Category Archives: atonement

Pope Francis as a universalist?


Pope_Francis_in_March_2013-1

Edit: Here is a catholic explanation. Doesn’t sound universalist at all if you ask me…

Pope Francis, the new leader of the Roman Catholic Church worldwide, has already proven to be a controversial person from time to time in his career of only a few months. And luckily it has been in a surprisingly Christlike way, not in the way most modern liberal people expect popes to conservative and oldfashionedly irrelevant: The pope who denied the papal palace, shuns wealth, calls the church to focus on the poor,  washed the foot of women and Muslims instead of Catholic priests and criticised capitalism now stated that atheists are redeemed too and can do good works.

2 articles have been going round on facebook since yesterday, first one from the Vatican Radio and then one from the American Huffington post, which tried to interpret the words of the pope from an American perspective, but to me they seemed to miss the point and tried to make him answer questions he wasn’t addressing…

But let’s have a look at what our papal friend is saying:

“The root of this possibility of doing good – that we all have – is in creation”:

“The Lord created us in His image and likeness, and we are the image of the Lord, and He does good and all of us have this commandment at heart: do good and do not do evil. All of us. ‘But, Father, this is not Catholic! He cannot do good.’ Yes, he can. He must. Not can: must! Because he has this commandment within him. Instead, this ‘closing off’ that imagines that those outside, everyone, cannot do good is a wall that leads to war and also to what some people throughout history have conceived of: killing in the name of God. That we can kill in the name of God. And that, simply, is blasphemy. To say that you can kill in the name of God is blasphemy.”

“Instead,” the Pope continued, “the Lord has created us in His image and likeness, and has given us this commandment in the depths of our heart: do good and do not do evil”:

“The Lord has redeemed all of us, all of us, with the Blood of Christ: all of us, not just Catholics. Everyone! ‘Father, the atheists?’ Even the atheists. Everyone! And this Blood makes us children of God of the first class! We are created children in the likeness of God and the Blood of Christ has redeemed us all! And we all have a duty to do good. And this commandment for everyone to do good, I think, is a beautiful path towards peace. If we, each doing our own part, if we do good to others, if we meet there, doing good, and we go slowly, gently, little by little, we will make that culture of encounter: we need that so much. We must meet one another doing good. ‘But I don’t believe, Father, I am an atheist!’ But do good: we will meet one another there.”

(bold parts from the Vatican radio website)

Some people, like Paul from disoriented, reoriented, actually do think Francis’ words point to Christian universalism (the idea that through the saving work of Christ all will be saved in the end), and point to the old tradition of universalism within christianity that goed back to Origen and Gregory of Nyssa, but I’m not so sure of that actually. I don’t have much problems with hopeful universalism or even praying for the salvation of Satan in the end (as Gregory of Nyssa did), but I believe in free will, and I am afraid that some will never be able to enjoy an eternity with God, it would be hell to them.  But it’s not my task to even speculate about those things, let alone proclaim that I know all the answers here.

It is clear that the pope is an inclusivist here, not in the the sense of salvation (which is not addressed) but when it comes to doing good, which is what is expected from all human beings. (I suppose Rahners idea of anonymous Christians or the older idea of virtuous pagans does fit in here somewhere.)

What we can be sure of though is that the pope here rejects 2 doctrines that are important to certain protestant traditions, especially those based on Calvinism: limited atonement (Jesus did only die for the chosen)  and total depravity (man is fallen in a comprehensive way, and can’t do good himself)

(My problem with total depravity lies in the people whom the NT calls good and just, like Zachary and Elisabeth who were Thora-abiding Jews, and Cornelius who was a God-fearing pagan. Apart from that I do believe very strongly in human depravity, and I see it all the time in the news, around me, and in myself!)

The pope acknowledges here simply that all people can do good, whether they’re atheists or catholics:

“Doing good” the Pope explained, is not a matter of faith: “It is a duty, it is an identity card that our Father has given to all of us, because He has made us in His image and likeness. And He does good, always.”

What’s interesting is that he roots the possibility of doing good works both in Creation (man being the image of God) and in being redeemed by the blood of Christ.  Note also that Pope Francis is speaking about good works and bringing peace here. he isn’t speaking about salvation per se, especially not in ‘going to heaven after you die’ kind.Francis in his view on Christianity seems to be focussed more on the ‘here and now’ aspect of the Kingdom of God, specifically for the ‘least of those’ than about the ‘pie in the sky’ dimension of salvation that some people prefer.

To be sure about how to interpret what the pope said I asked  a catholic, Rob Allaert who writes in Dutch on http://www.thuiskerk.be , and he responded with the next paragraph:

Redemption needs to be uderstood as gift and assignment. Become who you are in Christ. Or as Saint Paul would have it: “Offer yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life; and offer every part of yourself to him as an instrument of righteousness.” So, there is an assignment attached to salvation which has in itself a universal scope.

(He also said my interpretation in this post ‘nailed it’.)

So, redemption is only the beginning point here, not the end point at all as ‘salvation’ is often seen in  evangelicalism. Salvation may be universal, but it gives us ‘an assignment’. I don’t think I can disagree with that actually. I even think we should say the same about predestination: if some are predestined by God, it is not just to be saved themselves, but to bring Christ, and salvation and redemption, to this broken world.

