If you don’t follow Jesus, of course you misunderstand him.

by K.W. Leslie, 30 September

John 8.21-29.

As you know, those who imagine Jesus is only a great moral teacher, and figure “I’m the world’s light” means that and no more, tend to ignore the radical statements Jesus made about who he is, what he can do, and who sent him and why. They refuse to recognize him for who he is. When he made roundabout statements about it, they deliberately chose to misinterpret him; when he made blunt statements about it, they wanted to kill him. John 8 contains both such things.

So let’s get to those things. Back to temple, Jn 8.20 where Jesus was teaching yet another lesson to skeptical people.

John 8.21-29 KWL
21 So Jesus told them again: “I’m going away.
You’ll seek me, and you’ll be destroyed by your sins: You can’t go where I go.”
22 So the Judeans said, “He won’t kill himself, will he?
—because Jesus said, “You can’t go where I go.”
23 Jesus told them, “You’re from below. I’m from above.
You’re from this world. I’m not from this world.
24 So I told you you’ll be destroyed by your sins,
for when you won’t believe who I am, you’ll be destroyed by your sins.”
25 So the Judeans told him, “Who are you?”
Jesus told them, “I’ve been telling you who, since the beginning.
26 I have much to say and judge about you—but my Sender is truth.
And what things I heard from him, I speak to the world.”
27 The Judeans didn’t understand he spoke to them of the Father,
28 so Jesus told them, “When you exalt the Son of Man, you’ll then know who I am.
I do nothing on my own, but I speak these things just as my Father teaches me.
29 My Sender is with me; he’s not left me alone, so I can always do what pleases him.”

As the world’s light, those who follow Jesus get our eternal life from him. Jn 8.12 And those who don’t, who have no intention of following him, can’t possibly go where he does. Don’t wanna go where he’s going. He’s leading us to his kingdom. They might imagine they want God’s kingdom, but they want something radically different than what he’s creating, so they’re not going in. So their sins will destroy them.

Listening to our God, not our gut.

by K.W. Leslie, 27 September

Jude 1.19-25.

Years ago, I had to deal with an unteachable co-worker. We’ll call him Ulises. Nice guy, but nobody could tell him a thing: He knew what he already knew, and figured he already knew best. This attitude eventually got him fired. Our boss discovered repeated warnings just weren’t working, and sent him home.

Ulises followed his gut. Most people do. They encourage us to. We’re supposed to listen to that deep inner voice which tells us what we really oughta do. What we really want, what’s really best for us, what’s the right thing to do: The inner voice knows all. Don’t starve it.

Sometimes we call it following your instincts, following your hunches, following your gut; following the core of our being which knows the difference between wise and dumb, true and false, right and wrong, good and evil. Christians imagine it was put there by God. And it’s not a new idea, believe it or don’t; it’s always been around. Every generation dusts it off and repackages it.

The ancient Greeks called it the πνεῦμα ψυχικόν/néfma syhikón, “psychic spirit,” the essence of life. First God creates the life-giving air, we breathe it, and in our lungs it’s turned into the πνεῦμα ζωτικόν/néfma zotikón, “vital spirit,” and then it works our way into our minds and becomes psychic spirit. This psychic spirit travels down our nerves, moves our limbs, and makes us alive. Oh, and as a handy side effect it also imparts divine wisdom.

Your average person who follows their inner voice, has never heard of this and may even think it’s rubbish. But Plato, Erasistratus, Galen, and plenty of ancient Greeks sure did. And of course these beliefs trickled into the church, and warped a few teachers. And that’s where we get to Jude.

Jude 1.19-20 KWL
19 They’re the ones making distinctions based on a “psychic spirit” they don’t have.
20 You, beloved: Build each other up in your most holy faith. Pray by the Holy Spirit.

We Christians aren’t to follow any “psychic spirit,” inner voice, id, instinct, inner child, or whatever you wanna call it. Because the scriptures actually call this our flesh. It’s our carnal human impulses, our self-preservation instinct gone wrong, our sin nature. I often joke my inner child is really an inner brat: He’s whiny and selfish, and needs to be “put in time out” forever. Brats need discipline.

In contrast, Jude told his readers to pray by the Holy Spirit. We’re not to follow our own spirits, but our Lord. The inner voice is the wrong voice—and the devil does a mighty good job of hijacking it, making evil look good or pragmatic, and getting us to do evil instead. So listen for God. The Spirit knows the right way to go.

And confirm him. One of the ways we do that is with our “most holy faith”—the religion taught by Jesus, confirmed by his prophets and apostles in the bible, handed down and encouraged in by the Christians of our churches. You know who you believe in; keep believing in him. Join hands with his fellow servants and follow him together. Not on our own, where we can go horribly wrong: Together.

