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

Humility.

by K.W. Leslie, 11 March

Humility is an obvious fruit of the Spirit, ’cause it’s a form of self-control. It’s when we resist the temptation to claim status, prerogatives, or power over other people. Before we say or do anything, we think about how our actions and words affect others. We unselfishly take them into consideration. We submit.

Humility isn’t about claiming we’re all on the same level. Because we’re not. I am smarter, more handsome, and wealthier than other people. I have connections others don’t; I have a better job than others do; I’m white, which means I’m gonna suffer from racism way, way less than nonwhites. Claiming or pretending I don’t have these advantages isn’t humility; it’s hypocrisy. Especially when it’s in my power to use these advantages to help others. Maybe not to the level Esther did, Es 4.13-14 but it is why God has people in positions of privilege: So we can help.

Popular culture defines humility as demeaning, embarrassing, or dishonoring ourselves. And yeah, sometimes humility involves those things. It can be embarrassing to admit our failings. But once we start, we break that fear pretty quickly. Plus, notice all the stand-up comedians who make a really good living at it.

But properly, humility is when we don’t lord our advantages over others. Or lord over anyone. We Christians are meant to love and serve one another. We have no business closing ourselves off, or hiding behind gatekeepers, secretaries, “armor-bearers,” or other functionaries who keep everyone “unimportant” away. Way too many bishops and pastors get that way, and are obviously not humble. Contrast that with our Lord, who angrily told his students to stop keeping the kids away.

Matthew 19.13-15 KJV
13 Then were there brought unto [Jesus] little children, that he should put his hands on them, and pray: and the disciples rebuked them. 14 But Jesus said, Suffer little children, and forbid them not, to come unto me: for of such is the kingdom of heaven. 15 And he laid his hands on them, and departed thence.

“Suffer” as in “put up with,” not “make them suffer.” Y’all need to get up to speed on King James Version vocabulary.

Still: Jesus is an infinitely important guy, but he makes time to meet with people, and bless ’em with any resources he has. So should we.

Christianists, justice, and social Darwinism.

by K.W. Leslie, 28 July

In the scriptures justice is defined on doing what’s just—what’s appropriate, what’s fair, what’s right, what’s consistent with the Law of Moses.

And lest you get the idea, “Oh, the Law of Moses; so it’s about breaking commands and meting out punishments,” no it’s not. Read the Law sometime and you’ll notice there’s a lot in there about doing for the needy and powerless, about loving one’s neighbor, about compassion and mercy and grace. Read the Prophets and you’ll see they get on Israel’s case not just for breaking the Law, but for shafting the poor and needy… which is forbidden by the Law. Anybody who thinks the Old Testament is all legalism, and the New Testament is all grace, clearly hasn’t read the Old Testament—or is projecting their own bad attitudes onto it. Plenty of grace in there… called “favor” or “mercy” or other synonyms, but you shouldn’t miss it.

Okay, that’s the bible. In our culture it’s assumed a very different definition. Justice in the United States is about upholding our laws. Particularly about punishing the guilty.

In so doing, justice has become another word for vengeance. Meted out by our government, but it’s still vengeance; check out all the people who push for the death penalty, or who stand outside death row while an execution goes on, pleased as punch that somebody’s getting what’s coming to them. It’s all about karma. It looks nothing like biblical justice.

Hence Christian activists have to distinguish biblical justice from unbiblical justice; from civic justice, which sues fast-food restaurants for making their coffee too hot, and from criminal justice, which gives people life sentences for stealing three cars.

This is where social justice comes in: It’s biblical justice. It’s nothing more than God’s admonitions to his people to do right by the powerless and needy. It’s helping those who can’t do for themselves—which is 180 degrees away from the way our individualist society tends to treat ’em. Society ignores anything Christ Jesus and his scriptures have to say about helping our neighbors, and instead holds to a very selfish, karmic attitude which blames ’em for their own troubles, blames ’em for being unable to escape their troubles, exploits or penalizes or punishes ’em for it, and (on the off chance we realize any of this is evil) justifies itself by inventing “biblical principles” which make it sound like it’s God’s idea.

God’s response to such folks?

Isaiah 1.16-17 KWL
16 “Bathe! Get clean! Get rid of the evil deeds before my eyes.
Stop doing evil. 17 Learn to do good. Seek right judgments.
Straighten out oppressors. Judge orphans fairly. Defend widows.”

Ancient Israel’s worship wasn’t working for the LORD, because they figured they could please him by sacrificing fields of animals to him—not by actually obeying him, and loving his people whom his Son would eventually die for. In Isaiah 1 he expressed his frustration with their rotten attitudes… and since American Christians are so biblically illiterate nowadays, of course we’ve fallen right into the very same behaviors.