So what can we take from this, except from a strong affirmation of the popes inclusivism and love for all people of all religions, and the call to everyone for peace and doing good? I hope there’s also the last thought included somewhere: Loving God and neighbor as the great commandment says (which will include living out that love, maybe even in radical ways) is not the way to salvation, it is part of salvation itself. The Christian idea of both heaven and the Kingdom of heaven on earth looks forward to a world in which all relationships have been restored, and everyone and everything lives in harmony with God, other humans, and all of Creation.

If that’s what the pope means, I agree with him…

what do you think

Bram

PS: The most creepy thing about a universalist pope, especially if he is the second pope after John Paul II, is that in the dispensationalist end-times plots I encountered as a kid (that the pentecostals for some had borrowed from dispensationalism) the endtimes-pope would be some kind of ‘all-religions-are equal’ universalist who would be very popular but open the door for the worship of the beast 666 by the people of all religions.
(Not that real Christian universalism in which it is Christ and Christ alone who saves all would apply here, let alone a pope who calls the Church back to following the gospel in simplicity as Francis does. But somewhere in me the idea still lingers sometimes, and it feels a bit creepy…)

Some interesting things elsewhere VII


It’s still the first 2 weeks of the school-year over here, which are utter chaos for me as a teacher of protestant religion in Flemish secondary schools, so not much has been happening on this blog. I left this SITE-list half finished at the end of August, so maybe it’s time to finish it and publish it before it loses all relevancy in this constantly changing world.

The random picture today is quite cute. Having small children makes one like cute pictures of fuzzy apes…

Ray Hollenbach on how Jesus welcomes sinners at His table. Who do we welcome at our table?

Morgan Guyton actually has written a lot of posts that are worth reading since my last SITE-list. This one is about submission and leadership.

Thank you Lord for hearing me @ godspace.

2 interesting posts by Jonalyn on soulation. One about egalitarian marriages and one about friendships between men ans women. I still don’t have no idea who the mentioned Sally and Harry are, and I don’t think they’d interest me…

Roger Olson on the problems with John Pipers view of Gods sovereignity and sin.

Busyness as moral lazyness on internetmonk

An orthodox approach to sacrifice and atonement (I guess you all know I find those things very interesting)

Andrew Jones of Tall skinny Kiwi on homeschooling with the whole planet as a home… I wish I could go to all those places to learn those things…

shalom

Bram

Loose thoughts on Zwingli in purgatory…


And now for something completely different, before I go back to the problem of fallible language and our modern pretence of being able to know everything, which is also the basis for a lot of evangelical theology.

Roger Olson, quite interesting bible scholar who (unlike me) proudly wears the label of ‘Arminian’, makes a very interesting remark in a blog post, that is very interesting as a standalone paragraph, and quite unrelated to the book about Emperor Constantine that he’s criticising, and that raises some interesting poinst for me.

To what extent should we let historical figures off the hook just because of the cultural context and the times in which they lived—especially when they claimed to be Christians and had their Bibles and read them? Should we excuse Zwingli for having the Zurich city council torture Hubmaier? By all accounts Zwingli stood in the torture chamber and demanded that Hubmaier, who had come to Zurich at Zwingli’s invitation for a debate assuming protection, recant his Anabaptist views. And, of course, Zwingli fully supported the drowning of Anabaptist men and women. Shall we say “Well, those were harsh times?” I don’t think so. Either Zwingli is in hell or he had to go through a purgatory-like process before entering heaven. If you don’t believe in anything like purgatory (even C. S. Lewis’ highly Protestantized version), I don’t see how you can avoid putting Zwingli in hell.

The first one is Zwingli himself, one of the big names among the protestant reformers who has been almost a footnote in my church history lessons. I’ve always felt that I disliked his very low view on sacraments, and wondered if tendencies towards a very low and reduced view of the sacrament of bread and wine among evangelicals and pentecostal can be traced back to him, but I’ve never known much about the guy… The story of the tortured Anabaptists is completely new to me, and quite disgusting, and it reminds me of the story of Calvin and Servetus. Which is also a horrible story, as there are too much of them in the history of Christianity, while Christ taught us other things… The question of whether those people are in hell is not one I have to answer, but just letting such people go directly to heaven, people who did great deeds of evil while being a Christian without repenting for them, would be a big problem.

Heaven (whatever that is, I would think the resurrection on the New Earth is the most biblical view) would cease to be heaven in any meaningful with such guests as residents… So the question becomes not what we would do in our theology with those historical figures, but how would an unrepentant killer of heretics ever be part of something that’s even remotely heaven?

So that brings us to Olson’s note about purgatory. He’s been writing about the topic more (see here for example if you want to know more about what he calls ‘C.S. Lewis’ highly protestantized version’) and he clarifies in the comments with “My idea of purgatory is that, if it exists, it would be educative and corrective, not punitive.” I don’t know much about the afterlife, but I do know that most people who die, even if they have not been killing fellow believers or other stuff like that, are not perfect, and not fit for heaven. so I suppose there needs to be some ‘correction’ (which might be over time or in a moment) but the correction is needed in any way. Even if Christians might be forgiven, but they are still tainted by sin and they do horrible things. We need the good thing that has begun in us to be perfected, to just be able to be with God forever…

(Which is why I don’t like theologies that seem to take sin as merely a legal problem, or an offence to God, and not something needs to be destroyed in our lives and all of Creation, not just forgiven afterwards. Sin is a real destructive problem,and just being forgiven without being changed does not make sense. Just being declared ‘innocent’ when we are changed in nothing but our legal status (which is only changed because God does not see us when he looks at us but Jesus, as some would say) sin has not been defeated, and our redemption is a lie unless the only problem is that God needs to put sinners in hell, making God more of a problem than sin…)