When Christians have no respect for leadership.

by K.W. Leslie, 26 September

Jude 1.14-18.

I previously explained when Jude referred to the mythology of his day, it doesn’t mean Jude considered these books historical or authoritative. I bring this up again ’cause Jude quoted a bit from 1 Enoch, a fictional firsthand account of heaven as shown to Noah’s great-grandfather Enoch. (Who went there y’know. Ge 5.24)

Jude 1.14-15 KWL
14 Enoch, the seventh from Adam, prophesied about them,
saying “Look, the Lord comes with myriads of his saints, 15 making judgment upon all,
examining every life against all their irreverent work, irreverently done;
concerning every harsh thing the irreverent sinners said against him.”

No, 1 Enoch wasn’t actually written by Enoch. It was written in Aramaic, a language which didn’t even exist in whatever century Enoch lived in. It claims to be by him, so we call it pseudepigrapha, which means “fake writings.” But it’s fanfiction. Well-known fanfiction; Paul even took the idea of the “third heaven” from it, 2Co 12.2 ’cause that’s where paradise is figured to be. There’s even a copy of it among the Dead Sea scrolls.

The bit Jude quoted comes from this passage—I’m quoting a Greek translation found in the Codex Panopolitanus.

…that he comes with his myriads and his saints, making judgment upon all. He will destroy all the irreverent, and examine all flesh against all their irreverent work, irreverently done; and harsh words which the irreverent said, and everything which the irreverent sinners said together about him. 1 Enoch 1.9 KWL

Obviously Jude wasn’t making an exact quote; he may have been quoting it from memory.

Think of it this way. Say I’m talking about Jesus’s second coming. Say, in order to make a point, I quote Larry Norman’s “I Wish We’d All Been Ready”:

There’s no time to change your mind;
The Son has come and you’ve been left behind.

Norman was hardly an infallible prophet. But hey, he rhymes; and as we learned from The Lego Movie, that ain’t nothing. Some people will believe anything put to poetry.

Why do people quote other people? Usually it’s to criticize, but often it’s to prove we’re hardly the only people who believe as we do. Jude was far from the only apostle to teach Jesus is returning and’ll judge the wicked. But when Jude wrote his letter, he didn’t have their writings to quote from. So he quoted what he did have, off the top of his head: 1 Enoch. It’s not bible, but it’s something. Something his audience knew.

Still true, too. Jesus is returning and’ll judge the wicked. And go-it-alone Christians who presume they’re righteous when they reject Jesus’s church, who slam church leaders and presume their rebellion is righteousness, are gonna find themselves on the wrong side of salvation history.

Rebellion against God’s authorities. Not his angels.

by K.W. Leslie, 25 September

Jude 1.8-13.

Previously I brought up the people with whom Jude disputed in his letter: The folks who were going their own way, embracing their favorite myths instead of Christianity, going astray, and leading others with them.

And I suspect the reason Jude kept referring to Pharisee mythology throughout his letter, was because these ancient Christianists were likely also referring to Pharisee myths. Christians still do it too, y’know. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve heard non-biblical stories about Satan, used as proof how it behaves or what it’s up to. Preachers like to claim these stories give us insight into devilish behavior. More like insight into how little homework people do before they get behind the pulpit and claim to teach God’s word.

In my experience, when a person’s quoting myths instead of bible, not only do they take bible out of context, but usually take the myths out of context too. So what I believe Jude did here (and yeah, I admit I’m biased in favor of this interpretation ’cause it’s what I’d do—isn’t that how bias usually works?) was find out what the myths really taught, then turn ’em around on the heretics. Like so.

Jude 1.8-10 KWL
8 Of course these people who dream of flesh stain themselves.
They reject authority. They slander the well-thought-of.
9 When the head angel Michael was debating with the devil over Moses’s body,
it didn’t dare bring a charge of slander, but said, “Lord rebuke you.”
10 These people don’t understand such things, and slander them.

Nope, we don’t have a copy of where the Michael-debating-Satan story comes from. The early church father Origen believed it’s from a book called The Ascension of Moses. De Principiis 3.2.1 We think we have a copy of that book, but our copy doesn’t include that story. Maybe Origen was wrong; maybe we have the wrong book; maybe our copy of the book is missing a chapter; doesn’t matter. Plenty of Pharisee myths include heavenly courtroom cases, with Satan as adversary and other popular angels as defenders. Some of our own, too: Stephen Vincent Benét’s 1936 short story “The Devil and Daniel Webster” has a lot of parodies in popular culture.

