Relativism. (’Cause we aren’t all that absolute.)

by K.W. Leslie, 30 October
RELATIVISM 'rɛl.ə.də.vɪ.zəm noun. Belief that truth, knowledge, and morals are based on context, not absolutes.
[Relative 'rɛl.ə.dɪv adjective, relativist 'rɛl.ə.də.vɪst noun.]

Relativism is a big, big deal to Christian apologists. I’ll get to why in a minute; bear with me as I introduce the concept.

Some of us were raised by religious people, and were taught to believe in religious absolutes: God is real, Jesus is alive, sin causes death, love your neighbor. Others weren’t raised religious, but they grew up in a society which accepts and respects absolutes. Like scientific principles, logic, mathematics, or a rigid code of ethics.

The rest—probably the majority—claim they believe in absolutes, but they’re willing to get all loosey-goosey whenever the absolutes get in their way. They might agree theft is bad… but it’s okay if they shoplift every once in a while. Murder is bad… but dropping bombs on civilians during wartime is acceptable. Lying is bad… but it’s okay to take an iffy deduction on their taxes. And so on. These absolutes aren’t all that absolute when it conveniences them. So they’re not really absolute; they’re relative.

Yeah, it’s total hypocrisy to claim you believe in absolutes, but regularly make exceptions for yourself. But just about everybody does it. We Christians in particular: We judge others—sometimes harshly—for making mistakes, but we live under grace; we’re forgiven, not perfect. Still hypocrisy though.

And recognizing this, a number of people have decided to straight-up deny anything is absolute. Everything’s relative. Usually, all things being equal, certain things are true. (Like the bible’s proverbs.) But we can always make exceptions to these truths; therefore none of these truths are absolute. Sometimes they’re false. Postmoderns are known for doubting whether every “absolute truth” is really all that absolute. But these relativists insist nothing’s absolute. At all.

Jesus is the gate: Don’t go around him!

by K.W. Leslie, 28 October

John 10.1-10.

Right after Jesus cured a blind guy on Sabbath, for which the guy’s synagogue threw him out, Jesus commented some folks only think they can see, but they’re blind as well. Then he segued straight into talking about sheep. Like so.

John 9.40 – 10.10 KWL
40 Some of the Pharisees were listening to these things, and told Jesus, “We aren’t blind too.”
41 Jesus told them, “If you were blind, you wouldn’t have any sin.
You now say ‘We do so see’—and your sin remains.
1 Amen amen! I promise you one who won’t enter through the sheepfold gate,
but gets in some other way: This person is a thief, a looter.
2 One who enters through the gate is the sheep’s pastor.
3 The gatekeeper opens up for this pastor, and the sheep hears the pastor’s voice.
The pastor calls their own sheep, and leads them out.
4 Whenever the pastor drives out their own sheep, they go on ahead of the pastor,
and their pastor follows, for they know their pastor’s voice.
5 The sheep will never follow a stranger, but will flee from them:
They don’t know the stranger’s voice.”

Sounds like a non-sequitur: He goes from blindness to sheep? But the connection between the situation with the former blind man, and pastors properly leading their sheep out the gate, is that blind or not we oughta be able to hear. The sheep don’t need to identify their pastor by sight; they can hear. Strangers don’t sound right.

And yeah, Jesus is the good pastor. (Or “good shepherd,” as Christians like to call him.) Although we actually haven’t got to that analogy yet. We do in the next verses, and I’ll write about ’em later. Be patient.

In the meanwhile Jesus isn’t yet saying he’s the good pastor. In this bit he’s the gate.

John 10.6-10 KWL
6 Jesus gave them this analogy. That audience didn’t know what he was talking about,
7 so Jesus told them again, “Amen amen! I promise you I’m the sheep’s gate.
8 Anybody who goes around me is a thief and looter. But the sheep won’t hear them.
9 I’m the gate. When one enters through me they’ll be saved,
and they’ll enter, exit, and find pasture.
10 A thief won’t come unless it’s to steal, murder, and ruin;
I come so the sheep might have life, might have abundance.”

When a well-known Christian quits Jesus.

by K.W. Leslie, 25 October

Back in July, Christian popular author Joshua Harris announced he’s no longer Christian. Which was a bit of a shock to people who hadn’t kept up with him—who only knew him from his books, particularly his best-known book I Kissed Dating Goodbye. Which no doubt has prompted a lot of headlines and comments about Harris kissing Jesus goodbye. I had to resist the temptation to use that for this article’s title.