I know this is more of an unstructured rant, so if you have more input, please help me…
shalom

Bram

The scary consequences of baby universalism…


In my last post I  spoke about certain weird forms of well-meaning but rather merciless Christian inclusivism, which posits that all those ignorant of Christianity will not be sent to hell, but those who know  must become a Christian or go to hell. The unavoidable conclusion of these doctrines is that it would be actually better to not evangelise to people than to evangelise them…

The same problem applies to the in a way very related idea of ‘baby universalism’, (a term coined by Greg Boyd) as Sarah noted in the comments of my last post:

[We] were just talking about the related idea in evangelicalism (and now catholicism apparently) that babies go to heaven automatically. Taking into account the idea of a literal, eternal hell, we decided that from this standpoint, abortion is the most merciful act in the world. Why let a baby live if there’s even a miniscule chance that it will spend eternity being tortured? That theology can’t come to any other logical conclusion which is one reason why I can’t believe in it.

If you’re in a tradition that is scared of hell, this sounds like a very merciful idea: all babies (or all those who did not reach the ‘age of accountability’) will go directly to heaven. And it does actually make more sense to me than the idea that all babies are depraved sinful beings that deserve to go to hell, as some fundamentalist ideas might imply, and one could derive from harsher versions of the dorctrine of original sin. (But I don’t know that much about those things)

The combination of a completely legal framework of salvation, which is furthermore mostly seen as ‘getting out of hell’, and the idea that innocent children are by default saved gives us  an even more scary consequence than the inclusivism of our last post. Not only is it better not to evangelise, but also is the inevitable conclusion that it’s better to abort or kill babies, since that’ll send them directly to heaven without having a chance to sin or loose the faith later in life and so go to hell…

Yes, I’ll repeat this: the most merciful thing you can do is abortion or killing children, it’ll guarantee them for 100% a spot in heaven and keep ‘em out of the hot place. What is scary is that people have actually made that conclusion. Greg Boyd, in the essay where he coined the term baby universalism, quotes Paul Copan from his book ‘is God a moral monster’ asking that question, and gives a raather technical deconstruction of the idea:

“Why not kill all infants to make sure they are with God in the hereafter” (194)?  Paul answers his own question by noting that the Israeli soldiers killed infants only because God told them to do so. When anyone commits infanticide without God’s permission, Paul adds, they are sinning, for only God the giver of life has the right to take life (or command others to take life). Paul concedes that a murdered baby automatically receives a “heavenly benefit,” but he insists this is not to the credit of the killer and thus cannot be used to justify their killing. “The killer neither causes these [heavenly] benefits nor is responsible for them” (194).

I can easily see why, within the doctrine of baby universalism, a baby killer should not be considered the cause for the deceased baby’s heavenly benefit or held responsible for the deceased baby’s heavenly benefit. But it seems to me that the baby killer must still be viewed as the occasion and means of the baby’s heavenly benefit. Most importantly, it seems we must accept that the baby killer is the means by which the baby’s heavenly benefit is made secure. The baby killer in effect saved the baby from the possibility of hell! While this still wouldn’t remove the sin of infanticide — for it still violates a command of God — it does renders infanticide reasonable, if not loving and courageous — if one accepts that baby universalism is true.

But there is more: If our clumsy inclusivism of my last post had some scary outworkings, the combination of baby universalism with exclusivism (all non-christians go to hell)  as it exists in some circles is even able to create even more scary consequences: inevitably the only way to not go to hell for someone who gets born and lives in the wrong place and circumstances to ever hear the gospel (which includes catholic and orthodox places for some fundamentalists btw) would be to not get born at all, or to get killed before reaching a certain age of accountability!

(Yes this would for example give a  free ticket for Americans to bomb as much muslims including children and pregnant women, since killing them before reaching the age of accountability would be more merciful than let them become adults.  I sincerely hope that no one will ever uses this reasoning…)

Combining very rigid excluisivist ideas about hell with complete amnesty for certain groups just does not work, sorry. It will always have horrible consequences…

Now, I don’t pretend to know everything about the afterlife, but I do know that Jesus came to save not only individuals from sin, death, destruction, evil and so on, but the whole of Creation. How everything works I do not know, yet I know that God wants none to perish, and I trust that God, who is love, will save as much as possible. Let us just trust in His mercy, and believe that the good news is better than we can imagine. Death and hell are beaten, Christus Victor!

what do you think?

Bram

Keep me ignorant so I’ll stay out of hell?


The following picture was making its rounds on facebook today, and I do sort of think that it shows that some forms of Christian inclusivism are in serious need of reconsidering their very basic framework:

Let me first clarify that I’m not at all sure about the historicity of this quote, and I don’t have a source except for this FB picture… An American Orthodox FB friend pointed out that the Inuit were evangelised by the orthodox, and not by the catholic or protestants, which makes the story more doubtful, since this way of thought appears to not at all not be compatible with Orthodoxy…

The problem in the quote is clear: If you believe in Christ you will be saved from hell, but what about those who never heard that good news? Some would say that they all go to hell and stand accused nonetheless, while others trust in Gods mercy to be able to save more, which gives us certain forms of universalism (all go to heaven because Christ will be able to save all) or inclusivism (not all non-Christians will be unsaved) of different varieties.

