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

I Know Where The Land Mines Are

I have inhabited the Christian world for the better part of three decades. It’s a beautiful place. And it is also terribly dangerous.

Charlatans host TV shows to raise money for private jets from people who can’t afford their own groceries.

Fundamentalists believe they take the Bible literally. They dismiss anyone who disproves their bizarre version of reality by living the way they think God wants them to and hing it all go up in flames.

Evangelists desperate to save souls prey on the weak who aren’t sure they’re saved – who spend lifetimes wondering if they’ll go to heaven or hell, if they were sincere enough when they prayed the prayer the last 2,000 times.

People with excellent intentions write books about putting God first that make natural romantic feelings feel sinful.

I know where the land mines are.

People who don’t know what patriarchy is or where it comes from hold it up as “God’s best” for everyone, seeing only the beauty they imagine, and never the shame.

Men “know how young men are,” and shame young women for their choice of clothing.

We brandish our Bibles like swords – going so far as to have “sword drills” to find Bible verses – and use those swords to “exhort” others, but only serving to tear those others down.

We tell people who are attracted to other people of the same gender – through no fault of their own – that their attraction is sinful and if they ever marry someone they’re attracted to, that would be sinful as well.

I know where the land mines are.

But I said the Christian world is beautiful, too.

We have grace big enough to heal the universe.

We have a story filled with commands to care for the earth and the poor and the stranger.

We have a Christ who taught us to love our enemies.

But I know where the land mines are.

An atheist on Twitter told me, “Christianity isn’t a ‘good camp’ and ‘bad camp.’ It’s a tapestry woven with silk and barbed wire. Inseparable.”

Grace too often comes attached to impossible expectations – God forgives you for not doing the things that, if God was remotely reasonable, if God knew our frame, that we are but dust, would never demand of us.

The commands to care for the earth and the poor and the stranger appear in a book filled with commands to subdue the earth and kill our enemies and “whoever doesn’t work, shouldn’t eat,” that re-affirms our prejudices.

Like I said: I know where the land mines are.

So here I am, days away from starting a class on spiritual formation.

I have done my first reading.

I sat in on a class about missions that actually felt safe – that felt like missions might be something good.

I asked about what we might do as Christians about Christian traditions that seem antithetical to the Kingdom of God as I understand it – Christian traditions that run about hurting people and the world with impunity, who live up to Pascal’s quotation about how “Men never do evil so completely and cheerfully as when they do it from religious conviction.”

I’m starting seminary in earnest on Tuesday.

I’m hoping to figure out how to disarm the land mines, or clear the field, or navigate around them and help others to do the same.

But I’m also hoping to discover truth and beauty and love, and grace larger than the universe.

I’m hoping to find reasons to believe, and not more reasons to redouble on my doubt and distrust God more.

Because I know where the land mines are.

Psalms for Doubters – Belief in the Absence of God

Most times my doubt is stronger than my faith
So often my doubt feels more like confidence
–confidence my faith
is in a God
who isn’t there after all.

I affirm the creeds
the virgin birth,
the resurrection
the ascent into heaven
and every now and again…

I believe in them, too.


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