April 23, 2018

Monday with Michael Spencer: You Need to Get Rid of Some of Your Theology

Originally posted in 2009

Some of you won’t like what I’m about to say, but trust me, I’m not shooting at you. I’m not shooting at anyone. I’m trying to be pastoral, if there’s any hope that I have any pastoral instincts left.

Here’s the word: Some of us need to let go of some of our theology.

***bottle flies through air***

No, seriously. Some of us need to get to the trash can and empty out some of what’s in the theology file.

***tomato in flight***

Some of you people have got some seriously bad theology, and it’s stinkin’ up your life.

***pitchforks and torches sighted***

I’m telling you this for your own good. Some- not all- but some of what you’re holding on to so tenaciously is messing you up. It may be messing up your life, the lives of others and its going to spread to your children and those you minister to.

***angry voices***

Looks like I better get this said before the rocks start flying.

I believe what Christians believe. It’s what my life is founded on.

My Christian faith is like a map. It tells me where I am, who I am, where I’ve been, where I’m going and what it’s all about.

But I don’t believe everything Christians teach. I don’t believe everything I used to believe. Maybe it’s my own critical, skeptical nature. Maybe it’s the “sola scriptura” Protestant in me. Maybe it’s living awhile and drawing some conclusions. Maybe it’s learning something about what matters.

Maybe it’s the Holy Spirit.

Or maybe, as some of you will conclude, I’m some kind of post modern jellyfish who quits the team when things get tough. One of those post-evangelical emerging liberals who prefers a big hug to a good systematic theology lecture.

I don’t understand our loyalty to things that make God so unlike the one who revealed God on earth. Why we take on whole planks of Christianity that Jesus wouldn’t endorse or recognize.

Personal reference. When I discovered that God wasn’t going to stop something that I believed with all my heart and mind he had to stop, I was really pulled up short. My “map” was well worn with 30+ years of telling who I was and what God was supposed to do for me.

And now, I was discovering that my map was flawed. I’d believed it, and I had a choice. I could deny what was happening around me, in me and in others.

Or I could throw out some theology.

That meant admitting some of my teachers were wrong. Or at the least, didn’t know all there was to know.

It meant that some of what I was sure God had showed to me wasn’t God at all. It was me, or someone else.

I was wrong. My theology was wrong. My collection of Bible verses was wrong.

I hadn’t quite arrived. I didn’t have all the answers.

Part of my misery in the situation I was facing was my collection of theology.

There’s a moment when you realize things aren’t as certain as you thought they were. It’s a scary moment, and you want to blame someone. This collection of verses, statements and opinions was supposed to keep this from happening. The right theology was supposed to keep the sky from falling; it was supposed to keep the trap doors from opening up under my feet.

It makes more than a few people angry to hear that following Jesus is less like math and more like white water rafting. It’s less like writing down the right answers to a test and more like trusting yourself into the hands of a doctor. It’s less like standing on concrete and more like bungee jumping.

It’s less like what you think it is and lot more like something you never thought about.

Some of you have been beating your head against the wall of your bad theology for years. You’ve beaten your head against that wall until you aren’t a very pleasant person to be around. You’ve made yourself and some other people miserable. You’ve been like the Pharisees: you gave others the burden you’d chosen to carry and more. You’ve taken your misery and made others more miserable.

You’ve blamed others. You’ve silently accused God. You’ve sat there, arrogantly, insisting that you were right no matter what was happening. You’ve sought out arguments to assure yourself that you were right.

But the whole time, there was the trash, and some of that trash was theology that needed to go.

I’ve thrown out some of my theology, and I haven’t replaced it all. As much as I would like to know the answer to some questions, I’ve concluded I’m not going to know the answer to them all. I’ve concluded that lots of the theology I’ve been exposed to and taught falls considerably far shorter of perfection than I ever imagined. Some of it hasn’t served anyone very well. Some of it was nothing more than my way of jumping on a passing bandwagon.

