Category: books


Hi all:

I have moved my blog to my new website at www.christianpiatt.com. You can link to the blog directly from the home page, and there is an RSS feed you can pick up if you would like to subscribe.

Thanks for following, and hope to greet you at the new site!

Peace,
Christian Piatt

(I am moving my blog to www.christianpiatt.com. Visit my site and grab the feed link to follow future posts.)

In my previous blog post, I laid out Kevin DeYoung’s (co-author of Why We’re Not Emergent (By Two Guys Who Should Be)) criteria for being an emergent Christian.I’m not sure why exactly he compiled this list, other than to help promote his anti-emergent book. But I found the whole list very entertaining. And a lot of it is true, at least as it applies to me. But DeYoung’s criticisms of emergents raised a lot of thoughts for me, so I thought I’d take the time to respond to what I see as a handful of his central problems with emergent Christianity.

Emergents throw away doctrine, and thus don’t stand for anything.

Agreed, we tend to reject doctrinal statements and systems of authority that impose them on others, but to say we don’t stand for anything is simply wrong. At the risk of generalizing, I would argue that ALL EMERGENTS are unified by the Greatest Commandment, which was offered by Jesus himself as the perfection of the sum total of all law and doctrine:

Jesus said, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your passion and prayer and intelligence.’ This is the most important, the first on any list. But there is a second to set alongside it: ‘Love others as well as you love yourself.’ These two commands are pegs; everything in God’s Law and the Prophets hangs from them.” – Matthew 22:37-40 (from The Message, an interpretation of scripture)

Good enough for Jesus; good enough for me.

Emergents criticize atonement theology because it’s not easy to stomach, or not cool.

From my perspective, hanging your theology on the idea that “Jesus died for your sins” seems like the easy out, rather than the other way around. I understand where the whole “blood atonement” theology, and Paul proposes it a few times in his New Testament letters. But if we look at where he’s coming from, he’s surrounded by sacrificial cultures, including Judaism. But as far back as the story of God stopping Abraham from nearly sacrificing Isaac, it seems to me that the message throughout scripture is “Enough. No more blood.” And if, indeed God can’t tolerate sin without a blood sacrifice in the form of Jesus, then all the forgiveness of sin that Jesus offered in his lifetime didn’t count. And if we want to get slippery and argue that his death retro-actively took care of the sins of the past, then why did he bother forgiving sin throughout his ministry in the first place?

And frankly, I don’t find this easy, convenient or cool to say in a nation where evangelical theocratic values still prevail, but if God felt the need to kill his own child to make things right, I’m not sure I’m interested in modeling my life after such a God.

Emergents focus on “easy” issues to get behind like poverty and diversity, while downplaying the tough stuff, like abortion and homosexuality.

I will agree that some of the more prominent voices in emergent circles have yet to take explicit, strong stands on issues below the belt. And I agree that just not saying anything is not good enough. Hey, it’s not a perfect movement! That said, there are many of us who take issues of sex and sexuality on directly. In fact, I’ve written, edited and contributed to several books that deal directly and explicitly with pornography, sexual addiction, abortion, homosexuality and a host of other uncomfortable topics.

Maybe that’s why I don’t sell many books. Anyway…

Yes, emergents don’t take “a stand” on abortion, because we’re all over the map with what we believe about it. And one of the beautiful things I appreciate about emergents is that we don’t agree on lots of things. We believe that there is a love that is the connective tissue, holding us together regardless of our differences. It’s an ongoing discussion, for sure. And as for homosexuality, most emergents are pretty clear that saying it’s a non-issue isn’t acceptable. Namely, there’s a growing consensus that GLBTQ folks are denied equality, both in the church and elsewhere, because of who they love and how they identify with regard to gender. Even for those emergents who may still not be sure how they feel about the moral implications of homosexuality, I expect most – if not all – of us can agree that we’re called to advocate for all people to have equal standing in the eyes of the church, government and one another.

Emergents reduce the Bible to just another good book by not upholding its perfect inerrancy.

This whole argument about the divinity and perfection of scripture is so tired, I almost didn’t even respond to this. We’ve all heard the debate. But suffice it to say that God doesn’t need a Bible. God didn’t have an ego issue to be worked out in a 66-chapter memoir. and if the Bible was intended to be perfect, it stands to reason we would have been inborn with such understanding, rather than depending on sometimes-contradictory stories, passed down orally through generations, then written, rewritten (and so on), translated and interpreted. I’m sorry, but if the Bible was perfect, there wouldn’t be more than one version and one interpretation. And for anyone says they don’t interpret scripture, you’re kidding yourself.