Social justice and Christian history.

Lemme make this clear: Politics is about the pursuit of power. Both the Christian Right and Christian Left are regularly co-opted by politicians so they can gain power. So though I’m about to critique the Christian Right a bit, do not get the idea the Christian Left doesn’t have plenty to critique as well. I’ll discuss them in a bit. But first the rightists.

Historically the Christian Right in the United States has not been on the side of justice. It was on the side of slavery. And once slavery was abolished, it was on the side of segregation and the Jim Crow laws. The Christian Right baselessly believed blacks were “the sons of Ham”—descendants of Noah’s son Ham, who had mocked his father’s drunken nakedness, and as a result his son was cursed with servitude. Ge 9.20-27 As far as they were concerned, black people need to know their place and stay there. Their economy, politics, philosophy, interpretation of history, society, theology, everything, was designed to support their racism. Still does.

For a number of years, the Christian Right’s segregation and racism was largely outlawed and went underground. Oh, it still exists. It’s why black families still can’t move into certain suburbs; it’s why white people get plea bargains and black people go to prison; it’s why cops racially profile blacks, kill them carelessly, and get away with it. And while many in the Christian Right are now firmly anti-racist, many simply assume they’re not racist because they don’t hate blacks and browns—but they’re totally fine with leaving racially biased systems as-is. Because it doesn’t affect them negatively. Just the opposite.

It all goes back to selfishness and unaccountability. That’s always been the desire of sinful people. Slavery and racism gave it a theology, and justified it.

The Christian Right largely clung to their racism till the 1980s, when they realized the only way to join the political mainstream was to set it aside. In the meanwhile the main faction in American Christendom, from the founding of the colonies till the ’80s, was actually the Christian Left.

Most of the social reforms in American history were promoted by the Christian Left. Mostly this was because they believed in postmillennialism—the idea Jesus’s followers have to establish his thousand-year kingdom of God on earth so Jesus can come back and reign over it. (Nope, it’s no more biblical a view than the Left Behind novels.) Hence everything in the Christian Left was about progress, reform, and improvement. Read Charles M. Sheldon’s In His Steps sometime—the novel which popularized the slogan “What Would Jesus Do?”—and you’ll see what the Christian Left looked like in 1899.

Evangelicals and mainline churches were largely Christian Left, as was every evangelistic movement. Even the early Fundamentalists were part of the Christian Left. Yep, you could actually be Fundamentalist and progressive!—an idea today’s conservatives can’t imagine, because that’s how far their politics have compromised them.

Fr’instance. Westminster Theological Seminary in Glenside, California, was founded by J. Gresham Machen, one of the founders of the Fundamentalist movement. Machen firmly believed in government reforms, social programs, and social justice. Westminster’s current president, Dr. Peter A. Lillback, occasionally appears on conservative talk shows to denounce such things. To decry “the roots of social justice.” To claim it’s unbiblical. Conservative Christians regularly assume their founders believed exactly as they do; that they’d be appalled by the directions our society is going. And maybe they would be. But the forebears’ solutions to these problems were not conservative solutions. Nor did they look back to the past, and insist things oughta return to the good old days… which really weren’t that good. They were looking forward—towards Jesus.

Lillback claims justice only applies to individuals, not groups: It’s about resolving individual mistreatment. He points out the words “social justice” aren’t found together in the bible. He’s right; they’re not. They don’t need to be. Look up every instance of justice in your bible and you’ll notice it’s all social: It consistently pertains to groups.

Leviticus 19.15 NIV
“Do not pervert justice; do not show partiality to the poor or favoritism to the great, but judge your neighbor fairly.”
 
Leviticus 19.15 NIV
“Cursed is anyone who withholds justice from the foreigner, the fatherless or the widow.”
Then all the people shall say, “Amen!”
 
Psalm 82.3-4 NIV
3 Defend the weak and the fatherless;
uphold the cause of the poor and the oppressed.
4 Rescue the weak and the needy;
deliver them from the hand of the wicked.
 
Psalm 140.12 NIV
I know that the LORD secures justice for the poor
and upholds the cause of the needy.
 
Jeremiah 22.3 NIV
“This is what the LORD says: Do what is just and right. Rescue from the hand of the oppressor the one who has been robbed. Do no wrong or violence to the foreigner, the fatherless or the widow, and do not shed innocent blood in this place.
 
Luke 18.7-8 NIV
7 “And will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones, who cry out to him day and night? Will he keep putting them off? 8 I tell you, he will see that they get justice, and quickly. However, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?”