I was obligated to read I Kissed Dating Goodbye at the Christian school where I taught. Some of my students’ youth pastors were inflicting it on them. It’s basically his promotion of “courtship,” as certain conservative Evangelicals call sexless, heavily chaperoned dating. In the book it’s how he claimed God wants people to find their mates. In my article on courtship, I pointed out the bible depicts no such thing; courtship is entirely a western cultural construct. Nothing wrong with it when it’s voluntary; everything wrong with it if your parents or church force it upon you.

Which should really tip you off as to what sort of “Christianity” Harris was immersed in. When you’re convinced our western cultural standards is as Jesus would have us live, y’got Christianism, not Christianity. And once you realize you got that wrong, it’ll shake your faith, as it absolutely should. But the danger of that shaking is you might think it’s all wrong, top to bottom, makeup to marrow—and quit Jesus.

I don’t know if that’s exactly what happened to Harris. He might describe it as far more complicated than that. No doubt there were a number of factors in his decision to leave Christianity. But superficially… it sure looks like it.

Harris certainly isn’t the first well-known Christian to go apostate, and whenever this happens, it tends to shake all their Christian fans. “Wait, I was following him, and he went wrong… so what does it mean for me?” Only that you oughta be following Jesus instead, so do that! But if you’re really nervous that you mighta been taught some untruth, relax. You’re not justified by your beliefs; you’re justified by trusting God. Keep trusting him, ask the Holy Spirit to help you inventory your beliefs to see whether any are misbeliefs, ditch any wrongness or heresies you find within you, and you’ll be just fine. God’s got you.

Altar calls: Come on down!

by K.W. Leslie, 24 October
ALTAR 'ɔl.tər noun. A table or block used as the focus for a religious ritual, particularly offerings or ritual sacrifices to a deity.
2. In Christianity, the table used to hold the elements for holy communion.
3. In some churches, the stage, the steps to the stage, or the space in front of the stage, where people go as a sign of commitment.

During our worship services, sometimes Christians are invited to leave our seats and come forward to the stage. It’s called an altar call.

Thing is, we’re not sure how the term originated. ’Cause the stage, or the front of the stage, wasn’t called an altar back then. The altar was the communion table. My guess is people were originally instructed to gather by the communion table. In a lot of churches, that altar is front and center; in the church I went to as a child, it was right in front of the preacher’s podium.

But when evangelists held rallies, whether at a concert hall, sports arena, outdoor stadium, theater, high school gym, or grade school cafeteria, or any venue where there is no communion table, they’d say “Come to the altar” anyway. Force of habit, I guess. So people came forward… and assumed something around there was the altar. The stage, perhaps.

You realize when we don’t clearly define things for the people of our churches, people just guess. And guess wrong. It’s why so many Christians don’t know what a soul is. Hence many new Christians have guessed the stage is the altar, so the word has evolved to mean a stage too. As if the people on stage are our ritual sacrifice to God. (Considering how some of them mangle the scriptures, some butchering is apparently still part of our services. But I’ll stop the ranting there.)

Anyway, altar calls used to generally be for people who wished to become Christian. The evangelist would invite ’em forward, and a pastor or elder would lead ’em in the sinner’s prayer. In many churches this is still true; it’s the only reason they have altar calls. “Come lay down your life at the altar,” is the idea: Submit to God, accept his salvation, let Jesus be your Lord, and let him make your life more abundant.

The altar call began as a dramatic way for people to visibly demonstrate they repented and were turning to God. They didn’t do altar calls in the bible though. John the baptist and the first Christians preferred baptism. But nowadays, churches expect you to go through some sort of baptism class first, so the altar call became an acceptable Evangelical substitute: Wanna give your life to Jesus? Come forward. One of our prayer team will pray with you.

Not every church does it, of course. In really large churches it’s not practical to move masses of people to the front of the auditorium. Some churches don’t approve of the public display. Show-offs will act like they’re publicly repenting, and really they’re just trying to get attention. Certain emotionally unstable people will come forward to every altar call, and go through the whole ritual time and again: They’ll repent, they’ll get prayed over, they’ll have a nice cathartic cry… and they’ll come back next week and do it all over again. Do they ever actually repent? Maybe. But really they’re there for the emotional release.

