Showing posts with label #Christianese. Show all posts
Showing posts with label #Christianese. Show all posts

“You’re leading me to stumble.”

by K.W. Leslie, 04 April 2024
STUMBLE 'stəm.bəl verb. Trip, almost fall, or lose one’s balance.
2. Make a mistake, or repeated mistakes [in speaking].
3. [“stumble upon”] Discover or encounter by chance.
4. [noun] An act of stumbling.
5. [In bible] Get offended.
6. [Among Christians] Sin, or trespass.
[Stumbler 'stəm.b(ə.)lər noun]
Romans 14.21 KJV
It is good neither to eat flesh, nor to drink wine, nor any thing whereby thy brother stumbleth, or is offended, or is made weak.

“Stumbleth” in this verse translates προσκόπτει/proskóptei, “one strikes against [an object],” a word ancient Greeks used to describe a boat smacking the waves, or a foot tripping over a rock, or the rattling one makes while breathing. Aristotle of Athens used it to describe friction. “Stumble” and “trip” are good ways to translate it.

But the Greeks also used proskópto—namely the friction idea—as a metaphor to describe someone who’s taken offense. It’s why Paul immediately wrote after it, ἢ σκανδαλίζεται/i skandalídzete, “or is scandalized,” or as the KJV put it, “or is offended.” Means the same thing.

And actually means the same thing in ancient Hebrew:

Malachi 2.8 KJV
But ye are departed out of the way; ye have caused many to stumble at the law; ye have corrupted the covenant of Levi, saith the LORD of hosts.

The ancient Hebrews used that word—found here in the verb-form הִכְשַׁלְתֶּ֥ם/hikšeltém, “y’all make [one] stagger,”—to likewise describe people who took offense. In this particular case, God’s critiquing his priests for the sloppy and inconsistent way they follow him, which is actually causing other people to take offense at his Law.

So when you come across stumbling and stumbling-blocks in the bible, unless the passage is about literal roadblocks and booby traps, it typically has to do with offense. Someone doesn’t wanna follow God because they’re bothered by what he wants ’em to do… or they just don’t care to do it, are looking for excuses not to, and have found something which offends them. I know various pagans and ex-Christians who love to use the excuse, “But God could’ve stopped bad stuff from happening and didn’t,” or “Lookit all the messed-up stuff God had the Hebrews do in Joshua and Judges,” and that’s become their handy excuse for not following Jesus.

Funny thing is, in my experience Christians tend to use “stumble,” not to describe how they personally take offense, but to describe sin. When they talk about stumbling, they talk about sinning. When they talk about making other people stumble, they don’t mean offending them; they mean making ’em sin.

Worse, they’re reading this definition back into the bible, and they’re misinterpreting all the verses which refer to stumbling. So, heads up: Don’t you do that.

“What If I Stumble?”

There’s a DC Talk song from their 1995 Jesus Freak album titled “What If I Stumble?” which manages to mix up both definitions of “stumble”—the popular Christian interpretation and the biblical one. The chorus goes like so:

What if I stumble
What if I fall
What if I lose my step
And I make fools of us all
Will the love continue
When my walk becomes a crawl
What if I stumble
And what if I fall

The song’s about being worried “my trespasses / Will leave a deadly scar,” as the second verse puts it. That one’s misdeeds might lead pagans away from Jesus. That’s a common concern among Evangelicals, although if you talk to your average atheist they’ll say it’s really not. Christian hypocrisy is easy and fun to mock, but they don’t believe because they find the bible and Christianity unbelievable. But I digress.

Y’notice DC Talk uses “stumble” not to mean “take offense,” like the bible uses it. They don’t mean “What if I get offended,” but “What if I trespass.” What if I make a mistake, commit an error, say the wrong thing, do something awful, embarrass my fellow Christians? What if I screw up?

And yeah, we shouldn’t wanna screw up! But again: Using “stumble” in a way inconsistent with bible. Not inconsistent with the way other Christians do… but y’know, shouldn’t our Christianese really be consistent with bible?

I use DC Talk’s song as an example; they certainly weren’t the first to use “stumble” incorrectly. I’ve heard it used inconsistently all my life. They’re just doing the same thing as most of my fellow Evangelicals. Ask any of your fellow Christians what “What if I stumble?” means and they’re also gonna say “What if I sin?” If they’re any kind of biblical scholar, they might know the proper biblical definition. But then again, that might not be the first definition which pops into their minds either.

Christians who object to our behavior.

The one time Christians actually use the word correctly, weirdly enough, is when they talk about things which might cause them to stumble.

Years ago, years before the DC Talk song came out, a Fundamentalist acquaintance objected to something I did or said. I don’t remember what it was; certainly I wasn’t offended by it, nor did I think it was any kind of sin. Maybe I said “ass.” Back in high school I took advantage of the fact “ass” is in the King James Version, Ge 22.3, 44.13, 49.14, etc. and said it more than I ought’ve. And whenever people objected, show ’em what I call “ass proof texts.” Like this one.

Genesis 22.3 KJV
And Abraham rose up early in the morning, and saddled his ass…

It’s evidence that the bible uses this word profusely. So why can’t I?

Anyway dude took offense, and told, “You’re leading me to stumble.”

What he meant was, “You’re tempting me to do as you’re doing.” But then again, y’notice an awful lot of the Christians who object, “You’re leading me to stumble” aren’t really all that tempted to do as we’re doing. If they caught me smoking cigars, listening to heavy metal, or leaving flaming bags of poo on doorsteps, they aren’t always gonna think, “Oh I wanna do that.” I mean, sometimes they might, but usually not.

Nah; what they’re actually doing when they tell me, “You’re leading me to stumble,” is hypocrisy. They’re trying to get me to stop by warning me, “Your bad behavior might provoke more bad behavior. You don’t want that on your conscience, do you?” And really that’s a mighty ineffective warning: Most of the people who indulge in casual bad behavior really won’t mind when others join ’em! Hey, wanna have some more fun with the word “ass” with me?

2 Peter 2.16 KJV
But was rebuked for his iniquity: the dumb ass speaking with man’s voice forbad the madness of the prophet.

See, “dumb ass” is in the bible too!

And yeah, more than likely some Fundamentalist is gonna find this article, ignore everything I wrote about what stumbling means, and get all offended by my ass proof texts. His knee-jerk reaction is gonna be to object, “You’re leading people to stumble.” But more accurately I’m making him stumble—in the proper biblical sense. I’ve offended him. He doesn’t approve of mixing up the popular definition of “ass” with the KJV use of “ass,” and wishes I wouldn’t play with his favorite bible translation like that, and read vulgar ideas into the sacred text. I’ve made him stumble.

I haven’t made him sin though. That is, till he writes me a rude email and says some things he shouldn’t. But his carnal lack of emotional self-control and his poor choice of words: That’s on him. Not me. He’s supposed to follow the Holy Spirit, become inoculated from offense, and therefore not stumble over every little thing he comes across. To use a more recent metaphor, he’s not meant to be such a snowflake.

Like our Lord Jesus once put it:

John 11.9-10 KJV
9 Jesus answered, Are there not twelve hours in the day? If any man walk in the day, he stumbleth not, because he seeth the light of this world. 10 But if a man walk in the night, he stumbleth, because there is no light in him.

That passage make more sense to you, now that you know what Jesus actually means by “stumbleth”? If you’re following the light of the world, you shouldn’t offend as quickly and easily as your average snowflake. God’s granted you the emotional maturity to handle such things like an adult. Whereas if you’re not in the light, of course every little thing is gonna enrage you.

So while those people who are quick to say, “You’re making me stumble” mean our behavior might lead them astray, what they’re actually saying—what they’re unknowingly saying—is the truth. They’re offended.

And don’t be a dick; try not to offend ’em unnecessarily! But don’t stress out about it. I’ve unintentionally offended lots of people, and when I’ve actually tried to offend people I wasn’t that effective. Best to go through life trying to love everyone as best we can, be quick to apologize, and don’t take offense at snowflakes!

And be quick to laugh at ass proof texts. One more before I go!