Just because I may not deem everything factually, historically accurate in the Bible doesn’t mean that I don’t find divinely inspired Truth in its pages. If that’s not good enough, once again, I’ll just go ahead and tap out now.

Emergents don’t like to talk about things like judgment and hell because it’s not attractive.

Actually, we talk about hell quite a bit, but it’s usually helping de-program the deep fear, guilt and paranoia drilled into folks at a younger age about why they HAD to believe and do “XYZ” or else. Again, not all emergents will share a common theology on hell, judgment, etc, but for me it’s clear that the modern notion of hell came from the Greek myths about Hades. Even Jews didn’t have a theology of hell; they believe in Sheol, which was a place of rest for the dead, not of fire and eternal suffering.

Rob Bell’s argument in his book, Love Wins, is salient. He notes that most who embrace a theology that leans on hell also believe there’s an “age of accountability” for children, before which they are not held responsible for their own actions in God’s eyes. Bell says then that the compassionate thing to do is to kill off all of our children before the age of accountability to ensure they will live forever in Paradise. What’s a few lost decades on earth, after all, compared with the possibility of eternal damnation?

There are few who would suggest that God’s love doesn’t exceed that of human beings. So let’s see a show of hands of those who would kill their own child out of love for someone else? And yes, I’ve heard the argument that it shows God loves us more than his own son, but keep in mind, Jesus supposedly “one of us,” in that he was fully human. And Jesus said that whatever is done to the “least of these” is done to him, and therefore, to God. So who could argue that Jesus wasn’t among the “least of these” while being crucified? Totally vulnerable, betrayed, poor, humiliated. Sounds pretty least of these to me.

Finally, who is this sacrifice for? Supposedly for us, but actually it’s to satisfy God’s intolerance of sin. Do we see God as so weak or intolerant that God can’t handle just as we are? Are we really so powerful in our sin? This seems like hubris to me, to even suggest that we can do ANYTHING that can’t be handled, forgiven or tolerated by the One who made us.

One thing I think the author was spot-on about was his criticism of the emergent movement largely holding up white, straight middle class males, while also praising the idea of diversity. This is very true, and we have a long way to go if we’re not going to end up looking like a bunch of hypocrites or opportunists. If we value diversity in all its forms, we have to be much more aggressive about helping this movement more accurately reflect the makeup of those in our midst.

Christian Piatt is an author, editor, speaker, musician and spoken word artist. He co-founded Milagro Christian Church in Pueblo, Colorado with his wife, Rev. Amy Piatt, in 2004.

Christian is the creator and editor of the BANNED QUESTIONS book series, which include BANNED QUESTIONS ABOUT THE BIBLE and BANNED QUESTIONS ABOUT JESUS. He co-created and co-edits the “WTF: Where’s the Faith?” young adult series with Chalice Press, and he has a memoir on faith, family and parenting being published in early 2012 called PREGMANCY: A Dad, a Little Dude and a Due Date.

For more information about Christian, visit http://www.christianpiatt.com, or find him on Twitter or Facebook.

(I’m moving my blog over to www.christianpiatt.com. Visit there and grab the feed to follow future posts)

If there’s one thing emergent Christians can’t stand, it’s being categorized, or worse, stereotyped. It kinda goes against the whole idea that the emergent movement can’t be nailed down, quantified, etc. The funny thing is, most folks who are emergent would deny it if asked, not out of shame, but rather out of principle. It’s kind of like the old saying, “If you meet The Buddha along the road, kill him.” if it’s distilled down to a handful of component parts, it loses something…maybe everything.

Anyway, my wife, Amy, sent along the following clip which pretty much describes me with about ninety-percent accuracy, which is impressive. And given that it’s from a guy who is down on emergents, it does lend him a little bit of credibility to offer a critique.

The following comes from Kevin DeYoung, co-author of Why We’re Not Emergent (By Two Guys Who Should Be). First, see for yourself if you’d qualify as emergent based on his criteria. Then I’ll follow up in a second post with a handful of his criticisms of emergents, coupled with my responses.

