“I don’t worship that kind of God,” and other Genocidal Musings


“I don’t worship that kind of God.”

It’s a common statement thrown about nowadays for a variety of ethical reasons. Usually, it’s said by someone who is offended at an event in Scripture, or someone’s interpretation of it, and they simply can’t imagine the all-loving God they know condoning, or directly causing, harm to others in some truly visceral ways. It’s a great topic for reflection, study, and prayer. After all, we must openly confront that the Bible writes of God condoning genocide, eliminating entire cities, asking fathers to kill sons, and a flood that supposedly kills almost everyone just 7 chapters into the whole thing. It’s a difficult task that some Christians don’t wrestle with at all because either A. Ignorance is bliss, B. It’d be too difficult to reformulate their image of God from the one they learned in Sunday School or C. They don’t struggle with it because they don’t question whether God is good, or not.

I must admit that I fall into the 3rd category…but not as proudly as you might imagine. I don’t believe doubt is really that bad of a thing. Actually, I think it can really be a thing that sharpens, draws, and leads us towards a better understanding of who God is. The fact I never second guessed the ethical ramifications of a God who behaves as He reportedly does in the Bible has left me with a flat and narrow picture of who He is. The only reason I explore these questions now is only because others do. Without the other voices within evangelicalism questioning what kind of God we serve, I would never have thought to consider Him as deeply as I do, today.

But if I’m honest, I’ll still tell you that the goodness of God is not something I struggle with.

When I read about God ordering the genocide of the Canaanites, I’m really not that disturbed. This isn’t due to a callous, or surface, reading of the text, either.

My understanding is and has been this: “If God is, by His very nature, good, then everything He does is unquestionably good.” If you were to take the adjective “good” and replace it with whatever adjective you apply to Him, then what you’re left with is trying to discover what “good” is. In trying to understand what things like “good,” “just,” and “love” are, I hope to know Him more.

To claim to know those things (goodness, justice, and love) is a claim to know exactly who God is. Make no mistake: God has revealed Himself and continues to do so. But to those who say “I don’t want to worship that kind of God who…” I’m left with the impression that they worship someone who thinks and looks like them. I could be completely off, mind you. Telling the difference between someone who has fashioned a god in their image and those who have actually adopted the language of God isn’t exactly a speciality of mine.

What I hope for that, when Jesus returns, we’ll be able to recognize Him. I don’t want to be like the leaders who opposed Him because they had fashioned an image of God that didn’t line up with what they were seeing. I pray that for the Church, as well.


Christian Ethics: “Why?”


According to Wikipedia, Christian ethics “is a branch of Christian theology that defines concepts of right (virtue) and wrong (sinful) behavior from a Christian perspective.” To be honest, it really should just be called “ethics, with a theological bent.” Whatever you call it, it’s what I am going to be studying it at seminary and I would like to tell you why.

I feel as though my life was the epitome of middle class America. It’s more than just being white and in suburbia, though. It’s a way of thinking.

It’s being embarrassed for other people when they loudly voice their disapproval of “the system.”
It’s reasoning that we should stop conversations about race and gender biases because they only lead to more discrimination.
It’s telling others not to be offended because you’ll only cause trouble.
It’s about never wanting for anything because you don’t understand what it is to “need” something.
It’s being entitled to happiness at all times; and complaining when things don’t go your way.

To be clear, this is not about the way I was raised. My family taught me better; and I’m especially grateful to my sister for never letting get away with such lazy thinking (though you could have been nicer about it. Love you! 😛 ).

There’s lots of things (nature, nurture, etc.) that caused my thinking to become so insulated. And I can only look back in embarrassment at some of the ridiculous things I consistently said, or did, just a few years ago.

Like announcing my friend’s name in a stereotypical Japanese announcer voice, because he was Japanese, and I was entertained by it.
Recycling stupid jokes; particularly of the Helen Keller and women, variety.
Recycling stupid Jewish jokes with the excuse of “it’s OK, I’m Jewish.”
Watch hours of porn because I was single and “didn’t want to hurt ‘actual women.”

So what changed? During my time in Bible College I had already felt something turning inside of me. By the end of it all, I didn’t feel as though I recognized myself. Events were happening in my life that forced me to re-examine the things I held deeply. It turned out that it wasn’t my convictions that needed changing: it was my heart. My life and words simply weren’t reflected in the things that mattered most to me.

I didn’t know where to start, so I just started reading people I knew I would disagree with. I didn’t think women should be senior pastors, so I read Rachel Held Evans and Sarah Bessey. I didn’t think that racial disparity was a big deal, so I read Eugene Cho and Ta-Nehisi Coates. I didn’t think being Jewish, or Jewish studies in particular, was even relevant so I began to read Krista Dalton.

