I Hate Religion Too, But For Different Reasons

Today in ACU's chapel service I've been asked to share some reflections on Jefferson Bethke's spoken word video "I Hate Religion, But Love Jesus." I'm sure you've seen the video as it has gone viral. At the time of this writing the video has received over nineteen million views on Youtube.

So whatever else is said, we can at least say this: Well done Mr. Bethke.

There have been a variety of reactions to "I Hate Religion, But Love Jesus" on the Internet. Some have been approving, others more critical. In light of my chapel response today let me share some of my impressions.

First off, I'm in broad agreement with the sentiment of the video. In fact, I make a very similar point in the most popular post I've ever written (the Bait and Switch post), about how religion comes to replace loving your neighbor. As I noted a week or so ago, this is a significant theme in both the Old and New Testaments:

Amos 5.21-24
I hate, I despise your religious festivals; your assemblies are a stench to me.
Even though you bring me burnt offerings and grain offerings,
I will not accept them.
Though you bring choice fellowship offerings, I will have no regard for them. Away with the noise of your songs!
I will not listen to the music of your harps.
But let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream!

Matthew 9.10-13
While Jesus was having dinner at Matthew’s house, many tax collectors and sinners came and ate with him and his disciples. When the Pharisees saw this, they asked his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?”

On hearing this, Jesus said, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”
In Unclean I talk about some of the psychology behind this dynamic, how the pursuit of religious/cultic purity before God causes us to ignore the second of the Greatest Commandments: "Love your neighbor as you love yourself." In Unclean I call this "the purity collapse."

The point being, when Jefferson Bethke is rapping about this theme in his video I'm grooving right along. Going to church is fine, but we can't ignore the injustices at the gate. God demands mercy more than praise music, prayer, and avoiding Harry Potter books

But something hiccups toward the end of the video. And I haven't seen a whole lot of commentary about this particular issue.

After his long criticism of religion in the video Jefferson Bethke ends with the big take home point. Here are the final words of the video:
Religion is man searching for God, Christianity is God searching for man
Which is why salvation is freely mine, and forgiveness is my own
Not based on my merits but Jesus's obedience alone
Because he took the crown of thorns, and the blood dripped down his face
He took what we all deserved, I guess that's why you call it grace
And while being murdered he yelled
"Father forgive them they know not what they do."
Because when he was dangling on that cross, he was thinking of you
And he absorbed all of your sin, and buried it in the tomb
Which is why I'm kneeling at the cross, saying come on there's room
So for religion, no I hate it, in fact I literally resent it
Because when Jesus said it is finished, I believe he meant it
What is really weird, theologically speaking, about the conclusion of the video is that Bethke doesn't end up where the prophets and Jesus end up, with a cry for more mercy and justice. No, Bethke ends up with penal substitutionary atonement. Rather than ending with a cry for justice and mercy we end with "...salvation is freely mine, and forgiveness is my own / Not based on my merits but Jesus's obedience alone / Because he took the crown of thorns, and the blood dripped down his face / He took what we all deserved, I guess that's why you call it grace."

Bethke's argument seems to be this. What makes religion bad is that it's a form of works-based righteousness, churchy things we do to earn our way into heaven. And that's fine, but this isn't the biblical criticism of religion. The prophetic criticism is how religion has become separated from care for our neighbors. It's the point Jesus is making in the Parable of the Good Samaritan. And the Parable of the Good Samaritan isn't a parable about works-based righteousness. Far from it. The parable is placing a behavioral demand upon us.

So there is this disjoint sitting at the heart of the video. At the start of the video we think Bethke is going to make a prophetic critique of religion. For example, early on we hear him say this:
I mean if religion is so great, why has it started so many wars
Why does it build huge churches, but fails to feed the poor
Tells single moms God doesn't love them if they've ever had a divorce
But in the Old Testament, God actually calls religious people whores
This is good stuff. We are hearing criticism about the religious sanctioning of war. About poverty. About compassion for the vulnerable and hurting. The point seems to be that the true follower of Jesus would be non-violent, caring for the poor, and standing beside divorced single mothers. So far so good.