So if they don’t do altar calls, they do something like it: “If you haven’t yet received Jesus, meet us in the fellowship hall after the service,” or “Come talk to me about it later.” It’s a lot less emotional… which they prefer, ’cause it means people put some thought into turning to Jesus, instead of letting their emotions sway them. Speaking for myself, I don’t care whether it’s an emotional or thoughtful response; either can take. Likewise people can rethink, then turn their back on, either response. The important thing is we have some venue where people can turn to Jesus.

Take notes.

by K.W. Leslie, 23 October

It’s Wednesday. So, assuming you went to church Sunday morning… do you remember what the sermon or homily was about?

Some of you do, ’cause your memory is just that good. (Mine is.) You were paying attention. The preacher said something memorable, or entertaining, or particularly profound. Or perfectly relevant to your situation, or taught you something you’d like to try.

Others of you can’t remember for the life of you.

Nope, this isn’t a criticism. Hey, some people who stand up to preach simply aren’t preachers. They might be nice people, good musicians, great prayer leaders; they’re friendly people, and exactly the sort of person you want in your life when you’re going through tough times. Or they might have a lot of personal charisma—they’re people you naturally like, even though they might not have done anything to win people’s affection. (Some of them, like certain celebrities and politicians, might’ve done plenty to make you dislike them—but when you see ’em in person, all they gotta do is smile at you, and you’ll forgive them everything, ’cause they’re just that kind of person. That’s how they get away with so much evil.) But for whatever reason, Sunday mornings they’re the ones on the dais, at the podium, talking at you. And they use a lot of words… yet say very little worth remembering.

Some preachers are confusing. Instead of three points, they preach 20. Or every time they touch upon a good idea, they go off on a tangent, and never return to the initial idea. Or they speak nothing but Christianese and platitudes. Or they speak nothing but elementary, new-believer stuff—the stuff you know already, so why bother to listen?

Then there are the distractions in the service. There’s a hole in your sock, you can feel it, and it’s bugging you. There’s an argument on Twitter you had to pause for the service, but you so wanna dive back into it. There’s a guy behind you who smells like he’s taken holy communion about 20 times before the service. There’s a woman in front of you whose hat is blocking your view; who’s wearing a ton of perfume to cover up the fact she hasn’t drycleaned this particular set of Sunday clothes in a few months… but you can smell the stank anyway. There’s a crying baby. The kids are fidgeting. Isn’t there a game going on?… What’s the score?

Or you’re just tired. Or your mind is otherwise elsewhere. Or any of the personal reasons why you weren’t able to follow the message as well as you wish. Life happens.

But it’s important to remember what’s been preached at your church. For more reasons than these:

  • It helps you grow closer as a church body: You’re on the same page, topically. You have a common goal, a common subject to analyze further.
  • The preacher is likely discussing an issue many of you do need help with. Elementary or not, maybe you need to look at it again, or in depth.
  • Likely the Holy Spirit wants this subject preached upon, because you’re gonna need this information in the near future. Like, say, this Wednesday.

So if you’re struggling to remember the sermons, notetaking can help.

Jesus’s discussion falls apart.

by K.W. Leslie, 21 October

John 8.45-59.

So Jesus was trying to explain how if we stay in his word, we’re truly his students, and this truth’ll set us free. Jn 8.31-32 True to the Socratic-style way Pharisee instruction worked back then, Jesus’s listeners tried to pick apart his statements, and resisted the idea they weren’t free—that they were still slaves to sin. Jesus pointed out this was because they were still following their spiritual father, Satan… and you don’t need to be omniscient to predict they didn’t take this well.

So why’d Jesus say something so provocative? Well I used to think it’s because he was kinda done with them; they weren’t listening to a thing he said anyway. But we have to remember Jesus is patient and kind—’cause God is love, 1Jn 4.8 and those are the ways love acts. 1Co 13.4 So he did mean to provoke, but not to antagonize. Some in his audience heard what he was saying (like John, who recorded it) and repented and followed him. And others decided these were fighting words—and that’s what we read in the rest of this chapter.

Back to Jesus:

John 8.45-57 KWL
45 “You don’t trust me because I say the truth.
46 Who among you can convict me of sin? If I say the truth, why don’t you trust me?
47 One who’s from God, hears God’s words. This is why you don’t hear: You’re not from God.”