Exodus 20.17 KJV
Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s house, thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s wife, nor his manservant, nor his maidservant, nor his ox, nor his ass, nor any thing that is thy neighbour’s.

Yep, “ass” is in the 10 Commandments—so don’t covet your neighbor’s ass! Oh, and “stumble” means “get offended”—gotta end with the proper takeaway. Bye.

A “servant heart.”

by K.W. Leslie, 11 May 2023
SERVANT HEART 'sərv.ənt hɑrt noun. Or servant’s heart: The humble attitude one expects to find in someone who is beneath them.

One of the complements we Christians pay one another is to describe someone as having a “servant heart” or “servant’s heart.” Meaning they’re happy to serve.

Ever been to a restaurant where the service was just fantastic? Your waiter was immediately available when you wanted her, and stepped away whenever you didn’t. She took your orders, and made useful suggestions to make your meal better. She brought you everything you wanted—sometimes before you even knew you wanted it!—and brought extra, just in case. She kept the drinks filled and plates cleared. And, believe it or not, wasn’t doing this for a tip (though you absolutely should tip such people), but because she wanted you to have a good time, and was happy to do whatever it took to create it.

Or perhaps you’ve been to a store where the clerks show you just what you’re looking for, offer you a discount you weren’t expecting, and accomodate all your needs and then some. Or hired a contractor and she finished the job early, under budget, using the best materials, expertly done. Or a housecleaner who does likewise.

And these people don’t undermine you, don’t say horrible things about you when your back is turned, don’t grumble the whole time about how they hate their jobs, don’t do shoddy work or try to slip you a defective product, and don’t demand extra pay or extra tips or five-star reviews regardless of how lousy a job they did. I’ve seen way too many people who expect praise for the least amount of effort, who are clearly not meant to be in the service industry… but unfortunately they lack the humility to do anything else, which is why there are way too many of ’em in the service industry. But enough about them.

Jesus taught his Twelve, and all the rest of us Christians, this:

Mark 10.42-45 NLT
42B “You know that the rulers in this world lord it over their people, and officials flaunt their authority over those under them. 43 But among you it will be different. Whoever wants to be a leader among you must be your servant, 44 and whoever wants to be first among you must be the slave of everyone else. 45 For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve others and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

If you wanna be great in God’s kingdom, it doesn’t work like the world’s kingdoms—with people jockeying for position, and making their subjects show them honor. That, Jesus says, is not for us. It’s not the leadership style he himself models. Our Lord came to serve humanity. Still does. And when he rules the world in person, he’s still gonna be that way; don’t get any weird ideas that everything Jesus teaches goes out the window once he’s in power. He’s still gonna be our example of the very best of servants.

So it’s a trait every Christian needs to develop, and it’s valid and high praise when someone in the church already has that trait.

The social gospel.

by K.W. Leslie, 27 April 2023
SOCIAL GOSPEL 'soʊ.ʃəl 'gɑs.pəl noun. A Protestant movement which tries to apply uniquely (or superficially) Christian perspectives and ethics to civic problems, particularly through charitable programs or government.

If you asked an American Christian the 1800s what the End Times consisted of, you’d quickly discover these folks held the postmillennialist view: They believed the millennium, the time period in which Jesus personally rules the world, takes place before his second coming.

I know; this is a really hard idea for today’s Christians to wrap their brains around. Jesus returns after the millennium? How’s humanity supposed to have a millennium of peace and love before the Prince of Peace takes over and runs things himself? Have you seen humanity? We’re awful.

Yet that’s what Christians believed. It’s what their churches taught, and they swallowed it whole, same as today’s Christians swallow Darbyism without ever asking, “Waitaminnit, why do their End Times charts have this big ol’ period where God turns off the miracles?” People were used to the idea… and they figured it was up to them to create the millennial kingdom; a thousand-year Reich in which everything would be good and perfect. In 1933 Germany even elected a nationalist chancellor who promised them this very thing; ask them how that worked out for them.

After the world wars, very few Christians continued to believe in postmillennialism. There are exceptions… and sometimes we still sing postmillennialist hymns without realizing it. Check out the lyrics to “We’ve a Story to Tell to the Nations”—my churches used to sing that song well into the 1980s.

But back when that worldview was popular, Christians figured it was our duty to tackle civic problems, fix society, and bring about that millennium. Charles M. Sheldon’s novel In His Steps is a good example of their thinking: Apply the question “What would Jesus do?” to all of society. Then reform society wherever you think it appropriate.

  • “If Jesus pastored my church he’d lead it like this.”
  • “If Jesus owned my business he’d run it like this.”
  • “If Jesus ran for office he’d say this.”
  • “If Jesus taught my kids he’d teach them this.”

And so on.

Because these reforms tend to be more forgiving, more equitable, more charitable, more gracious—and more expensive, and create way more rules and laws than your average libertarian appreciates, they tend to get painted with the brush of “liberal.” And to be fair, you’re usually gonna find social-gospel reforms and activities among the Christian Left. (Whereas the Christian Right tends to lean nationalist.)

“Incarnational”: More Christ in our ministries, and ourselves.

by K.W. Leslie, 08 December 2021
INCARNATIONAL ɪn.kɑr'neɪ.ʃən.əl adjective. Relating to being put in a body.
2. Embodying Christ Jesus in some way.
[Incarnate ɪn'kɑr.nət adjective, incarnation ɪn.kɑr'neɪ.ʃən noun.]

“Incarnational” is a word that’s been flung around American Christianity more and more frequently over the past decade. Not everybody knows what it means, but it’s a trendy word, and they wanna be trendy, so they use it. Or the word missional, which either means they consider themselves to have a mission from God, or they’re really dedicated to their organization’s mission statement.

For the most part, Christians use “incarnational” to describe ministries, churches, and institutions whose leaders don’t want them to be quite so… institutional, I suppose. They want their groups to come across as far more friendly, warm, helpful, loving, practical, and joyful. They wanna be like Jesus.

They use “incarnational” to describe the sort of group they hope to be: One which acts as Jesus’s hands and feet to the world. One which loves like he does, helps like he does, heals like he does. One which makes it crystal clear this is Jesus’s organization: It’s run just as if he literally sits in the CEO’s office, or runs the boardroom.

Or, y’know, not. Because only some of these organizations understand what it really means to be like Jesus.

Honestly, all some of them are going for is the Jesus-vibe. They want their organizations to feel like Jesus—and who doesn’t love Jesus? (Other than antichrists.) Jesus is loving, forgiving, accepting, draws everybody to him, turns no one away, is kind, is gracious; he’s better than Santa Claus because he’s real. These groups want people to love them the same as they love Jesus, so if they claim they’re like Jesus, maybe they can get in on some of that love and devotion.

No I’m not just being cynical. I knew a Christian bookstore owner who loved to talk about being incarnational. It was his favorite buzzword. He was gonna be Jesus to his community by selling bibles, books, CDs, and Christian tchotchkes.

But if a needy person came to his store to beg for food, money, medical help, or even a job? Oh, that wasn’t his problem. That needy person should go to one of the churches. Or the Food Bank. Or some homeless shelter which our town doesn’t have. But not the county government; he didn’t want his taxes paying for such things.

He wasn’t running a charity, y’see. It wasn’t a not-for-profit bookstore. He was trying to make enough money to keep his store open, pay his employees (although barely; pay them minimum wage, and keep ’em part-time so he wouldn’t have to pay benefits), and make himself some money. It’s a business. A “Christian business,” ostensibly there to grow God’s kingdom, but really there to grow his bank account; which is why he may have claimed to abide by biblical principles… but didn’t pay his employees at the end of every day like the bible commands. Dt 24.15

But he sure loved to claim everything he did was incarnational. And I’m sure there’s a joke there about how when his business collapsed during the recession, it was just like how Jesus died… but that’s where the analogy all falls apart, and isn’t funny anyway.

