Djesus Uncrossed: To Be Offended or Challenged?

This is over a week old, but the SNL’s fake movie trailer Djesus Uncrossed has caused quite a hubbub.

Many were offended by this, but should they be?  After all, this is basically what many American evangelical Christians think really is going to happen.  Whether it is the Left Behind series or popular end-times belief, a common view is that Jesus is going to return to earth, forget all that “love your enemies” crap and begin a violent and bloody massacre of his enemies.

If anything, Saturday Night Live just pulled back the curtain (as David Henson said) to reveal what many believe.

I have had numerous conversations with Christians about ethics, nonviolence and living as a disciple of Christ.  It is crystal clear that the Jesus of the gospels leaves his followers no room for violence against our enemies.  Jesus commands those who come after him and claim to be his disciples to love our enemies, to take up our cross, to endlessly forgive those who harm us.

What often happens in such conversations is that someone brings up the final book of the Bible, the book of Revelation.  The portrayal of Jesus in Revelation chapter 19, riding a horse with a sword coming out of his mouth, is used to argue that Jesus is going to come back and do what Djesus Uncrossed portrayed Jesus doing.  I’ve even gotten the impression that some hope they will be able to join Jesus in his slaughter of the bad guys.

There are problems here.  First, since the beginning of the Christian church, the four gospels have stood at the head of the New Testament.  They are given this unique position since they tell the foundational stories of the church, the stories of Jesus of Nazareth.  Whatever our interpretation of Jesus is, it must begin and end with the gospels.

Following from this, the Jesus in the gospels is truly unique.  Jesus confronts nearly every natural tendency we have.  In an ancient world where it was often thought the favor of the gods rested on the rich and powerful, Christians claimed God visited the planet as a peasant Jewish person and suffered a criminal’s death on the cross.  This is our clearest picture of God: suffering, self-sacrifice, victory through dying.

Is this really what God is like?  Or was God only pretending to be like this, while the reality is that God really is the violent, crushing enemies, victory to the powerful deity that we want?  What is God really like?

Love your enemies or crush them?

Forgive those who harm you or get revenge?

What is God like?

Finally, we learned in seminary that a basic principle of biblical interpretation is to interpret difficult passages in light of easier to understand ones.  What this means is that Revelation should not dictate our understanding of the gospels, but instead the gospels should dictate our understanding of Revelation.  Revelation is a difficult and challenging book.  We could even dispute if it presents the simplistic sort of violent God most think it does.  I realize that last sentence is vague and open-ended.  The point is: beware of building your theology around (your interpretation of) the book of Revelation.

The lesson I take from the whole thing: Maybe rather than being offended by an SNL skit, we should be confronted with the sort of Jesus we are representing in our words and actions.

Update

I watched the following video of Sean Hannity on Youtube, as it came up on the sidebar when I watched the SNL video.

I think Hannity misses the whole point.  It is a historical fact that the prophet Muhammad led armies into battle.  Thus, to portray Muhammad killing people would not be as outrageous as portraying Jesus doing the same.  I imagine some Muslims would be offended over the picturing of Muhammad, as they were by the Danish cartoons.  But would it be offensive to show Muhammad taking part in killing, when part of the story is that he did just this?  I doubt it.

Christians lose the uniqueness of Jesus when we run away from the crucifixion and run towards revenge and retribution.

Frustrations with Christian Apologetics – We Need to Do Better

When I had questions about my faith as a college student, reading Christian apologetic books was incredibly helpful.  Working with college students now, answering questions about Christian faith is a central part of the ministry.  Apologetics serves a good purpose: tearing down barriers to faith and providing positive reasons for Christian faith.

That said, I have become quite frustrated with some of what I have seen in various apologetic publications recently.

I am on an email list that each day gives me a list of five or so apologetic blog posts and articles.   The other day one of the articles was “Why I’m Not a Theistic Evolutionist.”  The author begins by saying, “there is one view of creation that I find difficult to accept. From my perspective, theistic evolution appears to be a contradiction in terms.”