But that's not where Bethke ends up. The poem doesn't end with a clarion call to justice but with the notion that Jesus will "absorb" our sins and for us to remember that Jesus was thinking of us while he was on the cross:
Because when he was dangling on that cross, he was thinking of you
And he absorbed all of your sin, and buried it in the tomb
Which is why I'm kneeling at the cross, saying come on there's room
So for religion, no I hate it, in fact I literally resent it
Because when Jesus said it is finished, I believe he meant it
It's not that this is bad in and of itself, but it's not the solution the prophets or Jesus was talking about. The solution to injustice at the gates is, well, stopping injustice at the gates. Not thinking about Jesus "absorbing" my sins. The solution to religious forms of social exclusion is crossing boundaries to eat with tax collectors and sinners. Not remembering that Jesus was thinking of me on the cross.

In short, yes, both Bethke and I hate religion.

I just think we hate it for different reasons.

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50 thoughts on “I Hate Religion Too, But For Different Reasons”

  1. Well, and Bethke back peddled a little after he was confronted by others. Yes, he was not coming from the same place.

    For myself, while I agree that we should be critical of institutionalized religion, we should always love Christ's Body, the Church. It may be a frustrating relationship, but it is an essential part of our calling in Jesus.

  2. That's actually more to the content of my chapel reflections, how the church is a mixed bag with both good and bad aspects. This post is the "extra" stuff I wasn't going to have time to point out.

    Students ask me all the time why I go to church. And my response is this, more often than not I run into people there who model Jesus for me. For example, last time I went to church there was a video of a little girl who gave up the presents at her birthday party to honor a little boy who cared about clean water in Africa. Video here: http://vimeo.com/36728311

    If I sleep in on Sunday I miss this encouragement.

  3. Although I've been seeing many links to the 'I Hate Religion...' video, judging from the commentary surrounding it, I have held back from watching it.  Thanks for speaking to the point on PSA.  It seems fairly clear that this was as much the intended message of the video as making a valid distinction between "religion" and Jesus.  Anymore, when I hear the doctrine and dogma of PSA, mentally my shield goes up.  (Shield of faith - deflecting those flaming arrows, ha!)

    As for loving church, in accepting that it is an imperfect composition of individuals, of course ultimately you are right, Dr. Beck.  Expecting too much from other imperfect people (like myself) is bound to lead to disappointment.  When you affirm "encouragement" as the greatest blessing that you receive from church, you have read my mind.  :-)  That is what church SHOULD be about.  Even in our energy and efforts to worship God, I think Jesus made it pretty clear that expressing love for God (ritual sacrifice) should not preclude love for neighbor (merciful, compassionate acts).  Where religion -- and not just Christianity, all are susceptible to corruption and slavery to powers and principalities, no? -- goes off the rails is in striving for purity of beliefs (dogmatic doctrine that promises to "cure"; i.e., PSA) over and at the expense of caring for people.  I would be so bold as to assert that if one finds him/herself in that type of church, no amount of encouragement is going to outweigh the negative impact that those doctrines convey.  It's a punishing environment in its ideology and the atmosphere tends to reflect the beliefs, even if unconscious and unintentional on the part of many of those who are, in essence, the church.  How can you think that God's most admirable attribute is wrathful/punishing, and that he accomplishes his best work through those methods, and also have the capacity to receive or give love to others, let alone God himself?  Something in your brain has to be disconnected in order for the whole theology not to implode.

    I'm sorry to go on at such length.  Not all churches are equal in hospitality and extending encouragement, vs. "exhortation", rebuke, and condemnation.  Church can be very good, or it can be very bad.  Life in Christ is better with the encouragement of a loving fellowship.  Life is not necessarily better in a church/fellowship that is NOT encouraging and loving (embracing, compassionate, merciful).  I'm concerned that those who are currently "outside" of belonging in a church/fellowship will be further alienated to hear, "Get yourself in church; it's the 'right', best thing to do."  Or even, that if a person is not in a church, it is impossible to have real, deep faith in God and Christ.  I don't think that is what you are trying to say in such black and white terms, Dr. Beck, but I'm concerned that some will hear that and be discouraged.  When the Apostle Paul said that "NOthing will ever separate us from the love of God" do you think he meant even lack of belonging in church?  Is Christianity a bounded set or a centered set?  What do you think?  I ask this of others, with no response.  I have a feeling that, as one who hopes in universal reconciliation, I know your answer.