And the more I read them the more I found myself asking more questions of, not just myself, but the world. The point of reading authors who I inherently had biases against wasn’t to suddenly change my mind, or even challenge their views. I needed to hear what they saw. To feel what they felt.

I changed because of it; and I am a better man for it.

My newfound passion for ethics comes from understanding that there are so many who are like me. People struggling to see why the world suffers the way it does and invent reasons to do nothing about it because it’s just easier that way. For the sake of the Kingdom of God I simply can’t live like that, anymore. I want to find a new way by discovering the ancient one.

So please pray for me as I move ahead in Seminary. God knows I need every bit of it. And equally as important is the need for others to come along side me. Real discipleship doesn’t happen in a vacuum and while I am sure my professors and fellow students will be able to help me here; I will need to rely on other voices I’ve grown to trust over the years.

Theological ethics might not sound like the most ground breaking of disciplines; but as we move forward it may turn out to be one of the most foundational for future generations.

Gary Cass, Islamophoia, and the Need to Change


Have you ever had a moment of intense anger because someone, somewhere, said something really stupid and hateful? Only to track back and realize that you’re not all that different from them? Or, at the very least, were once like them?

I had that moment yesterday.

Gary Cass is a semi-known, politically active preacher in the United States. The list of issues he tackles range from abortion, traditional marriage, Christian education in schools, christian liberty, and ensuring christians are legally defended when they feel persecuted. In other words he’s a typical, evangelical, right winger with a heavy emphasis on Christendom.

(Christendom is the notion that Christian ideas; values; and even the religion itself, should be at the forefront of each state. It’s adherents believe that the separation of church and state is a farce and should work in tandem to bring Christ’s Kingdom, on Earth.)

My feelings about Cass are less than favorable to say the least. He’s “that” guy. You know…the one whose picture you hold up to 1 Corinthians 13:1 and say to yourself “Yep. He’s THAT guy.” To which he would reply with something like, “I am speaking the truth; and the truth is loving!” Causing my forehead to burn with the intensity of a thousand suns as I face palm eternally.

One of those moments happened yesterday when I read a post from Gary Cass featured on CharismaNews (since retracted). In it, he declared himself a proud Islamophobe. Calling upon the history of extremists abroad, he lists only three possible solutions: 1. Convert, 2. Deport, 3. or Kill. But according to Cass:

“The only thing that is biblical and that 1400 years of history has shown to work is overwhelming Christian just war and overwhelming self defense. Christian Generals Charles Martel in 732 and Jon Sobieski in 1672 defeated Islamic Turks and their attempts to take the West. Who will God raise up to save us this time? Will God even intervene or turn us over to the Muslims for turning against Him?”

He continues:

This is not irrational, but the loving thing we must do for our children and neighbors. First trust in God, then obtain a gun(s), learn to shoot, teach your kids the Christian doctrines of just war and self defense, create small cells of family and friends that you can rely on if some thing catastrophic happens and civil society suddenly melts down.

He’s wrong, of course, and for several reasons; but this post isn’t about Gary Cass. There will be lots of blogs written about the man and I’ve really nothing of value to add in that department. Rather, this is about turning his words back to those who obviously disagree with him:

What have we done, as Christians, to love Muslims?

Sometimes I wonder when the “us versus them” mentality will finally catch up with me. I’m so prone to shield myself from what I don’t understand; and I know I am not alone. The reason I know this is because my comfort, in relation to Muslims, isn’t that I trust God: it’s that I am surrounded by people who similarly do not trust, understand, or love Muslims.

But there are so many people I don’t understand…so many people I don’t love. How are we so different from the Gary Cass’ of the world? Of course few are as bombastic as he. Nor do many of us aspire to see Muslims forcefully converted at the barrel of a gun. But do we know the way forward with our Muslim neighbors? I’m not sure I do; especially as I sit here in the comfort of student housing of a seminary. What I do know is this: I must change. My heart must soften or it will find itself in a state all too similar to Gary Cass’.

Michael Gungor, a lesson in Primary and Secondary Theology


When Michael Gungor, of the liturgical, post-rock band, Gungor writes music: people listen. He and his wife have personally affected me with their sounds for over five years now when I heard their Beautiful Things album and I’ve never listened to worship music in the same way, since. As popular and well received as Michael Gungor’s music is, however, a blog post about his belief in theistic evolution (the belief that evolution is true and that Genesis is not a literal account) and his theology of the Bible is…well…just read this bit from Al Mohler:

“We will either believe the Bible is the inerrant and infallible word of God — that it is the specially revealed word of God, which is our ultimate intellectual authority, because it is, indeed, the word of God — or we’ll see it merely as a collection of inspirational and spiritual writings that are to be ‘reinterpreted.’ That’s Michael Gungor’s word, when it comes to claims of a superior intellectual authority, in his case modern science.”