My suggestion: try a new perspective.  Why not read and engage with other Christians who accept theistic evolution, who do not see it as a contradiction in terms?    Unfortunately, the author shows no indication of having done this.  He does not site, nor really show any indication, of having interacted with any of the many Christians who do hold the view of finds difficult: Francis Collins, John Polkinghorne, Karl Giberson, Peter Enns and the list goes on and on.

What argument does he provide for why he has trouble with theistic evolution?  Textbook definitions!  He gives textbook definitions (not with any links to which textbooks, by the way) of the two terms.  Since at a quick glance the definitions do not appear to fit together the conclusion is made almost as fast, they cannot fit together therefore theistic evolution is out.  This is incredibly simplistic.   It makes Christian apologetics seem anti-intellectual.  

Imagine someone turned such tactics on this apologist to argue against the Trinity, the doctrine that states one God exists as three persons.  

Its a contradiction in terms.  Just look at the textbook definitions.  One = 1.  Three = three ones.  One cannot equal three.  

I am sure he would not accept such an argument.

I am also sure that when it comes to using our brains, as Christians we need to do better.

(The aforementioned Peter Enns recently wrote a fantastic article which goes along with what I am saying here: the scandal of the evangelical mind is that we are not allowed to us it.  Instead all our conclusions had better fit into what is allowed to be believed.)

I don’t know anything else about this author.  From reading his website, he seems like a brilliant guy.  Maybe he just wrote a poor blog post (I am sure most of mine are!).  Yet what does this say to people who are truly interested in Jesus and truly believe in evolution?  What does this say to scientists who have spent their lives studying the world and are as certain of evolution as they are of anything else?  Do we really want to force them to choose?

After he is done familiarizing himself with his Christian brothers and sisters who are theistic evolutionists, he could read Tim Keller’s book The Reason for God where he will find this wise quote:

What can we conclude? Since Christian believers occupy different positions on boththe meaning of Genesis 1 and on the nature of evolution, those who are considering Christianity as a whole should not allow themselves to be distracted by this intramural debate. The skeptical inquirer does not need to accept any one of these positions in order to embrace the Christian faith. Rather, he or she should concentrate on and weigh the central claims of Christianity. Only after drawing conclusions about the person of Christ, the resurrection and the central tenets of the Christian message should one think through the various options with regard to creation and evolution” (Keller, 94)

For the Kids – PSU Dance MaraTHON!

Thon 202Eleven years ago this weekend I danced in the Penn State dance marathon.  It is still one of the coolest things I have ever done in my life.  Penn State has been doing  THON for decades with the purpose of raising money to fight childhood cancer.  The fundraising each year culminates in the actual dance marathon when, for one entire weekend, forty-six hours (forty-eight when I did it), the dancers stay up – no sleeping and no sitting.

THON is the simply the best thing Penn State does.  You could argue it is the best thing any group of college students anywhere do since it is the largest student-run philanthropy in the world.  To learn more about THON, check out this article: Penn State THON Ready to Go

I hope kids suffering with cancer are encouraged this weekend.

I hope lots of money is raised and progress towards a cure for cancer continues.

For the kids!

Make a donation to THON!

Work Matters and Love Does (Review of Books on Vocation)

Growing up in the church I got the impression that there were two sorts of Christians: those called by God to do fantastic things such as pastors and missionaries, and the rest who had to spend their time in less holy and unimportant jobs.  It was almost as if the sole purpose of Christianity was to get to heaven and work was what most people did to pass the time till they got there.  Sure, there was the hope that you could evangelize your coworkers, but other than that work was kind of unimportant.  It was what you did to make money, some of which you gave to the church where the real holy work happened.

Since then, I have learned the error of such thinking.  I have come to see the Bible as teaching that all Christians are called by God to a specific sort of work.  God calls doctors, nurses, teachers, business leaders and engineers as much as pastors and missionaries.  Yet I do think many Christians still believe as I once did.

