell for being “confused,” and intersex people for having sex with anyone because they’re “defective.”

The God I don’t believe in lives up in heaven, which is in the sky, or somewhere in outer space, in a shiny golden city in the clouds. Continue reading

Third Sunday of Advent

I’ve been talking for weeks about how Advent is my favorite period on the church calendar, and I’ve tried to write this post three times already, but I think it’s been missing something. In previous drafts I tried to wax poetic about the angst and the is-he-coming-or-isn’t-he-coming.

In one draft I started imagining Advent the way Malcolm Reynolds from Firefly described “looking for help from on high:” “A long wait for a train don’t come,” with a dash of Waiting for Godot.

My second and third drafts were also about waiting and hoping. My third, especially, was about all those people who waited for Jesus – not just the shepherds for him to grow up, not just for the 400 years between the last book of the Old Testament, but all the way back to Isaiah and Amos and Micah, and even back to David and Abraham and Eve who was promised that her seed would bruise the serpent’s head. I wrote about how all these died in faith without receiving what was promised.

I waxed grand and somber about how in so many ways we’re just like they are – and how even though we have Jesus, we’re still waiting with heavy hearts for all that business about swords being hammered into plowshares.

I concluded with some semi-hopeful blabbering, something to the tune of

But if we do not receive the promises, may our lives still reflect the hope of the promise, and become little colonies of the promise. May we live in faith, and may we die in faith, and, and may we rise to life eternal and the advent of the promise at last.

And it was all very angsty and doubtful and it felt honest… but it wasn’t right. I could not have told you why, but it wasn’t.


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Lord, If You Had Been Here…

A couple years ago, Kristen and I visited a church in Colorado Springs where the minister spoke on John 11 and how it was all about the glory of God. It launched me into a spiral of doubt and a blog post about Confronting the Horror of John 11.

In my spiritual formation class, we’ve been talking about Lectio Divina, the spiritual practice of reading scripture to see what you think God is saying rather than the “plain meaning” or the properly exegeted meaning. It’s taken me some interesting places, but yesterday the lectionary reading took me to John 11:28-44. I was reading along and this verse caught my eye:

When Mary came where Jesus was and saw him, she knelt at his feet and said to him, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” (11:32)

“Lord, if you had been here…”

The sermon in church yesterday morning was about doubt and questions and the minister talked about feeling that she had moved from doubt all the way to atheism at one point when she saw the photo of the 3-year-old Syrian boy’s body washed up on the shore. She felt that God had not been there.

Lord, if you had been here…

I wouldn’t open my news feed every day and read about another black man shot by police.

Lord, if you had been here…

Climate change would not be shrinking rivers, nor over-armed Americans engaging in mass shootings. Continue reading

Digging a Hole in the Roof of Jesus’ House

Please forgive the lack of posts over the last few weeks. Studying at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary continues to be fantastic, but it has left me with barely enough time to work my part-time job besides studying, let alone post here, but I had to share this with you.

In my Spiritual Formation class, we’ve been trying out various spiritual practices. This past week’s practice was Lectio Divina – reading the Bible and listening for what God is saying to us through the scriptures. It’s intentionally spiritual readings, so careful exegesis isn’t really the point; in fact, it’s beside the point.

One of the passages my professor suggested was Mark 2:1-12, the story of the healing of the paralytic. Jesus returns to Capernaum and goes home.

So many gathered around that there was no longer room for them, not even in front of the door; and he was speaking the word to them.

I mulled this over, not looking it up in the Greek or anything, and thinking about the comments on the blog and the numerous conversations I’ve had outside with people. I thought about that feeling I’ve gotten about there not being room for me in Christianity because I don’t agree on one or another issue that many conservative Christians consider the core of orthodoxy. Sexual ethics for same-sex attracted people, for example.

In many ways, I think I’ve internalized this. I joke with friends about being a heretic, but deep down sometimes I do wonder if there’s room for me in the house of Jesus. Continue reading