Determinists have used this passage to claim we first have to be elect before we can listen to God. If he never intended to save you, you weren’t created with the special innate ability to receive his words, and receive him. You were predestined for hell. Supposedly these Judeans were likewise predestined for hell, so Jesus was just talking to them for show. He knew they were doomed, but he had to at least look like he was engaging them, and pretend he wanted to lead ’em to truth. All to keep up the illusion God is love… ’cause in a deterministic universe, he’s really not.

In reality, Jesus figured telling them the unvarnished truth might shake a few of ’em out of their complacency. In John we only see the responses of those this tactic didn’t work on. Their bad behavior was a calculated risk on Jesus’s part. Well, now he had to deal with them.

John 8.48-49 KWL
48 In reply the Judeans told Jesus, “Don’t we rightly say you’re Samaritan and have a demon?”
49 Jesus replied, “I don’t have a demon, but honor my Father, and you dishonor me.”

Just to remind you: “You have a demon” is a Judean euphemism for “You’re insane.” It didn’t mean they literally thought Jesus was demonized. Demons make people act insane, but not all insanity is demonic.

“You’re Samaritan” was also a euphemism: It was their way of calling Jesus heretic, ’cause Samaritans were heretics. Certain commentators claim “Samaritan” was a slam on Jesus’s parentage, ’cause of the old doubts about who Jesus’s biological father is. (It’s presumed to be the source of the Judeans’ comment, “We weren’t begat by some fornicator,” Jn 8.41 but that ignores how they contrasted this with God being their father.) I seriously doubt the Judeans were trying to goad Jesus about his odd conception; they were just trying to call him a crazy heretic. The easiest way to dismiss someone: Claim his brain’s defective.

The Lord’s Prayer. Make it your prayer.

by K.W. Leslie, 15 October

When it comes to talking with God, Christians get tongue-tied. We don’t know what to say to him! And if we follow the examples of our fellow Christians, we’re gonna get weird about him. We’ll only address him formally, or think we’re only allowed to ask for certain things—or imagine God already predetermined everything, so there’s no point in asking for anything at all.

The people of Jesus’s day had all these same hangups, which is why his students asked him how to pray, Lk 11.1 and he responded with what we Christians call the Paternoster or Our Father (after its first two words—whether Latin or English), or the Lord’s Prayer. The gospels have two versions of it, in Matthew 6.9-13 and Luke 11.2-4. But the version most English-speaking Christians are most familiar with, actually comes from neither gospel. Comes from the Church of England’s Book of Common Prayer, which is based on an ancient new-Christian instruction manual called the Didache. Goes like so.

Our Father, who art in heaven,
hallowed be thy name,
thy kingdom come,
thy will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our trespasses,
as we forgive those who trespass against us.
And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from evil.
For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory,
for ever and ever. Amen.

The last two lines don’t come from the gospels, but from an idea in Daniel

Daniel 7.14 KWL
The Ancient gave the Son authority, honor, and the kingdom,
and every people, nation, and language, who’ll bow to his authority.
His authority is permanent: It never passes away.
His kingdom can never be destroyed.

—which was shortened to “yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever,” and tacked to Matthew’s version of the Lord’s Prayer. The editors of the Textus Receptus liked the Didache version so much, they inserted it back into Matthew. And that’s why the King James Version has “For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever. Amen.” Mt 6.13 KJV Nope, it’s not what Matthew originally wrote. But relax; the idea does come from the bible.

What if you were never saved to begin with?

by K.W. Leslie, 11 October

If you believe Christians can never quit Jesus—that it’s impossible to reject God’s salvation, probably ’cause you believe God’s grace is irresistible or something—how do you explain the existence of ex-Christians?

Because plenty of people identify themselves as former Christians. Grew up in church, said the sinner’s prayer, signed off on everything in their church’s faith statement, got baptized, got born again. Believed in Jesus with all their heart, same as you or I or any true Christian does. Even had God-experiences, saw miracles, did miracles. But now they’re no longer Christian. They left.

So how do those who believe once saved always saved, reconcile their belief with people who say they were once saved and now aren’t saved? One of two ways:

  • Those people only think they used to be Christian. But they never truly were.
  • Those people only think they quit Jesus. In reality they’re still his; he’s still gonna save them. They’re just going through a period of rebellion. Give ’em time. They’ll snap out of it eventually. He who began a good work in them will be faithful to complete it. Pp 1.6

So, y’know, denial.

