Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Why i'm not a Universalist

i went out to eat with some of the guys from my theology class. A couple of them were Universalists. i'm not a Universalist, but not for the same reasons most conservatives share.

Their argument was that the atoning sacrifice of Christ has universal implications in that it was for the whole world. All people are considered forgiven. i agree.

Christ's death on the cross was the "violence that ends all violence". i agree. There is no longer any need for retribution. God will not bring retribution. It is done. Christ says of the unrepentant, "forgive them, for they know not what they do."

i personally don't think of hell as retribution. i don't believe that it is physical torture either. i understand it in very simplistic terms. One will either be in relationship with God or separated from God. Separation from God = hell. All the imagery of the Bible concerning "Gehenna" is just that...imagery. Metaphor.

Why then do i not believe in universal redemption? Because i would have to believe that all people want to be in relationship with God. i don't believe this to be true. Therefore, for universalism to work, God would have to defy the will of the person who rejects Him. i don't believe God would force anyone into relationship with Him. That would be equivalent to rape. God doesn't rape people.

i believe the principle of "free-will" necessarily and effectively annihilates the possibility of universal redemption.

Dancing with the Stars

i'm in Chicago for the week taking a Theology class and attending a denominational conference. i've gotten to sit under the teaching Miroslav Volf two mornings in a row now, which makes me very happy. Also, i accosted Greg Boyd while riding the escalator and forced him into conversation while he searched for the room he would be presenting in. Score two for the home team.

All this has inspired me to begin reading Volf, Moltmann, & NT Wright. i was already in the process of reading Boyd's "Myth of a Christian Nation" when i happened upon him on the escalator. i'd recommend it, especially to Right Wing Evangelicals who think voting republican is a form of following Christ.

Also, an old friend from Minneapolis, Kyle Vlach, just happens to be in class with me. We did our undergrad together as well as worked together at Teen Challenge MN. We're both "Covenant" guys now.

The Evangelical Covenant Church is the denomination i belong to. i'm not big on denominations, but i really like this one and consider it a privilege to serve under them. While other denominations were drawing their lines and setting their boundaries, the ECC was focusing on remaining biblical and non-divisive, stressing the unity of all believers. Their theology reflects this, especially their principle of "Freedom in Christ" that allows for differing personal convictions and interpretation on non-essential issues. They are also very strong in the Social Justice arena while remaining faithful to the Gospel.

Anyhow, i hope Greg was able to find Grand Ballroom F . And yes, he still comes off as having one too many cups of coffee. He's lost weight too. Probably an effect of the hyperactivity.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

The Evil side of Good

With or without religion, you would have good people doing good things and evil people doing evil things. But for good people to do evil things, that takes religion. - Steven Weinberg

Tuesday, January 08, 2008


Does the American health care system provide equal access to quality health care for all of it's citizens? This is the issue explored by Michael Moore in the documentary "Sicko".

i often hear that socialized health care is the worst thing that could happen to this country. People talk about how the quality of care would go down astronomically. Maybe so, but i still have a problem with our health care being connected to independent private businesses. My employer (George) gets to determine whether or not i have health care and the quality of my plan. This has never made sense to me.

i've had to accept low paying jobs just for the security of obtaining much needed health care insurance for my family. Then my job messes with the plan however they wish while i have no say in the matter except to try to find another job that might offer a more suitable plan. The problem is, many jobs aren't providing health care benefits. Many employers simply can't afford to.

i have an M.A., extensive management experience and i still run into challenges finding an employer with decent benefits. What about those who don't have the qualifications necessary for higher level jobs? Guess they don't get the same health care options. In fact, they may not get any options.

In Christian circles the majority vote is to keep it the way it is. Middle class white folks don't get what the problem is. After all, "no hospital will deny you care". Well, that's not completely true. Even when they don't deny you care, they may deny you the grace to drop the outrageous bills that ultimately cause your credit rating to drop and keep you in bankrupt status.

Theologically speaking: A government is responsible for the basic health care of it's people. And if you disagree, consider this: God's never judged a nation for providing more than necessary to meet the needs of it's people.

Yes, it might make it more difficult to get special treatments for worst case scenarios, but if basic care is offered for the whole, it may be a good trade.

Blood Diamond

i watched "Blood Diamond" the other night. It's a movie that depicts the atrocities committed in Sierra Leone involving the diamond trade. While it follows a story line about a family separated and searching to reunite, the underlining message is more concerned with how our consumerism spawns the very worst in people and leads to the devaluing and destruction of humanity.

North America imports 2/3rds of all the worlds diamonds. Laws have recently been passed to make it illegal to buy "Blood Diamonds" [diamonds that were potentially harvested through slavery or illegal means]. Yet these diamonds still make it through the system and will continue to do so until the demand is lowered.

It's eye-opening to see such travesty committed over something that is actually worthless. These rocks only have as much value as we give them. What other non-essential consumer products are leading to turmoil among the poorest of humanity? How else might our overconsumption encourage poverty and depravity around the world?

When God judges the nations, will such issues be on the agenda?

Monday, January 07, 2008

Red Letter Superiority?

If all Scripture is God-breathed (God inspired) then it must all be equal in priority right? i'm not so sure, and i do think it makes a difference.

Recently i heard that "Mars Hill is having serious problems" and that "Rob Bell is joining in with the 'Emerging Church' movement". Now i've listened to most of Rob's sermons and i always find them refreshing. Yes, he is very much focused on mission, service, and loving others. Yet isn't this what Jesus was focused on? Repenting of sin freed one to live the way of Christ, loving God and others.