So when these ancient misbehaving Christians claimed, “It’s okay to tear Christian leaders a new one when they’re wrong… after all, Michael ripped Satan a new one in The Ascension of Moses,” Jude came right back at ’em with, “Nope; you read that story wrong. Michael didn’t ‘rip Satan a new one.’ Satan fought dirty, but Michael behaved itself, and resisted the temptation to act like an ass. Not so much you.”

A lesson plenty of Christians nowadays have definitely not followed.

Lessons from Jewish (and Christian) mythology.

by K.W. Leslie, 24 September

Jude 1.5-8.

Jude 1.5-6 KWL
5 I want to remind you—though you knew all this already:
First the Lord rescued his people out of Egypt. Second, he destroyed those who didn’t trust him.
6 Including the angels!—who didn’t keep their original authority, but abandoned their own dwelling.
For their judgment on the Great Day: Kept in indestructible chains, in the dark.

Jude isn’t the only apostle who finds it fascinating that God judges angels. (And apparently we Christians judge ’em too. 1Co 6.3) Simon Peter brought ’em up, 2Pe 2.4 and Christ Jesus himself taught the everlasting fire was constructed for them. Mt 24.41 The apostles liked to point out God doesn’t spare angels when they sin, and he’s mighty close to them… so why do we presume he’ll spare us humans when we sin? Grace is awesome, but it’s still not a free pass.

Irritatingly, popular Christian theology has made the apostles’ idea meaningless. How? Because we teach angels don’t get judged the same way as humans. Different species, different rules.

We point out the bible says nothing about atonement for angels. ’Cause it doesn’t. Jesus died to make humanity right with God. Not angels. Jesus became human to die for us. He didn’t become angel. He came to save the world, Jn 3.17 not the heavens. Angels can go take a flying leap.

“Jesus didn’t die for angels” gets repeated in pulpits, in seminaries, everywhere. Humans get grace; angels don’t. Humans sin and get forgiven; angels sin and never, ever do. Because, it’s explained (and this explanation doesn’t come from bible), angels see God. Up close. So when they sin it’s a billion times worse: They of all people should know better than sin. Consequently when they sin, it’s one strike and you’re out: They fall from grace and go to hell. Do not pass the cross; do not collect atonement.

This strikes me as entirely inconsistent with God. He’s love, remember? 1Jn 4.8, 16 So how would his love evaporate when an angel sins? Why are humans of such value he gave us his Son, but angels are as disposable as a ripped ketchup packet? Even if God loves us humans way more than he does angels, it’s still really contrary to grace to imagine God has none for them.

And inconsistent with what the apostles taught. They were trying to make a logical comparison between angels and us: If angels get in trouble, so do we.

All right, let’s plow through Jude.

by K.W. Leslie, 23 September

Jude 1.1-5.

On my previous blog I was midway through Jude, and then I stopped doing that blog and started TXAB. So some people were wondering whether I’d ever go back to it… and others didn’t care, ’cause Jude’s an obscure little letter which makes no sense to them, and they’d rather I analyze other books. And cut out that whole debunking popular Christian myths thingy I do, and just reconfirm all the things they already believe.

My mini-rant aside, yeah I dropped the ball, but here I pick it back up.

Jude 1.1-2 KWL
1 Judah, slave of Christ Jesus, Jacob’s brother, to those in God the Father—
those whom Christ Jesus loves, those whom he watched over, those whom he called.
2 May mercy, peace, and love be multiplied to you all.

“Judah” would be Judah of Nazareth, brother of Ἰακώβου/Yakóvu, i.e. Jacob of Nazareth, who’s better known to us as James. (That’s what happened after medieval English-speakers mixed up the Latin names Iacobus and Iacomus.) This’d be the James who was bishop of Jerusalem, who wrote the letter we call James, who’s therefore Christ Jesus’s brother. Mk 6.3 Which means Judah, who’s better known to us as Jude, is also Christ Jesus’s brother.

Protestants and some Orthodox figure Jude’s the biological son of Mary and Joseph, Jesus’s mom and adoptive dad. But according to Roman Catholics Jesus’s mom stayed a virgin, so she’s either Jude’s stepmom, or the word ἀδελφοὶ/adelfé, “siblings,” used to describe James and Jude and their brothers Joses and Simon, Mt 13.55 actually meant “cousins.” (As it gradually came to mean, once Catholics insisted long and hard enough it could mean that too.)

Now Jesus did have a cousin named Judah, “Judas of James,” whom he made one of his Twelve. Lk 6.16, Ac 1.13 In other gospels, Judas of James got swapped with Thaddaeus, Mk 3.18, Mt 10.3 which is why Catholics often call him “Jude Thaddaeus.” They figure the Jude who wrote this book is that Jude.