I once attended the funeral of my roommate’s ex-girlfriend. She grew up Christian, but abandoned Jesus in college. I had recently helped lead him back to Jesus, and in his new-believer zeal he naturally wanted to lead her back to Jesus. But she was uninterested and dismissive. A few months later she died. We attended her funeral. It was awful. Friends and family, one after another, got up to eulogize her, to talk about what a good Christian she was, and how she’s certainly with Jesus… yet both her ex and I had personally heard her say she quit Jesus. We hoped to goodness she had a last-second change of heart. (Hey, you never know!) But… well, you can see why Christians far prefer denial. I get it. Believing otherwise sucks.

But when you believe ex-Christians were never truly Christian to begin with, this belief leads us to a really heinous logical conclusion. One which actually plagues many Christians. It’s simply this: How do you know you’re truly Christian?

Once saved, always saved?

by K.W. Leslie, 10 October

Let’s start by getting this first idea straight: God saves us, by his grace. It’s entirely his work, done by his power; we don’t save ourselves; we can’t possibly. No number of good deeds, no amount of good karma, not even memorizing all the right doctrines, is gonna do it. We gotta entirely entrust our salvation to God. Period. Full stop.

Since we can’t and don’t save ourselves, various Christians figure an attached idea—and they insist it’s a necessary attached idea—follows: We can’t and don’t un-save ourselves. If God saves us, the only way we can get unsaved is if God does it—and he’s not gonna. He’s chosen us, he’s elected us, for salvation. And it’s permanent. It’s a done deal. Nothing in our universe can separate ’em from God’s love. Ro 8.39

Not even if they themselves later choose to quit Jesus. (So how do they explain ex-Christians? “Oh, they were never really Christian.” Which opens up a whole different can of worms… which I’ll get to tomorrow.)

Sometimes Christians call this idea perseverance of the saints, or “perseverance” for short. Sometimes eternal security or absolute security. Sometimes assurance, though other Christians (like myself) mean something very different by this term. More recently some Christians have adopted the term free grace. All these terms mean “once saved, always saved”—OSAS for short, but since I really don’t like acronyms I’m going with “always saved.”

And loads of Christians have adopted the “always saved” view. It tends to get associated with Calvinists, but they’re far from the only Christians who believe it. Legalists don’t, ’cause they love being able to threaten people with hell; Pelagians don’t, ’cause they think God saves them based on karma, and bad karma earns you hell. But the rest of Christendom tends to think, “Well yeah, we don’t save ourselves… so it stands to reason we can’t unsave ourselves, so I guess it is a done deal.” The only reason they’d consider an alternative view, is if they know any ex-Christians and can’t rationalize ’em away as “weren’t real Christians before they quit.” Or, of course, if they grew up among legalists and Pelagians.

I grew up among both, but that’s actually not why I reject the always-saved view. Because I used to have the always-saved view. I totally get its appeal: It’s the security. It’s awesome that we can never just lose our salvation—that if we have one bad day, or commit a particularly heinous sin, God’s not gonna say, “That’s it! I’m done with you” and now we’re damned; our sins have driven God away. God loves us far too much to give up on us entirely. It’s a wonderful idea.

But “always saved” takes this idea to an extreme that can’t be supported by the scriptures. Because, as I say in all these articles on apostasy, the bible’s authors warn us to not reject God and his salvation; and it makes no sense that these passages would be in there if it’s impossible to unsave ourselves. Only God can save us, true. But we can still totally reject his salvation.

“They were never saved to begin with.”

by K.W. Leslie, 09 October

Sometimes people who believe they’re Christian aren’t really.

Sometimes people whom we believe are Christian aren’t really: They’re faking it for any number of reasons. Or they’re Christianists; they’re big fans of popular Christian culture, but have no relationship with Christ Jesus himself. Somehow we missed the fact they bore no fruit of the Spirit… or, more likely, we didn’t care they were fruitless. We were much too happy to consider them one of our own; we never bothered to ask real, penetrating questions for fear we wouldn’t like the answers. We get that way about celebrities, wealthy people, politicians, or on-the-fence friends and family members; we’ll take what we can get.