The inclusivism that’s propagated in the picture assumes that those who are ignorant of God and the gospel cannot be held responsible, and can therefore not be sent to hell (unless they are really evil probably) but from the moment they have heard the gospel they will have to respond by converting, or otherwise they will be sent to hell… (insert a whole talk about ‘justice’ and ‘wrath’ here) The biggest problem is this: Maybe with such a theology it would be better to not evangelise at all, since then less people won’t go to hell…

Uhhh???

I would think that there are some problems with the basic framework. The biggest one is the view of salvation as being first and foremost being saved from God putting you in hell, which can be avoided by believing that Jesus saved you from this fate on the Cross. I would think that the mentality of ‘being saved from hell by a conscious decision to believe stuff’ which does not apply when the person is ‘ignorant’ and has not heard that information is quite one sided, but much more merciful than ‘all will go to hell for not accepting information they could never have’…

Where the approach fails I think, is that there’s much more to say about salvation that getting a ‘get out of hell free’ card… Salvation is getting reconciled to God, and also our neighbor (and the rest of creation btw!) and the word is also used throughout the bible in a lot of contextual situations just for ‘getting out of trouble’. This means that we are saved from a way that leads to death, (the wages of sin are death, as Paul says in Romans. This does not have to mean at all that God puts sinners in hell, but it literally means that sin leads away from life into death!) and disconnect from God, and indeed this way easily leads to hell, not because God sends us there, but because that’s where it goes naturally.

Another problem here is the purely legal framing of sin and salvation that some Western traditions use. Surely the legal metaphors are useful, but they are not the ultimate description. The bible and the Christian tradition have used a lot more metaphors, which are all windows on the Truth, but none will ever completely frame it… That being said, I do think that we miss a lot, too much even, if we think that the biggest problem is not an actual saving from death, evil, sin and destruction, but a change in legal status that enables God to not put us in hell but in heaven…

Being cut off from the Source of Life, which is what being unreconciled to God means, would be hell or even total annihilation if god would gives us what we want when we don’t want to leave that road. On the other hand, being in the undiluted presence of God as an unreconciled creature would most probably have a similar outcome, experiencing Gods holiness while being deeply infected by sin can also mean our hell, or annihilation…

(To me both of these approaches make much more sense than the aforementioned over-legal framework some of my fellow protestants employ, which just cheapens sin into the breaking of arbitrary rules instead of something that is in itself capable of harming and destroying us. They are also in line with for example the views of C.S. Lewis for example…)

If salvation is being ontologically reconciled to God (and our fellow human and all of Creation) the above kind of reasoning makes not much sense… Inclusivism is not really a problem though, like C.S. Lewis says, we know that only Jesus saves, but do people have to know His name to be saved by Him? Those who follow ‘the light they’ve been given’ and try to live out what they know about living in harmony with God are likely to be able to, at the final judgment, see and say ‘this is Who I’ve known and try to follow all my life’… Those who followed evil all the way, and are formed by it, will most likely just not have anything to do with God, and they will probably not be able to stand the presence of God and His holiness at all…

So, what are your opinions?

Shalom

Bram

God cannot be around sin?


According to contemporary evangelical ideas that some people seem to hold, God cannot be where sin or evil is. I have encountered this idea several times in my life preached as a ‘biblical truth’, but I’m afraid that, like more ideas in  ‘radio orthodoxy’ (Oh man I’m glad we don’t have commercial Christian radio over here!) it’s neither truth nor biblical .

I would personally assume it quite obvious that the said idea is in itself a bit weird, and unbiblical, even without posing the question of how to rhyme this idea with Gods omnipresence, and God being ‘the Almighty’ (quite a powerless Supreme Being that would be, scared away from a little bit of sin, especially in a world that is filled with it…).

I do think that Scott Morizot offers a very good commentary with the following paragraph:

I’ve always been incredulous about the often repeated modern assertion that God is holy and can’t be around sin or evil. Nowhere do we see that in the story of Jewish and Christian God, but it’s absurd whenever we look at Jesus. He sought out the “sinners” and those considered ritually unclean and acted as though he could make them clean through association rather than the opposite. Jesus certainly had no problem “being around” sin. In fact, that was one of the major criticisms levelled at him. At one point, he almost shrugs and says he didn’t come to the healthy, but to the sick. And in the fullness of that revelation, in case we missed the point of a God who goes looking for man from the moment in the story of the garden when he asks Adam where he is, Jesus shows us a God seeking out “sinners” and always facing man wherever we might flee.

- Scott Morizot (click his name for the source)

Another remark would be that we can inverse the idea: sin cannot be around God. God, who is all-pure and an all-consuming fire, will not at all be affected by sin, but sin and evil itself might kinda suffer the same problem as darkness when exposed to light… (But here we can discuss the role of Satan in the book of Job, which might be quite a discussion!)

I do think that this issue will deeply influence the way we view atonement, but I let my readers think about that… So what do you think?

shalom

Bram

The lost psalters interview (from August ’11, Kortrijk)


Last August the psalters, one of the most remarkable, unique and impressing band of the planet, were in Belgium to play their amazing music, and they did a show in Kortrijk. I was happy to be the opening act, with just a crappy guitar as a substitute backing band, but I actually hardly remember anything of that, since the psalters concert itself that came after my set was much, much more impressing. (one bootlegged song of my own set, called ‘Ellulian glasses’ can be found here)

As was their new CD ‘carry the bones’, which was for me the best CD of 2011! You can mail order it through their site now btw. Do it, you won’t regret it! The real CD has a very cool package and does sound lots and lots better than mp3′s of it at 128 bpm.