I figure he’s Jesus’s brother, but brother or cousin, either way Jude is family.

Jesus’s brothers didn’t really believe in Jesus Jn 7.5 till he was resurrected. Then they joined his followers Ac 1.14 and led some of his churches. He’s called Jude instead of Judah ’cause “Jude” was how you spelled Judah back when English-speakers still pronounced those silent E’s.

We don’t know where Jude wrote from, or to, or precisely when, ’cause he didn’t say. Considering all the references Jude made to Pharisee myths, it’s a good bet he wrote to Pharisees. Just as James wrote his letter to Jews scattered all over the Roman Empire, Jude likely had the same audience in mind. (As James’s brother, if you’re gonna listen to the one, you’ll likely listen to the other.) So same as James, Jude’s letter applies to us Christians today when we go through the same scenarios. It’s why the ancient Christians kept it.

So let’s get to it.

Worldviews: What Christianists promote instead of orthodoxy.

by K.W. Leslie, 20 September
WORLDVIEW 'wərld.vju noun. A particular philosophy about life, or concept of human and social interaction.

When Christians talk about worldviews, we’re talking about politics.

Yeah, Christian apologists who examine “the Christian worldview” claim they’re talking about how we Christians understand the world around us, based on what God created it to be—as opposed to how pagans and nontheists interpret things. But three things you’re gonna notice really quickly about their interpretations:

  • It invariably leads to a politically conservative point of view—regardless of whether Jesus even addressed, much less supports, their favorite conservative views.
  • It invariably leads to their particular church’s views on God. Fits extremely well if you’re Calvinist or Fundamentalist… and less so if you’re not. (God help you if you’re Roman Catholic.)
  • It doesn’t promote loving our neighbors so we can point ’em to Jesus. More like being appalled at the stuff they’re trying to sneak past us, and therefore angry with our neighbors.

Anger’s a work of the flesh, folks, and one of the faster ways to get people to stop thinking, start reacting, and follow whoever riled ’em up. It’s what got the crowds to shout, “Crucify him!” It’s a very useful political tool. As are worldview studies, ’cause they’re basically political apologetics disguised as Christian apologetics.

Our word worldview was borrowed by Christian apologist Francis Schaeffer in the 1960s from the German word Weltanschauung 'vɛlt.ɑn.ʃaʊ.ʊŋ, “world-outlook.” German linguists coined it to describe how language grows to include new ideas. Fr’instance it’s hard to talk about a rodpur when you’ve never heard of a rodpur, and have no idea what it is. Once you learn it’s a nektim with a purple essip coming out its porgir, then you have a better idea of it, and we can start talking about it: Your worldview has expanded to include the word and idea. Thus language and culture grow at the same time. (Yeah, I made up all those unfamiliar words, but you get the point.)

Historians and psychologists were more fascinated by what happens when two cultures with different worldviews clash. That’s what interested Schaeffer about it. Like St. Augustine’s book City of God, Schaeffer looked at the way the Christian worldview—which he equated with God’s kingdom—butted heads with secular popular culture. Those who talk about the Christian worldview tend to focus on what Schaeffer’s disciple Charles Colson called “kingdoms in conflict”—the Christian worldview versus the secular worldview.

Ah, but which secular worldview? And for that matter, which Christian worldview? See, Schaeffer and Colson were modernists, who presumed there’s one single, correct way to look at the world. One way which matches Jesus best. Any other view is, bluntly, wrong.

Which leaves us no room for Christian diversity, for freedom in Christ, for letting each believer be fully persuaded in their own mind without condemning one another. Ro 14.4-5 Jesus isn’t the one right way and truth; Jn 14.6 their worldview is. So, y’know, they’re promoting legalism.

But primarily political conservatism. Which is why they don’t realize it’s really Christianism: They’re distorting religion, and stirring up other works of the flesh like divisiveness and partisanship.

When’d the events of the bible take place?

by K.W. Leslie, 19 September

Humanity largely uses the Gregorian calendar, Pope Gregory’s 1582 update of the Julian calendar, which was Julius Caesar’s 46BC update of the old Roman calendar, which according to legend was an update of Romulus’s 10-month 360-day calendar. So, y’know, it’s clearly not the calendar Moses used.

Add to this the fact the bible’s authors didn’t really tie their events to specific dates. They rarely said, “On the , such-and-so gave this prophecy….” Didn’t occur to them to be this kind of exact. That’s a western priority, and one a lot of today’s middle easterners share. But it’s not an ancient middle eastern one. Doesn’t make a story more true, or feel more real and less mythological or fairy-taleish, when you can begin with an exact date instead of “Once upon a time.”