See, whether an organization does act like Jesus is a whole other thing. It all depends on how well the people who run the organization, know and follow Jesus. Some of ’em don’t know him as well as they imagine. But as long as their customers think they’re a “Christian business”, they’ll keep up the façade, and use all the appropriate trendy Christian buzzwords to keep the customers happy. The instant they detect another word has become popular, they’ll ditch “incarnational” for that. It’s not about following Jesus so much as staying fresh.

The explosive power of God?

by K.W. Leslie, 26 August 2021
DYNAMIS 'daɪ.nə.mɪs, ' or DUNAMIS 'du'nə.mɪs noun. The extra-mighty sort of power God possesses.
[Dynamite power 'daɪ.nə.maɪt 'paʊ(.ə)r noun.]

Alexander Pope wrote the saying, “A little learning is a dangerous thing,” in his Essay on Criticism in 1711. It’s frequently misquoted “A little knowledge is a dangerous thing,” and constantly taken out of context: People assume Pope meant it’s better to have no knowledge at all. Knowledge is power, but power in the wrong hands is dangerous.

Read his whole poem, and you learn what Pope actually meant:

A little learning is a dang’rous thing;
Drink deep, or taste not the Pierian Spring:
There shallow draughts intoxicate the brain,
And drinking largely sobers us again.

Yeah, for those who lack a little learning about what a Pierian Spring is, that’d be a fountain in ancient Macedonia (which is not the current country of Macedonia) dedicated to the Muses, the Greek goddesses of wisdom and talent. Drink from the spring, and you’re supposed to gain their wisdom, and be able to understand profound truths. But if you don’t take a big drink from it—if you only take little sips from a 6-ounce Dixie cup—you’re not getting a full dose of wisdom. You’re only getting tiny but partial insights. Only half-truths.

That’s what Pope considered dangerous: A little learning. A partial knowledge. Don’t be satisfied with tricks or trivia. Dig deeper.

One obvious example is what popular Christianity claims about “dynamis power.” I first heard it before I went to seminary and learned Greek. I’ve heard it countless times since.

Pastors are impressed by how similar the word δύναμις/dýnamis is to our English word dynamite. And of course it’s similar. After Alfred Nobel patented “Nobel’s Blasting Powder” in 1867, he decided to give it a more clever name: The Greek word for power, plus -ite. So it’s not a coincidence the two words are similar. Fully deliberate on Nobel’s part.

So these pastors will spend a lot of time on “the dýnamis power of God” (or dúnamis, depending on whether they know an upsilon is pronounced i instead of u, and usually they don’t). They’ll spend a lot of time on how dynamic or dynamite it is. Or as one of my pastors loved to put it, “the dynamite power of God!” ’Cause once the Holy Spirit gets in there and does something, BOOM!

It’s an exciting image. It’s that excitement which indicates someone’s been sipping from the spring of knowledge again. Not drinking deep.

When I first heard this idea, I thought it sounded clever. But what did I know? I hadn’t learned any Greek yet. And even for quite a few years after my Greek classes, I perpetuated the error: God’s power is ’splodey like dynamite. But one Sunday 14 years ago, after yet another sermon on the explosive power of God, I decided to finally double-check the idea against a Greek dictionary. And as you can guess, no that’s not what dýnamis means.

Burdens which were put on one’s heart.

by K.W. Leslie, 07 April 2021
HEART hɑrt noun. Hollow muscular organ which pumps blood through the circulatory system.
2. [in popular culture] Center of a person’s thoughts and emotions; one’s mood, feeling, enthusiasm, mood, or courage.
3. [in popular Christian culture] Center of a person’s lifeforce; one’s innermost being; the true self, particularly one’s true thoughts and feelings.
4. A conventional heart shape, as found on a deck of cards.
[Hearted 'hɑrt.ɛd adjective.]

I’ve already written on the heart—the blood-pumping muscle in our chests, how popular culture uses it as a metaphor for emotion, and how the ancients believed it did what we now know the brain does. And of course how Christians mix up the biblical idea with the pop culture idea, and therefore misinterpret the bible like crazy: To the ancients, you didn’t feel with your heart; you felt with your guts. You thought with your heart. Or, when your “heart was hard,” you didn’t: Your mind was made up.

Today I’m gonna discuss another Christianese use of “heart”: Whenever there’s something we’re thinking about, and it’s significant, and it’s bothering us. Might bother us a little, like a peeve; might bother us a lot, like a trigger which makes us relive a previous traumatic experience. In my experience it’s almost always a peeve: It bugs us. It doesn’t bother us so much we’re losing sleep or hair over it; it just bugs us. But instead of saying, “That kinda pisses me off,” like good Christians we gotta bust out the Christianese terms for it:

  • “Something was laid on my heart about that…”
  • “That feels really heavy on my heart.”
  • “Would you like to unburden your heart about what you’re going through?”
  • “Sounds like that’s really weighing on your heart.”

This peeve is a burden, a great weight, a heavy thing. And it’s been dropped on our heart, squashing it a bit, causing discomfort—like when the cat tries to sleep on your face; less so like the early signs of a heart attack.

Sometimes it’s not that great a weight—it’s just “been on my heart.” Other times it’s all we can think about. It’s a serious mental or emotional roadblock, it’s “weighing on my heart” or “heavy on my heart,” and if we wanna get it off, we’re gonna have to “unburden” it—dump it on a group of other Christians, who can either fruitlessly worry about it along with us, or tackle the problem and solve it, either with us or instead of us.

Regardless of how light or weighty the burden may be, the fact we use Christianese is a sign we believe one of two things:

GOD GAVE US THIS BURDEN. Supposedly this isn’t just my particular peeve. This is God’s peeve. It’s something which bothers him. And because he thinks exactly like I do I follow him, he’s recruited me to help him do something about it.

I NEED GOD TO TAKE AWAY THIS BURDEN. Honestly, this is just my individual hangup. And I need to deal with it, and I’d like God’s help.

Lemme say right now I much prefer the second idea. A lot of us Christians absolutely do have hangups and issues, and no God isn’t the origin of any of them. They’re unhealthy things we brought into Christianity with us. They need to be purged from our lives. And God can help; Jesus totally offers to.

“The spirit of…”

by K.W. Leslie, 18 March 2021
SPIRIT OF… 'spɪ.rɪt əv noun, genitive. A quality considered the defining or typical element in the character of a person, people, or institution.
2. A supernatural being creating or facilitating that element.

Pagans don’t know what spirit is, and their best guess is emotion: Spirit is the feeling you get when a speaker talks about stuff you care about—or stuff that terrifies you. Spirit is the emotions stirred up by a great piece of music or a great work of art. Spirit is the mood in the room when you enter it, and it’ll either make you want to stick around or flee. Spirit is the vibes you feel from a really positive or really negative person. Spirit is the feels.

No surprise, this false definition is all over Christianity. So much so, people think the way you detect the Holy Spirit, or some other evil spirit, is by our feelings. If the spirit of a room is all dark and creepy, it means there’s an evil spirit in there, trying to tempt or mislead you; your feelings are how you supernaturally discerned this. Conversely if the spirit of a room is all bright and cheerful, it’s the Holy Spirit, or some ministering angel, or maybe even Jesus making an appearance, visible or not.

To be fair, your emotions are a clue… that something’s affecting your emotions. But it’s naïve to assume the effector is always a spirit. It might just be you had a really good lunch. Or you had a bad day, you’re now in a place you don’t wanna be, and you’re looking for any excuse to leave. Or there’s something about a person’s behavior that really bugs you, and you can’t put your finger on it… and it’s his cologne, but you don’t currently remember your least favorite gym teacher used to reek of it, and your “bad vibes” are really just part of a bad memory. This is where natural discernment has to be practiced.

But it’s much easier to practice no discernment whatsoever, and leap to the conclusion, “I feel funny—because the room is haunted.” Yeah, you don’t know that.

Anyway this is where we come up with the Christianese meaning of “the spirit of” anything: They read the emotion in a room—or project their own emotions on the entire room—and conclude there’s a spirit causing the room to feel this way. Could be Jesus; could be Satan.