Apparently Lillback’s not done any word study on justice. Or he has, but he’s willfully blinded himself to the results ’cause they don’t suit his politics. As a conservative, he’s so fearful of collective responsibility—of communism, socialism, anything which interferes with his right to avoid a movement and do his own thing—that he’s even willing to dismiss God’s movements as Lefty inventions.

Social Darwinism in its place.

SOCIAL DARWINISM 'soʊ.ʃəl 'dɑr.wən.ɪz.əm noun. The idea individuals and groups are subject to the same fight for superiority and supremacy as plants and animals.

“Do for others” is a central tenet of Christianity, Lk 7.12 and “do for yourself” is a central tenet of total depravity. Yet “do for yourself” has also become a central tenet of American philosophy. Independence, individuality, freedom from co-dependence, freedom from external influence, pulling yourself up by your own bootstraps, learning to fish instead of being given a fish, making and running on your own steam: These are all qualities Americans consider admirable, and part of a good character.

But they don’t look like God’s kingdom at all. In his kingdom we’re called to submit to one another, Ep 5.21 love one another, Jn 13.34 encourage and build one another up, 1Th 5.11 and care for the weak. 1Th 5.14 Our churches, the kingdom’s outposts, oughta look like this. They don’t always. Because too many of us are Americans first, Christians second. Or we’re simply Christianist instead: We love the trappings of Christianity, but do our own thing.

Americans have largely adopted the philosophy of social Darwinism. Like animals fighting over prey, the strong will survive, the weak will perish… and that’s fine. It helps ensure only the genes of the strong will be passed down to the next generation. No it doesn’t account for time and chance, which can undermine the results. Ec 9.11 But then again social Darwinism isn’t actually a scientific description of the world. It’s solely a justification for letting the “unfit” perish—however we choose to define fitness.

The reason God calls for justice is precisely because the strong try to dominate the weak. He doesn’t want the strong to get away with sin, simply because they’re strong. Nor for the weak to perish, simply because no one offers them help. He wants Christians to treat both strong and weak equally. To stop favoring the strong, the popular, the winsome, the wealthy, the famous; and dismissing the weak. Especially since it’s the strong who exploit us Christians most. Jm 2.1-9 Historically, God takes the side of the weak against their oppressors. Far be it from us Christians to ever be found on the oppressors’ side—and suffer consequences either in this world, or the next.

We need to ask ourselves which side we’re on. In any issue. Are we helping the needy, or do our politics and personal behaviors do nothing for them, or even fight them? Are we helping the sick? The disabled? The mentally ill? The uninsured? Those people who work 60 hours a week and still can’t afford to support their families? The convicts who’ve served their time, yet still no one will cut them a break? Those people whose other life circumstances mean no one will ever hire them? Are we condemning them for their lack of skills, their lack of education, their lack of citizenship, their lack of drive, or any lack they have?

“They’re not my problem.” Wrong; they are. The default mode of every Christian must be that of a problem-solver. That’s why God gave us the Spirit’s fruit and gifts in the first place: To apply these abilities to others. That’s why the apostles instructed Christians to help the weak. 1Th 5.14 They’re precisely the people whom God’s strength is given to us to help.

This doesn’t always mean we gotta help directly. Sometimes we gotta connect people to better help. Nor does it mean we help con artists who steal what’s meant for the truly needy. Nor is the existence of con artists and lazy people an excuse for doing nothing. A lot of us Christians ought to be more generous with our resources, instead of looking for excuses to be bitter, and give less.

Helping the needy takes God’s side. Dismissing the needy—and helping their exploiters—opposes him. Our choice is clear: We must contribute to social justice, or we’re contributing to social Darwinism.

When people believe Christianity is a myth.

by K.W. Leslie, 21 August

Christianity is an historical religion. It’s based on a man named Jesus of Nazareth, who lived and breathed and died in the first century of our era. He proclaimed God’s kingdom and described what it’s like, informed us no one could get round him to the Father, Jn 14.6 and despite being crucified by the Romans, physically came back from the dead and sent his followers to proclaim this kingdom on his behalf.

If none of this stuff literally happened—if it’s pure mythology, a fiction based on cultural archetypes instead of true events, which reflects humanity’s fondest wishes, meant to teach greater truths and bigger ideas instead of being taken as fact—then we Christians have a huge problem. See, when we join God’s kingdom we’re kinda expected to change our entire lives based on its principles. We’re also promised Jesus is gonna come back to personally rule this kingdom. But if Christianity’s mythological, then Jesus won’t do any such thing, ’cause he’s dead.

