Category Archives: Popular Culture

How to Be Right and Wrong at the Same Time

In preparing for a workshop at the EFCA Leadership Conference, a church leader spoke to me about his frustration with Christians being right and wrong at the same time regarding the issue of the gay community. Right in the sense of theology, scripture, interpretation, etc.; and wrong in the sense of ethic and posture. I understand that many of us see gay rights as a threat to the institution of marriage and the family structure, and I’m definitely not promoting gay lifestyle as normative, but I wonder what message it sends about Christians who are quick to condemn without engagement. The gay community is not going anywhere, whether it is a sin or dysfunction (they are getting their own pride month from the pen of the president), and evangelical Christians must not build up theological walls to throw stones over. I think even if we disagree with the way they read Scripture, the ways in which they experience sexual gratification, and for their lifestyles, we have to treat them with a sense of Samaritan-like kindness. There has to be shift in the way we live out our theological correctness in an age of political correctness, lest we comfort ourselves in being right, but our witness loses all credibility.

One Christian Response to Osama Bin Laden

One of my favorite professors during my Bible College days offered this response to the death of Osama Bin Laden.   What do you think? 

By now, we think that most readers of this blog could write the thing pretty well themselves. But given the momentousness of the occasion and the directness with which some have requested our wisdom, we offer some theologizing on the faithful Christian’s response to the death of Osama bin Laden.

We urge our sisters and brothers to a decided, definitive, and utterly mixed response.

On the one hand, a man who has bowdlerized the notion of the Creator’s justice as a pretext for mass murder, not to mention the ideological enslavement of his followers in the dehumanizing practice of evil, has been executed. This is a triumph of justice over the perversion of justice. Granted, it is provisional, imperfect justice, as justice rendered in this present, evil age always is. But the bad man has been killed by agents of the government whose innocent people he had attacked. That is a form of justice, and so the people of the just God have a responsibility to rejoice.

Indeed, they can rejoice loudly. Read The Apocalypse, gentle readers, and you’ll find lots of gloating and taunting as God and his Christ defeat the forces of Satan and death. And as you read that capstone to the canon, remember that it largely remixes the familiar phraseology of Israel’s prophets, who also taught God’s people to celebrate the triumph of justice when it comes.

But our celebratory response is still a mixed response. The image of God, marred as it was by his wicked ideology, still was present in OBL. The God of justice is also the God of mercy, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance. The best possible outcome was not the outcome here, as is too often the case. There was no Damascus Road for Osama; had there been, he would have treated it with contempt. Since the Exodus we have known of the proud and powerful whose hearts are further hardened by the mighty overtures of God’s mercy.

But what did God tell the Israelites to do as he brought a bitter judgment on Egypt? To feast in celebration and remember forever how he had delivered them from their slavemasters, defeating the slavemasters’ false gods and liberating the Israelites despite their own unworthiness.

Meanwhile, events move forward. Protests in the Middle East are yielding change, perhaps democratic change that will better the lives of the oppressed people of that benighted region, perhaps change that can bring a measure of liberty that will allow the gospel to flourish again where it did centuries ago. Or perhaps not. Certainly, one knows what to pray for in these days.

So celebrate this moment of imperfect justice, mourn the fallen state of humanity, and pray for God’s victory to be realized more fully and widely. And if you can’t handle that paradox, become a Muslim.

Good Friday to You

Take time this weekend to be reintroduced to Christ

Do You Care Where Rob Bell Goes When He Dies?

Even if you’ve been living under a rock, a very particular rock in evangelical Christianity, you would have heard by now about the controversy that Rob Bell has stirred with his universalist overtures in his latest book, Love Wins: A Book About Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived. As a high-profile, edgy, gi-normo (gigantic and enormous) church pastor from the “epicenter of progressive culture” Grand Rapids, Michigan, Bell has definitely struck a nerve and there are endless comments about how his views have now distanced him from orthodox Christianity. Of course, it really expedites the process when John Piper, another high-profile, not-so-edgy, gi-normo church pastor tweets, “Farewell, Rob Bell” upon viewing a promotional video released in advance of the book. I’m not sure that’s necessary (neither does Doug Pagitt – yet another high-profile ginormo church pastor!) or Minnesota “Nice” (something I’m sure Piper doesn’t get accused of anyway). For more balance, check out Scot McKnight’s blog series on the book.

In the weeks following the uproar, and believe me, there have been hundreds of comments from haters and defenders of Bell and this latest work of his, I’ve been wondering two things.

1. Wouldn’t universalism render the ministry of reconciliation – the incredibly difficult, life-consuming, cross-cultural work that many of us see as integral and indicative of the transformed life – pointless? The question of salvation aside, if Jesus did not have to pour out his life for the sake of others, why should we?

2. One of the fascinating ironies of the book is that the negative response from the Christian majority supports exactly what Rob Bell implies in terms of Christians wanting to quickly determine who is and who isn’t going to heaven. Before we evangelical Christians proved Bell wrong, we proved him right. And here’s what I’m wondering…one of the reasons why I think people of other religions frown on Christians is exactly this type of internal theological discussions that get Christians to throw each other under the bus. This is different from moderate Muslims giving fundamentalist Muslims a cold shoulder. It makes me wonder if we’re so individualistic in the way we view the world, that we don’t realize that we make Team Christian look pretty bad. What do you think?