So when these not-actually-Christian folks have a faith crisis, or God otherwise doesn’t come through for them in the way they expect or demand… they leave. Or when the only reason they pretend to be Christian is to make people happy, and they grow tired of making those people happy… they leave. Heck, even actual Christians will quit church and quit Jesus himself under these circumstances; we should hardly be surprised when pseudo-Christians do.

Thing is, when real Christians leave church or Jesus for much the same reasons, many a Christian will figure it’s for the very same reason the not-really-Christians did: They, too, were never really Christian to begin with. They were faking it. Pretending. Going though all the motions but never had the Holy Spirit.

I mean… that has to be the case, right? Because once saved, always saved. Right?

Well I wish that were so, but the scriptures indicate it’s not.

Hebrews 6.4-6 KWL
4 Can’t be done: Those who were once given light,
tasted the heavenly gift, became partners with the Holy Spirit,
5 tasted the goodness of God’s word, and the age to come’s powers 6 —and fall away.
To restore them to repentance again, crucifying and humiliating the Son of God for them:
Can’t be done.

Sometimes people do have living, saving relationships with God. Are born again. Are filled with the Holy Spirit; even experienced his baptism. Do have real live God-experiences same as the prophets and apostles in the bible; even heard God speak to them, and let him perform miracles through them. They were fully authentic Christians.

But they quit Jesus.

Quitting Jesus.

by K.W. Leslie, 08 October
APOSTASY ə'pɑs.tə.si noun. When one leaves a religion.
[Apostate ə'pɑ.steɪt adjective.]

About half the pagans I meet say they used to be Christian. They grew up Christian, or at least grew up in church. Some of ’em even think they’re still Christian—though their nonchristian beliefs indicate they’re obviously pagan. Whatever their churches taught, they no longer follow. They left that behind. They went apostate.

I know; a lot of folks think “apostate” is a bad word. It’s really not. It comes from the Greek ἀφίστημι/afístimi, “step away.” Lots of us step away from things. I used to ride a bicycle everywhere; I’ve since discovered I prefer walking, and gave away my bicycle. So I’m an apostate cyclist. (Nothing against cyclists though. Whatever works for you.)

In the case of apostate Christians, they left Christianity. In my experience most of ’em no longer consider themselves Christian, nor consider Christianity to be valid. A minority quit God and went nontheist. Or joined another religion, like Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, or Wicca. But most are simply pagan: They believe in God, but reject “organized religion,” by which they mean church… and everything the church teaches, like who Jesus is, and who Jesus says God is.

Why’d they leave? The usual reasons.

  • They had the crisis of faith. But nobody guided them through it, or their so-called guidance consisted of “Quit doubting and just believe really hard.” Well, they couldn’t, didn’t, and left.
  • When they had the crisis of faith, Christians didn’t step up… but nontheist friends, or friends of other religions, did. So they believed those guys, and left.
  • They never did believe. They grew up Christian, but went through the motions of Christianity because their parents, leaders, or peers pressured ’em to. Once they got away from those people, they got away from Christianity, and stayed gone.
  • Cheap grace: They believe God’ll let ’em into heaven no matter what they believe. So it doesn’t matter if they believe nothing. Or aren’t religious at all.
  • They expected or demanded God to come through for them in a certain way. He didn’t. So they’re pissed at him, and aren’t coming back to him.
  • They’d like to be Christian. But all the Christians they know are a--holes, and they simply can’t affiliate with such awful, immoral people. Anything’s gotta be better. So they try to follow God in their own way. (Which isn’t easy without a support system.)

And a number of ’em insist they have their own ideas about what should constitute Christianity—which of course don’t mesh with orthodoxy. But technically such people aren’t apostate, ’cause they didn’t leave Christianity; they’re what we call heretic. Whole different category.

Are we free—or the devil’s children?

by K.W. Leslie, 07 October

John 8.30-47.

Those who haven’t read the gospels, but only know of Jesus by reputation, often wonder why on earth anyone’d want to kill him… because Jesus is so nice. He only said nice things. He loved kids. He was so friendly to sinners. Why would anyone wanna kill such a nice guy?

And they’re partly right. Jesus is kind. He has the traits of the Spirit’s fruit, and kindness and niceness overlap greatly: He’s gonna be nice more often than not. But even so, kindness and niceness aren’t the same thing. Sometimes when we tell the truth, we’re gonna say things people can’t handle. As kind as we might be, as tactfully and constructively as we might put things, they’re not gonna see them that way: They’ll read their own bad attitudes into it, and interpret us as cold or cruel.