I also did a very interesting interview that night for a Flemish website with the mysterious ‘Captain Napkins’, as the CD booklets call him), one of the two leading forces behind the band. Browsing through my old files I found the English version again today, and I found it way too interesting to not share it with the world. Sharing is what makes us humans…

So here it is (drum roll on oil barrel), the psalters interview from Kortrijk, Belgium on 8/23/2011, done by myself (Bram), originally for cultuurshock.net (read the shorter Dutch version here!)

Bram: So this is your second time in Belgium. please tell us about the first time you were here:

Captain Napkins: Well, the fist time here in Belgium we got to play in Antwerp. We were invited by some cool folks to stay in a squat-house, that used to be a customs building on the bay. It was an amazing experience to stay in there, and then on top of that we played a show in a squat bar (the Scheld’apen) The interesting thing was that Antwerp had just kicked a lot of gypsies out of the city and given them some land right next to the bar to camp out, so when we were there was a couple of acres full of gypsies and then there was anarchists, punks and different folks all together. It just made for an amazing night.

There was a big tree-house right behind the bar, a huge tree-house even, like a real house in a tree, And there was lots of good beer. It was one of our favorite shows that we have ever done, very intense, The place was packed. Yes, we loved it! We absolutely loved Belgium!

Bram: What’s the difference between playing your music in Europe and playing it in america?

Captain Napkins: Sometimes it overlaps, you know: There are places in America that we’ve played that remind me a lot of some places that we’ve played in Europe. But I guess as a generalization, I would say more consistently people in Europe take what we’re doing much more seriously, like they think of us more a like we’re trying to be ourselves: as an organization, as a community, as a movement of combining worshop and justice, and ehm, fighting the empires that we humans create. In America, I think a lot of venues and places see all of that as just a gimmick, and at the end of the day we’re just a band…. So I think in Europe people have been taking us more seriously, which has been great. Plus the shows in Europe, it seems like people take music more seriously, not just us, but in general. The venues seem to take sound more seriously, like they’re very apologetic if they don’t have exactly what we need.

Bram: I heard the same from an interview with Dave Edwards (frontman of woven hand and 16 horsepower) once. Who said that Belgium was the most receptive country for just listening to the music, and taking it very seriously, even in the details.

Captain Napkins: Yeah, but I would say lot of the countries we’ve been to in Europe. The venues seem to take the music and the show a little more seriously, you know they put more work in it. but Belgium is one of our favorite places, for sure.

Bram: Okay, let’s switch to another subject: you guys are known to be both Christians and anarchists, how do you combine that?

Captain Napkins: It’s not at all a matter of combining, for me, for us… Well, anarchy… (pauses) We’re Christians, In a way I’m a Christian and I’m just a Christian, but I like to articulate ourselves as anarchists because the concept of anarchy helps people to understand better what we’re talking about: that there’s no system of man that works. All systems of man end up oppressing other people and elevating some people at the expense of others, and for us end up in the way of God, the One who created this world, so, yeah.

Bram: I understand that, but some people might not: I’ve just heard that there is a group of anarchists here in Kortrijk that refused to go come to your show tonight just because you’re Christians. How would you react to that?

Captain Napkins: I understand that. There’s a lot of Christians that have been very judgemental and hurtful to a lot of people. You know been jerks basically, so I totally understand that. There’s also been times for that we’ve been invited to play in a place and we found out that they were Christian and we didn’t want to play, you know.

Bram: Well, I heard that about Christians too, when hearing that you were anarchists, didn’t want to hear your music…

Captain Napkins: yeah, same thing

Bram: I remember when I let someone hear the song ‘come now and join the feast, right here in the belly of the beast’, they thought you were satanists. So how do the common Christians in America react to your music and your message?

Captain Napkins: yeah we’ve been shut down sometimes. We’ve played some shows.We’re very anti, we’re very unpatriotic, you know, like I love, I love the people of my country, I love the l…

Bram: (interrupting quite impulsively) Belgians are the most unpatriotic people of the world.

Captain Napkins: Okay

Bram: We actually just don’t care, we still don’t have a government now for I one year and a half and we don’t even care.

Captain Napkins: That’s maybe similar… that’s how we feel. I’m sure Belgians love each other, and they love the land. That’s how I feel, you know, I love the land from where I come. I love the people, but I don’t care about the government, I don’t care about those people more than other people. so in all those ways I’m not patriotic at all. and that offends of some Christians, and so we’ve kinda shut down

Bram: In America?

Captain Napkins: some of them are very conservative people and we’re not….

Bram: So, conservatives in America are really patriotic?

Captain Napkins: yeah the conservatives in America are patriotic and they tend to be violent.

Bram: recognize this T-shirt? (show T-shirt of the ordinary radicals)

Captain Napkins: yeah

Bram: I guess you know the ‘litany of resistance’, where Shane Claiborne says something like ‘I pledge allegiance to the transnational church that transcends all borders’ or something like that. (losing my words) So, when you’re thinking of Christianity and being part of a country, part of a nation, whatever, Being a Christian and being part of a people, part of a nation, what’s the connection?

Captain Napkins: for me, I don’t consider myself a part of the nation. I just am a part of the

(We arrive at the bar, looking for a good Belgian Beer, and decide to get a Hopus, a rather strong one)

Bram (to bartender): He’s from America, he’ll really appreciate it, he’s the leader of the band who played.

Bartender: yeah, I know man, it was so nice.

Bram: He deserves a hopus, really!