After reading nearly five thousand pages of emerging-church literature, I have no doubt that the emerging church, while loosely defined and far from uniform, can be described and critiqued as a diverse, but recognizable, movement. You might be an emergent Christian:

if you listen to U2, Moby, and Johnny Cash​’s Hurt (sometimes in church), use sermon illustrations from The Sopranos, drink lattes in the afternoon and Guinness in the evenings, and always use a Mac;
if your reading list consists primarily of Stanley Hauerwas​, Henri Nouwen​, N. T. Wright, Stan Grenz, Dallas Willard​, Brennan Manning, Jim Wallis​, Frederick Buechner​, David Bosch​, John Howard Yoder​, Wendell Berry​, Nancy Murphy, John Franke, Walter Winks and Lesslie Newbigin​ (not to mention McLaren, Pagitt, Bell, etc.) and;
your sparring partners include D. A. Carson, John Calvin​, Martyn Lloyd-Jones​, and Wayne Grudem​;
if your idea of quintessential Christian discipleship is Mother Teresa​, Martin Luther King Jr​., Nelson Mandela​, or Desmond Tutu​;
if you don’t like George W. Bush or institutions or big business or capitalism or Left Behind Christianity;
if your political concerns are poverty, AIDS, imperialism, war-mongering, CEO salaries, consumerism, global warming, racism, and oppression and not so much abortion and gay marriage;
if you are into bohemian, goth, rave, or indie;
if you talk about the myth of redemptive violence and the myth of certainty;
if you lie awake at night having nightmares about all the ways modernism has ruined your life;
if you love the Bible as a beautiful, inspiring collection of works that lead us into the mystery of God but is not inerrant;
if you search for truth but aren’t sure it can be found;
if you’ve ever been to a church with prayer labyrinths, candles, Play-Doh, chalk-drawings, couches, or beanbags (your youth group doesn’t count);
if you loathe words like linear, propositional, rational, machine, and hierarchy and use words like ancient-future, jazz, mosaic, matrix, missional, vintage, and dance;
if you grew up in a very conservative Christian home that in retrospect seems legalistic, naive, and rigid;
if you support women in all levels of ministry, prioritize urban over suburban, and like your theology narrative instead of systematic;
if you disbelieve in any sacred-secular divide;
if you want to be the church and not just go to church;
if you long for a community that is relational, tribal, and primal like a river or a garden;
if you believe doctrine gets in the way of an interactive relationship with Jesus;
if you believe who goes to hell is no one’s business and no one may be there anyway;
if you believe salvation has a little to do with atoning for guilt and a lot to do with bringing the whole creation back into shalom with its Maker;
if you believe following Jesus is not believing the right things but living the right way;
if it really bugs you when people talk about going to heaven instead of heaven coming to us;
if you disdain monological, didactic preaching;
if you use the word “story” in all your propositions about postmodernism—if all or most of this tortuously long sentence describes you…
then you might be an emergent Christian.

Yeah, color me busted. I’m a lot of that stuff. More soon…

Christian Piatt is an author, editor, speaker, musician and spoken word artist. He co-founded Milagro Christian Church in Pueblo, Colorado with his wife, Rev. Amy Piatt, in 2004.

Christian is the creator and editor of the BANNED QUESTIONS book series, which include BANNED QUESTIONS ABOUT THE BIBLE and BANNED QUESTIONS ABOUT JESUS. He co-created and co-edits the “WTF: Where’s the Faith?” young adult series with Chalice Press, and he has a memoir on faith, family and parenting being published in early 2012 called PREGMANCY: A Dad, a Little Dude and a Due Date.

For more information about Christian, visit http://www.christianpiatt.com, or find him on Twitter or Facebook.

I could tell when I was putting Mattias, who is seven, to bed the bother night that I was about to get handed more than the typical bedtime conversation. He had that look on his face like he was about to fire me. For a second, I actually was worried that I was in trouble.

Then I remembered; I’m the dad. Right.

“Dad,” he said, not looking up at me, “I’m not sure I believe this whole thing about God making everything in the universe.”

“Okay,” I said, “what are you not sure about?”

“Well, it just doesn’t make sense to me that this guy was sitting up there somewhere and just decided to make a universe all of a sudden.”

“I get that,” I said. “I would have a hard time with that idea too.”

“What do you mean, dad?”