So in Jesus’s following discourse, that’s how many people have chosen to interpret him. They don’t look at him as accurately diagnosing the real problem with people who won’t listen to him, and warning us of it. They look at him as calling people names. They read their own hostility into Jesus—probably same as Jesus’s audience at the time. They desperately didn’t want him to expose their hypocrisy, and figured he only did it to be cruel. And that’s why they wanted him dead.

And the discussion started so nicely…

John 8.30-32 KWL
30 As Jesus was saying these things, many believed in him,
31 so Jesus told those Judeans who’d believed him,
“When you remain in my word, you’re truly my students.
32 And you’ll know the truth, and the truth will free you.”

We Christians still quote this passage. It’s a reminder that truth’s a good, liberating thing. Truth will set you free. Sometimes we aren’t particular about which truth, and figure any truth will set us free. Well, truth is always better than error and lies. But in context Jesus was talking about τῷ λόγῳ τῷ ἐμῷ/to lógho to emó, “my word,” the stuff he taught us about the Father. That stuff really sets us free. Other truths, less so.

Thing is, the way the ancient Judeans taught was Socratic style, which meant as soon as you made a statement like this, your pupils responded by taking your words apart to see whether your statements could stand up to intense scrutiny. It’s a good method, but in the hands of nitpickers who don’t care to learn and only wanna cut you down, it can quickly disintegrate into harsh words and hurt feelings. John 8 is a really good example of this.

John 8.33-38 KWL
33 The Judeans answered Jesus, “We’re Abraham’s seed. We’ve never been enslaved, ever.
How can you say ‘You’ll become freemen’?”
34 Jesus answered them, “Amen amen! I promise you everyone who commits sin is sin’s slave,
35 and a slave doesn’t remain in the house in this age.
In this age, the son remains, 36 so when the son frees you, you will truly be free.
37 I know you’re ‘Abraham’s seed’—but you seek to kill me, because my word doesn’t take hold of you.
38 What I see with my Father, I speak, so you’ll hear what’s from the Father and do it.”

The discussion goes downhill from there, but I’ll get to that.

Worship.

by K.W. Leslie, 03 October
WORSHIP 'wər.ʃəp noun. Expression of love, respect, and honor, particularly in formal acts or rituals. (Usually expressed to a deity, but frequently to people or principles at a level comparable to religious homage.)
2. Feelings of love, respect, and honor for a deity.
3. [verb] Showing love, respect, or honor.

Properly, worship is anything and everything we do as part of our religious devotion to God. Whether we do it out of active love or passive custom, it’s all still worship.

There’s a tendency in charismatic churches to equate worship with worship music. Prayer too, but mostly music. And no, I’m not saying music isn’t a valid form of worship, or a really good form of worship; it totally is. But you know the reason Christians sing a song’s chorus over and over and over again… has nothing to do with whether God loves the song. It’s entirely about how much the music pastor loves it. Or the people of the church.

And when it becomes much more about our preferences than God… well, then it’s not so good a form of worship anymore. This is not to say God wants us to sing songs we don’t like; he’s not a sadist! He wants us to enjoy worship. We should sing songs we enjoy. But maybe just remember who it’s all supposed to be about, okay?

But worship’s anything we do for God. Could be something which doesn’t look overtly religious or obviously holy. But the way we’re doing it, we’ve made it something we’re doing for him, and turned it into worship. And therefore it can be literally anything. Could be singing in church… and could also be raking the lawn, correcting the kids, cleaning the tub, eating your vegetables, doing your taxes. Anything.

Provided of course we’re actually doing it for God. Sinning isn’t for God; don’t do that and call it worship. If God forbade it, whether to everybody or just you personally, don’t just declare, “This is for Jesus” and figure it whitewashes the sin into worship. Don’t do Christian rituals and figure that makes up for sinning yourself sticky; God hates that. Is 1 Don’t do stuff with the attitudes of bad fruit, and figure if you’re doing it for Jesus it doesn’t matter what bad fruit it generates: Being angry “for Jesus,” or partisan “for Jesus,” or treating any human being as less than God’s image “for Jesus,” is never something God approves of, so don’t try. You’re not fooling anyone, least of all him.