  4. Susan, what does PSA stand for? Sorry, I don't know or recognise all the American religious/social acronyms any more. OR I am probably just way behind the social scene and out of it because I have not been in an academic crowd on a regular basis and am behind in my reading. Thanks! :)

  5. Can PSA and Social Justice not be hand-in-hand? Are you and Bethke really on two sides of the same coin? Or are we supposed to be hating religion for both of the reasons proposed here.

    (Genuinely curious, not being cynical/sarcastic - it's hard to communicate tone in a comment over the interwebs these days.)

  6. Richard, I feel unsurprised about this videos translation of the gospels criticism of religion into a criticism of works based Christianity. This is sadly often the one note of evangelical Christians. Anti-pelagianism. Calvinist. Stuck in the old reformation.
    I reviewed Timothy Kellers book "The Prodigal God" (http://humblewonderful.blogspot.com.au/2011/08/prodigal-god-my-rambling-response.html?m=1) and he had the same obsession.

    It really is as if all Sin that they can talk about has this vertical rather than horizontal nature. It's all about our desire to work our way into heaven which offends god. It's never about love for each other. Which means that if you show sufficient shame and self loathing which really just means right theology, then youre done. To even suggest there's anything more like love your neighbour is to invite criticism that you plan to work your way into heaven. That's why the video is clear "when jesus said its finished, he meant it". Don't DO anything, just believe.

    What's weird is that this theology based idea of being Christian rather than trying to live in fellowship with others exactly spells institutional church to me. It reeks of religion. It's what religious people specialize in.

  7. I think once you've been badly burned, it's hard to relate to church except in the context of those scars, especially when God was/is deafeningly silent. Likewise, it's hard for those who haven't been so burned to understand why their "biblical" exhortations to "forsake not the gathering" are met with knowing indifference.

  8. "And the Parable of the Good Samaritan isn't a parable about works-based
    righteousness. Far from it. The parable is placing a behavioral demand
    upon us."

    I will not recognize "injustice at the gates" if someone did not put the idea of Justice into my head in the first place.  The young man in the video is re-packaging the standard Evangelical sell, which is -- "Jesus paid it all". They simply cannot help themselves. This post reflects the dichotomy in Christianity -- faith vs. works.  I can't find any difference between those who argue for the "penal substitutionary atonement" model and those who favor the "Second Commandment" model.  BOTH involve some action on the Christian's part. Which is why universalism creates such cognitive dissonance.

    Any belief which requires any action (or "behavioral demand") from its adherents must in essence and of necessity be based on works.  Therefore, it is not enough simply to "believe".  It's okay if I want to sit at the gates rather than in a pew. But what if I do not wish to do either?  My soul shall just as surely end up in heaven anyway, where, according to Amos, justice and righteousness will flow.   

    I have known a few people in my life whom I could observe and say -- "They model Jesus", and as far as I could tell only two of them were "believers".  None of the rest ever attended church or professed faith in Christ, at least not to me.  That means there may exist people who are Christ-like without benefit of model OR belief.  Simply because they want to do good for its own sake, or in reaction to the evil done to them.  Bringing with them hope, and some measure of balance to the Universe.

  9. Great reflection.

    I remember seeing the video and then remember my wife and I simultaneously rolling our eyes. But I think I quickly realized how reactive I can be to "wrong" language, with my reaction often being something like "no, that's not it, that's not how you should say it, please don't say that anymore, others who are easily-influenced are listening to you."