The question for some is whether people really understand what it means to be a 'believer', which i myself haven't yet figured out the exact definition of. i'm starting to wonder if some think it means 'believing the right theological doctrines'. i won't go much deeper, but i do want to pose this question:

Are the words and teachings of Jesus superior to both the Hebrew Scriptures and the NT writings? ...i think they are. This was the recent debate between Steve Brown [who wrote this article in Christianity Today] and Tony Campolo [Tony's Response]. Tony is part of a group called the Red Letter Christians.

Tony points out that even Jesus thought his words superior, saying things such as, "You've heard it said 'An eye for an eye' but i tell you, bless those who curse you". Jesus does a highlight and paste over Hebrew Law. i think Tony is right. In fact, all the other writings of the NT help clarify what it looks like to live out Jesus' principles. Their theology underlines who Christ was with the intention to call the hearer to embrace Christ's ways and teachings. Therefore, i do believe our emphasis should be on following the teaching and example of Christ.

Therefore, is following the way of Christ more important than holding particular beliefs about who Christ is? It seems to me that this is the case, since belief in who Christ is should ultimately lead us to follow his teachings. These teachings focus more on how to love God and others than they do on understanding the concept of God and others. Taking hold of both would be greatly beneficial.

Telling the Future

Do you think that the world will be a better or a worse place 100 years from now?

Book of Questions, #7

ACLU & Me Agree?

The ACLU gets a bad rap in Christian circles. They've done a lot to ensure Christianity stay out of the public sphere. i've never really paid much attention to them, but after some comments i heard the other day i decided to find out more about them. Typically i figure if Christians despise something, good chance i'll like it. It's not on purpose of course, it just happens.

i wasn't let down in this case. i found that the ACLU supports a lot of great causes. They do seem to defend the rights of the masses. Yet, in reference to the last post [Separation of Mosque & State] i did notice that they do have a particular agenda when it comes to religion. The exceptions being made in public schools to accommodate Muslims have gone forward without much comment from the ACLU. This seems strange since Islam is certainly as intolerant of other religions [or secularism] as Christianity. Why the inconsistency here? Compare these two word searches done on the ACLU website: Christian & Muslim

If this inconsistency didn't exist, i might have considered becoming an ACLU card holder. Perhaps they'll redeem themselves as the school policies become more concrete.

i don't really mind that they're installing foot baths in public schools. i don't mind the prayer time either. Christians have always had the right to pray during school hours. The faculty and staff on the other hand does not have the right to lead this or make it policy. i completely agree with these regulations. i don't know these people and i don't want them teaching my children about prayer or faith. Nor do i want my children learning Islamic prayers, or prayers of any other faith system apart from my guidance. Well done ACLU.

Problem: Schools are considering allowing Muslims a regular break to say prayers at appointed times. They say they didn't allow Christians this luxury because appointed prayer times aren't part of the Christian faith.

Says who?

Christianity as well as Judaism has always had appointed prayer times. i still continue in this tradition as i use a prayer book to guide me in my daily prayer time. There are morning, noon, and evening prayers. Morning prayers are to be said before 9:00am. i have difficulty praying if i know it's after that time. This is a tradition that has remained among liturgical congregations, and is now reviving among evangelicals.

i say, allow the prayer times, but don't limit it to Islam as though they are the only one's on a schedule. Actually, they came late to the game of appointed prayer times, following in the tradition of earlier religions. An ignorance of Christian tradition does not make it legitimate to deny basic civil rights.

Separation of Mosque & State?

Someone gave me a Christian newsletter about how grade schools and universities are making accommodations for the growing Muslim population in America. These accommodations include prayer rooms and time for prayer during the day, even if it interferes with scheduled class times. Also, some schools have begun installing foot baths for mandated washings prior to prayer times.

i immediately assumed this was something to check out on Snopes. Not for a minute did i think it could be true. ...But it is. Now don't go yelling about how the sky is falling just yet. Let's talk about it a bit.

There has to be some compromise between public and private expressions of faith. People of faith are people of faith no matter where they happen to be. If faith is a part of your life, then it may pop up while you're out & about just being you. i understand the problem with PDA [public displays of affection] and indecent exposure, but i'm not sure we can fit all religious expression into this category.

What i want to know is... "What's the real problem?" For Christians, the problem with foot baths has nothing to do with public displays of faith. It has more to do with two separate issues. Primarily, they don't believe in the freedom of religion, which is why they won't elect a Mormon as president and don't want to allow for Islamic Mosque's or accommodations for Islamic faith expression anywhere in the public arena. This even extends to head coverings for grade school girls. "Can't wear hats in the building!" But you sure as hell better not call it a "holiday tree"!

The second problem is that they feel discriminated against, since laws are becoming more restrictive in respect to the public expression of Judeo-Christian beliefs. We'll talk more about that in the next post.

Sunday, January 06, 2008

Just Walk Across the Room

After running the blog entry "Just Be You", the issue has only continued to take up space in my mind. This week we've begun a series called "Just Walk Across the Room". This was an answer to my prayers as i've wondered how to bring this issue up in a sensitive yet pointed way to Christians.

This series was produced by Bill Hybels and is all about sharing one's faith in a natural way, without being defensive or offensive. It gives advice about how to take social cues, and knowing when it's not an appropriate time to continue a discussion. It also focuses on listening to the other person's story and faith experiences [imagine]! i'm pretty excited about it.

Part of the series gives video demonstrations of people who share their "weird God stories" with those who are very unfamiliar and uncomfortable with this kind of talk. It also gives tips on brevity and getting to the point, rather than sharing the whole story of one's childhood development and how it all perfectly fit together with their faith conversion.

i'm proud of Bill for having the guts to show us how foolish we look [and are] at times, all in the name of "faithfulness". It caused me to have a good look and laugh at myself as i thought of my own follies. It also gives one the courage and confidence to share their faith openly in appropriate and socially acceptable (receivable) ways.