“Some people picture God as this sort of giant person sitting on a throne in the sky, but that image just doesn’t work for me.”

“Me either,” he said. “I mean, there’s not even any oxygen up there. Why would a person live up there with no air?’

“For me,” I said, “God is less person-like and more like a source. Like a place where all the energy and matter and love we ever need comes from.”

“A source?” He looked confused.

“Have you talked at all about the Big Bang in school?’ I asked.

“Sort of,” he said.

“Well,” I said, “a lot of people believe that a really long time ago, everything in the universe was squished down into this one tiny, super-hot, super sense spot. Then, for a reason no one really understands, everything just burst out, kind of like a flower popping up out of a tiny seed, and that’s when everything got started.”

“Huh,” he studied the floor. “So where did all the stuff come from? And what made it all pop out and become the universe?”

“You answer that,” I said, “and you’ll be set for life. But for me, that’s where I see God.”

We agreed to hit the library for some books on the Big Bang. I’m less concerned about giving him water-tight answers than I am going along with him as we follow this mystery down the rabbit hole together. For me, that’s the stuff that life is made of.

Christian Piatt is an author, editor, speaker, musician and spoken word artist. He co-founded Milagro Christian Church in Pueblo, Colorado with his wife, Rev. Amy Piatt, in 2004. Christian is the creator and editor of the Banned Questions book series, which include Banned Questions About the Bible and Banned Questions About Jesus. He co-created and co-edits the “WTF: Where’s the Faith?” young adult series with Chalice Press, and he has a memoir on faith, family and parenting being published in early 2012 called Pregmancy: A Dad, a Little Dude and a Due Date. For more information about Christian, visit http://www.christianpiatt.com, or find him on Twitter or Facebook.

 

 

Here’s an interview I did recently with Zachary Bailes of the website, “Crazy Liberals…and Conservatives.” We talked about the State of the Christian Left and much that faces organized religion in a challenging century ahead.

Listen as I interview Christian Piatt author of Banned Questions About the Bible and forthcoming book Banned Questions About Jesus.We discuss the power of questions, progressive Christianity, and the need to share your narrative.
Listen. Enjoy. Engage. Respond.
Link to the original page and podcast:
**On another note you may purchase either volume at Chalice Press for 40% off through June 30, 2011. Use coupon code bannedqj. If this offer is extended you will be notified.

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Many thanks to Two Friars and a Fool for sharing their own thoughts on BANNED QUESTIONS ABOUT THE BIBLE. These guys are an unruly band of theologians who enjoy pub-style discourse over all things faith-related. When they asked me to share something about the new book for their forum, I was naturally happy to oblige.

Their format is refreshingly different. They have folks like me submit an article, then each of the three (two friars plus one fool equals three) share a video response. This then leads to a larger conversation in their forum, where others can jump in, offer their two cents, chuck the virtual bar stool and the like.

For me, this kind of online space is exactly what the BANNED QUESTIONS series is all about: opening the doors, opening peoples’ minds and giving permission to talk about anything we are wondering about, afraid of, doubting or passionately convicted about. If only more of our congregations reflected this kind of vibe!

Check out the article here, along with the Two Friars and a Fool video responses.

On a somewhat related note, Chalice Press, my beloved publisher, released their top-three list of most viewed titles on their website, and BANNED QUESTIONS ABOUT THE BIBLE was number two! Thanks to all who are showing an interest in the work we’re doing with this series. For those who have yet to order the book, or for those awaiting book two in the series, BANNED QUESTIONS ABOUT JESUS, you can order either or both through the end of June on the Chalice Press website for 40% off the retail price if you enter the promotional code “BANNEDQJ” on the final checkout page. There is no limit on the number of book s that qualify for this discount, so stock up and give copies to your pastor, friends and enemies.

Finally, several folks have asked about additional titles in the BANNED QUESTIONS series. Right now, Chalice Press is waiting to see how their first two titles do before committing to more, but being optimistic, I’ve been wrangling an all-star roster of interested contributors for a third book, should the publisher agree to pull the trigger. More on this as I’m allowed to share, but the best way to ensure there are more titles is to share a good word about the first two.

Until next time…
Peace,
Christian

By LORETTA SWORD | lroettas@chieftain.com

Local author and musical pastor Christian Piatt’s latest book delivers answers to questions many Christians likely have pondered but never asked anyone aloud.