Redeemer: Somebody like Jesus who bails us out. Or not.

by K.W. Leslie, 16 March 2021
REDEEM rə'dim verb. Compensate for the flaws, deficiencies, or evil of something or someone.
2. Save someone from sin, error, or evil.
3. Gain or regain something, in exchange for payment; repay, or clear a debt.
4. Fulfill a promise.
[Redemption rə'dɛm(p).ʃən noun, redeemer rə'dim.ər noun, redeemable rə'di.mə.bəl adjective.]

When people talk about redeeming or redemption, if they’re not Christian they’re usually talking about recycling cans and bottles. In California when you buy something in a recyclable container, you’re charged an extra fee (the California redemption value, or CRV) which we’re meant to get back when we take the container to a recycling center. Although not everybody bothers to get their CRV back; they toss it in a recycling bin. Or even the trash—and then someone else will go digging through the trash looking for recyclables, hoping for that sweet, sweet CRV money.

Christian redemption isn’t quite like that… although I have actually heard a sermon or two about Jesus recycling sinners. Supposedly God created us with an inherent value, but by sinning, we’re throwing ourselves in the trash… and I guess Jesus is gonna be the guy who fishes us out of the trash and gets our full value. Meh; it’s a shaky simile.

The Christianese term has to do with saving someone from sin, error, or evil. And properly, it has to do with debt. In the bible, the LORD ordered the Hebrews to not just abandon family members to circumstances, to debt, and to poverty: They were to help them.

Leviticus 25.25 NASB
“&thinsp‘If a fellow countryman of yours becomes so poor that he sells part of his property, then his closest redeemer is to come and buy back what his relative has sold.’ ”

The “closest redeemer” (Hebrew גֹֽאֲלוֹ֙ הַקָּרֹ֣ב/gohélo ha-qaróv) actually means “next-of-kin redeemer.” It’s not automatically your closest male relative; not every man had the wherewithal to actually redeem anyone. It’s your closest relative who’s a patriarch, the head of a significant family. It’s the closest relative who can afford to help you.

This redeemer bought back the property. If you sold your oxen—and these weren’t really oxen you could spare; you kinda needed them to plow your field—your redeemer bought ’em back and returned them to you. If you sold your home, your redeemer bought it back and returned it to you. If you sold your farm, your redeemer bought it back and returned it to you. Getting the idea? If you were destitute, and even had to sell yourself into slavery, your redeemer bought you back and freed you.

Your redeemer didn’t buy back your property so he could retain possession of it, and let you live on his farm, in his house, plowing with his oxen, with him as your lord and you his serf. Nope, he gave them back to you. Because you’re family, and God had made your redeemer wealthy enough to do for family.

Yeah, it’s not a mindset we find at all among most Americans. Even Christians.

The kairos moment.

by K.W. Leslie, 12 August 2020
KAIROS MOMENT 'kaɪ.rɑs 'moʊ.mənt noun. Propitious time for decision or action.

Every so often there’s a window of time when something profound happens.

You make a life-changing decision. You don’t always realize it’s life-changing at the time; sometimes it occurs to you much later. But sometimes you’re in the moment and recognize this is a major turning point: You pick a university. Pick a job. Pick a spouse. Choose to follow Jesus. Choose to have kids. All sorts of things.

Might’ve been a split-second decision. Might’ve been a long, well-thought-out decision. Or you might’ve agonized over it for weeks, racked with indecision; maybe procrastinating the actual decision; maybe giving up and leaving it in the hands of others. (Or worse, coin flips. Or even worse, your horoscope.) In any event you stopped weighing your options and chose one of ’em.

For Christians, whenever we wanna Christianize the decision-making process—whenever we wanna make it sound like God’s heavily involved, even when he’s not—Christians tend to call this “a kairos moment.”

Yeah, it’s redundant. Καιρός/kerós is ancient Greek for “moment.” Sometimes it’s translated “an opportune moment,” because people are reading that whole kairos-moment mindset back into the bible. But do a word study on it sometime and you’ll find most instances of kerós really just describe ordinary moments. Jesus walking past wheat. Mt 12.1 Jesus noticing a fig tree’s not ready for figs. Mk 11.13 People believing a message for a while. Lk 8.13 Servants getting their groceries. Lk 12.42 Sometimes kerós isn’t even a moment; it’s just a general time-period. Ac 12.1, 19.13, Ro 8.18, 11.5, 13.11, 1Co 7.5, 2Co 8.14

And in one instance, observing those special kerós times gets rebuked:

Galatians 4.9-11 KJV

9 But now, after that ye have known God, or rather are known of God, how turn ye again to the weak and beggarly elements, whereunto ye desire again to be in bondage? 10 Ye observe days, and months, and times, and years. 11 I am afraid of you, lest I have bestowed upon you labour in vain.

Still, you’ll find most people don’t understand how words have multiple definitions. Or even care. “No, it always means opportune moment.”

Meh. Greeks today use kerós to talk about weather. Πώς είναι o καιρός;/Pos eine o kerós? “How’s the weather?” Yep, kéros could mean an entire season. A long season.

Basically the ancients used it to refer to time. And just as English-speakers sometimes use “time” to refer to a critical or important time, like “Time’s up” or “It’s time” or “You’re running out of time,” sometimes kerós referred to a critical time. Sometimes not so critical. Remember, the ancients didn’t have our timekeeping methods. No coordinated universal time, no time servers, no phones connected to those servers which tell us—down to the second—what time it is. For the ancients, sunrise to noon was six hours… even though the summer sun rose seven of our hours before noon, and the winter sun rose five hours before. Mighty flexible hours. Our hours? We use atomic clocks to measure ’em to the nanosecond.

Hence our culture is far more fast-paced than the ancients. The times we consider opportune are way shorter. Blink and they’re gone. Hence our attitude about every kairos moment: You don’t wanna miss it!

Again, meh.

Pagans and heathens and nonchristians; oh my!

by K.W. Leslie, 02 March 2020
PAGAN 'peɪ.gən adjective. Holding religious beliefs other than those of the main world religions. A non-Christian.
2. A neopagan: Adherent of a recent religious movement which incorporates beliefs or rituals from pre-Christian Europe and North America.
[Paganism 'peɪ.gən.ɪz.əm noun.]
HEATHEN 'hi.ðən adjective. Pagan.
2. Uncultured, inappropriate.

Pagan is a Christian word, from the Latin paganus, meaning one who lives in the country, as opposed to one who lives in the city. Ancient Christians figured we live in the “city of God,” his kingdom… and pagans live outside, so let’s invite them in. It was their shorthand way of saying nonchristian. It’s mine too.

I know; a number of people have appropriated the word to mean their religions. The neopagan movement started in the mid-1800s, when British and American mystics started to revive occult religion; and once again in the 1960s and ’70s, when nature religions did likewise. These would be the maguses, practitioners of magick (with a -k), Wiccans, druids, shamans, nonchristian faith healers, followers of various nature gods, and folks who brought back worship of the ancient Egyptian or Norse or Greco-Roman gods. Largely it’s a backlash to Christianity: They felt we suppressed the pre-Christian nature religions of their ancestors, and wanted to dabble in that, have a little fun, and really bug their parents. Certainly some of ’em take these religions way more seriously than that, ’cause they found something there which was seriously lacking in their lives. But neopagan religions don’t look as much like the ancient pagan religions as neopagans imagine—and ancient pagans never called themselves pagans, ’cause like I said, it’s a Christian word. And when they get annoyed with us for using “pagan” generically, it’s because they forget they swiped our word.

Christians use “pagan” to refer to nonchristians in general. Technically it refers to people with no organized religion. Buddhists, Muslims, Hindus, and even neopagans, are organized religions—even though their organizational structure might be extremely messy. Whereas a true pagan isn’t affiliated with any religious group at all, and has no intention of joining any. They’re not religious.

This is not to say pagans have no religious beliefs. Most of ’em totally do; I’ll get to that. But they don’t believe in organized religion: They might visit a church for a wedding or funeral, or because it’s a neat-looking building, but otherwise won’t go to any religious gathering, ’cause they don’t wanna join anything. They wanna be in charge of what they believe, and how they practice it—whether they pray or not, whether they read scriptures or not, what they think about the universe, gods, or the One God. Or what they don’t think: Some of ’em are comfortable with the idea of not knowing anything, and are happy to let it remain a great mystery.