    It's easy to miss the sentiment behind it (which you've drawn out here), when I'm uncomfortable with this sweeping "nugget" about faith that seems to rally people to its cause without really knowing what they're throwing out. I do see his desire, I think...for authenticity, depth, deeper transformation. I would just hate for others who hear him and love the message to turn sour toward ritual and tradition, or fail to see that despite its deficiencies, there is much goodness to be found in the Christian community. I've been guilty of the latter.Plus...I think this kind of spirit doesn't bode well for dialogue with our Muslim neighbors and others who are also "religious."

  10.  I find this piece by Tony Compolo a good perspective on church http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2007/mayweb-only/118-22.0.html?start=1 

  11. Religion, that evil that oppresses us!  Talk about scapegoating.  Disclaimer: I too have no use for religion, properly defined.

    Most of the comments here seem to focus on how 'religion' has hurt me; it's so evil.  "Those religious people just don't love me."  I read here "I go to 'church' to be encouraged and all I get is discouragement."  "Those religious people are just so dogmatic and controlling and . . ."  Then the chorus about how we should be 'crossing boundaries' and 'eating with the tax collectors.'  Following Jesus.

    No, no, a thousand times no.  A really good reason to go to 'church' is to encourage the others.  That just happens to be a way to love and worship God.  A person who has 'died to self' isn't looking at what the others are doing or have done.  Oh well . . .

  12. "Penal Substitutionary Atonement."  I am sorry Deb, for throwing the acronym out there.  It's not my intent to put on any airs as if I am "in the know" of religi-speak.  In trying to sort out truth from lesser truths in various doctrines -- and in the case of Jesus' death, there *are* various theories as to what God meant by it and how we are to apprehend its effect in terms of faith...despite the fact that neo-Reformed / hard-core, 5-point Calvinists would have us believe that their doctrine is The One Truth -- I have become more familiar with the lingo and meanings.  Dr. Beck, in his recent series on the Slavery of Death has cited the Christus Victor theory.  Many aspects of that are beginning to make more sense to me in explaining the death (and subsequent resurrection) of Jesus Christ.  Still much for me to learn (to second Dr. Beck's affirmation of ongoing formation in faith.)  ~Peace~

  13. Deb, PSA refers to Penal Substitutionary Atonement, as mentioned by Dr. Beck in the post.  Hope that helps :)

  14. Patricia, I understand.  Connecting with a line of thought that Stephen M. expressed in response to the previous post ('The Authenticity of Faith' interview/video), in our understanding of Christian unity and oneness in Christ's Body, if a brother or sister has been offended or hurt in the course of church fellowship or teaching, even if I personally was not the one who did the damage, may I still express sorrow and repentance on behalf of the whole Church/Body of Christ?  There are sins of omission (failing to love and respond with compassionate, healing words and deeds) and sins of comission (hurtful, damaging words or deeds committed) for which we the universal, holy Catholic Church should be deeply sorrowful.  How do we, collectively, respond to those who have been burned?  I think that like some of our national "sins" (systemic evils that we either actively perpetuate or by our silence allow to continue), we have nothing to lose in saying, "I am sorry.  I grieve with you for the harm that you've suffered."  And then be a healing presence in word and deed to make amends.  Is that a flaky way of looking at it?  I certainly think it's better than saying, essentially, "Not my problem."  Bearing one another's burdens is encouraging and also healing/helping.  Blessings, friend.

  15. I took the video as aimed at non believers.  I think this criticism of it is correct, but misplaced.  I think surrounding the video with Christians picking at it on the internet and in church is a mistake.  

  16. Of course, penal substitutionary atonement! Thanks, Brandon and Susan, for your help and kind explanation. I am well aware of the different theories of atonement and have truly enjoyed Richard's writings on ET. A true salve to my soul, as there does not tend to be any theological discussion in our non-biblicist community. So reading ET and getting lost in many of the comments are a feast. I do not always get time to leave such erudite comments of my own (ha, if only my brain was so nimble!) or get to know you all as much as I would like to. :) I guess I've missed out on trending acronyms and somehow failed to pick up on the one for penal substitutionary atonement. I beg your patience!