Bartender: yeah man, of course, of course, of course!

Captain Napkins: yeah, we have a lot of Belgian beers in Philly, in Philadelphia, my city where I’m from they love Belgian beers.

Bartender: Belgian beers are the best.

Bram: So, let’s get back to the interview: one of the guy frsom the squat-house where you stayed last time couldn’t be here tonight but he really likes your sound. He said you were the most tight band heever heard. Like one voice playing together, like there’s no ego in the band. How do you do that?

Captain Napkins: Well it’s interesting. I haven’t really, eh

Bram: You’re just tight together without ego’s, like one band with one vision, musically.

Captain Napkins: (thoughtful) Well, if that’s true, well I mean I haven’t head that a lot, it’s a new thing to me actually. But if it’s true, then what makes it happen is that there is a theology to what we’re doing, there is a vision and a mission that.

Bram: A theology?

Captain Napkins: I mean it’s built on a whole thesis, you know.

Bram: I’ve read a short version of it on your website and I’m still waiting for the whole version to be released.

Captain Napkins: Yeah, I need to write it out… that’s what I want to do when I get back from Europe. some more writing. I wrote it long time ago when I was in college. it’s for college, so it’s not, you know, there is a lot that needs to be changed.

Bram: What would you change?

Captain Napkins: Well, not even so much change as I would just add a lot, there is a lot that needs to be added and kinda updated maybe. I still agree with pretty much everything that’s in there, just a lot of things need to be updated…

Bram: Okay, on to something else, and maybe very strange question: what’s the gospel for you as a Christian anarchist? That’s the most important question for a Christian: What exactly is the good news?

Captain Napkins: Well, for me it’s about… (pauses) Eh… This might sound a little bit vague, but it’s important to me. When you ask that question I think of how God is love and loved us all into existence. He loves creation into existence and because of that our faith is about being in relationship with God, with each other and with creation. And that’s where anarchy comes in, and that’s where radical justice comes in: because the world fights against creation, the world fights against the Creator, the world fights against relationships. But for me it starts with the idea that God is love, God loved us into existence and God wants us to be in a a relationship with Him, with each other, and with his creation.

Bram: Makes a lot of sense to me. When I hear this I’m reminded of the controversy of Rob Bell’s ‘love wins’ book, so maybe let’s just ask one of the hardest questions of our faith: what do you think about hell?

Captain Napkins: (pauses) Wow, about hell? I actually was just talking to somebody last night about that and, eh, I do think that there is a hell. I don’t really know, but Jesus talks about it a lot, and our scriptures talk about it a lot, and eh… I’m uncomfortable, but at the same time I think that, eh, you know, I don’t know what it is and I don’t know who goes there, but I think that God is all-powerful (pauses) There is this woman, Julian of Norwich, who’s the first woman ever published in English. She is way back in the 12th century and she wrote something like she had a vision of hell, and she wrote something about like “and all is well and all will be well and all matter of things shall be well”. And it was just this, like it sounds redundant, but it was just her saying that God is kinda makes it work. And God makes it right, and God bring the healing but it’s tough how, I don’t know man, I mean it’s too tough.

I’m not one of those people that thinks that people who don’t confess Jesus automatically go there and stuff. I mean, I don’t know who goes there. I’m not one to decide who goes to hell and who doesn’t, you know, I do believe. I don’t even want to say that people definitely go to hell for eternity and all I think maybe that’s something that’s out of our understanding I’m also one to not say that hell does not exist, I think that hell does exist. And I think there is this suffering. there’s this horrible mess that’s out there and I think that there is such a thing as justice. I think that when injustice happens there is a need for retribution.

Bram: Would you say that there is retribution in justice, or just only putting things right and cleaning up evil without taking revenge?

Captain Napkins: yeah, I don’t necessarily believe in revenge, but I think when something evil happens I think that something needs to be made right, and it isn’t simply forgiven. It’s not a matter of like this horrible thing happens and well, it’s just okay now. No, I believe that like, when people, when a whole village is slaughtered by another group of people, that evil isn’t simply forgiven by God, there is a payment for it, there is a suffering that makes it right again.

Bram: And Jesus took that on him to give us forgiveness. (looks at watch) Looks like it’s getting late, so it’s time to end the interview. So I’ll have one last question: If I’d ask what you’d say to Christian people in Belgium, just regular Christian people, what would you say? What would you challenge them to?

Captain Napkins: Well, eh… People respect authority too much. People respect the Powers that Be too much. Because maybe the governments here are better than our government and so it’s easy…

Bram: Well, we kinda do have healthcare…

Captain Napkins: Yeah, yeah so there’s a lot of good things, and, ehm, it’s easy to not respect the American government but maybe it’s harder for Europeans to not respect theirs. But still I think that any government,and any system still falls short to the Kingdom of God. I think we always have to question them, and that we first have to be citizens of the Kingdom of God, and not citizens of a human government or a King. Maybe I’d say something like that…

Bram: Thank you very much! One more beer?

It may or may not be a religion, depending on your definition (pt II)


For those who missed part 1, this is part 2 of my reaction to the viral ‘hating religion but loving Jesus’-video that everybody even remotely christian and even their atheist bulldog seem to be posting on facebook nowadays. Part one, in which I elaborated on definitions of the word ‘religion’ is here, and should probably be read before this one…

After the semantics it’s time to go to a problem that’s way more serious, and dig deeper in the message itself: It seems like Jeff Bethke makes his way of being a christian, and thus the gospel, antithetic to everything he denounces as ‘religion’ (which seems to be all that can go wrong with Christianity, and all he dislikes about some other christian groups) which makes the word ‘religion’ useless.