The other day, someone who knew a bit about me wrote me to question why I didn’t believe in “limited atonement.” He wanted my verses and my theology. He wanted me to debate, and if he won, to adopt his theology.

I couldn’t explain myself very well to this questioner. My reasons aren’t all about verses. They are about who God is; who I believe God shows himself to be in Jesus. It’s biblical, but it’s also existential. It’s about the shape and flavor of truth, not about who wins the debate.

I can’t bend my faith into the shape of a “limited atonement” Jesus. And I can’t explain that. I only know that I needed to throw that away, because it was shaping me and my world in a way that was taking me away from Jesus.

I don’t expect anyone to understand. It’s inside of me that, ultimately, his song has to ring true. If you can’t hear it, that doesn’t mean I don’t. Having everyone else tell me all about the music was taking away my desire to sing. And I am here to sing, not study music.

I’m pretty sure my questioner wrote me off because I wouldn’t sign up. That’s OK. I respect him, but here me clearly: I don’t need my theology — my opinion of my theology especially — to be that important. It’s unhealthy.

I believe a lot of things. I could teach through a course on theology without any problems. But the difference between myself now and myself in the past is that much of that theology is less essential than it used to be. It does not equal God and I won’t speak as if it does. I won’t pretend that my own thoughts about God are the place I ought to stop and announce what God is always thinking and doing.

Hopefully, it’s going to be a lot easier to have a theological housecleaning. In the future, I don’t plan to fall for the flattery that I’ve never changed my mind or said “I don’t know.”

I know. That’s me. The way too emotional, way too flexible, over-reacting Internet Monk. Baptist one day. Calvinist the next. Catholic tomorrow. Talking about being “Jesus shaped,” whatever that means.

And that’s my trash can in the corner, and what you’re smelling is what I finally threw out.

It was long overdue.

By the way, guess what? I’m still here, believing. Following Jesus, loving Jesus, wanting more of Jesus than ever before.

I don’t recommend my path be your path. I only ask if you’ve opened yourself to the possibility that a spiritual renovation in your life can’t keep all the old junk. Yes, you may upset someone or some important, self-validating group. You may, for a moment, wonder if you know who you are and where you are. It may frighten you to consider that Brother so and so or a sincere family member were wrong.

You may not be excited to discover that all that accumulated trash does not equal God.

I hope that soon you are excited. I am sad to see and hear some of you involved with a God that increasingly holds you hostage in a theological extortion scheme.

That’s not the God who came to us in Jesus. It’s not.

There’s more. He is more. Your journey is more.

Sundays in Easter: The Very Good Gospel (3)

Spring Green. Photo by David Cornwell

Sin is not about the personal imperfection of the self. Rather, sin is any act that breaks any of the relationships God declared very good in the beginning.

• Lisa Sharon Harper

• • •

On Sundays in Easter, we are hearing from Lisa Sharon Harper about The Very Good Gospel: How Everything Wrong Can Be Made Right. Her book is about the fullness of the good news that Jesus lived, died, rose again, and ascended into heaven to give us. Harper tells us that this good news is about shalom, the opposite of our often “thin” understanding of the gospel.

Chapter three has Lisa Harper exploring Genesis 2, a more intimate look at God’s good creation and the calling of humans to live in relationship with each other and the abundant creation in which he placed them.

On our most basic level, we were created for relationship with God, within community, with the rest of creation, and between genders. And on a deeper level, all human relationships depend on one central relationship: humanity’s relationship with God. After all, our life breath— life itself— was given by God. The community of the rest of creation was given by God. And, ultimately, the extravagant gift of bonded human companionship was the gift of God. What human fulfillment can there be apart from God?

The test that Adam and Eve faced was a test of their loving relationship with God. As Harper notes, two of the most fundamental characteristics of an adult love relationship are trust and choice. The couple in the garden was presented with an opportunity to trust God’s word, even when it involved a prohibition of something enticing, and to choose to act on that trust by not eating from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.