    When I saw it today my mind was half-in and half-out (as per usual) and it kind of threw me as I was searching for the context.It HAD to be theological, I reasoned, rather than medical: the PSA is a test used in the UK by the NHS to detect prostate cancer. So here PSA stands for 'prostate specific antigen'. Our little village church has mostly older men and some of them have recently very discreetly mentioned their PSA test results when my husband and I ask them how they are. I had to ask what that was, too, the first time I heard it. Faux pas appears to be my middle name.

    Hmmm...perhaps the PSA test provides another form of atonement for some...

  17.  Patricia,

    I cannot remember where I heard this quote (wish I could give proper credit), but wounds can heal to form scars, which can turn into stories.  Yes, there are memories of the bloody mess of the wounds, but the scars also mean healing and that healing process can provide a story to share with others.  Perhaps it's hokey, but we ALL have scars from something and provides an opportunity to share our stories with others to give hope.

    A beautiful thing about this blog is a can be place to share stories our scars (remember the scene in Jaws???) as well as provide some encouragement to others who might suffer currently with similar wounds.

  18. No worries about tone. Of course there's no conflict between PSA and social justice. My comments here are speaking to 1) I'm not sure the video is about social justice as opposed to works-based righteousness, and 2) even if the video is about social justice the move to PSA doesn't connect and may, in fact, undermine the argument.

  19. I also think there are problems with this message, and I agree that there is the disconnect that you point out here Richard. The think that bothers me about it just as much if not more, is the underlying theology here. I know that this is just the old reformed theology dressed up in a new, "culturally relevant" facade. It's too bad that in practical theological terms, he doesn't really believe some of the things he's actually saying in this video (because his technical theology doesn't allow for it), and that is one of the major reasons for the disconnect you spotted.

  20. First time I saw this video (a friend sent it to me) my first impression was that it's trying to show a hip/cool Christianity distanced from a traditional churchy image. In and of itself, that, to me, is an appeal to a young, generally well-to-do audience as a selling point. I also saw the PSA in it, but I didn't really know how to word my observations back to my friend. I love her dearly, but I cannot share that theology anymore.

  21. Hi Brian, Thanks for your response. From having been "in church" I know how the "unchurched" and dechurched are generally viewed with either a posturing superiority or a "they just don't get it" pity or contempt. There's a host of assumptions in play, including beliefs of how those "in church" think they are viewed by those "out of church." For instance, the common belief that people out of church view those in church as merely "those hypocrites." Which is not necessarily the case. There's this lumping of people into broad categories, painting with broad strokes, where, as you point out, sharing individual stories may help dispel that. But this is where I think there's real dumbfounding occurring between the "ins" and the "outs." Dechurched may better understand both sides of the coin, having been on both sides, while the in-church crowd is only guessing (and assuming they're "right") at the other side.

  22. Nice catch on the switch Bethke made. I didn't consciously catch it, but it did make me feel uneasy for some reason - now I know why. I think that what Dr. Beck is pointing out is an almost universal dynamic that people tend to do (myself very much included). It is a dynamic particular to criticism, I think. 

    I think criticism can make us numb to real acts of volition, getting up out of the chair and doing something. Criticism is extremely important, do not misunderstand me; it is a high office to maintain. But I think this dynamic is indicative of a larger phenomenon which takes place within anyone who has the tendency to be overly-critical (...that's me). Criticism offers itself as a sort of answer, a solution even and makes us feel like our job is done, that the real task has been accomplished. But it hasn't. As Dr. Beck has pointed out, we still fall prey to that egoistic criticism that keeps us numb; we tend to rest in the comfort of the penal substitutionary atonement theory as our answer and solution. In so doing, we haven't yet stepped out of ourselves and reached out to our brothers and sisters via mercy and justice. 

    All in all, I really think he is just saying "why I hate my conception of religion and love my conception of Jesus." But perhaps I'm just being overly-critical again.

