Thursday, August 25, 2016

Under Reconstruction: Crazy Characters, Unreliable Narrators and the Divine Architect - Brad Jersak


After Deconstruction
The last years have seen a grand deconstruction of Scripture reading and interpretation—some would say of Scripture itself. Of course, this has been an ongoing centuries-long project, but two unique elements dominate the past decade: first, the ‘New Atheists’ are actually reading the Bible—carefully and, unlike liberal scholars, they have read it literally with a view to destroying faith. “The Bible says it; I reject it; and that settles it.” And second, their dance partners in this deconstruction have been evangelicals who are finally questioning the modernist lingo of inerrancy and it’s narrow literalist interpretations. They’re ready to either toss Scripture (many have) or to reconstruct their reading on sturdier foundations.
For my part, the deconstruction has run along very specific lines. I have come to believe that Jesus Christ revealed the fullness of God in the Incarnation and thus, he—not the Bible—is the only divine Word and our final authority for theology, faith and Christian practice. His primacy as the revelation of God challenges doctrines like inerrancy when they elevate ‘every word of Scripture’ as the ‘infallible word of God.’ That latter phrase was reserved by the Church fathers for God the Son alone. And so while I do believe in the inspiration and authority of Scripture, I’m among a burgeoning crowd of quite conservative theologians who reject evangelical bibliolatry in favor of the Christ to whom Scripture faithfully points.
For those who’ve made that trek, the niggling question remains, ‘What now?’ How do we read the Bible, if at all, after the deconstruction? The answer to that will require many authors to contribute umpteen volumes, a task well on its way. What I’ll offer here is just one gesture toward reconstructed Bible-reading. Ironically, my suggestions were elementary standards in the early church, but were often marginalized by Protestant assumptions and the co-opting of Evangelicalism by modernity … and now by the fashionable cynicism of post-moderns. But anyway … you’ll see how a counter-intuitive reconstruction may be helpful.

Monday, August 22, 2016

CWR Magazine - Fall 2016 - Remembering 9-11

CWR Magazine - Fall 2016

Content links:

Remembering 9-11: 15 Years Later
by Greg Albrecht

When Towers Fall
by Brad Jersak

5 Stages of Religious Violence
by Greg Albrecht

Religion that's Lost It's Way
by Lazar Puhalo 

What's So "Christian" About Christianity? 
by Zack Hunt

"Fear Not"
by Michael Hardin

Raising Children With Fearless Faith
by Cindy Brandt 

The Dogs of Legalism: Can Religion Help Stress?
by Ron Benson

The Therapeutic Massage of Prayer
by a Former Pastor 

George MacDonald's Spiritual Journey (and mine too!)
by Brian Zahnd
House of Cards: Does It Confirm Our Worst Fears About Democracy?
by Kevin Miller 

Times of Refreshing and Restoration
by Brad Jersak


Have You Forgiven God? - Greg Albrecht


"For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the LORD. As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts."—Isaiah 55:8-9

 A few years ago I officiated at a funeral service for someone I had never known. I interviewed people who had known the deceased, and in the process I found out some dark and disturbing things.

What do you say at a funeral when you can't find anyone who ever knew the person who has anything good to say about them? What can you say at a memorial service when surviving friends and relatives are having a difficult time forgiving God for allowing the deceased to have been the nasty, intolerant, self-centered person they apparently were?

Preparing for the funeral and preaching the service took me directly to God. The path I took to God on this occasion is a well traveled road in my life—I call it "Forgiveness Avenue." As my life in Christ continues, I find myself walking down this road regularly, for it takes me in a Christ-centered direction. It's my experience that thinking about and pondering forgiveness will almost always lead us in the right spiritual direction. 

CLICK HERE to continue

Saturday, August 20, 2016

The Great Humility that Redeems the Cosmos - Kenneth Tanner

The gospels upend every human (perhaps every rational) notion of strength.

The cosmos—superclusters of galaxies, delicate wildflowers on countless meadows, the waves of every ocean—thrives on one source of energy, a hidden force of charity that does not seek its own, a Person with an unremarkable face, who came not to be served by his creation but to serve.

When I talk about this personal force of love I often describe it as some of the first Christians did. They call his passion for everyone and everything an Extreme Humility.

The biggest challenge presented to humanity by his gospel is our mistaken bedrock belief that what drives the universe is an unbridled might that rules by fiat. This is after all the only form of power we humans recognize: brute force, cunning strategy, ruthless competition, and, above all else, "winning."

It goes against everything that man has built and everything that man has ventured to accept the idea that the real power that sustains all movement and all life, that binds all things together—from subatomic particles to intergalactic distances—is a self-sacrificial love without measure.

"If you cling to your life, you will lose it, and if you let your life go, you will save it."

Jesus is not just talking about your life but is describing how *everything* works.

The losers in this scenario do not "win" but instead come to participate forever in the life of him who lays down his life for the life of the world and in so doing—by a great humility—redeems the cosmos and makes all things new, makes all things well.