So let’s look at some of Bethke’s statements:

Now back to the topic, one thing I think is vital to mention,
How Jesus and religion are on opposite spectrums,
One is the work of God one is a man made invention,
One is the cure and one is the infection.
Because Religion says do, Jesus says done.
Religion says slave, Jesus says son,
Religion puts you in shackles but Jesus sets you free.
Religion makes you blind, but Jesus lets you see.

I still do not know what Bethke’s definition is of religion, but it seems like his ‘religion’ is something really really bad nonetheless, and actually a very good scapegoat to dump all the problems of Christianity and the rest of the world on, sometimes leaping into ridiculous exaggerations. The above part is a good example.

I disagree completely with some of his statements… Religion is not the infection. Or doesn’t he agree that God himself instituted the religion of the Jews? Which would be very strange for a bible-believing evangelical, like he seems to be. Okay, religion did get infected with a lot of bad things (just like the Christian religion) but the problem was not ‘religion’ but the things infecting it. It’s a very weird deduction actually… Will you get rid of your child when it has a disease?

But it goes a lot further:

This is what makes religion and Jesus two different clans,
Religion is man searching for God, but Christianity is God searching for man.
Which is why salvation is freely mine, forgiveness is my own,
Not based on my efforts, but Christ’s obedience alone.
Because he took the crown of thorns, and blood that dripped down his face
He took what we all deserved, that’s why we call it grace.
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
He paid for all your sin, and then buried it in the tomb,
Which is why im kneeling at the cross now saying come on there’s room
So know I hate religion, in fact I literally resent it,
Because when Jesus cried It is finished, I believe He meant it.

I know the “Religion is man searching for God, Christianity is God searching for man” theme, and there’s something to that, but still I don’t completely agree. It’s easy to say, but in the end the Jewish religion was also instituted by God when He, and not some evil people or delusional demons, but God Himself gave the laws to Moses! So I don’t see his logic why he can renounce and literally resent religion as a whole here, or proclaim Jesus and religion two different clans. And Jesus never abolished the laws, he fulfilled them, transcended them. But He surely never went denouncing them as evil. And religion-bashing is not the way to further the gospel.

It almost looks like the problem of the new atheists. They see a problem with fundamentalist religion and so keep the fundamentalism and ditch the religion. The anti-religion rhetoric does put all the blame on whatever ‘religion’ is supposed to be and then declared Jesus something completely different.

But there is something more that’s troubling in his approach. Now look at the above presentation of the gospel? What’s missing?

Firstly, like more evangelicals tend to do, the resurrection is completely ignored for some weird reasons, as if a ‘good Friday only gospel’ will ever be complete. But let’s not go into that, and also skip the idea that ‘Jesus thought of me’ while on the cross for now… And how he sees the ‘it’ that has been finished at the cross as ‘religion’ is beyond me.

But now we come to probably the weak point of common ‘born-again theology’. We are born-again because our sins (or the punishment for it) have been taken away by Jesus on the cross and now it’s all finished…. But that’s just the beginning. We have a whole life of growth before us. Being a spiritual baby alone is not enough. It’s even quite risky, babies are vulnerable beings that cannot survive without aid from others, and that are meant to grow into adulthood. (so they can make babies themselves, spiritually I mean) We are saved, and we are being saved, the bible used both, and they must be in tension. Salvation is not one moment, but an ongoing process that will never be perfected in this life, and something we have to bring to the world around us.

Sin is not just a problem that needs to be forgiven, Jesus destroyed the Power of sin, the infection that the fall brought has been recapitulated when He overcame the powers of evil, sin and death which were not strong enough to take him. Sin is something much more serious than just an offence to God, it’s a destructive force that pervades the whole universe…

Jesus didn’t finish all things at the cross, he started them. The resurrection was the beginning of the New heaven and earth. We are not just reconciled to God, but called out to proclaim the Kingdom of God ourselves. We gain a whole new life in Him, we are called to follow Him and further that Life in this fallen world. Which means action and a changed life, and the word ‘relationship’ implies that too.

And this is the last big problem with the ‘relationship with Jesus’ idea, which is actually quite troubling if you think about it. Sarah Moon has pointed to it in her excellent blog post. The view on relationships one would derive from this theology would be a very defunct one. Firstly nothing at all is said about what the relationship with Christ means in the poem, so we have to read between the lines if we want to know what he means. The hints in the beginning where he describes what religion is not are not that bad, but there’s no connection at all to the main dish, which is the atonement theory in the end, that seems to trump all, and doesn’t even try to say what our part is. 

There seems to be not that much about how to maintain the relationship in this view. Don’t we need to do certain things to keep a relationship healthy. Just accepting something from someone will never makes us lovers as far as I know… And being ‘in love’ with Jesus all the time is not a relationship. A relationship requires effort, interaction, and sometimes blood, sweat and tears…

In the words of Sarah who expressed it more eloquently:

Relationships are about action, not just desire. That action will look different in every relationship, just as different people approach religion in different ways. But if I “love me some Jesus,” then I’m going to do things for Jesus. I’m going to love the people that Jesus loves. I’m going to help him accomplish his task of redeeming a hurting, broken world. I’m going to embrace rituals and ceremonies and organizations that bring me closer to him and that provide an outlet for me to love his people.