  23. Hi Susan,  I've found that there are those who will always criticize those who act on setting boundaries, either because they are part of the "flyiing monkeys" crowd or because they simply don't grasp the situation, whether with church or with family. What's really great is having friends who respect your decision without preaching at you. That, in itself, is a healing presence, and the way I see Christ comes alongside us in the midst (where two or three are gathered ...).. Thank you for being one of those kind of friends.

  24. "I love her dearly, but I cannot share that theology anymore."

    That should be the definition in the dictionary of the word "lonely".  I hope she is okay with that.  I see you as a beautiful mind.  We are all damaged goods.  However, each day people like you inspire me to keep on searching, never giving up.

  25. I'm humbled and honored, Sam. You're a kindred soul. 
    Though we haven't lived close to each other  in almost 15 years, and talk only once in a while, and  though we are literally from opposite sides of the tracks in life, she and I have an enduring friendship. I know there are things about my life that she won't ever understand, because she's never gone through it. But that's true on my part, too. She's been through things I've never had to face. Only love can bridge those gaps, and it truly does.

  26. "So here PSA stands for 'prostate specific antigen'. Our little village church has mostly older men and some of them have recently very discreetly mentioned their PSA test results when my husband and I ask them how they are."

    Oh, that's funny! Love it! Seriously, though, I've also learned a LOT of vocabulary and meanings here as well: Christus Victor, soteriology, ontological, theodicy, sweet tooth, as well as learning about a host of writers ... It's a good thing ACU doesn't charge tuition here.

  27. Hi Richard,

    I think your suspicion of Bethke is fair. I am interested you raise the Good Samaritan. I have just spent a lot of time in this text preparing for an important preaching gig and where I ended up in my exegesis was surprising. I'd be interested to hear what you think.

    The key question I found when looking at the text was, "Who do I identify as Jesus within the parable?" I think intuitively I placed Jesus as the Samaritan, validating the morality tale reading. However, when I looked more closely at the text (the Greek text in particular) what resonated was the parallel between what happens to the man on the road and what eventually happens to Jesus. Notice, he falls into the hands of thieves (a favorite description of Jesus' enemies), is stripped, beaten and abandoned for dead. This could be just coincidence, however we know from other parts of Luke's gospel that the author of the gospel will sometimes prefigure things to come. I think you can make a strong case that the man on the road is a prefiguring of the crucified Christ.

    What is interesting is then how the crucified one is received. The priest and the Levite (the temple authorities) reject the man walking on the other side, while the Samaritan draws near to him, binds his wounds, clothes him in oil and incense and delivers him to safekeeping. In other words, the Samaritan shows wholehearted and costly devotion to the man. He is then identified by the expert of the Law as the one who showed mercy. The Greek word for 'mercy' in the Septuagint translates the Hebrew word hesed. Hesed is the covenantal love/faithfulness of God. So, if I am right, the lawyer identifies the Samritan as the one who fulfils the covenantal love the Law requires not just by responding to one in need (no doubt a dual meaning), but significantly, by responding with devotion to the crucified Christ. This reading then makes sense of the location of the parable in Luke chapter 10.

    Therefore, there seems to be a straight line drawn through the ideas of showing total devotion to Christ (as Bethke alludes) and drawing near to those in need (as you protest). Intuitively, I feel like this is somewhere near the truth. It is not 'accepting Jesus' or 'working for justice'. To accept Jesus is to work for justice. And vice versa. What has happened in the church is that we have reduced accepting Jesus to a 'head and heart' decision which robs Christianity of its lived reality. Which, as you assert often on this blog, is the true heart of Christian discipleship.

  28. Hi Phil,
    Though I'm unqualified to assess your exegesis I like the theology of seeing Christ as the man beaten on the side of the road. It seems to fit with Matthew 25 very well.

    I can see how this brings Bethke's point and my own into alignment. Still, there are things he says in the final lines that go in a different direction. For example, he says "when he was dangling on that cross, he was thinking of you." The devotion here is Christ toward me, not me toward Christ. This gets to the root of my criticism: It's all about Christ loving me rather than me loving Christ and Christ in my neighbor. To be clear, I'm not saying Christ doesn't love us, just that the love object is me. Which seems to go against the thrust of your analysis of the parable.