“Banned Questions about the Bible” shares responses from more than a dozen contributors — a recovering consumer, a religious satirist and a seminary president among them — to questions Sunday school teachers are afraid to answer.

The respondents don’t tell readers what to believe about a book that many pastors have always insisted be taken as literal truth.
Instead, they encourage readers to give deeper thought to each topic and to draw their own conclusions.

Questions discussed include:
“Where did Adam and Eve’s kids find spouses?”
“Does God justify violence in scripture?”
“Does the Bible call for sexual purity? (and what qualifies as pure and impure?)”

Piatt says an experience he had when he was younger led him to create the Banned Questions series. The newly released book is the first.

“When I was a teenager, my youth minister threw a Bible at my head for asking questions. Too often, for various reasons, people don’t have the opportunity to ask the hard questions they have about faith, religion, salvation and the Bible. And when questions are left unanswered in communities of faith, people either seek answers elsewhere or lose interest all together,” Piatt said.

“The purpose of the series is to collect the most compelling and challenging questions from various theological areas and pose them to a panel of ‘experts’ who are challenged with responding in 200 words or less in plain English. This volume addresses challenging or controversial questions about scripture collected from people on Facebook, MySpace, Twitter and other social networking media.”

The book has been endorsed by several nationally known Christian authors and is getting positive reviews.

The second book in the Banned Questions series, “Banned Questions about Jesus,” will be released in July.

Piatt, a former Chieftain religion columnist, is the music minister at Milagro Christian Church, where his wife, Rev. Amy Piatt, is founding pastor.

For more information or to order “Banned Questions about the Bible,” call 800-366-3383 or visit http://www.ChalicePress.com. The book is available at Amazon.com or direct through the author.

How do we reconcile the Old Testament command for vengeance (eye for an eye) with Jesus’ command to turn the other cheek and love our enemies?

(Order BANNED QUESTIONS ABOUT THE BIBLE, now available at Chalice Press and other booksellers.)

Becky Garrison:

Our hatred of the “other” is nothing new. At the time of Jesus’ birth, the Samaritans and the Jews had been at each other’s throats for literally hundreds of years. At the time when Jesus told the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25–37), the concept of a Samaritan coming to the rescue of a Jew would have been considered just as incongruous as if, say, a Focus on the Family follower marched in the New York City LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender) Pride Parade today.

But as the parable made clear, the Samaritan was considered the Jewish man’s “neighbor.” By implication, that means the definition of “neighbor” has to be expanded to include all of God’s children, including those of different social classes, races, creeds and political affiliations. When Jesus commanded His followers to “go and do likewise” by following the example of the Good Samaritan, he challenged the early church to look beyond its comfort zone. His disciples were required to obey the Greatest Commandment by showing His love and kindness to all people, because everyone was their “neighbor.”

The early Christian church cut across the various hierarchical lines that divided people. It did not seek to dominate the political establishment or maintain the status quo; rather its goal was to spread the universal love of Christ. In doing that, it transformed the world.

Jarrod McKenna:

I had just finished running a workshop for Greenpeace, The Wilderness Society and an anti-nuclear organization on the history and power of nonviolent direct action where I had explored and trained people in the transformative nonviolence of Gandhi, MLK and to the surprise of many gathered, Jesus. Afterwards a well-respected activist approached me away from others and asked with tears in their eyes, “Why was this Jesus not found in my experience of church?”

This question goes to the heart of the Gospel. To the heart of mission. To the heart of discipleship. Why is it that people can’t find the hope of the world in our churches? I think it’s directly connected to the lack of schooling in letting God’s love through us by “loving our enemies.” To be merciful as The Triune God is merciful. Fierce Calvary-shaped love is how God has saved us and its how we are to witness to our salvation. Grace is both how God has saved us and the pattern of kingdom living the Holy Spirit empowers us for.

“Eye for an eye” is not about vengeance but the limitation of retaliation. In Christ, violence is not only restrained but transformed. On the cross God does not overcome evil with evil but with good (Rom. 12:21). There is nothing passive about Jesus turning the other cheek in the face of injustice (John 18:23). To turn the other cheek is to practice the provocative peace that embodies the healing justice of the Kingdom that exposing injustice with the presence of Love (Col.2:15).

We don’t need to reconcile vengeance or violence with loving our enemies. Instead we need to be open to the Holy Spirit’s empowerment to witness to God reconciling the world to Godself through the nonviolent Messiah, Jesus.

