Christians and homosexuality – is there a peaceful way forward?

Difficult issues series

This has been perhaps the most difficult post I have written.

I’ve avoided writing about this issue because it is so divisive, and because I wasn’t sure I had anything worthwhile to say.

But while I don’t pretend to have a solution to the argument between the traditionalists and the progressives, I can’t help feeling that there should be some things christians of goodwill from both sides can agree on, and which might ease the tensions a little.

There is also the issue of how the secular world sees christians – surveys show that the perceived anti-gay emphasis of christians is a major barrier to non-believers ever seriously considering the claims of christianity.

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Disturbing thoughts about christians and politics

Have you ever wondered how christians, who believe more or less the same things about Jesus and God, believe widely divergent things about politics and public morality?

Specifically, if you are more conservative politically, do you wonder how more liberal christians can possibly think and vote as they do? And if you are more liberal in your politics, are you amazed at the way conservative christians vote?

A 2011 paper (which I have just come across) has examined these issues and come up with some disturbing conclusions.

In this post, unless specifically stated otherwise, conservative and liberal refer to political views, not necessarily religious views (though there is strong correlation).

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Knowing the Way – scripture, experience, learning, tradition and the Holy Spirit

In the discussion on my previous post, Nate has questioned my approach to authority and christian belief. I do not believe the Bible is inerrant, and I said that most christians accept other sources of knowledge also: “reason and evidence, church teaching and tradition, and the Holy Spirit”.

And so he asked: “Why does the New Testament speak so much about false teachers, if it’s perfectly fine to get your beliefs from private revelation?” and “How can there be such a thing as “truth” when each person’s version is just as good as someone else’s?”, and then saw problems “if I took my own random thoughts and feelings as revelation from the supreme creator of the universe”.

These are fair questions, and I think another blog post is better than a long comment to answer them. It also gives me the opportunity to set out how I believe we know truths about God. I hope other readers are interested too, and will also comment.

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“The light given” – does it make sense?

My (internet) friend Nate has a blog, Finding Truth which I regularly read. We disagree profoundly because Nate is an atheist and former christian, while I still follow Jesus. So we cross swords occasionally, often disagreeing (amicably) with the approach the other takes to questions, evidence and arguments. He is gracious enough to welcome my critical comments, just as I welcome his here.

His latest post is The Light Given, and my disagreement is deep enough to make it difficult to express it in a comment on his blog, so I am commenting here, in the spirit of friendly disagreement and (perhaps) discussion.

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Another king?

Critical issues:
I think this post raises a crucially important matter for christians today.

king-tut

It was mob violence, but at least it didn’t lead to a lynching. Jason and a few friends, converts of the apostle Paul, were dragged before the city officials and angry accusations were made:

“These men [meaning Paul and company] …. are all defying Caesar’s decrees, saying that there is another king, one called Jesus.” (Acts 17:6-7)

The officials released them on a bond. But, of course, the charges were quite accurate. Jesus is the king.

But it seems many christians no longer believe this …..

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Red letter christians?

red-letter-christians

We are visiting family in the US right now, and the recent Presidential election is on everyone’s minds here.

Reports are coming in that apparent white supremacists have been attacking, verbally or physically, people who belong to minorities such as blacks, Muslims and Latinos. Right wing christians are expressing relief that Hilary Clinton, who they vehemently oppose because she is seen to be pro-abortion, pro gay marriage, pro political correctness, anti freedom of religion, and dishonest, didn’t get elected.

Meanwhile the people I have moved amongst have the opposite reaction. Shocked by Donald Trump’s victory, critical of his many obvious flaws and failures, concerned for the safety and wellbeing of people from minorities, including women, and feeling let down by the right wing christians overwhelmingly voting for Trump.

The nation is divided, and so is the christian church, though Trump appears to have the majority in each case. How should christians who fear the worst react?

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A wave of the Spirit we should be catching?

surfer

I came across a blog post today that summed up what I think has become a significant movement within christianity.

Learning from a “hippie heretic”

The post was This Nameless Movement of God on Chuck McKnight’s blog Hippie Heretic, and it was based on just one premise (taken from fellow blogger Brian Zahnd):

“God is like Jesus. God has always been like Jesus. There has never been a time when God was not like Jesus. We have not always known what God is like—but now we do.”

The unstated, but clear, corollary of this statement of belief is that if there is any portrayal of God that is less than the character of Jesus, then it must be a misunderstanding.

This leads Chuck to 5 statements he rejects.

1. God had to punish Jesus for our sins (penal substitutionary atonement)

Jesus’ death was about more than just punishment, so penal substitutionary atonement is an incomplete (Chuck would say “wrong”) understanding. I have discussed this further in Why did Jesus have to die?.

2. God will punish sinners forever in hell (eternal conscious torment)

Close study indicates this is not what Jesus taught – see Three views on hell and judgment. A more detailed study is at Hell, what does the Bible say?

3. God meticulously plans all events (theological determinism)

This is the view of some Calvinists, but instead of glorifying God as Reformed doctrine tries to do, it seems to diminish God.

4. God has ever sanctioned or participated in violence (just war theory)

Did God really command his Old Testament people to kill and annihilate? Did Jesus command us to love our enemies and turn the other cheek if attacked? How can these ideas be reconciled? Should we be pacifists and peace-makers today?

5. God’s inspiration of scripture entails a text that is free from human mistakes (inerrancy)

It doesn’t look like this is the case, and there are good reasons for believing it isn’t true (see In what way is the Bible a special book?). And rejecting this teaching doesn’t necessarily lead to anarchy and loss of faith – in fact it may increase faith.

Spirit or heresy?

Most of these are “hot button” issues, dearly loved by many christians.

But there seems to be a new wave of thinking that Chuck has summed up well in these 5 rejections.

(I think this new wave also includes the rediscovery of the Kingdom of God and of the importance of christians to be caring for the poor, the marginalised and the hurting as part of our living in the Kingdom.)

Forty years ago, I came to the conclusion that the church was entering a time of change that would prove as important as the reformation. Already we have seen charismatic gifts going mainstream, the breakdown of denominationalism, the growth of simple or house churches and an increased emphasis on social justice, community welfare and the environment.

I believe the matters Chuck has raised are a next step, and I see more and more people, good faithful christians, rejecting these teachings in favour of the picture of God given to us in Jesus.

I believe this is a new wave of the Holy Spirit, and I think it will lead to much contention, but eventually much good.

Watch and see.

And join in!

Photo: MorgueFile

Three views on hell and judgment

reading-bible

So far I have looked at two doctrinal issues in this series – Three different views of the Bible and three different ways to read it and Three different views of social justice and the gospel – and each time I have concluded that the truth lies between the two more polarised views.

It probably won’t surprise you, then, to find that I think it is the same with the vexed subject of hell and judgment.

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