The outrage was further amplified when Gungor went to explain his views on a podcast, in an attempt clear up any misconceptions.

“To just see a few words that somebody said, that Jesus said about Noah, and you assume that you can get into Jesus’ mind and know exactly how he thought about the whole situation, and how He considered history versus myth versus whatever – how do you know? And even if He was wrong, even if He did believe that Noah was a historical person, or Adam was a historical person, and ended up being wrong, I don’t understand how that even would deny the divinity of Christ.”

Of course this only preceded to make everyone even more upset. It was especially helpful (see: terribly misleading) when news outlets began claiming that Michael said that “Jesus lied.” Leaving Michael Gungor in a tumultuous spot where his attempt to clarify has caused more confusion (through little fault of his own) and his band’s gigs being cancelled because some churches want nothing to do with them.

I found myself in a similar predicament; but on an entirely personal level. A friend of mine, and missionary in Japan, have been Facebook friends for years. We’d never met, but our love for Japan brought us together on social media. The topic of theistic evolution came up on my Facebook wall and the missionary had a deeply and passionately held belief that the Genesis accounts of creation had to be taken literally in order to believe that Jesus was the Son of God. More specifically, that Adam and Eve had to be actual people in order for Jesus to be considered a literal person. I affirmed that I believed all three to have been real, but denied that Adam and Eve’s literalness was not a prerequisite for Jesus to have been who He said He was. Ultimately, he unfriended me and I’ve yet to hear back from him.

When it comes to theology, people find themselves examining what’s primary and secondary. People are under the impression that everyone is in agreement over these things but far from it. Without attempting to put words in his mouth, I don’t believe Michael Gungor holds that much, if any, of the Genesis account to be historically reliable. For him, it probably isn’t even a relevant topic (hence why he probably didn’t feel the need to write or talk about it before). For others, like Al Mohler, they would likely question whether or not the Holy Spirit inhabited a person if they believed in theistic evolution.

But why is there such a large disparity in the way Mohler and Gungor approach Genesis? Not just in the sense that they disagree but that one sees their view as essential while the other believes it’s alright to “agree to disagree.” The answer, in this case, is wrapped up in the understanding of who Jesus is and what He said.

For instance, Al Mohler believes the Bible is strictly infallible. This means that he believes that the cannon is without a single error. Not one. For him, it is the only way in which you can understand scripture, and be considered orthodox, while being logically consistent. So when Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 15:45 – “The Scriptures tell us,’The first man, Adam, became a living person.’ But the last Adam–that is, Christ–is a life-giving Spirit,” Mohler is going to stick it to anyone who believes Adam was not a literal person.

Michael Gungor has no such understanding. He believes that Jesus is who He said He was and that’s why He identifies as a Christian. All other understanding in relationship to the Bible is up for discussion but must be read in light of what we know today about science, history, archaeology, etc. Not doing so would ignorant and dishonoring to God. For him, the idea of Jesus simply not knowing whether Adam was a literal person has no bearing on His divinity.

It is likely that you have come to your own conclusions about Genesis and its literalness (and, in turn, about Michael Gungor). But I am writing this to help others understand some of what’s happening underneath the surface, theologically. To be aware of their own surroundings. At the heart of it all is the question: What does it mean to be a Christian? What does it mean to have faith? The subjectiveness to which we hold things tightly, or loosely (primary and secondary, respectively), is going to answer that question for us and cause us to take sides on this issue.

God is Self-Activated


“God helps those who helps themselves,” is an idiom I’d hear every so often as a child to help illustrate that, in order for God to act in a person’s life, it requires a certain amount of effort. Nowadays I’ll hear a phrase, attributed to Robert Madu, that God is “motion activated.” These sayings seem harmless enough. After all, encouraging people to participate in the life of Christ is something we should all be involved in. But I’m concerned that, at the root of these sayings, there is a deep, underlying, theological assumption: That we, as humans, empower God and His Kingdom.

For those who would accuse me of over analyzing a “simple” phrase, please understand that for every person who would say, “We understand that it’s God, the Holy Spirit, who empowers us to work in and for the Kingdom of God;” there is another who will ask, “if we don’t do anything, how will God act?”