At root the question they faced was “Do I love God?” This question is at the heart of all our relationships, and how we exercise trust and choice in the context of those relationships determines whether or not they advance shalom and strengthen the web of relationships in which we live.

Genesis 1 and 2 offer clear pictures of the Kingdom of God, showing what it looks like and what it requires of its citizens. God created us in an interconnected web of overwhelmingly good relationships, and love is the powerful tie that binds us together. The choices we make regarding how we gain peace reveal whether or not we trust God and choose God’s ways to peace and fulfillment. To choose the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil— which results in greed, consumption, exploitation, nationalism, misogyny, and other-ism— is to become an enemy of God’s purposes in our world.

However, we all know what happened…

Love would have led the man and woman to ask God about the tree before eating from it. Love would have led them to trust God’s heart and intentions. But they didn’t love God with their actions, and down went the interconnected web of relationships that God had created. The relationships were ripped apart, separated by sin.

Lisa Harper observes that, in the biblical story, it is only thirteen chapters from “very good” to nations at war.

At root, this anti-shalom situation springs from the failure to love through trusting and choosing to honor love by our actions.

Saturday Brunch, April 21, 2018

Hello, friends, and welcome to the weekend. Ready for some brunch?

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We’ve got some silly stuff, some serious stuff, some sporty stuff. Let’s start with a public service announcement:

Scientists in New York have a polite request for you: STOP PEEING IN WALDEN POND. Well, they phrased more scienty:  It will be “prudent to further reduce the flow of anthropogenic nutrients to Walden Pond under the warmer, wetter conditions that most climate models project for New England during the 21st century,” said the study, which was published in the journal PLOS One. Apparently, swimming in Walden Pond is a local family tradition (like cow-tipping here in central Indiana). And, as Curt Stager, the lead researcher, noted, “a certain percentage of the swimmers pee.”  The urine, combined with warmer water, creates too much algae growth. So Stop, already.

Use the nearby creek instead

Pictured: NOT your toilet!

Chaplain Mike loves something called, “baseball”. Apparently it involves a base and a ball. I don’t know. I never watch. I just write condescending things about it to piss him off. But I did find this article about it that some of you might find interesting. Apparently, some players of this game throw the ball towards another player who tries to hit it with a “bat” (I was confused until I realized they were not talking about the kind of bats that live in caves). Anyway, the article notes that some of the guys who throw the ball (called “pitchers”) can throw at over 100 miles an hour, but that they will never be able to throw it much faster than that:

Similar retroactive estimates have put Cleveland Indians pitcher Bob Feller’s fastest fastball at 107.6 miles per hour—and that was all the way back in 1946. Walter Johnson, who played from 1907 to 1927, is also thought to have thrown pitches at 100 mph or more. All of which is to say: Pitchers have been throwing north of 100-mph for the past 100 years. Over the same time period, advances in training, technology, nutrition, and, yes, drugs, have fueled a dramatic upward trend in world-record athletic performances, from the marathon to the long jump to the 50 meter freestyle. But when it comes to hurling a five-ounce, leather-wrapped sphere as fast as possible, humans appear to have plateaued.

The fact that we’re still here proves no-one has really had an “everything” bagel.

The TV show “Survivor” is coming back for a 37th season. They are apparently starting to run out of locations. They just announced that next season is being held at a Costco on a Saturday.

A Beyonce Mass? San Francisco’s Grace Cathedral has announced that it will host a special mass devoted to Queen Bey’s music and accomplishments on Wednesday, April 25. Hosted by the Vine, a weekly contemporary worship service espousing progressive theology set to a pop beat, the Beyoncé Mass will give parishioners a chance to sing along with their favorite songs and discover how the star’s art “opens a window into the lives of the marginalized and forgotten — particularly black females.”

