Tag Archive: jesus


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

I get asked all kinds of questions when I go to speak to groups about faith. One of the most common has to do with my understanding of Hell. So I tell them a story about a monkey.

The story goes that if you put something inside a jar that a monkey wants, they’ll reach in and grab onto it with singular determination. The problem is, they can’t get their hand out of the jar while also hanging on to the thing they want, but they’re so stubborn that they will not let go.

The result: they get what they want, in a manner of speaking. But it stays stuck inside the jar, along with their hand. They are slaves to their own desire.

Hell is – pardon the pun – quite the hot topic these days, especially after the success of Rob Bell’s book, LOVE WINS: A Book About Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived. Though I don’t entirely agree with Bell, it’s a worthwhile conversation.

I’m what some might call a Christian Universalist, which basically means that I’m a Christian by choice, but that I don’t think you have to be one to be reconciled with God. There are lots of reasons for this, including the fact that Jews – God’s “chosen people” – didn’t have a theology of hell in their faith. Rather, their Sheol was a place of rest where the dead would reside until God summoned them all.

Jesus adopted more hell-like descriptions, borrowing imagery from the Greek belief in Hades. There are also lots of references to “the pit” and “the fire,” which many scholars agree is a reference to the big trash dumps outside of town. Here garbage was tossed out and burned, but many “untouchables” also scavenged for food and shelter. Not exactly a place one wanted to hang out.

The inevitable question I get when people struggle with this idea is, “So, you think that when we get to heaven, Hitler will be there?”

Well, yeah. That’s pretty much my understanding of how grace works. If grace comes with an asterisk, it ceases to be grace. Grace is un-earnable, unconditional and universal.

I know this butts up against our human love for “systemic justice,” wherein the good and bad each get what they deserve. But we only have to read Jesus’ many parables about the vineyard workers, the Prodigal Son and so on to find the idea that God’s justice isn’t fair, at least in the way we want to define “fair.”

Another response I get is along the lines of, “So, we can just do whatever we want and God doesn’t care?” Hardly. Jesus himself says we’ll know what is right and wrong, not by following written law, but by discerning justice and righteousness in our own hearts. And as my seven-year-old son, Mattias can tell you (he’s prone lately to daily confessions to me and Amy), misdeeds linger with us, and we long to purge them from our system, or to avoid them in the first place.

In Mark 10, a faithful man asks Jesus how to be a part of the Kingdom of God. Jesus’ response: sell everything and follow me. Though this is intentional exaggeration for effect – after all, Jesus had some basic possessions and he had folks who subsidized his ministry – the point is that the only thing that can get between God and us is whatever we love more.

Said another way, the only thing that separates us from God is us. Does this mean we can condemn ourselves to hell? If you mean you’ve blown your chance at angel wings, and all you’re destined for is eternal fire and torture, I don’t think so. But if you mean living a life void of real meaning, a true sense of love and fulfillment, I think that’s exactly what Jesus is talking about.

Does this mojo, good or bad, follow us into the next life? Who knows? One mistake we often make is thinking of eternity as something that happens later, “out there” somewhere. But eternity, by definition, never starts or stops. We’re in eternity right now.

This also drives Jesus’ point home that God’s kingdom is here, now, rather than something to happen way off in the future. Granted, the Love available to us may not be fully realized, but with our help, God’s Kingdom is still under construction.

Setting everything else aside to make room for that Love to be fully realized is what the full potential of God’s kingdom is about. But this Love doesn’t impose itself on us; we have to choose it. The key to our freedom is in letting go.

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 www.christianpiatt.com, or find him on Twitter or Facebook.

Advertisements

(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.

Un-American in the name of Jesus?
By Christian Piatt
(Originally printed in PULP)

I used to go to a lot of basketball games with my dad in Dallas. We have both been enthusiastic Mavericks fans for almost three decades, so you can imagine how excited I was when they won their first NBA championship this year.

YES!

Anyhow, before each game they go through the typical ritual of playing the Star Spangled Banner, and I would always stand up, face the flag and put my hand over my heart. But then a new announcer one year asked people to “please rise to honor God and America with the singing of our National Anthem.”