Rebecca Bowman Woods:

In Religious Literacy: What Every American Needs to Know and Doesn’t, Stephen Prothero shares the story of a 1995 Colorado murder trial. During deliberations, one juror pulled out his Bible and quoted Leviticus 24, the “eye for an eye” passage that concludes with “He that killeth a man, he shall be put to death.” After the juror instructed his fellow jurors to go home and prayerfully consider this passage, they voted unanimously for the death penalty.

The state Supreme Court ordered a new trial, ruling that jurors were not allowed to consult the Bible. Some Christians, led by Colorado-based Focus on the Family, protested the higher court’s ruling. Perhaps rightly so — can a court really prevent people of faith from including scripture in their decision-making?

But the real injustice, in Prothero’s opinion, was that the jurors failed to consider the rest of the Bible, particularly Jesus’ views on retaliation in Matthew 5:38-42.

“There are very few passages from the Hebrew Bible that are explicitly refuted in the New Testament, but Leviticus 24:20-21 (echoed in Exodus 21:23-25 and Deuteronomy 19:21) is one of them,” writes Prothero, a professor of religious studies at Boston University and a staunch advocate of religious literacy.

Christians should rarely fall back on the ‘New Testament supersedes the Old Testament’ argument. In Matthew 5, Jesus warns that he has not “come to abolish the law or the prophets” but to fulfill it. He teaches an ethic that “embraces and extends” the law in several instances, and refutes it in a few.

Amy Greenbaum, a friend who is in the process of becoming an ordained Reformed Jewish rabbi, says the ‘eye for an eye’ text in Leviticus 24 would not have been taken literally, even in ancient times.

Kathy Escobar:

I started seeking God on my own when I was a little girl, apart from my family who were not Christians.  I can’t explain it, really; I was always drawn to Jesus but couldn’t quite make sense of the Old Testament and a lot of the crazy things that were in there–whole communities being wiped out, God’s vengeance being poured out left and right.  I tried to skip over those parts and somehow erase them from my mind and just focus on Jesus because that was a lot more comforting.

Later, as I began to mature in my faith, I realized I needed to wrestle with this disparity.  I admit, I still do. I rest on the new order that Jesus created through the incarnation, turning the old ways upside down.  I think the contrast is important; the radical difference between vengeance in the Old and New Testament makes God’s point.  Jesus changes everything, teaching what the Kingdom now means.

The Sermon on the Mount clearly sets the stage for this new way that completely demolishes the idea of “an eye for an eye.” I don’t think I have to pick apart all the reasons why the Old Testament contains certain stories or examples that are utterly confusing and seemingly contrary to God’s heart for people. I try to rest on the reality that through the gospels, all that changed.   The commands shifted, the law got summed up, and the Kingdom principles Jesus taught were going to be much harder to apply than the old laws by a long shot.

Are some sins worse or better than others?

(From the book, BANNED QUESTIONS ABOUT THE BIBLE by Chalice Press, edited by Christian Piatt. Order either BANNED QUESTIONS book on the Chalice Press website during the month of March, enter the promotional code “BANNEDMAR” at checkout and receive a 40% discount.)

Nadia Bolz-Weber:

It’s important to recognize the difference between big S Sin and little s sins.  Big S sin is the human state of being “turned in on self” without a thought of God or neighbor.  Big S sin is putting ourselves on God’s throne and not allowing God to be God for us.  The fancy Latin that Martin Luther used was se encurvatus en se.  The self turned in on the self.  That is that state of big S sin in which every human being on the planet lives.

Little s sins are the result of big S sin.  But even if someone managed to pull off not committing little s sin they would still be plagued with big S Sin.  Yet a lot of Christianity tries to come off as a way to avoid little s sin so that you are progressively sanctified until – poof – you are without big S sin.

For the record, Lutherans such as myself do not think this is actually possible, even though it sounds real nice. This is why a lot of other Christians don’t like Lutherans, but that is another story entirely.

Now, back to the question.  Are some little s sins worse than others? Yes. Are some little s sins better that others? No. (Leave it to a Lutheran to make something a paradox). But here’s the thing: the sin of murder is more harmful than the sin of, say, stealing a salt-shaker from Denny’s. But the big S Sin of the sinner who stole the salt-shaker is no less than the big S Sin of the sinner who killed another sinner.