Scientists are predicting that in a few years we’ll be able to smell the TV shows we watch. They claim this is good news, but do we really want to smell shows like “Hoarders”, “Dirty Jobs” or “Dog the Bounty Hunter”?

Speaking of dogs:

Alex Jones, lead actor at InfoWars, has revealed some shocking news that we all need to take very seriously: The forces of evil are engaged in an inter-dimensional battle against goodness, and this includes hot women going back in time to date him and convert him to satanism. 

Every time I thought some hot 17-year-old, when I was like 13 or 14, really wanted to date me and I’d drive out to some big old mansion of theirs—and I mean real mansions, helicopter pads, private landing fields, you name it—God almighty, after the third or fourth time I had been with them, they’d tell me, ‘By the way, we worship this god and we want you to come to this event, we want you to engage in this activity because Lucifer is really God,’” Jones said.

They knew inter-dimensionally because believe me, they weren’t trying to get the average person to go do that. Everybody thought like, ‘Why are you dating the head cheerleader or the head senior when you’re a freshman in high school?’ Well, because she was driving me out there in her $100,000 Mercedes and that was 30-something years ago, driving me out there in her $100,000 Mercedes that’d be a $300,000 Maybach today, to try to get me into the cult.”

Now look how crazy that was 30-plus years ago. I’m 44, so I was about 13, 14, when that started. And look at what we’ve done against the globalists, look at Bohemian Grove, look at it all…I don’t tell you that story to sit there and impress you, because I’ll be honest with you, I love women and they were great pieces of ass. But they weren’t there to get me because they thought I was good-looking. They were there to get me because evil knew, because let me tell you they weren’t going after other 13- and 14-year-olds at the high school, evil knew what we were going to do in the future but evil failed.”

Well, I, for one, believe Alex Jones completely on this. Darn those time-travelling satanic hotties. And we need to take information like this very, very seriously.

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It was reported today this week President Trump has been pushing for women’s health programs that are based on abstinence.

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There’s talk of legalizing marijuana in Utah. However, Mormons are worried that marijuana may be a gateway drug to coffee. This reminds me of a joke we told when I was in a fundamentalist Baptist college: Why did our school prohibit pre-marital sex? They were afraid it might lead to dancing.

You’ve probably heard of the irreproducibility crisis. The Wall Street Journal had a disconcerting update:

Half the results published in peer-reviewed scientific journals are probably wrong. John Ioannidis, now a professor of medicine at Stanford, made headlines with that claim in 2005. Since then, researchers have confirmed his skepticism by trying—and often failing—to reproduce many influential journal articles.

The biggest newsmakers in the crisis have involved psychology. Consider three findings: Striking a “power pose” can improve a person’s hormone balance and increase tolerance for risk. Invoking a negative stereotype, such as by telling black test-takers that an exam measures intelligence, can measurably degrade performance. Playing a sorting game that involves quickly pairing faces (black or white) with bad and good words (“happy” or “death”) can reveal “implicit bias” and predict discrimination.

All three of these results received massive media attention, but independent researchers haven’t been able to reproduce any of them properly. It seems as if there’s no end of “scientific truths” that just aren’t so. For a 2015 article in Science, independent researchers tried to replicate 100 prominent psychology studies and succeeded with only 39% of them.

Further from the spotlight is a lot of equally flawed research that is often more consequential. In 2012 the biotechnology firm Amgen tried to reproduce 53 “landmark” studies in hematology and oncology. The company could only replicate six. Are doctors basing serious decisions about medical treatment on the rest?


The Louisiana State Senate has passed a ban on sex with animals by a vote of 25-10. Not quite sure why the split vote on this one…

Who Needs Freedom of Speech?  The California legislature is considering Assembly Bill 2943, which makes it an “unlawful business practice” to engage in “a transaction intended to result or that results in the sale or lease of goods or services to any consumer” that advertise, offer to engage in, or do engage in “sexual orientation change efforts with an individual.”