To remedy that, I highly recommend Tom Nelson’s book Work Matters.  Nelson believes that too many Christians live divided lives, separating Sunday worship from the work they do the rest of the week.  This book, directed at just those Christians, seeks to connect the two.  Nelson does this by talking about vocation, the idea that all Christians are called to serve in a particular place in the world, for the common good and purpose of God.  This book manages to give biblical teaching in an easy-to-read manner.  Nelson draws on the breadth of scripture, from creation to new creation.  In doing so, Nelson shows the good and worth of work.

I think this is a vital teaching for college students to grasp.  God is calling each student to a particular work in the world.  The gifts this student has, the passions and desires, are not an accident.  If you love math, it is because God gave you that love.  If you enjoy art, that is your gift from God.  The call on your life is to use these gifts to serve God.  But this service is not limited to some sort of Christian sub-culture.  Instead the work is done in the world for the good of all people, to increase human flourishing.

A related book is Love Does by Bob Goff.  I have had the opportunity to hear Bob Goff speak on two occasions and not only is he inspiring, he is also hilarious. This combination shines through in this book. On one level, it is just an enjoyable and funny read. I found myself laughing at his stories quite often. But on another level, it is challenging and inspiring. What I appreciate most is that while we have loads of books written by pastors on the Christian life, we have too few written by men and women like Goff. Goff is a lawyer who allows God to lead him on all sorts of adventures. For this reason, I think this book could be greatly appreciated by all sorts of Christians. Definitely worth your time.

Your work matters.  Your life matters.  These two books both illustrate that.

If you want a shorter book on the idea of vocation, check out Stephen Nichols book, What is Vocation?

Doubt and Faith – Walking with the Saints

John Wesley was struggling with doubt about the sincerity of his faith.  The year was 1738 and though he was a preacher he was unsure whether he was even truly a Christian.  He says he was convinced of unbelief and felt that because of this he must stop preaching.  After all, how could he preach to others if he had not faith himself?  He told a friend what he was thinking and his friend replied:

“Preach faith till you have it; and then, because you have it, you will preach faith.”

Wesley continued to preach.  He was often asked not to return as official churches did not like his simple message of grace and faith.  Through this time he saw people’s lives changed.  Eventually Wesley himself had a religious experience where he realized Jesus Christ truly loved him:

“In the evening I went very unwillingly to a society in Aldersgate Street, where one was reading Luther’s preface to the Epistle to the Romans. About a quarter before nine, while he was describing the change which God works in the heart through faith in Christ, I felt my heart strangely warmed. I felt I did trust in Christ, Christ alone, for salvation; and an assurance was given me that He had taken away my sins, even mine, and saved me from the law of sin and death.”

I am struck by that phrase: preach faith till you have it.

Is it a beautiful message of confidence in the faith, regardless of how you feel at the time?

Is it a tricky message of hiding your doubts and putting up a facade that you have it all together?

On one hand, I do think this is helpful.  I especially find it helpful since I have encountered so many Christians who tend to judge their faith based on how they are feeling at the time.  So on a mission trip or at a Christian concert, they have an emotional high and feel close to God.  In the mundane of daily tasks, they feel God is distant.  The assumption is that something is wrong and the goal becomes achieving that spiritual high again.

I kind of see Wesley in the same way here.  He was a Christian, questioning his faith and waiting for his heart to be warmed.  Desiring such experiences is fine.  But to stick with the faith, to preach the truth of faith, to live out faith, even when you do not feel like you have it is admirable.

On the other hand, I see this as somewhat deceitful.  Perhaps it is just growing up in a culture that values the idea that it is not the destination that is important but the journey.  I feel I owe it to my students to be open about my own doubts.  I do not have everything figured out and it would be wrong to stand up and pretend that I do.

I would almost amend the statement to say, “preach faith in the midst of your doubt, tell people having doubt is okay, challenge people to continue to pursue truth and faith in the midst of doubt.”

I think I’ll be thinking about this statement for a long time.  And I’ll be looking forward to my own Aldersgate experience…

 

Stories of Conversion: Wolverine, an Atheist Professor and a Former Member of Wesboro Baptist.

