As we start to enter the end of the first quarter of 2014, I thought it would be good to review some big changes in my lifelong journey as a disciple of Christ. This blog is an open space for asking questions and exploring things that I am wrestling with, and here is a list of the top distinctives that are defining me.
Brian McLaren had a great post recently on a hatchet job about his theological journey over at Christianity Today which accused him of all sorts of unpleasant things. The response on his blog was essentially to quit being afraid of the cultural censors and just be yourself, and be open about who you are and where you are going. That’s scary, but I felt it was something that I needed to do myself here.
The best bits of his post were at the end, when he said:
For today’s popular speakers who wonder if CT will be writing an article like this about them in ten years, I can only say that life is wonderful when you follow your conscience and aren’t afraid. … Several years ago, a respected older Evangelical theologian confided to me that if he had it to do over again, he wouldn’t have let the fear of critique by Evangelical gatekeepers have such control over him. He encouraged me to follow my conscience and not trim my sails for fear of being singled out. I have tried to follow that advice, and am glad I did. … The good news is that when I am among more open and hospitable Christians (Evangelical and otherwise), I find large numbers of people from a more restrictive Evangelical heritage – like Rob, Don, and myself- who were to some degree or another lost to or driven out of Evangelical circles. They are doing wonderful work in new settings, receiving a warm welcome, enjoying life, and creating space for others.
This sounds delightfully pleasant, and so perhaps opening myself up in a place of vulnerability will lead to wider spaces in which to move.
This means specifically that I affirm the following:
Already my conservative friends are cringing, but they really should buckle up. I was initially very hesitant about this move, because the anti-evolutionary propaganda of organizations like Answers in Genesis were engrained in me from a very early age (my parents pulled me out of public school, among other reasons, because I was learning evolution), but it has really turned out to be one of the easiest shifts. As with the others, it was really the examination of Scripture that convinced me. The genre and form of the early part of Genesis is constructed as a symbolic ANE cosmic picture with the universe pictured as the Temple of God, with the waters above, the waters below, earth in the middle, and the abyss or pit at the bottom. Such was a common world picture of the time, though the Hebraic version does also substantially modify (or correct) pagan versions (on this subject, I highly recommend Peter Enns’ Inspiration and Incarnation and John Walton’s The Lost World of Genesis One). This relieves the pressure of demanding modern scientific knowledge from an ancient document not intended to communicate in that way. Nothing is lost to the character of God or of the reliability of Scripture to discover that our interpretations and questions of the text were misguided.
2. Christian Anarchy
I am a Christian anarchist, by which I mean the voluntary surrender of secular authority rather than scruffy fellows who violently try to take down society and are generally unpleasant and destructive. The linguistic meaning of “anarchist” comes from the Greek words arche (rule) and an (against or without), but technically does not refer to chaos or orderlessness, but simply to the lack of coercion in human relationships. What is commonly thought of as “anarchy” is more accurately referred to as polyarchy (many rulers, everyone their own ruler). The “everyone did what they saw as good in their own eyes” impulse is polyarchical, not anarchical. While some Christian anarchists are opposed to the Church as an organization for this reason, in fact the Church is the continuing Incarnation of Christ on earth and thus constitutes the means through which Christ rules His Kingdom on the earth. A Christian anarchist maintains that there is no legitimate authority on earth save for Christ alone (and, by extension, the Church). (To read more on this subject, I highly recommend Mark Van Steernwyk’s The Unkingdom of God, Greg Boyd’s The Myth of a Christian Nation, and any of the works by Dorothy Day or Jacques Ellul).
3. Liberation Theology
Unlike much of evangelicalism, which sees liberation theology as some kind of Marxism in disguise, liberation theology actually began in the third world by Christian congregations suffering persecution and martyrdom, facing oppression and violence every day. When they began to explore the Scriptures outside the intellectual confines of the troublesome and diluting assumptions of majority-world, Imperial Christendom, they discovered that the whole of Scripture teaches that Yahweh has a special provision for the poor and oppressed, that Yahweh is always the God of the exodus and jubilee, the God who is continually making all things new, who upturns power structures and acts to defend those who suffer, throwing down the powerful and raising up the weak. (Do read Oscar Romero’s The Violence of Love).
4. Biblical Equality
Aka, Christian Feminism. Yes, I know, the big, scary F-word. Call it what you want, but the Bible clearly teaches it. In society, home, and Church. (On this one, you can just read my own seventeen part series Against Patriarchy. You should also check out Sarah Bessey’s Jesus Feminist and, for the more scholarly inclined, Richard Bauckham’s Gospel Women and Rachael Groothius’ edited big volume, Recovering Biblical Equality).
It is extremely clear that the New Testament teaches total nonviolence for believers in all circumstances. We are to be peacemakers, not violence-makers. But this does not mean we cannot resist, but simply that we cannot resist by violent means. Jesus said “Do not resist evil persons with violence,” not “Do not resist the evil person at all.” (I highly recommend Preston Sprinkle’s Fight: A Christian Case For Nonviolence).
6. Penal Substitution
That’s right, I reject the theory of penal substitution as an explanation of what Jesus accomplished upon the cross. Depending upon logical incoherence, legal fictions, repeated mistranslation and misinterpretation of the Scriptures, and pagan, violent, and unmerciful views of God Himself, there is nothing in this theory for Christians today (the definitive work outlining the problems with penal substitution is Darrin Belousek’s Atonement, Peace, and Justice).
7. Gay Marriage
Yes, it is official. I have stepped out of the shadows and into public in my support for LGBTQ Christians who want to get married and wish for this to be sanctioned by the Church. A careful evaluation of the Scriptural evidence left me and the older position with no ground to stand on (Gen 19 is about rape and assault, the OT concerns cult prostitution, Romans 1 is about Israel’s idolatry, and the NT also concerns cult prostitution. Did I leave something out?). Notice how this does not impact sin or immorality in the slightest – the Church still maintains that sexual relations between persons is holy only in the context of marriage. Marriage is still between two people (not three or four or five), and between two people (no animals or inanimate objects), and two people of age (no pederasty). Gosh, all that “slippery slope” paranoia just melts away when you put it like that. (I highly recommend Justin Lee’s Torn, along with Paris, The End of Sexual Identity, and Love is an Orientation).