The truth is that we live in a results driven culture; and for some Christians there is an understanding that God is the best means by which to achieve those results. We talk about a God who’s activated with the right sequence; as though He’s MS-DOS and we’re just typing in file commands. But where is the right prayer that opens doors and heals the sick? What spiritual discipline gives us more faith and sheds our stress? Few of us would actually think of God like a computer program yet we’ll hold a largely “cause and effect” outlook in our relationship with Him. I call it “Christian Karma.”

I’m not above this in any way but it tends to manifest itself in a negative sense. Because while it’s a tad easier to remember that God has blessed me with certain gifts and skills without any personal merit; it’s really, REALLY difficult to remember that the things I struggle with are not all self-inflicted.

Why do we think this way though? Honestly, I think because the alternative is terrifying. Imagining a God who allows good and bad things to happen to individuals irrespective of our choices is just that: terrifying. When we’re blaming ourselves for bad things happening to us, at least we feel in control.

The reality is that for every prayer God answers (and make no mistake that He does, indeed, answer prayer), there are hundreds more who get what they want without a second thought. And for every person who is in the hospital because they were t-boned in the middle of an intersection; they are joined by one who hit them because they’d had one too many to drink, that night.

Trying to make sense of it all, why bad and good things happen to everyone, as if life and God are a huge cosmic puzzle, is not the point. Rather, I want my friends and family to understand that we, as people, are not in control. As much as we fight and claw our way to get the results we desire we are all dependent upon God. And while that may be a scary proposition, it truly is better that way.

When Biblical Support for the Death Penalty Masquerades as Moralism


Before the topic of terrorism, and other foreign policy news, dominated the airwaves in the early 21st century, the issue of the death penalty seemed more prevalent in political conversation. Most objections to it are reactionary; protests streaming in as a man who still claims to be innocent is strapped the chair and injected with a concoction that will end his life. This time, however, it was a botched execution in Oklahoma which seems to have caused the issue to flare up.

Al Mohler recently posted his thoughts about why Christians should support the death penalty. He presents a list of Biblical references for his support, along with some moral cajoling. 

To start, I’m was really pleased to see Mohler being so outspoken against the economic and racial disparity in the application of the death penalty. Because it isn’t just that you’re more likely to be sentenced to death if you’re black, but also if the victim was white. Nor does he believe that capital punishment should be used all that frequently, or as an instrument of vengeance. 

His use of the Bible, however, leaves a lot to be desired. Mohler goes right for the jugular in Genesis 9:6 where God declares to Noah, “Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed.”  Yet, just two verses previous to this, God also states, “But you shall not eat flesh with its life, that is, its blood.” Apart from the recent Noah movie, I’m not too sure anybody is making the argument for Christian vegetarianism. 

He then transitions towards the New Testament where Paul writes in Romans 13:4 “for [the ruler] is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. for he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrong doer.” This is all in the framework of Paul encouraging the Roman church to submit to earthly authority. But in using this quote, however, Mohler leaves himself in a precarious position: What if the government were to abolish capitol punishment? I don’t believe he would suddenly feel obliged to agree with the government position simply because they changed their minds about the Justice system.

There is also a glaring omission in his write up: Jesus. Mohler could have possibly argued that the His acceptance of a crucifixion as an argument from silence. Or that Christ made no attempt to relieve the consequence of the two men crucified beside Him. 

This is because, in reality, Mohler’s position has little to do with a Biblical mandate for capital punishment. We see this when he writes of a larger, cultural context where, “our cultural loss of confidence in human dignity and the secularizing of human identity has made murder a less heinous crime in the minds of many Americans.”

His chief concern is that sin doesn’t feel like it carries the consequence it should in our society. In his mind, the value of human life is decreasing and there is a relationship between that value and our perspective on murder. 

It’s one thing to acknowledge the Bible’s implicit endorsement of capital punishment; it’s another entirely to advocate for the death penalty while simultaneously declaring that it there is racial bias. By acknowledging the unjust nature of the death penalty’s application, however, he’s made a conscious decision to sacrifice justice for (perceived) morality. Should true justice, however, really require a moral sacrifice?

I would certainly hope not!

The Art of Theological Gatekeeping


“Truly, truly, I say to you, he who does not enter the sheepfold by the door but climbs in by another way, that man is a thief and a robber. But he who enters by the door is the shepherd of the sheep. To him the gatekeeper opens. The sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out.” – Jesus (John 10)

In the world of sports, a gatekeeper is something of a 2nd-class competitor. He’s put years of work into his craft and achieved some level of success. His best years, though, are clearly behind him. Whether that’s due to advanced age of having maxed out his own potential he simply doesn’t have what it takes to be the best any longer. This doesn’t mean he isn’t useful. To the contrary, his new role makes him quite valuable as a measuring stick by which younger competitors can test their own skills; to see if they will surpass what the gatekeeper once achieved.