“That’s messed up,” I said.

“What?” said my dad, “They do the same thing every game.”

“Yeah but this new guy says that the Star Spangled Banner honors God,” I said, “but there’s nothing in the verse they sing at the games about God anywhere. It has nothing to do with God.”

My dad grumbled something about my lack of patriotism and turned back toward the flag. But ever since, that moment has stood out in my mind as a perfect example of one of my biggest annoyances with American culture: our tendency to comingle a Christian identity with national patriotism.

So I was particularly interested to hear that Goshen College, a relatively small Mennonite school in Indiana, had decided to no longer play the National Anthem before any sporting events sponsored by the college. The reasoning, offered in a public statement issued by the college, was as follows:

“Historically, playing the national anthem has not been among Goshen College’s practices because of our Christ-centered core value of compassionate peacemaking seeming to be in conflict with the anthem’s militaristic language.”

Unsurprisingly, the decision caused a ruckus, especially once news outlets such as Fox Radio got hold of it. But even local city councilmen decried the move, suggesting that those in charge were violating “the American way,” and should relocate to somewhere like Cuba or Iran for a while until they learned to appreciate what they have here at home.

I posted a link to this news story on my Facebook page and asked people to respond. Following are a handful of comments from the many I received:

“It’s such a hard issue because the song is both a symbol and a song … I agree with the college that it isn’t a very Christian tune. It is about war. However, to ban it is, I fear, short-sighted. The song is a symbol of American unity. To ban it risks saying ‘we don’t want to be a part of the nation.’ I’m not sure that’s what they want to say.” (From a lawyer)

“I support the ban, the choice and the school’s right to make their own decision independent of the city council or any other political body.” (From a minister)

Ashley Quinn: “I wonder where the whole tradition of the anthem at sporting events started anyways. Probably something to do with the whole combative, competitive nature of many sports. I don’t think it makes any sense for a group of people devoted to peacemaking to sing it before they do anything.” (From a bartender)

Carl Gregg: “For anyone who watched the Super Bowl, there is a breathtaking mix of sports, nationalism, and military imagery. Ultimately, Christianity is trans-national, seeking to build the Beloved Community irrespective of national borders. The school is making one small step against the massive idolatry that is ubiquitous in our society of putting biological family and nation before God.” (From another minister)

“In the article I noticed people calling this anti-American. I don’t see it that way at all. Americans are at our very best when we are tolerant of others. You know, that whole ‘land of the free’ verse.” (From a retired Marine)

I’ll gladly concede that my circle for friends doesn’t represent the full socio-political spectrum, but I found the comments generally encouraging. For most of my life, it’s been sold to me that being a good Christian also meant supporting our country, wars, death penalty and all. But I think we’d be doing both our faith and our patriotism a favor if we made clear in our own minds that not everyone who is a Christian, as grateful as we may be for the freedom we’re afforded here, agrees morally with how we got here.

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 www.christianpiatt.com, or find him on Twitter or Facebook.

A little more than twenty years ago, I walked out of a church for what I was pretty sure would be the last time. For a decade, I held to that assumption, but it turns out that God works, even among us heretics.

I’m not going to lean on the whole “everything happens for a reason” cliche because I don’t believe everything does happen for a reason. But the fact that I’m a presenter in Nashville at the New Evangelism Workshop (NEW) on Friday, July 8th and Saturday the 9th with my wife, Rev. Amy Piatt is enough to convince me that God can use nearly anything for good.

What’s most interesting to me is that my entire ministry has ended up being built upon those years I walked away from church. What once appeared to be my stumbling block is now the cornerstone. God is good, and God has a pretty sick sense of humor.

Anyway, if you’re going to be in or around Nashville, TN on July 8-9th, come check out what is sure to be an exciting two days of folks coming together in conversation to discuss and discern just how the church can be relevant in a 21st century world. We’ll be joined by folks like Bill Easum, Bill and Kris Tenny-Brittian, Heather Patriacca Tolleson, Geoffrey McClure Mitchell, Wayne Calhoun, Bill McConnell, Gary Straub, Dick Hamm and lots of others who will come together to share what they have learned about this common mission.