This “love for Jesus” that so many evangelical churches support seems like the immature love of a 13-year-old girl scribbling  on a bathroom wall a heart and the name of her crush.

I’m tired of settling for that shallow, intangible, romantic emotion of being in love with Jesus.

Let’s get off our asses and love.

What do you all think?

Shalom

Bram

the death of Jesus is our death


When doing some reading on the incarnation, I came to this quote by Athanasius, one of the church fathers from the time of the Nicene creed, regarded by some as one of the most important thinkers of the early church:

The Saviour came to accomplish not His own death, but the death of men; whence He did not lay aside His body by a death of His own — for He was Life and had none — but received that death which came from men, in order perfectly to do away with this when it met Him in His own body.

St. Athanasius, on the incarnation of the Word

I never thought of it this way, but it fist perfectly with my intuitive view on atonement and the cross, in which Jesus took on Himself not like some would say the punishment of sin, but sin itself, and death, and evil. The powers of evil overtook Him but could not hold Him down, the darkness wasn’t able to extinguish the Light itself, death was not able to take Him, since He was Life itself!

So He who was Life took our death, and did away with it…
He who was Light took our darkness, and did away with it…
He who was without any sin, took our sin…
He who was Love, took our hate…
All powers of evil overpowerd Him, who was Goodness Himself. And it could not do a thing against Him!

Jesus conquered all the powers!

The mystery of Christus Victor is bigger than we could understand, or than my words could ever describe… And there’s much more to say about this quote than this incoherent rant…

shalom

Bram

Does the gospel require the doctrine of ‘the fall’?


And we’re back after a blogging hiatus with more thoughts that might disturb some people.

I was participating in a discussion about evolutionary creationism on the blog of Rachel Held Evans, (look out for the actual article when it’s ready, it will probably very interesting)  and one of the subjects that always comes up in such discussions is that of the fall. The line of reasoning is that without the litteral story of Adam, Eve and the apple there would be no gospel at all, but I’m affraid that I don’t get the problem here…

Let me sayfirst that I myself have no problem at all with 6-day creation, nor do I have any problem with the idea of evolutionary creation. I do think that the scientific evidence points towards the latter, but by no means does that mean that one of those options is right and the other wrong. Au contraire, I don’t believe that modern science is capable of telling us how the world was created at all, since the visible world comes from the invisible. Investigating the traces left in the material world will never give us a complete view, but if the traces lead us to an old earth and universe, and biological evolution, it’s okay to me. But it will never be the whole story, and the whole story is outside the scope of science, and bigger than we can comprehend…

So I’m inclined to see the first chapters of genesis as a symbolic story to tell us in a poetic way about something that cannot be said in straight and exact ways and modern scientific discours. I would say the same about the story of the fall. The whole forbidden fruit story kinda seems symbolic, but still it says something real: man has at some point rebelled against God, and now we live in the reality described.

That ‘fallen’ reality is clear to everyone: this world in in the hands of the powers of sin, death and distruction. We see it everywhere if we open our eyes, and experience it every day. The power of sin is working inside of us, and also from the outside against us. This is so clear that I don’t believe anyone can deny this. So I’m always surprised that people need to use genesis to explain why we need salvation, just point to anywhere and you’ll see why…

Now we could have a discussion about Augustinian original sin, or ancestral sin. The first says that the sin of Adam is in some way transferred to all his descendants, the second one says that Adam had in his sin polluted the world, which brings all people born into this world under the influence and power of sin. I tend to the second, which makes me probably a bad protestant, but I don’t even see a problem for Augustinian Christianity without the story of the apple being litteral history, let alone non-Augustinian theology which does not place such an emphasis on the idea of ‘the fall’. Wheter or not we know what happened, we see the state the world is in and it’s not a good one, and Jesus came to solve that, and did solve it. Do we really believe that?? Or do we think Jesus came to solve some abstract ideas and man-made theological problems?

Jesus did defeat death, evil, sin and Satan in his death and resurrection, so the problem solved is bigger than the one the apple story explains anyway!

Wait here!

Did I just say that the problem solved is bigger than the story of the apple and the fall?

Yes I did. The hope we have as Christians is the New Heavens and the New Earth, in which all evil will be eliminated. So no more sin, no more death, etc… The whole problem of evil being undone by the work of Jesus; like I said earlier. That is the whole story of Christian salvation. The source of evil here is in a way irrelevant, if we look to explain it in a historical analytical way like we Westerners like to do it; but what we can say is that it defenitely lies outside of God. The whole story of redemprion, culminating in the incarnation, life, teaching, example, sacrificial death and resurrection of Jesus is about God doing something against evil, and in the end eradicating it.

So evil is NOT from God, but what God is fighting against. And this evil has something to do not only with the fall of men, and the whole apple story, but with evil powers of which the origin isn’t explained in genesis either (the ‘snake’ is just called a snake, not even identified with satan except by the writer of revelation, and why he is evil is explained nowhere)

There’s more going on about evil than the fall of man anyway, and we don’t know that much about it… There are speculations about the fall of Satan, but we don’t have anything really clear about it in the bible.

So what are my shocking conclusions? The first one is that we don’t need a litteral story about the fall of man to see that this world is burdened by sin and evil and in need of the salvation Jesus brought, but we just have to open our eyes, and the second one is that the problem solved by the salvation Jesus brings is a lot bigger than what the apple story explains… The apple story might explain how those forces of evil infiltrated mankind, but not where they came from.

Any additional ideas anyone?

Shalom

Bram