Wolverine is a member of the X-Men, portrayed by Jean Valjean…I mean, Hugh Jackman, in the films.  He apparently converted to Christianity in the early 1990s due to the influence of fellow mutant, Nightcrawler:

(HT: Unsettled Christianity and James McGrath)

Here’s a cool story of another conversion to Christianity, this time a professor of literature moves from atheism to the faith.

Why not one more?  I think we can safely assume there is little “Christian” about the sinister Westboro Baptist Church.  This story of Megan Phelps-Roper leaving that church is quite encouraging then.

 

The Swedish Atheist, the Scuba Diver and Other Apologetic Rabbit Trails (A Review)

I want to start this review off in a very cheesy way, so here we go: If you only read one book on Christian apologetics this year, maybe even in your life, read this one!

Yes, it is that good and I did enjoy it that much.  Come on, just reading the title of the book has you curious, doesn’t it?

There are numerous books out there on Christian apologetics.  These books seek to defend the faith, answering questions in defense and providing positive reasons for the truth of the gospel of Jesus Christ.  I’ve read a good many of these books during my own faith journey.  Like most who grow up in the church, I eventually had questions and I sought answers in books by the likes of Lee Strobel, William Lane Craig, JP Moreland and others.  Through this I found answers, though nothing of the knock-down, full-proof variety.

To this day I still enjoy a good apologetic book.  But as the arguments have become familiar, I read now with a few questions in the back of my mind: would my students at PSU Berks read this?  Would people who may only read a few books a year read this?  Would Christians who are not pastors, who do not read many books, read this?

I think they would read and enjoy Randal Rauser’s book.  It is written as a dialogue between Rauser and a young atheist named Sheridan.  The two go back and forth having many of the usual arguments, though not always in the usual ways.  Rauser is not afraid to show vulnerability in places, admitting where the standard Christian answer is unsatisfying (such as in the case of God’s violence in the Old Testament).  Thankfully the book does not end with Sheridan’s conversion, instead he walks away with a lot to think about, but still an atheist.  Of course, this reflects real life where people are too complex and truth cannot be reduced to a simple formula that once presented will change people’s views quickly.  Instead Rauser sees the Christian apologist as joining others in pursuit of truth.

I read books like this because I am still searching for answers.  I have many beliefs, some I hold to more strongly then others.  Rauser offers us a great way to do apologetics, a way where we do not have to convert or change people, but where we can come alongside of others as we seek truth together.

Check this book out if you are at all interested in truth, apologetics and the like.

Once you finish it, and if you want to read more, I would say to check out The Loser Letters by Mary Eberstadt and then The Reason for God by Tim Keller.

Culture of Pornography, Sexting and Trafficking (Recent Reads)

There are many times when being a parent terrifies me.  One example is when I think about the sort of world my daughter is going to grow up in.  Articles like this one make me sick, scared and angry: Children and the Culture of Pornography: “Boys will ask you everyday until you say yes.”  

There is a storm coming. I can feel it as I stand on a street corner in south London, thinking about my daughters. Lily and Rose are both 11 years old. One is crazy about dogs, the other loves owls.

They are at that tender age when the hormones have begun to stir, and they could be stomping around the room like furious teenagers one minute but snuggling up for a cuddle the next.

The girls are fast approaching 13, the age that Chevonea Kendall-Bryan was when she leaned out of one of the windows on the fourth floor of a block of flats on this street. A boy she knew was down here on the ground, but this was not Romeo and Juliet. Far from it.

Chevonea had been pressurised into performing a sex act on him, and he had shared a phone clip of her doing so with all his mates. She threatened to jump from the window if he did not delete it. Then she slipped and fell 60 feet to the ground, dying from massive brain injuries.

Her mother says she will now campaign against what is happening to young girls in our society. They are certainly under extreme pressure, having to cope with a world more brutal, more demanding and far more overtly sexual than anything their parents knew.

Read the rest.

On a slightly similar topic, the Super Bowl is the biggest sporting event of the year, it is also the biggest event for human trafficking in the United States.  Just yesterday five victims of trafficking were rescued in the French Quarter.  This is something we ought not forget as we watch the big game on Sunday.  Beneath the surface of this most popular of American games is a darkness.