The bill then defines “sexual orientations change efforts” as “any practices that seek to change an individual’s sexual orientation. This includes efforts to change behaviors or gender expressions, or to eliminate or reduce sexual or romantic attractions or feelings toward individuals of the same sex.” (Emphasis added.)

A broad reading of this law would outlaw the sale of any book, magazine or counseling service that does not promote the same view as the bill’s authors. In any case, it is a serious limitation on speech. Attorney David French points out the obvious:

No one doubts that Christian orthodoxy is contentious. No one doubts that its teachings on sexual morality are increasingly unpopular. But they remain constitutionally protected, and no state legislature should be permitted to ban a “good” (such as a book) or a “service” (like counseling) that makes these arguments and provides them to willing, consenting consumers. In fact, state law would lock in a sexual-revolution orthodoxy that all too often hurts the very people the state seeks to protect.

To take just one example, large numbers of children who exhibit gender dysphoria eventually “desist.” Their dysphoria resolves itself as they grow older. Indeed, there is serious research indicating that this is the “most likely outcome” for a child with gender dysphoria. Under AB 2943, the very act of communicating this truthful and indeed hopeful message could very well lead to legal jeopardy. This is extraordinary.

Despite the obvious constitutional problems the bill is presently sailing through — passing two committee votes by 8–2 and 8–1 margins.


Did you get your taxes done on time? On Tuesday the high volume of incoming data on the IRS website caused it to crash until later in the afternoon, displaying the message: “Planned Outage – April 17, 2018 to December 31, 9999.” Though the message beneath said it would be over on September 22, 2016. So, which is it? Either the outage will occur in the past, courtesy of some mischievous time traveler, or not until the conclusion of the next stage in human evolution. Either way, they’ll get your money.

This week Pope Francis was asked by a boy if his late father, an atheist, was in heaven. The boy noted that all the children were baptized, and that his father was a good man. This is Francis’ response, which he gave to the crowd:

 What a beautiful thing, that a son says of his father, “He was good.” That man gave a beautiful testimony to his children, for his children to be able to say, “He was a good man.” It’s a beautiful testimony on the part of the son that he has inherited his dad’s strength, and also, that he has had the courage to cry before all of us. If that man was capable of raising children like this, it’s true, he was a good man. He was a good man. That man didn’t have the gift of faith, he wasn’t a believer, but he had his children baptized. He had a good heart. And this boy is doubting whether or not his dad, not having been a believer, is in Heaven. God is the one who decides who goes to heaven. But how does God’s heart react to a Dad like that? How? What do you think? … A dad’s heart! God has the heart of a father. And faced with a dad, a non-believer, who was able to have his children baptized and to give them that courage, do you think that God would be capable of leaving him far from Him? Do you think so? … Say it loudly, with courage…

All: No!

Pope Francis: Does God abandon his children?

All: No!

Pope Francis: Does God abandon His children when they are good?

All: No!

Pope Francis: There you go, Emanuele, this is your answer. God surely was proud of your dad, because it’s easier to have your children baptized when you are a believer, than to have them baptized when you are not a believer. Surely, this pleased God greatly. Talk with your father, pray to your father.

What are your thoughts?

Let’s finish with some cool pictures of China From Above, courtesy of The Atlantic:

People walk along a high cliff wall on a glass-floored sightseeing walkway in Zhangjiajie, Hunan Province,

A lotus field in Quzhou, Zhejiang Province

Terraced fields near Tiger-Mouth Village, Yuanyang, Yun’nan

Looking down on part of Hong Kong, near Victoria Peak

Nanpu Bridge in Shanghai

Solar panels cover south-facing hillsides in a part of rural China

A high-speed train travels through Anshun in southwest China’s Guizhou province

The Emperors Yan and Huang memorial in Henan Province. At 348 feet tall (106 meters), the statues were purposely built larger than Mount Rushmore

Green rice terraces viewed in the morning in Guizhou Province

Aerial view of the Li River on a hazy day

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