As for the word heathen: It’s always been a more derogatory word for uncivilized people (“What have you little heathens done to my kitchen?” after the kids leave behind a giant mess) and true, some pagans totally are heathens. But I generally don’t use it. Let’s be nice.

What pagans believe.

True, some pagans hold no religious beliefs; they’re nontheist. Ironically, some of ’em get mighty religious about their nontheism, and feel they simply have to bash God and organized religion at every opportunity. Others are agnostic, and functionally act as though they’re atheist… till they’re in a jam and have to pray to some higher power to get ’em out of this.

The rest have generic beliefs about God which are derived from their wider culture. If you’re surrounded by Christians, your pagan beliefs are gonna resemble Christian ones. If you’re surrounded by Hindus, you’re gonna sound more like a Hindu; if Buddhists, more Buddhist; if Jews, more Jewish; and so forth. Stands to reason.

In the United States, pagans tend to look like irreligious Evangelicals. So much so, many of ’em even think they are Christian, but of course they’re not: They won’t go to church, won’t believe what the churches teach anyway, won’t read or believe the bible, and see no reason to change their beliefs or behavior.

Back in 2002, I spelled out pagan beliefs for my theology students like so.

  • THERE’S A GOD. They might believe all sorts of things about him, and certainly a lot of it will be projection. Depending on how they like to imagine him (and how many ideas they’re borrowed from either Christians or Hindus), he might be the unconscious sum of everything in the universe, or a heavenly Mother; whatever floats their boat.
  • JESUS IS GOD’S SON. A great moral teacher. A nice guy. Gives great advice. Not God though. Buddha is also God’s son; as is Muhammad, Confucius, Mohandas Gandhi, and pretty much every significant religious leader. (So long that pagans like them. If they don’t like L. Ron Hubbard, he’s not God’s son.)
  • THE HOLY SPIRIT IS GOD’S POWER. The holy spirit, lowercase, isn’t a person but a force, like the Force in Star Wars, but without a dark side. An “it,” not a “he.”
  • GOD LOVES EVERYBODY. Unless we’re mean. Mean people suck.
  • GOD WANTS PEOPLE TO BE NICE. Pagans believe all religions essentially teach this, so it’s all anyone need do: Be nice. (Unless you’re dealing with mean people. Then you can be mean right back to them. Help karma out.)
  • DEATH MEANS WE GO TO HEAVEN. And become angels! Again, exceptions are made for mean people. Fr’instance Adolf Hitler definitely went somewhere bad. But if we’re nice, or if enough people love us (or at least the majority doesn’t hate us), we’re probably off to heaven. Of course, many pagans believe in reincarnation, so for them death means we’re reborn as something nice.
  • ORGANIZED RELIGION IS UNNECESSARY. Disorganized, eclectic religion will do them just fine. All that matters is the pagan holds a few spiritual beliefs which make ’em feel good, and do things from time to time which make ’em feel spiritual (i.e. good). It’ll all work out in the end. ’Cause God loves everybody!

You might notice, and I gotta emphasize, pagans are particularly self-centered about their beliefs: God wants them to be happy and fulfilled. God only involves himself in their lives when they seek happiness and fulfillment. But to be fair, a whole lot of Christians are mighty self-centered too.

Christianist pagans.

As I said, some pagans think they’re Christian. ’Cause they like Jesus. They’ll quote bible—not consistently, but when it suits them. Some of ’em will even attend church, and may even get involved—although they certainly don’t feel obligated to believe anything the church teaches, or follow their interpretations of Jesus. You know, like when politicians go to a church hoping to recruit helpers or voters.

I call any belief system which prefers the trappings of Christianity, over Christ Jesus himself, Christianism. But sociologists Christian Smith and Melinda Denton, in their book Soul Searching, call this belief system moralistic therapeutic deism. (MTD for short.) It’s moral ’cause it defines good and evil for itself, and emphasizes good. Therapeutic ’cause it feels good. And deist, ’cause it believes in a God who’s impersonal and not all that involved in humanity. Smith and Denton sum up MTD’s beliefs thus.

  1. A god exists who created and ordered the world and watches over human life on earth.
  2. God wants people to be good, nice, and fair to each other, as taught in the bible and by most world religions.
  3. The central goal of life is to be happy and to feel good about oneself.
  4. God does not need to be particularly involved in one’s life except when God is needed to resolve a problem.
  5. Good people go to heaven when they die.

Smith and Denton were the principal investigators in the 2003-05 National Study of Youth and Religion. They concluded

a significant part of Christianity in the United States is actually only tenuously Christian in any sense that it is seriously connected to the actual historical Christian tradition, but has rather substantially morphed into Christianity’s misbegotten stepcousin, Christian Moralistic Therapeutic Deism. Smith and Denton 262

No, they’re not claiming all irreligious Christians are pagans, not Christians. Neither am I about Christianists. Smith and Denton’s rather valid concern is that, rather than Christianity, a lot of Christian churches are instead teaching MTD. As a result, the kids they raise aren’t always gonna be Christian.

I know from personal experience they’re quite right. A lot of kids in my high school youth group weren’t raised Christian. Their parents expected our youth pastors to take care of the religion parts. As if two hours of Christian instruction a week is gonna put a dent in an unconvicted, irreligious lifestyle. Consequently as soon as we moved out of the house, a lot of us threw away our Christian masks and became the pagans we always secretly were.

And y’know, some parents honestly don’t care. Just so long that we’re good people. ’Cause they’re pagans too, and everybody goes to heaven.


At one church I went to, a new fad began where we called pagans “prechristians.” We decided we were gonna be optimistic: These people will become Christian someday! They’re not lost; they’re pre-found.

There’s a fine line between optimistic and delusional, and I don’t feel like crossing it today. I hope these people get found; always do. Till then, they’re pagans.

The dividing line between Christian and pagan is simple. We Christians do follow Jesus as our Lord, do expect God to save us from death despite our sin, and do recognize God expects a level of obedience, devotion, worship, and prayer from his people. (Even though we might suck at it.) We aren’t in charge of fashioning our own religions from scratch, and cherry-picking our beliefs to suit and appease ourselves. We follow Jesus, and let his Holy Spirit show each individual how to follow him best.

Tons of Americans firmly believe the central goal of life is the pursuit of happiness. Christians included. They’re wrong, and believing so will only distort our Christianity and turn us into the same selfish jerks we find everywhere. It makes our Christianity impotent. It bears less, or no, fruit. But it’s not necessarily paganism. It’s only paganism when we no longer follow Jesus because our warm fuzzy feelings tell us different.

Following Jesus makes all the difference.

Courtship: Dating… but no sex.

by K.W. Leslie, 24 April 2019

Years ago I worked at a Christian camp. For the summer program we’d hire college students to be counselors. Some of them grew up Christian; some of them had only been Christian a short time; some of them had only claimed to be Christian on their applications, but didn’t know Jesus from Obi-Wan Kenobi. (Actually they may have known a lot more about Obi-Wan than Jesus.)

Once, while hanging out, one of the longtime Christians mentioned her brother was “courting” a certain girl. The Christian newbie in our group got a confused look on her face—she wasn’t familiar with the term.

“Courting,” I explained, “is dating. But no sex.”

The newbie nodded, understandingly. Some of the group grinned.

The girl who introduced the term “courting” objected.

SHE. “That’s not what it means.”
HE. “Does he bring chaperones to the dates?”
SHE. “No…”
HE. “No kissing? No hand-holding? No touching of any kind?”
SHE. “No.”
HE. “They go off and do things together, by themselves? But not sex.” [As far as she knew.]
SHE. “Yes.”
HE. “The rest of the planet calls that ‘dating’.”

’Cause to be fair, many Christians do add extra expectations to what they’ll call “courting.” When Christians use that term, it can range from my basic definition (dating, but no sex) to an arranged marriage—I’m not kidding—where the parents interview their children’s prospective spouses, approve them, and supervise every single interaction between the kids till they’re wed. Even listen in on phone calls and read their texts.