  29. Phil, this is a fascinating interpretation of the Good Samaritan.  I'm reminded of Jesus' saying, "Whatever you did for the least of these, you did it for me."  In the past year, I read a book by a Gary Smith, SJ, 'Radical Compassion: Finding Christ in the Heart of the Poor.'  The book is a journal of this Jesuit priest's experiences of serving the poor, mentally ill, drug-addicted, human-trafficked in the Portland slums.  He speaks of recognizing Christ in his interactions with these destitute individuals, and the friendships that he forms with many of them.  It's really a beautiful book.  True story!  I like your ideas here for the preaching gig.  I hope your audience is one that will appreciate this kind of truth?

  30. Here's my response: The "religion" of Christianity, as usually practiced, is a bounded set - "if you're not one of us you're out." Christianity as an "expression of the love of God as demonstrated by Christ" is a boundless set - everyone's included.

  31. Excellent points Patricia.

    "Dechurched may better understand both sides of the coin, having been on both sides, while the in-church crowd is only guessing (and assuming they're "right") at the other side."

    Isn't it interesting how the dechurched came to be that way because they discovered that the unchurched view of those in church (that they were hypocrites) was too often exactly on point?

  32. I enjoyed this rejoinder to Bethke, not theologically systematic (but it is spoken poetic word after all).

  33. Thanks Susan and Richard for your responses.

    I already preached the sermon the weekend before last and I was quite surprised by the seeming universal affirmation of the reading I took.

    I think you are right though Richard in relation to the object of love. In fact, I entitled my sermon "The Object of Love". The point I was wanting to leave in people's minds was that Jesus was the true object of our love. I think your summation that Bethke has turned that around is fair. There may still be room for my 'yes/and' if one interprets our love as always being the reflection of God's love for us in Christ. So, in essence, we do not love God/Christ, we merely reflect God's love back towards its source and object. Thus, we become that from which we come.

  34. Yay, Phil!  I read Dr. Beck's response earlier and have been quietly puzzling to articulate something that didn't sit well, upon first glance.  You have hit it on the head:  "We love because He first loved us."  (1 John 4:19)  Actually, the passage including vv. 18-20 is pretty darn good, in relation to this thread of conversation.  :-)

  35. Hi Jim, I think that your response is quite fair.  After taking time to ponder the implications for a bit, I'm brought back to Dr. Beck's conclusions in 'Unclean.'  :-)  How can Christians be more inclusive in their boundaried religious practices?  Beginning with the Eucharist, open communion expressed as a gathering in to Christ where *all* are welcome at the table.  Thanks for your response.  You're keeping me sharp, Jim.  I need this good interaction and fellowship.  ~Peace~

  36. 1 John, precisely Susan! It has taken me a long time to
    understand that fact (doubtless others have known for a very long time).

    If you are interested, I tried as a blogger for a while and my inaugural post
    was related to this idea. I'd be interested to hear what you think. You can
    find it here


  37. Hi Phil, I think you make a very good point in that faith in God's love (as expressed and demonstrated by Christ) *enables* us to give love that is from God and not of our own making.  Do you think this gives meaning to receiving a new heart with God's law (of love) written on it?  I'm also thinking of what James wrote about faith + works (vs. faith or works as a stand-alone form of justification)...  Having taken a leap of faith in God's love, as we live into the reality of it by appropriating that faith by giving love away to others, what begins as an idea / mental assent becomes real as it is experienced.  For some reason, I have been reminded of the story of 'The Velveteen Rabbit' a lot lately.  Go figure!  God's love is a circle (makes a circuit in and through us, his willing conduits) of eternal love that can never run out.  :-)

    When I get more time, I will read more of your blog posts.  I've enjoyed "meeting" and talking with you, Phil.  You've been a blessing to me!

  38. Ha, Phil, this is too funny.  Just after I posted my response below, I went back and read 'Are All Semantic Distinctions Just Semantics?' and hear you affirming much of what I was attempting to express.  We're of the same mind, brother.  You said it better, though.  Excellent!