CLICK HERE FOR A FULL ROSTER OF PRESENTERS AND REGISTRATION INFO

As for Amy and me, we’re sticking to what we know best: teaching people how to learn from our mistakes. Seven years into a new church start, we’re alive, well and vibrant, but the road was rife with Strategic IEDs. If we can help others find a smoother path by sharing some from our host of screw-ups, far be it from us to let our egos interfere.

Also, if you’re part of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and will be attending the General Assembly in Nashville following the NEW, come check out the groovy Missional Church learning track facilitated by Brian McLaren, Sharon Watkins, Amy, myself and others. We’ll talk about what “emerging church” or “missional church” actually mean, why they matter and what it means for our work as ministers. The setting will be dynamic, interactive and enriching, I’m sure.

CHECK OUT MORE ON THE MISSIONAL CHURCH LEARNING TRACK AT GENERAL ASSEMBLY HERE

Hope to see many of you there.
Peace,
Christian

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

Can people of faith cheer for death?
Smells Like Sprit
By Christian Piatt
(Originally published in PULP)

Ding, dong, the wicked witch is dead. Or something like that.

News spread like a Pueblo West brushfire that Osama Bin Laden, America’s longtime Public Enemy Number One, had been killed in a firefight with Delta Force and Navy SEAL soldiers earlier in May. I wrestled with mixed feelings as I heard President Obama break the news late that Sunday evening, relieved that the manhunt was finally over, but also disturbed by the fatal outcome.

Then I jumped online to chat it up with my fellow Facebookers to see what the pulse of my peers was. The feelings spanned the spectrum, from dismay that our government world embark on secret assassination missions in foreign territory to outright jubilation that the Bad Guy finally got his due.

The latter sentiment really bothered me, though, especially when it came from folks I knew considered themselves to be people of faith. To celebrate the killing of anyone – ever – seems contrary to the tenet that we see (or at least seek to see) God in all of creation. To cheer the killing of Osama Bin Laden seemed to me an effort to draw a line in the sand between the so-called “sheep” and “goats,” thus ensuring we’re on the side of the righteous.

Are we so sure, though? I’m not saying in any way that the horrendous acts of September 11th, 2001 are justified by any human or divine sense of justice: at least I hope not. But how sure are we that our hands are without similar blemish? And ultimately, how can there ever be peace when the transaction of justice is “blood for blood?”

I guess it raises the question of whether what we are seeking is peace, or our own sense of justice. And when we ascribe what we claim as right and wrong as divinely justified, well, how is that different from what Bin Laden did in the first place?

The whole thing causes me to think back to a story I once read in an August 8th, 2008 post on the Christianity Today website about theologian and author Dietrich Bonheoffer and his opposition to Adolf Hitler. The article says the following about Bonheoffer:

“To this point he had been a pacifist, and he had tried to oppose the Nazis through religious action and moral persuasion. Now he signed up with the German secret service (to serve as a double agent—while traveling to church conferences over Europe, he was supposed to be collecting information about the places he visited, but he was, instead, trying to help Jews escape Nazi oppression). Bonheoffer also became a part of a plot to overthrow, and later to assassinate, Hitler.”

Bonheoffer later was hanged along with other Jewish sympathizers before he could participate in any assassination attempt. But Bonheoffer himself acknowledges the hypocrisy of trying to kill another human being, no matter their evils, in the name of a faith that ultimately calls for peace and reconciliation.

It was in his humanity, not in his faith, that he found the compulsion to kill Hitler. All the while he recognized the discrepancy with what he claimed as his beliefs, yet felt helpless to resort to any, less violent, solution.

In the pop culture sphere, I think of the scene in Star Wars when Luke Skywalker chops off Darth Vader’s hand with his light saber, only to look down and realize his own hand had become that of his enemy.

How, after all, do we respond like our enemy without becoming that which we hate? Is it even possible?

The answer to that, as I’ve said in columns past, is above my pay grade. But suffice it to say that Proverbs 24, Verse 17, sums up my feelings about how we’re called to react to such a killing;

Don’t rejoice when your enemy falls. Don’t let your heart be glad when he is overthrown.

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