However, I should also bring up a couple I knew in college who called what they were doing “courting”—and yep, they were having sex too. They just wanted to use the Christianese word.

The whole point of having a unique Christian word for dating, is because nowadays “dating” can pretty much mean anything. And because self-control is a fruit of the Spirit—and promiscuity isn’t—Christians usually don’t equate dating and sex… and pagans totally do. “I’m dating” means “I’m sexually active.” If they “wanna go out with you,” it’s ’cause they hope to have sex with you. If they “had a date last night,” they had sex.

Yep, it’s a jungle out there. So “courtship” implies civilization. It suggests a couple aren’t simply trying to get into one another’s pants, but want to really get to know one another. Want to develop a friendly, loving relationship—the kind of solid basis for a marriage.

But I should point out: Courtship doesn’t come from the bible. Isn’t found in the bible at all. Seriously.


by K.W. Leslie, 08 March 2019
GENTILE 'dʒɛn.taɪl adjective. Not Jewish.
2. Not of our religious community.

Years ago a Mormon friend used the word “gentile” to describe non-Mormons. You know, like I use the word “pagan” to describe nonchristians. If you’re used to defining the word another way, it’s a little odd to hear it like that; and of course I had to ask him if he considered non-Mormon Jews to be “gentiles.” Apparently he does. That oughta be super weird for any Jews who hear that.

’Cause “gentile” originates from Jews trying to describe anyone who’s not a Jew. The Hebrew word is גּוֹי/goy, “people-group” or “nation”; and they translated this by the Greek word ἔθνος/éthnos, “ethnic.” It can refer to any people-group, including Israel. Ex 19.6 When St. Jerome translated it, he used the Latin word gentilis, “people-group,” and of course this evolved into the English “gentile.” (The Yiddish word, góyim, comes from the Hebrew plural for goy.)

In the context of the scriptures, it refers to foreigners. In the New Testament it’s frequently interchangeable with Ἕλληνές/Éllenes, “Greeks,” by which Jews meant Greek-speaking foreigners of any sort; anyone who lived outside their particular relationship with God. It wasn’t used as a slur—unlike βάρβαρος/várvaros, “barbarian,” or ἀκροβυστία/akrovystía, “foreskin” (KJV “uncircumcised”). It’s only meant to indicate a non-Jew.

But of course people can turn any term into a slur. If it’s seen as a negative that you’re not a Jew, “gentile” becomes negative. If being gentile implies you’re irreligious or unclean, as it clearly did to Pharisees, using “gentile” to mean such things turns it into an insult: “Wash your hands! What are you, a gentile?”

But whether “gentile” is meant as an insult or not, has to be deduced from context. Ordinarily it’s no slur. Paul certainly didn’t mean it as one when he wrote how God’s new covenant includes gentiles. As was always his plan: He’s not the god of only one nation, but every. Ro 3.29 He always intended to save Jews and gentiles alike, Ga 3.8 though the LORD’s special relationship with Israel can understandably lead Jews to believe he’s particularly their god.

You must be born again.

by K.W. Leslie, 06 December 2018
BORN AGAIN bɔrn ə'ɡɛn verb. Become Christian.
2. Convert to a stronger faith in, and a more personal relationship with, Christ Jesus.
3. Become a zealous [or overzealous] Christian.
4. noun: A Christian who underwent one of the above experiences.

Certain Christians insist you’re not a real Christian unless you’ve been “born again.”

These same Christians look at me funny whenever I talk about Christians who weren’t born again: “There’s no such thing,” they say. Actually there are: Some of us grew up Christian. From as far back as we can remember, we were raised to believe in Jesus and follow him, so we did. We went straight from childhood faith (where you trust Jesus because you’re told to) to personal faith (where you individually choose to trust Jesus) without any abrupt born-again experience at all. It was seamless… well, if there is a seam, Jesus knows where it is, but we don’t.

For me there was a born-again experience; I was a little kid, but I nonetheless chose to trust and follow Jesus. I’m aware there was a time before that when I didn’t. (I’m also aware there were times after that when I didn’t, but that’s because I’m a sinner, not because I’m not Christian.) But my experience, believe it or don’t, is actually atypical. Most Christians have never had a come-to-Jesus moment where they abruptly switched from paganism to Christendom. More often they phase into Christianity. They gradually believe. Or, like those who grew up Christian, they always believed.

So why do these born-again Christians make such a big deal about becoming born again?

Bluntly, bad theology. These folks were taught if we lack a born-again experience, we aren’t actually Christian. They were taught the way we know we’re Christian isn’t by the fact we produce good fruit, like Jesus taught; it’s by the fact we said the sinner’s prayer and were born again. They point to praying the sinner’s prayer as proof of salvation. It’s not. Not even close. Anybody can pray a version of the sinner’s prayer, and be pretty sure we it at the time, but if we’ve no relationship with Jesus thereafter, we didn’t mean it. Sad to say, there are a lot of fruitless Christianists who think they’re born again, but their works show they’re not.

If you’re fruitless, whether you’ve said a sinner’s prayer or not, you do need to be born again, and I recommend you get right on that. Repent, turn to Jesus, get forgiven, receive the Holy Spirit, start following him, and produce good fruit. Till then, it doesn’t matter what you imagine you remember of a born-again experience. If it didn’t turn you into a Christ-follower, it didn’t take. Do it again.

And if you are a Christ-follower already, you don’t need another born-again experience. You’re good.

Everybody got that?

“Pre-Christians” and religious bigotry.

by K.W. Leslie, 14 August 2018

About 25 years ago, my pastor talked about how he was no longer gonna refer to pagans as “non-Christians.” (He never did refer to them as pagans. That’s a practice which varies from church to church. Anyway.) From now on he was gonna call them “pre-Christians.” Because, he explained, he was gonna hope in favor of them becoming Christian eventually. It’s based on optimism.

It also addresses a rather common problem we find in Christendom, particularly in the Bible Belt. It’s a certain degree of negativity Christians can have towards pagans. Bluntly, it’s religious bigotry: The attitude that if you’ve not chosen Christ Jesus as your Lord, you must be sinful, stupid, or otherwise morally or mentally deficient.

My pastor explained none of this thinking is proper, nor even correct. Pagans are simply people who’ve not chosen Jesus yet. He hopes they yet will.

And Christians have no leg to stand on when it comes to religious bigotry. God loves the world, Jn 3.16 which includes all the pagans in it. Jesus died for them, same as he did for us. 1Jn 2.1 God wants pagans to be saved and learn truth, same as Christians. 1Ti 2.4 God forbid our rotten attitudes get in the way of them coming to truth, and to this relationship with God.

Religious bigotry is a very old problem. Jesus had to address it more than once. Like when the Pharisees objected to him taking his meals with taxmen and sinners. By “sinners” Pharisees meant non-Pharisees. Didn’t matter if these non-Pharisees did try to follow God; if they weren’t doing it the way Pharisees did, didn’t participate in Pharisee synagogues, didn’t hew to Pharisee customs, or otherwise weren’t religious enough for Pharisee tastes, they got called “sinners.” Same as certain Christians will get about someone whose sins are more obvious than usual. Nevermind the sin of gossip.

The Pharisees wanted to know why on earth the rabbi ate with sinners. Jesus’s response was he didn’t come to cure the well, but the sick. MK 2.17 An entirely reasonable answer, and one which should be duplicated in our own attitudes towards pagans: We’re here to help! But too often we duplicate the Pharisee attitudes, and worry, “If we interact with pagans too much, they’ll rub off on us. They’ll corrupt us.” So we shun them.

It’s a valid concern if we suck at resisting temptation. But more often that’s a copout. It’s not the real problem. Either their sins offend us, and we can’t get over our hangups and love them anyway; or we wanna look like their sins offend us, ’cause we’re hypocrites.

Fact is, pagans are gonna sin. ’Cause they don’t know any better. And even when they do know better, it’s all the same sins we Christians commit. But they’re never gonna learn better—nor how to resist temptation—till they meet Jesus. And they’re never gonna meet Jesus till we Christians properly introduce them to him. And we’re never gonna do that if we shun them!

