Jesus the social and religious radical – 5 lessons from a dishonourable encounter

The facts about Jesus are clearly stated in the gospels, and they don’t change, but people have so many different understandings of him. The Catholic Jesus or Orthodox Jesus is not the same as the evangelical Protestant Jesus, or the Jesus of liberal Protestant theologians.

I think there is probably some truth in all portraits, including that Jesus was a prophet, and a social and religious radical. Nothing shows this more than his treatment of women and social outcasts.

As Simon the Pharisee discovered when he invited Jesus to a banquet and discussion …..

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Six things we might learn if we understood the mission of Jesus

A couple of weeks back I reviewed Kenneth Bailey’s Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes, a book I have found revelatory about Jesus. I have gained many helpful insights from it.

Today, some new understandings about one of my favourite gospel accounts – Jesus in the synagogue at the start of his ministry, when he made clear what he was on about.

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Book review: Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes

This is quite simply one of the best and most enlightening books I have read about Jesus and the Gospels.

I have learnt so much that has helped me make better sense of the gospels and of my faith (although I am certainly not claiming to be like Maria in the Counting Crows song, Round Here, who says she is “close to understanding Jesus”!)

Let me tell you why I am so enthused.

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Do normal people take risks for Jesus?

I am currently re-reading Chasing the Dragon, Jackie Pullinger’s remarkable story of “life and death in Kowloon Walled City”. It tells how the lives of thousands of poor and addicted Hong Kong residents were dramatically changed as they were miraculously healed of heroin addiction.

It also speaks to me of how God can use an unusual person who is willing to risk following the way of Jesus.

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The way …. and the way forward?

The church in first world countries, as a whole, is losing ground, neither making converts nor making an impact. There are many ideas, many books, talks and blog posts, outlining the problems and the way forward, as someone sees it.

But I recently came across a brief overview that I think provides a better understanding and suggests a better way forward that most.

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The kingdom of God – a ticket to heaven?

ticket

I was talking with an evangelical minister recently, about social justice and the mission of the church. He felt evangelism should be clearly our highest priority, because it has “eternal consequences”.

I suggested that wasn’t how Jesus saw things – his main message and highest priority seemed to be the kingdom of God. But the minister’s response was: “But Jesus said his kingdom was not of this world.” In other words, getting people into heaven was Jesus’ highest priority, and should be ours too.

I must admit I was flabbergasted. So I decided to look again at the gospel Jesus taught.

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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