Money the root of all evil?

by K.W. Leslie, 02 October

1 Timothy 6.10.

Most Christians, and a fair number of pagans, already know “Money is the root of all evil” is a misquote. Properly the verse goes,

1 Timothy 6.9-10 KWL
9 Those who want to be wealthy fall into temptations, traps, many stupid desires, and injuries—
whatever sinks people into destruction and ruin:
10 The root of all this evil is money-love, which leads those who desire it away from faith.
They poked themselves with many sorrows.

It’s the love of money, not money in and of itself. Money’s a tool, useful for getting and supporting things. The problem becomes when people pursue that tool instead of God, who can get and support things even better than money can—and who isn’t morally neutral like money, which can get and support evil just as well as good. The problem is when people’s allegiance shifts from God to money and Mammon, and it has their worship instead of him. Or, just as bad, they only worship God because they think he’ll give ’em money.

Here’s the ironic bit. A lot of the people who are quick to correct others—“It’s the love of money; money itself isn’t evil”—are often saying this because they wanna justify their money. And their use of money. And their pile of money. And their love of money.

Exactly like guns, money’s not the problem: Money nuts are. People who can’t prioritize Jesus over their money. People who wanna harmonize the two, so they can worship both Jesus and money, on the grounds he gave them the money, or they’re being “good stewards” of “his” money. People who, as a result, can’t be charitable, and have a big problem with anyone else being charitable—especially their churches, or their governments. That’s the sort of “stewardship” they practice… but I already dealt with them in my Mammonism article.

The Law is part of the gospel.

by K.W. Leslie, 01 October

Galatians 3.21-29.

Legalists and libertines alike miss the point of the Law. For legalists, it’s rules we have to follow lest we compromise our salvation. For libertines, it’s rules we no longer follow because grace nullifies them—and in fact following them compromises our salvation. Follow them, don’t follow them; either way we get accused of heresy.

Both groups have a bad habit of misquoting Paul, James, Hebrews, and Jesus himself to support their positions and justify their behaviors. It might help if we actually read the bible, right? So let’s.

Galatians 3.21-29 KWL
21 So “the Law versus God’s promises”—never say that!
If the Law gave living power, righteousness might come from the Law.
22 Instead the scripture locks everyone up under sin—
so the promise of faith in Christ Jesus can be given to believers.
23 Before faith came, we were guarded by the Law,
locked up till the revelation of this faith.
24 Thus the Law became our introduction to Christ, so we could be justified by this faith.
25 After faith came, we’re no longer in need of an introduction.
26 By this faith in Christ Jesus, you’re all God’s children;
27 whoever among you was baptized in Christ, now wear Christ.
28 There’s no such thing as Judean nor Grecian, no such thing as slave nor free,
no such thing as masculine nor feminine: All of you are one in Christ Jesus.
29 If you’re of Christ, you’re Abraham’s seed, heirs according to the promise.

Whenever Paul used the term μὴ γένοιτο/mi ghéneto, “it ought never be” (KJV “God forbid”), he was usually quoting something false he’d heard Christians say, and saying Christians ought never say such things. Get this idea out of your heads! But since translators usually don’t know how Roman-style rhetoric was practiced, they don’t realize Paul was quoting bad theology, and phrase it as if Paul was posing rhetorical questions, then rejecting them:

Galatians 3.21 NIV
Is the law, therefore, opposed to the promises of God? Absolutely not! For if a law had been given that could impart life, then righteousness would certainly have come by the law.

It also informs us this is a bad idea, but not quite in the way Paul did it. Close enough though.

So we’re meant to reject this idea the Law isn’t part of God’s plan. Or is, as dispensationalists describe it, the old plan—which God ditched and replaced with a new plan, namely salvation by grace instead of works. Salvation has always been by grace, as Paul taught earlier in this chapter. We trust him; he saves us. It’s how things have always been. It’s why Paul kept using the Old Testament for his proof texts.

But the Law was never the basis for salvation. It’s how a saved people are meant to live after they’ve been saved. It’s how the Hebrews were to live once they were no longer Egyptian slaves; it’s how Christians oughta live now that we’re no longer sin’s slaves. And what it also did, as Paul explained here, was prepare us for Christ Jesus’s first coming. Because it teaches us what God expects of his people, it exposes us as sinners—and shows us why we need salvation. Why we need to trust God to save us—because we can’t possibly save ourselves!