  39. There is the verse from James..." faith without works is dead, show me your faith without works and I will show you my faith by my works." Now comparing this verse with the passage you quoted from Amos, and your critique of the end of this video, it's apparent to me that in many places true faith, for the most part,  manifests itself outside of the church-house doors. In fact, if my religous practice doesn't keep me on the path of being able to love greater and greater, then it's (to borrow a term from a friend) masturbatory and really accomplishes nothing. I recently read Peter Rollins' book "Insurrection" and it's making me think long and hard about all of these things including the topic of this post.

  40. I so agree, that belief is what you live out, not what you claim to acknowledge. As I see it, the question "And who is my neighbor (that I'm supposed to love)?" is still used to justify the infrahumanization (another term I've learned here!) of anyone who doesn't "agree" to see things through the same lens.

  41. Susan, I'm glad that my comments may be a positive influence on you, and please know that I always look forward to reading your comments as they always touch my heart and keep me thinking. As to your question, "is Christianity a bounded set or a centered set," to be perfectly honest I wasn't really sure what you were asking, but the word "bounded" immediately brought to mind the exclusiveness of traditional Christianity (the religion) versus the inclusiveness of Christ's message as I see it. And your comment that you "ask this of others, with no response," immediately reminded me of the response I have often received from other Christians when I asked them if they thought that there was any possibility that what they have been taught might be in error -- like a deer caught in your headlights.

  42. Jim, I'm not sure if the lack of response is a fear of error being exposed, or whether my questions are just too weird, in-your-face, and not worth dignifying with an answer.  :-/  I still have much to learn, but don't have enough sense not to ask questions that are beyond my level of understanding.  I ask too many questions, period, for most people's comfort level!  KWIM?  I'm very grateful for your honest and kind interaction here with me. ~Peace~

  43. Thanks Susan, it is always affirming to find a kindred spirit on the way. I too ask far too many questions for most but have come to give thanks for my questioning heart as it has led me to God and into the depths of God.

    I love your circuit analogy. That is how I interpret the notion that Christ is the Alpha and the Omega - beginning and end. It is linked to the the idea of telos ('end point', where we get the term teleology). Telos can mean destination as in, 'I'm traveling towards X". But it also carries the meaning of motivation as in, "X is the reason I'm traveling". Hence, Christ is both the reason and the fulfilment of our lives in God.


  44. Susan, in reply to your second response:

    "KWIM?" I know exactly what you mean. Their lack of response is because they were never given the answers to your questions, and, in fact, those questions were specifically avoided exactly because their pharisees cannot answer them. If people are uncomfortable with your questions it is because they have never fully considered the implications of their beliefs - which is exactly what you are doing because you cannot stand to do otherwise. There is certainly fear involved - the fear of rocking the boat, or insulting God (whoops, I mean the church... whoops, they see them as one and the same). I am convinced that the fear of questions just shows that they have no confidence in their beliefs, and that they must then avoid the questions in fear of revealing their doubts.

    Anyone's questions, including your own, are certainly worth dignifying with an answer, and I applaud you for your desire to take others to task until they do. For myself, I found that the only way I could decide what I really believed - what really made sense to me - was to refuse to settle for anything less than examining the implications of those beliefs from every angle. It was only then that I could see how illogical, unscriptural, and ungodly were so many of the doctrines that I had been taught to accept by "blind faith," and instead have an understanding of God that truly led to loving Him with all of my heart, soul, and mind. After all, if it doesn't satisfy the "greatest commandment," how could it possibly be true? Peace to you as well.

  45. Amen Kurt! We are so busy picking each other apart it's no wonder the world doesn't see Christ in our love for one another.

  46. Michael...not necessarily.  I haven't been a "member" of a local church in years and seldom attend church service.  God shows up every day in my life...and yes, even when I least expect it.  Blessings...

  47. Perhaps, I should say "church" is not the building. It's the gathering of God's people. God shows up in community in ways that are not the same as when we try to go it alone.

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