Oh, and if he’s dead, we Christians don’t get resurrected and go to heaven either. ’Cause that’d be part of the myth too. We’ve been had, and are massively wasting our time: Not only is there no kingdom of God, but we die, stay dead, and go nowhere.

1 Corinthians 15.17-19 KWL
17 If Christ isn’t risen, your faith has no foundation.
You’re still in your sins, 18 and those who “sleep in Christ” are gone.
19 If hope in Christ only exists in this life, we’re the most pathetic of all people.

Yet believe it or don’t, there are people who identify themselves as Christian, and believe the bible is mostly, if not entirely, mythology. You’ll find them among the Unitarians, though most of them don’t bother with organized religion. You’ll find them among cultural Christians, who approve of Christianity’s trappings but don’t really believe any of it; who go to church to feel spiritual, but think we Christians are silly for literally believing any of this stuff.

The flood story.

by K.W. Leslie, 25 September

In Genesis there’s a story about a massive flood. Rain for a month and a half; waters which covered every hill in the area, and killed every living thing. It was, states the author of Genesis, God’s way of getting rid of the violence in the land—by getting rid of everybody but one righteous (well, righteous enough) family.

Starts like this.

Genesis 6.11-21 KWL
11 To God’s face, the land was ruined. The land was full of violence.
12 God saw the land. Look, ruin!—all flesh ruined its way in the land.
13 God told Noah, “To my face, the end of all flesh is coming:
They fill the land with violence before them. Look, the land is ruined!
14 Make yourself a box of cypress trees. Make living spaces in the box.
Plaster it from the inside to the outside with asphalt.
15 This is how you’ll make it: A box 300 cubits long, 50 cubits wide, 30 cubits high.
16 Make a window in the box, a cubit from the top. Make a doorway in the box’s side.
Make bottom, second, and third floors.
17 Look at me: I bring the deluge of waters on the land to destroy all flesh on it,
the breath of life under the heavens: Everything on the land dies.
18 I raise my relationship with you. Come into the box.
You, your sons, your woman, your sons’ women with you.
19 All living things, all flesh: Two of all comes into the box to live with you.
They’ll be male and female.
20 From the bird to its kind, from the animal of its kind,
from all which swarms the ground of its kind, two of all comes to you to live.
21 Take with you all the food you can eat. Gather it for yourselves.
It’s for food, for you and them.”
22 Noah did everything God commanded him to do.

The synchroblog is a diverse group of opinions on the same topic. For September 2018 it’s “What the flood?”—what’s your spin on the story of Noah’s flood?

No we don‘t always agree with one another—and that’s the point. Let’s see what other Christians might say on this matter.

Joseph A. Brown, Redeemer Savior
The great flood: 7 amazing lessons every Christian needs to know.
Mike Edwards, What God May Really Be Like
Did God really drown millions in the flood?
Jim Gordon, Done with Religion
There will never be a world wide flood again, but was there ever one in the first place?
Jordan Hathcock, Welcome to the Table
A flood of insightful hope.
K.W. Leslie, Christ Almighty!
The flood story.
Tomek Leszczynski, Get On With It
Flood: A remedy for corruption?
Jeremy Myers, Redeeming God
Did the flood of Genesis 6-8 really happen, and if so, did God really send it?
Scott Sloan, Life and Stories About My Dog and About My Faith
The flood as a foreshadowing to the cross of Christ—God is not like Thanos from the Infinity War.

So God has this man, Noah ben Lamekh, build himself a big black box…

Yeah, black box. What d’you think an ark is, a boat? What, were the Hebrews carrying around the Boat of the Covenant through the desert for four decades? Did Indiana Jones excavate a Nazi-killing gold boat, or am I remembering that movie all wrong?

But you’d be forgiven if you made the mistake of thinking a tevá is a boat. After all, American popular culture has the image of a boat cemented in everybody’s brain. Noah built a boat, they say—and on dry land! How the neighbors laughed and jeered at Noah and his kids for building a boat on dry land. Then when the floodwaters came, boy did they get their comeuppance.

Except it nowhere says in the bible, nowhere in Genesis, that Noah built a boat. That bit about the jeering neighbors? Not in the bible either. I know; you’ve been told that story so many times, you half remember it being biblical, don’t you? Nope; go read Genesis 7 again. Isn’t there. Never happened.