Being Christian does not mean that we follow a really great Sin Management Program. It means that we confess that the grace of God is sufficient.

…if grace is true, you must bear a true and not a fictitious sin. God does not save people who are only fictitious sinners. Be a sinner and sin boldly, but believe and rejoice in Christ even more boldly. For he is victorious over sin, death, and the world.[1]

-Martin Luther

Gary Peluso-Verdend:

Yes, but first let’s define sin. In the U.S., we tend to think of “sin” and “sex” together. That pairing is most unfortunate, both for a healthy understanding of sex as well as a healthy understanding of sin. This limitation of “sin” to “sex” and, secondarily, to some vices (e.g., gambling, drinking, smoking) leads us Christians to over-attend to sexual sin and under-attend to other areas of sin.

For example, in a recent national election, most Americans polled did not understand war as a moral issue.

Sin is a condition of broken relationship, the act of breaking a relationship, living in broken relationships, and acting in ways so as to perpetuate a broken relationship. By this definition, murder is sin, insulting a colleague is sin, and passing laws that perpetuate injustice is sin. I’ve heard some interpreters quote Paul to the effect that, since “all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God,” all sin is equal. Paul’s statement might be rightly used to argue all human beings are sinners but not that all sins are equally weighty. Catholic moral theology has long argued that some sins were more (mortal) or less (venial) severe.

Certainly, murder is a worse sin than stealing a piece of candy. Abusing a child is a worse sin than flipping off the driver who cut you off in traffic.

Consider this principle: the more people are affected, the more permanent are the negative consequences, the deeper and broader and more irreparable the broken relationships, the worse the sin.

Joshua Einsohn:

Well, some sins are a lot more fun than others!  (Rim shot, please!).

I’m not really one to worry about the afterlife. If there is one, I think everyone pretty much has it wrong. A favorable judgment isn’t going to come from specifically taking, say, Jesus into your heart. Taking love into your heart, sure. But all the exclusionary rules that fall under the category of “sin” are far too inconsistent to be what actually happens.

I have to believe that the sin of stealing your stapler from work isn’t going to compete with the sin of hypocrisy. I have to believe that the people who claim to do God’s work by making miserable the lives of those who are different from them aren’t really allowed a free pass when it comes to cleansing their conscience.

Even within the Ten Commandments, some are quite obviously good guidelines, but some are a little hazy. Don’t kill anyone. Don’t take shit that’s not yours. Don’t lie.  Stop checkin’ out your neighbor’s firm butt because you might try to do something about it.

Solid advice. Telling your buddy that the hideous item of clothing that they’ve fallen in love with looks good on them…well, yes that’s bearing false witness, but it comes from a good place, so that’s gotta be ok, right???

The whole “sin” thing seems to be on a sliding scale to me, but I’ve always operated under the idea that all sins are not created equally and that the best we can do is avoid the big ones and try to learn not to commit the smaller ones…often.


[1] Weimar ed. vol. 2, p. 371; Letters I, “Luther’s Works,” American Ed., Vol 48. p. 281- 282

The following is a passage from the book, BANNED QUESTIONS ABOUT THE BIBLE. Visit Chalice Press, order the BANNED QUESTIONS books online or by phone and use the promotional code “BANNEDMAR” for a 40% discount.

Hell, Sheol, Hades, Gehenna, and Tartarus are all labeled as “Hell.” By most Christians. Are they really the same? Are they all places of fiery torment? Are such things to be taken literally, metaphorically, or as myth?

David Lose:

These places aren’t all the same, but they’re similar enough that you can understand why people lump them together. In brief, Sheol and Hades represent the realm of the dead, the place where both good people and bad go after death. Gehenna and Tartarus, on the other hand, are reserved for wicked people and are places of punishment. Hell, a word that comes from Old English, has become a catch-all phrase for the others, but for the last two, especially.

On the whole, the Bible doesn’t talk a whole lot about any of these places, and so I’m a little leery of giving them much significance in our own theology. In fact, I get downright suspicious of folks that seem to like talking about eternal punishment, as that seems out of sync with Jesus’ emphasis on God’s love.

Too often in the Church’s history, hell has been used to scare people into doing what the church wants them to. For this reason, some people think we’ve outgrown the usefulness of concepts like hell and damnation. Others, however, would argue that we wouldn’t appreciate heaven without the threat of hell.