On sexists. Sorry, “complementarians.”

by K.W. Leslie, 10 August 2018
COMPLEMENTARIAN kɑmp.lə.mən'tɛ.rɪ.ən adjective. Sexist: Believes men and women are inherently unequal in authority (to lead, teach, or parent) and rights.
2. Believes men and women should adhere to [culturally defined] gender roles, and complement one another by fulfilling the unique duties of those roles.
EGALITARIAN ɪ.ɡæl.ə'tɛ.ri.ən adjective. Believes all people are equal and deserve equal rights and opportunity.

I really dislike the term “complementarian.” It’s what logicians call a weasel word: It’s one of those words people use instead of the proper word, ’cause they don’t care to tell you what they really mean. Or they’re in serious self-denial about what they really mean.

Bluntly, “complementarian” is Christianese for “sexist.” Because that’s exactly what they mean: Women and men aren’t equal; there are things men can do which women mustn’t; if women dare do them, they’re violating the social order which has kept men in power all this time God’s will. Because God supposedly wants his daughters to perpetually have a second-class status. That’s why he didn’t give ’em penises.

The foundation of this misbegotten belief largely comes from the story where God curses Eve, and women in general, for her sin. Because she violated his command, childbirth is gonna hurt, and her man is gonna boss her around. Ge 3.16 As for Adam, he was cursed with having to fight the ground to get food from it, and of course death. Ge 3.17-19 But Jesus came to undo these curses!

Whereas modern technology has made it a lot less wearisome to grow crops, and childbirth doesn’t have to hurt (or kill the mother) as often as it used to, and we usually fight off death for as long as possible, complementarians are still pretty darned insistent that men get to boss their women around. It’s one of the few curses in the bible which people demand be carried out.

What about Jesus’s stated intention that women are co-heirs of his kingdom? Oh, complementarians will accept the idea women can be saved; and how kind of them. But as far as ministry and responsibility in the kingdom is concerned, they get all the plum spots, cushy jobs, and positions of authority. ’Cause conveniently for them, that’s their place. And women have to joyfully submit to this truth.

Y’know, any belief which puts people down instead of raises them up, promotes dominance instead of humility, destroys instead of heals, is graceless instead of gracious, is entirely antithetical to what Jesus teaches. Doesn’t matter how fond dark Christians are of it; they don’t know Jesus as well as they imagine.

But sexism is everywhere in Christendom. And to be fair, it’s not necessarily because sexists hate women, or are anti-women, or wanna exclude them from ministry and leadership roles. Roman Catholics are kind of an obvious example of this: Most of ’em, including the pope, cardinals, and bishops, try to put women in leadership and ministry roles wherever they can. But according to their official church teachings, women can’t be priests, and that’s that. It’s not a glass ceiling; it’s made of solid stone. With Michelangelo’s pretty frescoes all over it, but still. And Evangelical sexists believe much the same thing: They’d love to include women, and do so wherever they can get away with it, but the bible only lets them go so far, and no further.

In my article on sexism I point out the bible does so let ’em go further, and accept women as equals in ministry, the church, and God’s kingdom. And if sexists honestly aren’t anti-women, they don’t take much convincing at all: They look at the scriptures, look at the historical context, realize they were wrong, repent of their sexism, and frequently do what they can to correct others.

The rest of them? They don’t wanna be wrong. They don’t really want women to be their equals. And frequently they double down on their sexism, just to make it clear they’re following their interpretation of the bible, zealously. Which has the unfortunate, but telling, side effect of being fruitless and graceless. And worse on their women.

Dropping a little Hebrew on the fellow Christians.

by K.W. Leslie, 25 July 2018

For some Christians, the only fellow Christians they ever encounter are a small, insulated bunch. Basically it’s just family members and their church, and the few books and podcasts they personally approve of. They’ve got narrow little boundaries and won’t travel outside. Often out of the dark Christian fear they might be led astray, but more often it’s just because they don’t care to stretch themselves. Either way it’s a shame. But I’m not gonna discuss that particular shame today. Me, I browse widely.

And from time to time I run into Christians who insist on referring to Christ Jesus as Yeshúa ha-Mešiakh. They’ll spell it lots of different ways; I spell it the way it’s meant to sound, so if it looks a little unfamiliar they might not be pronouncing it properly. Basically it’s Hebrew for “Jesus the Messiah.”

Because they learned some Hebrew. And they’re gonna use their Hebrew on everything.

  • God’s gonna get called Adonái/“my Master” or ha-Šém/“the [LORD’s] Name.” And if they wanna call him “Father,” they’ll stick with Abba.
  • The Holy Spirit’s gonna be Ruákh ha-Qodéš.
  • The Old Testament’s gonna be the Tanákh, the common Hebrew acronym for Toráh-Neveím-Khetuvím/“Law-Prophets-Writings.” The New Testament’s the Brit Khadašá.
  • Student, or disciple, is gonna be a talmíd. Plural talmidím.

And don’t be surprised if they generally drop Hebrew words and terms all over the place. And, every so often, Yiddish.

Why? Three reasons.

  1. They took a Hebrew class, so they’re showing off.
  2. They’re of Jewish descent and grew up knowing a little Hebrew, so they’re showing off.
  3. They think it’s important for us Christians to recognize our traditions stretch all the way back to the ancient, noble culture of Israel. So they’re showing off.

Yeah, I realize a number of them will be totally offended that I’ve accused them of showing off. The rest will shrug and say, “Well yeah. But who’s it hurting?” Well, nobody really. So relax.

The “Proverbs 31 woman.”

by K.W. Leslie, 05 June 2018
PROVERBS 31 WOMAN 'prɑ.vərbz 'θɜr.di 'wʌn 'wʊ.mən noun. A productive woman, like the ideal wife described in Proverbs 31.
2. A complement offered to a valued wife, whether or not she matches the woman of Proverbs 31.

Among many Christians, the ultimate compliment you can pay your wife is to call her a “Proverbs 31 woman.” Properly, it means she meets the bible’s standard (more precisely, Lemuel’s mother’s standard) for an ideal wife. But since people don’t bother to read their bibles, Christians included, they really just mean she’s a good Christian. Whether she’s actually productive is a whole other deal.

Yeah, I’ll quote the relative part. It’s not the whole of the chapter; just this bit.

Proverbs 31.10-31 KWL
10 A capable woman: Who’s found one? She’s worth far more than rubies.
11 Her husband’s heart trusts her, and he has no shortage of loot.
12 She pays him back with good, not evil, all her life’s days.
13 She asks for wool and flax. She’s happy to work with her hands.
14 She’s like a merchant ship: She imports food.
15 She rises when it’s still night. She provides meat for her house and her employees.
16 She organizes a field. She plants a vineyard with the fruit of her hands.
17 She belts herself with strength. She makes her arms strong.
18 She tastes her merchandise to make sure it’s good. Her lamp isn’t put out at night.
19 She puts her hands on the spindle. Her palms hold the distaff.
20 Her palms spread for the humble. Her hands reach out to the needy.
21 She doesn’t fear snow for her household: All her house are warmly clothed in red.
22 She knits herself tapestries. Her clothing is purple.
23 Her husband is recognized at the city gates. He sits with the land’s elders.
24 She makes and sells tunics. She gives belts to Canaanites.
25 Her clothing is strength and honor. She will relax in days to come.
26 Her mouth is opened in wisdom. The Law of kindness is on her tongue.
27 She watches the goings-on of her house. She doesn’t eat bread idly.
28 Her children rise and call her happy. Her husband praises her:
29 “Many daughters do well, but you surpass all of them!”
30 Grace can be false. Loveliness is useless. A woman who respects the LORD will be praised.
31 Give her back the fruit of her hands, and her deeds will praise her in the city gates.

Check it out. Only once does her devotion to God come up; in verse 30. And no doubt her good deeds are the result of loving God and wanting to excel for his sake. But the bulk of this passage is about the fact this woman works. Works hard. Gets stuff done, and does it well.