Wait, what about those people in Kentucky who made the Ark Encounter, the life-size Noah’s Ark which they claim is totally based on the bible? Read that bit of Genesis 6 again. God told Noah to build a box. Arguably log-cabin style, ’cause it’s made of ačé-gofér/“trees of cypress”; God didn’t say planed wooden planks. Covered in kofér/“bitumen,” or asphalt, so it wouldn’t be bare or stained wood, as the Ark Encounter displays, but black as the roads outside your house. Figuring a cubit is half a meter (or half a yard, if you’re American like me), Noah was instructed to make it 150 by 25 by 15, square, not with curved bow to easily cut through water, and certainly not with a rudder—who’s gonna steer it? What’s its destination? Why would Noah presumptively assume this box would even float?—for all he knew it might stay where it was, underwater, waiting for the floods to pass.

The Kentucky monstrosity is entirely based on popular Christian culture, and what generations of American preachers and their art have speculated about Noah’s box. Something which actually requires less faith in God than Genesis is describing. ’Cause they imagine Noah built something seaworthy, that could survive on its own—instead of something God would have to miraculously preserve, and did.

So when skeptics ask me whether I believe the bible’s flood story, I can’t give them a simple yes. ’Cause I do believe the story. But the story I believe is the plausible one we find in the bible. Not as it’s told by young-earth creationists, who have turned it into Christian mythology, then turned that into junk science.

“Just war”: Vengeance disguised as righteousness.

by K.W. Leslie, 24 July

Humans like to take revenge.

Watch two kids on the playground. One will smack the other, entirely by accident. (That’s what they claim, anyway.) The other kid will immediately want to retaliate. And not in some equitable blow-for-blow response, either. They’ll wanna beat the living tar out of the other kid.

That’s not a learned behavior. Just the opposite: It’s instinct. It’s our self-preservation instinct, but warped by human depravity till we defend ourselves from future harm by preemptively destroying anything or anyone who might harm us. Kids have to be trained to not retaliate like this.

A good parent is gonna teach their kids to forgive. (It was unintentional, after all.) Even selfish parents won’t necessarily demand a reciprocal response. Although the dumber ones might: “She hit you? Hit her back!” But this behavior will backfire: Kids’ll do as comes naturally, and hit back harder. And then the first kid hits back even harder. And things escalate from there.

I know; from time to time someone will insist revenge isn’t part of human nature; that left to their own devices children will be naturally peaceful and good. Clearly they don’t have children. Nor do they remember they were conditioned to forgive and let live, rather than respond in vengeance and wrath. True, some kids are passive, some are cowards, and some are much easier to train than others. But that doesn’t mean we don’t all need such training. We humans aren’t peaceful creatures.

Take these playground disagreements to an adult level, to a national level, and we wind up with war.

One nation harms or offends a second nation. The second nation will wanna retaliate. I was gonna say “understandably,” because we all understand they would; we would. And the wronged nation won’t wanna respond proportionally: They wanna respond punitively. They wanna hurt the nation which hurt them. Make ’em suffer—or at least fear to ever attack again. Karma goes right out the window.

But we’ll call it “justice.” That’s the Christianese term for vengeance. Actual justice is about doing what’s just—what’s equitable, what’s fair, what’s morally right. You know, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, limb for limb. Ex 21.24 What westerners mean by karma. But when American Christians say “justice” we are, once again, talking about a punitive response. It doesn’t match the crime; it exceeds it because we feel the perpetrator should suffer loss. Steal $100 and you should have to pay back $150, with the extra $50 teaching you to never do that again. Even if you accidentally, unintentionally took the $100: You should’ve been more conscientious.

Since the people of the United States predominantly claim to be Christian, this mindset of “justice” is immediately gonna slam into a little something Jesus taught about war:

Matthew 5.9 KWL
“Those making peace: How awesome!—they’ll be called God’s children.”

Wait, Jesus expects God’s kids to make peace?

Well of course. Because that’s how you actually stop a war. Not by destroying your opponent, but by befriending your opponent. Not with vengeance but forgiveness. It’s how God acts towards his kids. He could easily flatten us. But he’d rather adopt us.

The problem with Jesus’s teaching? It violates our sense of vengeance. It interferes with our desire to destroy our enemies. It strikes us as impractical: “But how’s that gonna stop them from still doing evil?” We don’t like it, so we find excuses to never do it—same as every other teaching of Jesus.

Surrendering our authority to Jesus.

by K.W. Leslie, 26 June

When I was a kid I came across one of Bill Bright’s gospel tracts, in which he diagrammed the difference between a self-centered life and a Jesus-centered life. Looked like yea.


Or “self-directed” and “Christ-directed.” Either way. Discover God

If our lives are self-centered, supposedly they’ll be chaos. Whereas if they’re Jesus-centered, they appear to be neat and orderly and crisis-free. With none of the challenges, persecutions, temptations, suffering, or any of the things Jesus totally warned us were part of life. Yeah, certain gospel tracts tend to promise a little too much. Bright’s was one of them.