In so far as hell depicts ultimate separation from God, I tend to think that whether it’s an actual physical place or a metaphor, it’s a good place to avoid. On that score, I take hope from the Apostle Paul’s declaration that “neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:38-39). Sounds good to me.

Gary Peluso-Verdend:

No, the meaning of these words is not the same. Rather, we have different symbols from different symbol systems.

Sheol is a Hebrew word, found in the pre-6th century BCE portions of the Old Testament. Ancient Judaism did not conceive of human beings as part body and part soul. Rather, human beings were understood as flesh animated by the breath of God. Whatever existence a person has after death was thought to be in a place called Sheol, a place of shades, where there is no consciousness. Sheol contains neither pleasures nor torments.

During Israel’s captivity in Babylon, Jews were exposed to Zoroastrianism, a religion that includes a belief in resurrection and a two-place afterlife—the equivalent of heaven and hell. By New Testament times, belief in resurrection, heaven, and hell were widespread—albeit not universal—in Judaism.

Hell as a place of torment and stink became well developed many centuries after the Bible by the Christian writer Dante Alighieri, but sometimes the roots of a mythical or non-physical place are found in real places. Gehenna, as a place of torment for evil people, was associated with the Valley of Hinnom, south of Jerusalem, where the city dumped its garbage.

Very important beliefs are associated with hell, such as sin, judgment, consequence, resurrection. Christianity—or any other religion—is like a language; one must understand each symbol within a greater grammar.

Jason Boyett:

No, they are not the same. Four words—the Hebrew word sheol and the Greek words hades, gehenna, and tartaroo—have been translated as the English word hell. We think of hell as a fiery place of torment for sinners, but only gehenna fits that description.

Sheol was an all-purpose term referring to the shadowy realm of the dead (“the grave”), and earlier Old Testament books seem to indicate that everyone goes there—not just the wicked. In the New Testament, the Greek word hades is used interchangeably with sheol—it’s the place of the dead. Tartaroo appears only once in the Bible, in 2 Peter 2:4. It refers to Tartarus, the dungeon-like netherworld in Greek mythology filled with suffering and torment. The context indicates it is where demons reside.

The hell-as-torture-chamber idea comes from gehenna, which Jesus described as a destination for sinners. This word originates with a Hebrew name, Ge-Hinnom, which refers to the Hinnom Valley, a garbage dump outside Jerusalem. Trash, animal carcasses, and the bodies of criminals were dumped there, and the valley burned continuously—an evocative image of hell.

Do we take the idea of a burning hell literally? Jesus certainly spoke as if it were a real place. But keep in mind that the idea of a dualistic afterlife—a hell for sinners and heaven for the righteous—was a relatively new idea to Judaism, possibly due to the influence of Zoroastrianism during the Babylonian Exile. It was a theological departure from the ancient faith of the Jewish patriarchs.

Craig Detweiler:

While death is a certain fact, it is also prompts an air of mystery. What happens when our hearts stop beating?   Is there something on the other side of life?  Descriptions of hell (and heaven) are all rather speculative, more poetic than precise.

The Hebrew word, “Sheol,” describes the grave that awaits us all.  It is a shadowy place, something we’ve all glimpsed at a funeral, but never experienced from the inside. Our bodies are all bound for Sheol, irrespective of our beliefs or practices.   None escape physical death.

When the Hebrew scriptures were translated into the Greek language, the word “Hades” was chosen to describe the ground or pit our bodies are bound for.  The Greek notion of Hades was more of a shady, mythological place than a physical grave.

Within Greek mythology, Tartarus, is a place of judgment and torment, a pit much farther down than the more benign Hades. Only once does the word Tartarus appear in scripture.  In 2 Peter 2:4, God punishes sinful angels by throwing them into Tarturus, a dark pit reserved for judgment.

When the Bible was translated into English, Hades and Sheol were translated as Hell. Unfortunately, such a reference comes across as much more loaded than “the grave.” It had eternal associations rather than tangible, temporal or physical meaning.

The associations of hell with a fire, torment, and eternal anonymity start coming into play with a term like “Gehenna.”  It is a destination we would all want to avoid.   It is a place where people who lack family, resources, and significance are discarded.   No one wants to feel so unloved, unacknowledged, or unnoticed.