This belief is not going to get you anywhere in the world that humanity has made but you can serve that world—this world that Christ loved before it loved him—by embracing this sacred path of humility and renouncing all the other ways and means and kinds of power.

All of them. Political. Military. Intellectual. Physical. All.

It is telling that almost every news story that compels the urgent attention of Christians these days can only do so because we have denied that we serve a Lord that rules by a mysterious humility that conquers all hearts by self-giving.

Redefining Holiness Jesus' Style - Jeff K. Clarke

When many of us first embraced Christianity, we almost immediately began to define our journey by the things we could no longer do. The words ‘not’, ‘do not’ and ‘cannot’ came to characterize not only our approach to our new-found faith, but the ways we lived it out as well.


However, the more I read the Jesus story the more I begin to realize that our journey with Christ and his body has never been about what we ‘can’t’ and ‘shouldn’t’ do, but more about what we ‘can’ and ‘should’ do.

While there will always be things we need to avoid as followers of Jesus, his language and life centered less on things we need to avoid and more on things we need to accept. He didn’t worry about those things the religious establishment of his day said he couldn’t do, who to avoid and what laws he couldn’t break.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Jesus Is Nothing Like Superman - Kenneth Tanner

"Foxes have dens to live in, and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place even to lay his head."

It’s tempting for contemporary Americans to think of Jesus along the mythos of Superman: an alien humanoid capable of extraordinary feats of strength, impervious to earthly elements, and virtually indestructible.

Yet Jesus is nothing like that. When the Son of God humbled himself, a quiet, wondrous mystery took shape in the womb of a Judaean teenager. God took on our shatterable humanity “in every respect.”

This means Jesus was vulnerable to all the frailties of a clay vessel, as fragile as anyone with a skeleton, brain, lungs, heart, skin, and spinal cord.

He could be crushed by stoning, burned by fire, weakened by a lack of water, food, or sleep; he was susceptible to cuts, bruises, bacteria, radiation, or gravity. His cause of death was likely exsanguination, or bleeding out.

He swallowed up death forever by dying, in agony and in utter disgrace, as a criminal, without resistance or appeal to a violent defense.

All the “superhuman” things Jesus did he did as a mere human. Revealing the "weakness of God" he was strong in an unanticipated, self-sacrificial way. Jesus demonstrated divine power (when he did so) for the purpose of reconciling all flesh and all things to himself, always from a motive of love and never the will to power. His victory over the Powers is won by a horrendous defeat.

Jesus gave his life for the life of the world, not as a kind of demigod like Superman but as Emmanuel, God in clay...with us and for us.

We contemporary humans fashion gods all of the time. In the Ancient Near East we used to make them of clay. The brilliance of a God who possesses the humility to make himself earthen in order to redeem us miserable makers of earthen idols drives me to my knees.

Instead Jesus gets on his knees and washes my feet, because this God always makes himself lower than us to raise the human race he loves above anything else in his creation to life without end.

Jesus Is Nothing Like Superman - Kenneth Tanner

"Foxes have dens to live in, and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place even to lay his head."

It’s tempting for contemporary Americans to think of Jesus along the mythos of Superman: an alien humanoid capable of extraordinary feats of strength, impervious to earthly elements, and virtually indestructible.

Yet Jesus is nothing like that. When the Son of God humbled himself, a quiet, wondrous mystery took shape in the womb of a Judaean teenager. God took on our shatterable humanity “in every respect.”

This means Jesus was vulnerable to all the frailties of a clay vessel, as fragile as anyone with a skeleton, brain, lungs, heart, skin, and spinal cord.

He could be crushed by stoning, burned by fire, weakened by a lack of water, food, or sleep; he was susceptible to cuts, bruises, bacteria, radiation, or gravity. His cause of death was likely exsanguination, or bleeding out.

He swallowed up death forever by dying, in agony and in utter disgrace, as a criminal, without resistance or appeal to a violent defense.

All the “superhuman” things Jesus did he did as a mere human. Revealing the "weakness of God" he was strong in an unanticipated, self-sacrificial way. Jesus demonstrated divine power (when he did so) for the purpose of reconciling all flesh and all things to himself, always from a motive of love and never the will to power. His victory over the Powers is won by a horrendous defeat.

Jesus gave his life for the life of the world, not as a kind of demigod like Superman but as Emmanuel, God in clay...with us and for us.

We contemporary humans fashion gods all of the time. In the Ancient Near East we used to make them of clay. The brilliance of a God who possesses the humility to make himself earthen in order to redeem us miserable makers of earthen idols drives me to my knees.

Instead Jesus gets on his knees and washes my feet, because this God always makes himself lower than us to raise the human race he loves above anything else in his creation to life without end.

What if God has your back? by Brad Jersak

"What will be will be, but God always has my back."

A friend of mine said that last night. 

Thoughts and feelings burst through my mind and heart like fireworks.

     "This feels deeply true to my heart of hearts."
     "But is it true? What about affliction?"
     "How is this different than denial of suffering?" 
     "How is this different from platitudes like 'everything always works out'?"

Because it doesn't always work out.
Even good people go bankrupt, lose their jobs, their homes.
Even good people get sick, contract diseases, die in misery.
Even good people have accidents, endure tragedy, lose loved ones. 