But lemme get back to my point: The idea of a Jesus-centered life, as opposed to a self-centered one. That is in fact the whole point of Christianity: Jesus is Lord. We’re meant to follow his steps in everything we do, 1Pe 2.21, 1Jn 2.6 always take him into consideration, obey his teachings, seek his will. He’s the king of God’s kingdom, and if you want in, he has to be in charge.

In practice he’s not Lord at all.

Well he’s not. Absolutely should be. But you know how humans are: We decide who we’re gonna follow and obey. Sometimes actively, ’cause we seek out authority figures and mentors and books to follow; sometimes passively, ’cause we do as our bosses or spouses or parents tell us, and don’t fight it, even when we really oughta. Sometimes willingly, sometimes grudgingly. Sometimes connivingly: We decide exactly how we’re gonna fulfill our orders, and some of us accomplish them in ways our bosses never dreamed of, or even wanted. Even if we like these bosses.

Connivingly was the Pharisees’ problem. Contrary to popular belief, the problem with the Pharisees in the New Testament wasn’t legalism. Jesus’s complaints to the Pharisees were about how they bent God’s commands, or outright nullfied ’em for the sake of their traditions. That’s why he called them hypocrites: They pretended to follow the Law, but broke it all the time. True legalists are no hypocrites; they’re trying to follow the rules as carefully as possible, but in their zeal they’re overdoing things. Pharisees overdid a few things, but only as a smokescreen for the many, many things they left undone.

We Christians tend to condemn Pharisees whenever we read about ’em in the bible. But because most of us have no idea what their real failing was, we condemn them soundly… then turn round and do the very same things they did. We pick and choose which of Jesus’s instructions we’re gonna follow, and let the others slide. We interpret Jesus’s teachings all loosey-goosey, reinterpret Jesus himself so he suits us best, project our motives upon him, and claim we loyally follow him… when we’re really following ourselves. Never stopped following ourselves. We simply dressed the id in a Christian T-shirt, redefined our fleshly behaviors as spiritual fruit, and presume our irreligion is “maturity” because now it comes so easily.

Basically we’re still in that left circle, with ourselves in charge and Jesus outside. But we imagine Jesus is in charge. We imagine it really hard. Doesn’t make it true, but people can psyche ourselves into all sorts of things when we want ’em bad enough.

How long does hell last?

by K.W. Leslie, 24 May

Some say forever, some say temporarily, and some say no time at all.

As I explained in my article “The four hells,” there are four words translated hell in the scriptures, and the one I mean by “hell” is ge-Henna, the trash fire outside Jerusalem, reimagined in Revelation as a pool of fire and sulfur outside New Jerusalem. Rv 20.10-15 Into it go Satan and its angels, the Beast, the fake prophet who promotes the Beast, the personifications of Death and Hades (i.e. the afterlife), and everyone whose name isn’t listed in the life scroll—everyone who refused to turn to God for salvation, and therefore don’t get to enter his kingdom.

The Beast and prophet are explicitly described as being “tortured there, day and night, age to ages.” Rv 20.10 Though this lake is known as the second death, Rv 20.14 it doesn’t have a sense of finality like death seems to. Death feels like an absolute stopping point—when you’re dead, you’re not alive, you’re not moving, you’re not breathing, you’re not thinking, you’re not anything; you’re dead. Whereas the second death sounds more like the beings sent into it aren’t inert, but moving, conscious… and suffering from eternal torment. Because they’re in fire. Everlasting fire, as the King James Version put it. Mt 25.41 KJV Where quite unlike the trash fires of the literal ge-Henna, the worms don’t die, and the fire never goes out. Is 66.24, Mk 9.48

Now, I know certain dark Christians who love this idea of eternal conscious torment. Partly because there are certain people they’d love to see tortured forever. Satan obviously. But most of the time they’re thinking of certain political opponents. Certain unrepentant adversaries we’ve defeated in war. Certain obnoxious people they know. Yeah, I know: We all have people we don’t like, but… longing to see them burn forever? What is wrong with these people? Since God doesn’t wanna see anyone perish, 2Pe 3.9 and these people do, this sort of fleshly, fruitless gracelessness suggests these people don’t have any real relationship with God, much as they claim to. I don’t care what they call themselves.