“I just feel in my spirit…”

by K.W. Leslie, 18 April 2018
MY SPIRIT maɪ 'spɪr.ɪt noun. Me. (Usually said to make one, or one’s opinion or issues, sound particularly spiritual.)

Certain Christianese terms don’t come from scripture, theology, or the ordinary practical course of religious behavior. They come from hypocrisy.

“My spirit” is a pretty common example. It does originate from the bible, ’cause various poets and psalmists refer to themselves as “my spirit” or “my soul.” It’s a poetic synonym for oneself.

It’s just certain Christians insist on using “my spirit” for everything. Instead of simply referring to themselves as “me” or “mine” or “myself,” they gotta keep referring to their spirit. Sometimes because they’re around fellow Christians, and figure we oughta speak in Christianese around one another. The rest of the time it’s because they’re deliberately trying to sound extra-spiritual, or super-Christian.

“I think [but can’t articulate why]…”“I feel in my spirit…”
“I don’t think so.”“I feel a check in my spirit.”
“I feel really strongly…”“I feel impressed in my spirit…”
“I feel certain…”“I feel convicted in my spirit…”
“I agree.”“I bear witness in my spirit.”
“I love that!”“I rejoice in my spirit.”
“I’m really sure…”“I know in my spirit…”
“I changed my mind.”“I feel a shift in my spirit.”
“I want to…”“It was put in my spirit that we should…”
“I don’t want to.”“I feel hesitation in my spirit.”
“I got the idea…”“I sensed in my spirit…”
“I got emotional.”“I felt moved in my spirit.”
“I was sad.”“I was grieved in my spirit.”
“I was happy.”“I rejoiced in my spirit.”
“I’m worked up.”“I feel oppressed in my spirit.”
“That excites me.”“I feel a quickening in my spirit.”
“I agree.”“That really speaks to my spirit.”
“I feel free.”“I feel freedom in my spirit.”
“I feel strong.”“I feel strong in my spirit.”

Pick any adjective you like, and you can totally feel it in your spirit. Pick any verb, and you can easily do it in your spirit. It’s just that easy.

The wicked, deceitful human heart.

by K.W. Leslie, 29 December 2017
HEART hɑrt noun. Hollow muscular organ which pumps blood through the circulatory system.
2. [in popular culture] Center of a person’s thoughts and emotions; one’s mood, feeling, enthusiasm, mood, or courage.
3. [in popular Christian culture] Center of a person’s lifeforce; one’s innermost being; the true self, particularly one’s true thoughts and feelings.
4. A conventional heart shape, as found on a deck of cards.
[Hearted 'hɑrt.ɛd adjective.]
Jeremiah 17.9-10 KWL
9 “The heart is more twisted than everything.
It’s human. Who knows it?
10 I, the LORD, examine the heart and test the kidneys,
to give men according to their ways, the fruit of their deeds.”

The ancients didn’t know much about anatomy. So all the stuff we recognize are part of brain activity, the ancients believed were the function of other parts of the body. The heart, they imagined, did our thinking. The kidneys did the feeling.

Seriously. And why not? When we get excited, our hearts beat faster. When we’re sad or mournful, we feel it in the chest, and not so much the head. They saw a connection between mental activity and the heart. So they deduced it was the cardiac muscle behind our thoughts and feelings… not our thoughts and feelings behind our heart’s behavior. Yep, got it backwards.

What’d they imagine our brains did? Well, they didn’t. Seriously: The word “brain” isn’t in the bible. Y’might find it in various bible translations, but that’s because the translators know what the brain actually does, and decided to swap it for lev or kardía where appropriate. But in the scriptures, when we come across mental activity, the authors kept referring to one’s heart.

  • The thoughts Ge 6.5 or imagination Ge 8.21 of one’s heart: Of one’s mind, really.
  • Saying in one’s heart Ge 11.17, 24.45, Dt 9.4, 18.21 is saying to oneself, in one’s head, or at least privately.
  • One’s heart failed or fainted or was discouraged Ge 42.28, 45.26, Nu 32.7, Dt 1.28 means they lost their nerve.
  • One’s heart was hardened Ex 4.21, 7.13, Dt 2.30 means one’s mind is closed.
  • One’s heart was stirred Ex 35.21, 36.2 is what we’d call a brainstorm.

We still do this in our culture. When we remember, we “search our hearts.” When we rethink things, we “have a change of heart.” When we make up our minds, we “determine in our hearts.” And so forth.

Medical science didn’t realize the brain’s importance till Hippocrates in the fourth century BC, and Galen of Pergamon in our second century. For the longest time, more folks were familiar with Aristotle, who claimed the brain’s job is to cool down our blood. Considering all the bible’s talk about thinking and saying with our hearts, most people up until the Renaissance assumed the heart literally did as the bible describes.

But as I’ve said before, the bible’s not a science textbook. When its authors wrote about other subjects than God, they repeated what their culture had told them. They’d always been taught so, and God saw no reason to correct them: “No, guys, you think with your brains, not your hearts.” He had bigger fish to fry. He even used their terminology: He stated he thought in his heart. Ho 11.8 He was trying to relate to humanity, and it wasn’t the occasion for a biology lesson.

So if you’re worried about the scientific inaccuracy of the scriptures, don’t. Unlike young-earth creationists, we aren’t making anti-scientific claims about human biology based on our overly-literal interpretations of the scriptures. We’re simply reading the bible so we can understand God better. To a lesser degree, we’re also trying to understand the sin-damaged human mind better, and if the bible’s authors persisted in using “heart” to mean “mind”… well, let’s adapt.

What’s a soul?

by K.W. Leslie, 08 December 2016
SOUL soʊl noun. Lifeforce.
2. [in popular culture] The immaterial, spiritual essence of a human; considered immortal.
SOULISH 'soʊl.ɪʃ adjective. Having to do with one’s lifeforce.
2. [in popular Christian culture] Fleshly.

One of the vexing problems of Christianity is we have certain words we use which nobody ever bothers to define. As a result, people guess—and guess wrong. Our word “soul” is probably the most obvious example.

Years ago, a newbie Christian asked his pastor what a “soul” was, to which the pastor replied, “Oh, you shouldn’t even try to define it.” The pastor figured a soul is a mystery, a concept way beyond human understanding. Best to leave mysteries alone, and not waste our time—or make ourselves nuts—trying to understand ’em.

I admit it’s kinda western of me, but I can’t agree: If you use a word and don’t know what it means, it’s foolish. If you don’t wanna know its meaning, you’re a fool. It might be a concept that’s too vast for our tiny little minds—but all the more reason we should tackle it. We learn a lot this way.

Christians don’t entirely understand the immaterial parts of ourselves. So we mix up the soul and spirit all the time. Popular culture is no help: It confounds spirit with emotion, and it confounds soul with sensitivity and creativity. If “you’ve got soul,” you’re either emotionally intense, or intellectually intense. Or you like Motown.

But some of the culture’s uses of “soul” give hints to its proper biblical meaning. The “soul” of a movement or endeavor is the person who inspires it, embodies it, gives it that spark of life. To “bare one’s soul” means to share every part of one’s life. A “soulmate” is someone you share your life with. And when a disaster happens and “souls were lost,” it means lives.

So what’s a soul then? It’s a lifeforce.

The bible’s words for soul are nefésh in Hebrew, psyhí in Greek. Both of them literally mean “breath.” ’Cause when we’re alive, we breathe, right? And when we no longer are, we don’t.

When God made the first human—

Genesis 2.7 KWL
The LORD God sculpted the human of dust from the ground.
God breathed into his nose the breath of life, giving the human a living soul.

The KJV says the human “became a living soul,” which is another valid way to translate it. Though most bibles nowadays simply translate nefésh and psyhí as “life.”

So yes, everything that’s alive has a soul. ’Cause it breathes. When it stops breathing, its soul has gone out. That’s right: Souls aren’t immortal. In humans they were meant to be; Adam and Eve were meant to live forever. But they lost access to the Tree of Life, so they died… ’cause now humans die.