The rain falls and the sun shines on the just and the unjust.  
So do tornados and tsunamis. 
And famine. And rape. And murder. And war. 
And crucifixion.  
Even on Jesus.

Shit happens. To everyone. 
And no, God doesn't make it happen. 
No, God doesn't send tragedy so that we might fear him.
No, God is not a death-dealer so that we might glorify him.
(and I use the sexist 'him' advisedly)

But neither are we "deists" ... that is, just as people of faith don't believe God causes evil, neither do we believe the Creator set the stage, then abandoned it to its own severe laws. Christians believe that God is somehow present and even active in the mess we live in. 

All of these thoughts passed through my awareness seconds after the words were spoken.
In truth, it's the internal conversation I've been having for years.
I've written about it in A More Christlike God 
Its in the chapter titled, "Sh*t Happens ... and God is Good."

I guess that title is similar to my friend's claim:

"What will be will be, but God always has my back."

And irrespective of my daunting unanswerable questions, there was something fresh about it. Something true.
Something that calls me not only to believe that it's true, but to ask how it's true.
More, the statement invites me to live as if it's true. 
Here's my analysis of why it resonated and how I see it.

Monday, August 15, 2016

Two Brothers - Greg Albrecht

Jesus continued: "There was a man who had two sons. The younger one said to his father, 'Father, give me my share of the estate.' So he divided his property between them.
  "Not long after that, the younger son got together all he had, set off for a distant country and there squandered his wealth in wild living. After he had spent everything, there was a severe famine in that whole country, and he began to be in need. So he went and hired himself out to a citizen of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed pigs. He longed to fill his stomach with the pods that the pigs were eating, but no one gave him anything.
  "When he came to his senses, he said, 'How many of my father's hired men have food to spare, and here I am starving to death! I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: 'Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired men.' So he got up and went to his father.
  "But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.
  "The son said to him, 'Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.'
  "But the father said to his servants, 'Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let's have a feast and celebrate. For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found. So they began to celebrate.
  "Meanwhile, the older son was in the field. When he came near the house, he heard music and dancing. So he called one of the servants and asked him what was going on. 'Your brother has come,' he replied, 'and your father has killed the fattened calf because he has him back safe and sound.'
  "The older brother became angry and refused to go in. So his father went out and pleaded with him. But he answered his father, 'Look! All these years I've been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him.'
  "'My son,' the father said, 'you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.'"
—Luke 15:11-32
Jesus was teaching the undesirables—the untouchables, the unloved, moral outcasts and discredited people like tax collectors—when the religious teachers expressed their disapproval of what he was doing. 

The 15th chapter of Luke records Jesus' response to their condemnation of his ministry, and the fact that he spent time with the least, the last and the lost via three parables. Some Bibles title them—the lost sheep, the lost coin and the lost son. Perhaps these three parables should be seen as three acts of one play, one parable about God's amazing grace. They are all about being lost and about being found. 

Let's consider the lost son. Classically, this parable has been called the Prodigal Son. Prodigal is a word that is no longer popularly used. It carries the meaning of being recklessly extravagant, squandering and wasting resources in a foolish manner. Normally, people assume prodigal refers to one of the leading roles in this parable, one of the three characters with which Jesus challenged the neat, tidy, dogmatic and legalistic world of the religious leaders of his day. For that matter, he still does challenge the religious industry. 
This story never gets old. No matter how many times we study this parable, we find ourselves looking into a mirror and we say "that's me." It's a story of every family, every generation and every community.



Tuesday, August 9, 2016

How Far Will God Go? - Greg Albrecht


Lending institutions place a cap or limit on the total amount of purchases you can charge to their card. They will only let you go so far before your credit runs out. How far can we go with God before he says to us "That's it—my grace has its limits!" Is it possible to use so much of God's love that our account will be "maxed out"? 

Of course God's mercy, grace and love are endless. As and when we request forgiveness, God will always forgive us. That's one of the attributes that makes him God. But, is it possible to take advantage of God's good graces? Surely he isn't like an indulgent grandparent who just sits on his throne, watching us willfully lying, cheating and stealing without ever coming to a point when he won't extend any more grace! 

Isn't it possible for us to come to a place when God says to us, "You've gone beyond the limits of my compassion. You have too many sins on your sin debit card now—I can't extend any more grace to you." Let's think about the cross of Christ—and how far God, in Christ, went, to demonstrate his love to us. 

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Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Punisher or Pushover? How Is Wrath "God's" - Brad Jersak

How, why or when is 'wrath' God's? 
Why does the Bible talk about 'the wrath of God'? 


As we continue to preach and teach the NT message that "God is Infinite Love," embodied in Christ and revealed on the Cross, it is right that we should continually challenge and be challenged by "the wrath of God." That challenge requires us to keep returning to the Scriptures and to the Lord for greater clarity, because such great potential for error persists. We dare not slander God, either as a violent punisher or a spineless pushover, because such images serve as stumbling blocks, especially to those suffering under the consequences of their poor choices or those of somebody else.