Within the world of Christianity, and Christian theology, it’s become fashionable to see oneself as a gatekeeper, or watchman. Rather than seeing themselves as 2nd-tier philosophers or theologians, they assume their positions as defenders and protectors of the faith. Their job: to guard the entrance, and exit, to the faith. In the context of theology, faith has a different word: Orthodoxy.

Independent minded folks feel that the pseudo-theological-gatekeeper role is a farce, and should be ignored at all levels. I sympathize with them. Some self-appointed guardians are so fearful and paranoid that they cause more pain to the people they’re supposed to protect than their enemies. They’ve turned their eyes in on the city believing there is more danger to be found within its walls then from the potential chaos outside of it. But this brings up another excellent point: There are actually enemies, from the outside, to be protected from.

So is the solution to dump the gatekeepers? I believe this leaves us with the very problem the so-called gatekeepers have encountered: a lack of accountability.

Sure, the watchmen will claim their accountability is nearly 2,000 years of established, orthodox writings and teachings in regards to the faith tradition. To which those who stand across from them will agree, and then proceed to present their scholarship which has been ignored by them but is equally as old and immense as their counterparts. The “Orthodox” team calls the others heretics and wolves, while the others label them pharisees and legalists.

I think the solution is to actually have gatekeepers…but in the sporting context. Men and women who act as measuring sticks, rather than reenforced steel walls, challenge us in ways that keep us accountable. In this sense, we’re training others up to recognize danger and how to deal with it. This doesn’t mean there will be 100% agreement, nor does this eliminate conflict. The discipleship process, however, doesn’t demand those things; rather, it calls us to follow Christ when we hear His voice.

And sometimes, He speaks through the gatekeepers.

An Open Letter to the church from the Church on Tithing


Jayson D. Bradley

Tithe Dear church,

You want us to tithe, and we can appreciate that. We’ve listened to your sermons, read your books, and understand all of the arguments for tithing as both a principle and a discipline.

But there are a couple of things we feel the need to talk about:

Tithing is hard for a lot of people, often for reasons you don’t completely know about. That’s okay. The fact that it’s difficult doesn’t mean it doesn’t matter. In fact, sacrifice matters because it’s difficult. So in spite of hardship, many of us still give.

You need to honor this sacrifice. These people in your churches, often ones who the least least to spare, give because they believe in the principle of tithing, they’re passionate about compassionate work, and they trust you. It’s time for you to start asking difficult questions about how that money’s spent.

We’re giving to Jesus through you

You have convinced us that giving is an…

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A Live-Tweet review of “Son of God”


My very funny, Catholic friend Steve Lewis tweeted his review of the movie “Son of God.” With his permission, I’m posting his musings here for more people to enjoy.





































Do the Ends Justify the Means for Steven Furtick?


There is this tendency, within me, to happily chime in with an “amen,” whenever I see or hear something I agree with. And why not? To be unified in heart and mind with another is a good and powerful thing. Is there any reason to keep our agreements to ourselves? Of course not. I will loudly, boldly, and joyfully stand with those who, with earnest, stand with God.

So must our “no’s,” be any softer? Less bold? Or not couched within the joy Christ?

For lack of a better word: No!

There have been countless instances when, in the name of Christian “unity,” people are encouraged to be silent in their disagreements. Most (that I know) are well meaning, of course. Some are afraid of a fracture within their respective churches. Others are concerned that, if you make a big fuss over nothing, you’ll distract from the good things God has done/is doing.

In response to the news that Steven Furtick manipulated hundreds of people into getting baptisms by strategically letting congregants walk up to get (re)baptized in order to “break the ice” for guests, they say things like, “I have personally grown in my relationship with God because of Steven Furtick.” They’ll defend his practices because it gets the results they’re searching for.

“It’s manipulative, disingenuous, and unethical to use groupthink tactics in order to promote baptism,” I say. “Stop tearing down a brother in Christ,” is the reply.

I refuse to believe that it is in the common interest of believers (see, unity) to promote, encourage, or be passive when presented with this sort of deception, within the Church. In what way is God blessed by such disingenuousness? It’s disgraceful!

Speaking on an ethical level, we must ask ourselves, “Do the ends justify the means?” You can attempt to let this slide as a minor issue because “no one got hurt.” The truth is, however, that people are hurt by this. There are people within that congregation (and others) who will question the validity of their baptism. Non-believers will level the charge of “cult” to the Church for the use of psychological tactics; and probably mock God, because of it. The person who has truly mocked God, however, is Steven Furtick, and men like him who routinely answer the question, “Do the ends justify the means?” with a simple, “yes.”