The other reason they love the idea of eternal torment—a reason which is just a bit more legit than t’other—is because they figure it’s a powerful motivator for getting people into God’s kingdom. If anyone’s on the fence about this idea of living under Jesus’s reign in peace and harmony (mainly ’cause the church is full of a--holes like me), Christians can point out the alternative: Outside the kingdom, it’s hot, stinky hell. You don’t wanna go to hell! We don’t want you there either; God doesn’t want you there either; why go there when you don’t have to? Don’t worry about the jerks in the church; Jesus’ll deal with them. Focus on Jesus. Turn to him. Let him save you.

The rest of us really don’t love the idea of eternal torment. Problem is, we don’t really see any way around it. That’s what Jesus describes in the scriptures. So that’s the reality we’re obligated to deal with: When people reject Jesus, that’s the destination they’ve effectively chosen. If people prefer a cosmetic relationship with Christianity over a living relationship with Jesus, that’s where they’re going.

It’s not like we can make up a reality we like better. Although that’s never stopped people from trying, has it?

True compassion: Offer help, not just advice.

by K.W. Leslie, 09 December
Hebrews 4.14-16 KWL
14 Since we have a great head priest who passed through the heavens—Jesus, God’s son—
we should hold sway by agreeing with him:
15 We don’t have a head priest who can’t sympathize with our weaknesses.
He was tested by everything just the same—and passed the test sinlessly.
16 So we should come to his gracious throne boldly:
We should receive mercy. We should find the grace to help us in time.

The fruit of the Holy Spirit reflects the thinking and attitude of the Spirit, those traits of his which oughta come pouring out of the people he lives within. And which are invisible, or nearly so, in the people he’s not within—or they’ve figured out a way to fake ’em.

Compassion, the ability to feel for other people, to sympathize with what they’re going through, to want to be gracious and helpful to them, is definitely a Christlike trait. Conversely its lack is definitely an antichristlike trait. Christians will care; antichrists won’t. Christians will reach out when people have need; antichrists will figure those people aren’t their problem… till they start affecting property values or taxes. Or if people who lack compassion wanna look good to the public, or get tax breaks, they figure maybe they should help those people; maybe not exactly the way those people want, but what do they know? If they knew better they wouldn’t be needy. Beggars shouldn’t be choosers anyway.

I’ve worked in a few different charities, and saw firsthand the differing attitudes of the religious and irreligious folks who worked there. In the Christians you’d see the other fruit of the Spirit come out: Patience, kindness, joy, love. In the irreligious Christians and the pagans, frustration, harshness, sarcasm, coldness. “These people. God. They’re so pathetic. Why should we have to help them? Why can’t they pull themselves up by their own bootstraps? Best thing for them. Makes ’em independent. Makes ’em tough and hard. Like me.”

Yeah, I’ve met a lot of not-so-compassionate people in the church, offering their frigid sort of “comfort” to the suffering. I’ve been the recipient of some of it.

Taking God’s amazing grace for granted.

by K.W. Leslie, 10 November

Legalism is the opposite of grace. But we’re quick to cry legalism if it gets us out of stuff.

CHEAP GRACE /tʃip greɪs/ n. Treatment of God’s forgiveness, generosity, and loving attitude, as if it’s nothing special; as if it cost him little.

Whenever I bring up the subject of cheap grace, some Christian invariably objects: “Grace is not cheap.” Even if I’ve explained in advance what I mean by cheap grace; even if I’ve written an entire essay defining the idea.

Every. Single. Time.

’Cause some Christians don’t read. The title’s about cheap grace, so they skip to the comments and object: “Grace isn’t cheap!” They see a link to an article about cheap grace, so they respond to the link or the Tweet or the post, “Grace isn’t cheap!” While speaking, I use the words “cheap grace” in a sentence, and they wait for the first chance to interrupt: “Grace isn’t cheap!”

YES. I KNOW. I’M TRYING TO MAKE THAT POINT. I WOULD IF YOUD LISTEN. So can you please keep your knee from jerking just this once, and give me a minute? Okay? (Betcha I’m still gonna get those comments regardless. You just watch. Ugh.)

Adam Clayton Powell Sr. gets credited with coining this term, and Dietrich Bonhoeffer with popularizing the heck out of it in his The Cost of Discipleship. It’s used to describe “grace”—whenever this grace is misdefined and malpracticed by irreligious Christians. As Bonhoeffer put it,

Cheap grace means the justification of sin without the justification of the sinner. Grace alone does everything, they say, and so everything can remain as it was before. “All for sin could not atone.” The world goes on in the same old way, and we are still sinners “even in the best life” as Luther said. Well, then, let the Christian live like the rest of the world, let him model himself on the world’s standards in every sphere of life, and not presumptuously aspire to live a different life under grace from his old life under sin. […] Cheap grace is not the kind of forgiveness of sin which frees us from the toils of sin. Cheap grace is the grace we bestow on ourselves.

Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, communion without confession, absolution without personal confession. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate. Bonhoeffer 44-45

That’s cheap grace: Taking expensive, valuable, amazing grace, and demeaning it by using it as a free pass to sin. Taking God’s safety net, and bouncing on it for fun like a trampoline.

Part of the reason people object to the term “cheap grace” is they don’t like to see God’s generosity taken so casually like that. Well, me neither.

Part of it’s ’cause they don’t think God’s grace actually can be cheapened.

Synchrobloggery.

by K.W. Leslie, 17 October

Sometimes you just wanna know what other people think about the same topic.

Really, this is a story, not a non-sequitur: Back in 2007 my mother took a college course on Christian apologetics.

Since I’m the seminarian in the family, Mom kept picking my brain. And I’m really not the brain you wanna pick. Thanks to my Fundamentalist upbringing, I spent years studying apologetics… and trying it out on Dad, who’s atheist. Then I spent a few more years inflicting it on various other pagan skeptics. After some years working with real evangelists, who share the gospel instead of arguing it, I came to a rather heterodox view of apologetics.

Bluntly, apologetics are cessationists’ thoroughly inadequate substitute for testimonies. You don’t tell people about what God’s done in your life, ’cause as far as you believe, all his acts are theological, spiritual, invisible, and largely hypothetical. You don’t talk about what he’s shown you through your faithful obedience, ’cause you’ve not done a lot of that either. Don’t bother to develop any fruits of the Spirit. Instead, indulge one of the more self-gratifying works of the flesh: Argue. Verbally tear those pagans a new one.

You give ’em logical arguments for the existence of God. Explanations why the bible is historical and believable. Reasons the resurrection has to have happened. Ideas to believe, rather than a Person worth believing in. And most useless of all, reasons why evolution isn’t true—which tells pagans faster than any T-shirt slogan, “I don’t believe in science, and am therefore an idiot. Trust nothing else which comes out of my mouth.”

If you object to that characterization, I’ll deal with you later.

Obviously I don’t have a lot of use for apologetics. From the sound of it, neither did Mom’s professor: He was only teaching the class because somebody had to; it was a required course if you sought ordination. When Mom started sharing some of my conclusions in class, and revealed where she got ’em from, he decided maybe he and I oughta become “friends,” as they call ’em, on Facebook. His name’s John. Blame him for getting me into synchroblogging.

Why we gotta have freedom of expression.

by K.W. Leslie, 16 October

And in this age, we have Blog Action Days.


I’m participating in the Blog Action Day thingy, an attempt to get bloggers and their readers to focus on a particular worthy issue. This year it’s #RaiseYourVoice, an attempt to speak up on behalf of journalists, photographers, bloggers, writers, and pretty much everyone who’s not allowed to speak up for themselves.

In the United States, freedom of expression is pretty much the content of our Constitution’s first amendment: A guaranteed freedom of religion, speech, the press, and to petition government.

Among us Christians, freedom of expression is a tricky thing. Because not every Christian is agreed we have freedom of expression. Or should have.

I know many a Christian who’s outraged, outraged, by some of the stuff on television. It’s just filthy. So, they tell anyone who’ll listen, they got rid of their TV. They threw it right out. They don’t watch it anymore.

…Well okay, they watch stuff on the Blu-ray player. And off Netflix. And sometimes they’ll reconnect the cable for sports. And they’ve downloaded every episode of Little House on the Prarie from Amazon, but watching old TV doesn’t count as “watching TV,” does it?…

Anyway. Some things, many of us Christians insist, shouldn’t be so freely expressed. “Let no unwholesome word come out of your mouth” Ep 4.29 and “Touch not the unclean thing” 2Co 6.17 and all that. We practice self-control, or at least we fake it really well. So others should practice self-control. And if they can’t, maybe we oughta pass some laws. Or, if doing so bothers our sense of libertarianism, we can just do as we usually do: Boycott them, boycott their sponsors, boycott their business partners, shout ’em down, hack their websites, slander ’em widely, and otherwise try to ruin them. ’Cause it’s our duty as good citizens and devout Christians.

But when other people do all that stuff to us—why, we’re being persecuted.

It’s a blind spot. A big black hole of a blind spot, where the inconsistency falls in and gets squashed into a singularity: “Those are entirely different things. They’re promoting evil. We’re promoting Jesus. (And our politics, which are Jesus-approved, so they’re part of the package.) Evil needs to be fought. And it’s evil to fight us, ’cause we’re on God’s side.”

So when I talk to my fellow Christians about freedom of expression, they’re all for it—for us. Not so much for others.