This lack of dates makes westerners bonkers: We wanna know when these events happened! What year did the Exodus take place? What year did Abraham die? When’d Noah’s flood happen? We want details, dangit. But honestly, we don’t have those details. We have estimates, based on the few clues the bible provides.

So this article isn’t gonna give you any peace of mind about these dates. All I have are best guesses; namely the guesses of various Christians who don’t always know what they’re doing.

“Christ-followers”: Rebranding for the wrong reasons.

by K.W. Leslie, 18 September
CHRIST-FOLLOWER 'kraɪst fɑ.loʊ.ər noun. Adherent or devotee of Christ Jesus.
2. One who believes themself a real devotee of Christ, as opposed to other Christians.

To be fair, a lot of Christians aren’t doing the title “Christian” any favors.

There are irreligious Christians, who figure all they need do is believe, and figure obedience is for suckers people who don’t believe. There are fruitless Christians, whose character is no different than pagans, but who point to their beliefs or works and think that should count for something. There are Christianists, who don’t know there’s any difference between their culture or their politics, and what Jesus teaches—but they clearly aren’t doing as Jesus teaches.

And there are Christians who aren’t as bad as all that. They’re working on it. Some harder than others. But let’s give ’em some grace, shall we?

But other Christians have decided there are so many substandard Christians, the title “Christian” has simply been ruined. Same as the titles “Evangelical,” or “Fundamentalist,” or “born again,” or “disciple,” “apostle,” “believer,” “Christ-bearer,” or what have you. The usual titles have been so befouled by posers, they’re gonna rebrand.

So they call themselves Christ-followers. As in,

SHE. “Are you Christian?”
HE. [correcting her] “A Christ-follower.”

Not in the sense that “Christian” and “Christ-follower” are synonyms. To these people they’re not synonyms: A “Christian” is someone who claims allegiance to Jesus but doesn’t really follow him. Doesn’t really take him seriously. Not like they do.

Yep, that’s the underlying message they’re trying to give everybody: They follow Jesus, and the rest of us [sneer] “Christians,” not so much. They… well, lemme have our Lord Jesus more accurately express the way they feel.

Luke 18.11-12 KWL
11 “Standing by himself, the [Christ-follower] prayed this: ‘God, thank you that I’m not like the other people!
Those greedy, unrighteous cheaters—or even like this taxman.
13 I fast twice a week. I tithe everything I get.’ ”

Yeah, this bit comes from Jesus’s Pharisee and Taxman Story. Lk 18.9-14 You may recall Jesus didn’t care for this particular prayer. It wasn’t that of a humble follower, but a pretentious ass. Those who exalt themselves, Jesus concluded, get humbled. Those who think they’re better than other people have another think coming.

When God answers our mundane prayers: Thank him!

by K.W. Leslie, 17 September

I’ve written before about how we can pray for ordinary stuff. That it’s okay to pray for ordinary stuff. God wants us to cast all our cares on him, 1Pe 5.7 and not worry about all the silly daily things we ordinarily do, and that pagans fret about. Mt 6.25-33 So go ahead and pray for God to help you find your phone. Or to speed up a traffic light. Or to help your kids do well on that spelling quiz. Or for a generally good day.

And y’know, plenty of Christians already do precisely this. We pray all the time for little trivial things. “God, I’m gonna be late!” “God, take care of this.” “God, help her out.” Some of us make these little prayers all day long. Good!

Thing is, God answers these prayers. All the time. Sometimes with no. Frequently yes.

But because they’re mundane requests, because our prayers are so numerous—and kinda automatic and unthought—we kinda take God’s answers for granted. We have a good day… and forget to credit God with it. We assume circumstances made our day good. Less so God.

We find the misplaced phone, and forget to thank God for jogging our memory: “Maybe you should check yesterday’s pants.” We whip down a street full of green lights, and forget to thank God for smoothing out the traffic. We breeze through the line at Starbucks, and forget to thank God for giving the baristas a good day too.

Is this ungrateful of us? Yeah, just a bit. But that’s not actually the problem. The problem is our little prayers for these mundane things weren’t actually prayers of faith. They were prayers of habit. We did ’em without thinking, because it’s just what we do.

A prayer of habit is a heartless prayer. One which expects nothing, but says the prayer because “Christians gotta pray.” One which doesn’t remember to thank God for his answers, because it’s not actually looking for answers, and credits circumstances or ourselves.

Kinda sad, but kinda common.