Fatal Distraction.

This past week, this post has been circulating around the more evangelical corners of the interwebs.

While I understand the desire to focus on holy week (trust me, liturgical seasons are big in the Anderson household), I think it’s complete BS. For those of you who didn’t read the post, it essentially says that the “paint the internet red” campaign by HRC is Satan’s way of distracting us from holy week.

Seriously? That is some of the most transparent BS I’ve seen ever since the “women’s bodies can stop unwanted pregnancy from happening” thing occurred a few months ago. I shouldn’t need to write a post on this. But yet, here I am.

Try to stop me from talking. I dare you. DENIKA NEVER STOPS TALKING.

This whole thing seems like a not-so-clever ploy for conservative Christians to not have to deal with the world that is changing around them. A massive social movement of solidarity with the GLBT community has swept the internet; marriage equality is a-comin’, and they don’t know how to deal with it. So, they either fight back (enter Pat Robertson & co.), or they try to write it off as a “distraction,” and so they don’t have to deal with it–in fact, it would be better if they ignored it completely so as to not give in to Satan’s temptations.

But let’s back up a bit. 2000 years or so. There was a man wandering around Galilee with a ragtag group of the not-so-elites, the working class, the terminally ill, the unclean, the outcasts, the sinners, the unloved. He talked about some crazy ideas like unconditional love and self-sacrifice and radical inclusiveness. He healed the sick, fed the hungry, touched the untouchable, loved the unlovable.

But the people in charge didn’t like this. They had a system that had been working for hundreds of years. They didn’t want to change, because they liked the way things were.

But they let him play around for a while. At first, he was just another crazy person in a sea of misfits. Soon, though, he started to have too much influence. A movement was rising like a tidal wave, imminently bound to crash over their perfect little world. He was too strong.

So they killed him.

But this man, the man who was love embodied, wasn’t going to let that be the end of the story. Death only held him back for a weekend–I’ve had colds that have kept me out of commission for longer. He rose again, stating once and for all that love is stronger than anything else, even death.

That, dear friends, is what we celebrate today. That is what holy week is about.

And I dare say, if Jesus were on earth today, his facebook profile picture would have looked a little something like this last week:

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This campaign was not a distraction from holy week. Actually, I think it was one of the most well-timed social campaigns I’ve ever seen.

In the week when we remember his life, death, and resurrection, Jesus would not want us to ignore what is happening in the world around us. Not once did he put on blinders to the social situations surrounding him; neither should we. I believe this has been a call for us as people who follow Christ to rethink our systems, to see where we have tried to impose an archaic and oppressive set of social standards on a world that no longer fits within them, and to be advocates for those who are still fighting for rights that most of us take for granted.

Jesus didn’t die for your sins. Jesus lived to show us how to be beacons for God’s love on this planet. That’s what holy week is about.

So today, as we celebrate the blessed life of Jesus, the one who was love embodied, let us take a good look around us and see where we perpetuate injustice. Let us stand for the people Jesus stood for. Let us pour ourselves out so that others might be filled.

For Christ’s sake, let us be love.

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Beautiful Terrible Reckless Love.

It is once again time for a #progGOD challenge. Tony Jones called all us emergent-y types to write on the meaning and, potentially, necessity for the crucifixion. This time, he’s rewarding the person whose post gets the most likes, shares, and whatnot, so if you like what you read here, please, share it so I can get free books. You can read my other #progGOD posts here (nature of God) and here (incarnation).

Today is Ash Wednesday.

This is my first Ash Wednesday since I began practicing an active faith in which I will not be going to a church service. No, instead, Doug Pagitt (more likely, his wife) is going to make me tacos. For real. But, this is a very strange feeling for me. I don’t know if this is good or bad.

Similarly, I’m not sure if it is very timely or horribly inappropriate to write about the crucifixion today. We’re in the right season (sort of), but we’re also not. Lent is a process.

I’m going to go ahead and write anyway, if for no other reason than that Tony posted the challenge today.

First, I must begin with my atonement theology history.

I recall writing a paper roughly two years ago for a theological controversies class I was taking. The class was instructed to write on the nature of the atonement, based on a book our professor had written. This book contained expositions of four (really three) atonement theories: Ransom, Penal Substitutionary, Christus Victor, and Kaleidoscopic. I remember writing my paper and affirming the Kaleidoscopic theory, which claims a multifaceted understanding of the atonement, simply because none of the other three really seemed to accurately depict what I thought happened on the Cross.

Probably because there are many more major atonement theories than the three/four listed in that book. Talk about limited atonement (ba dum shhhh).

A few months later, I read Love Wins by Rob Bell. I had to rethink my atonement theology as a result. I came out basically agreeing that love does indeed win.

Last spring, I wrote my senior thesis on my emergent systematic theology, and had to rethink not just the atonement, but all the related theological issues. It was at this point that I rejected the idea of original sin.

I have since realized that, without original sin, there is no express cosmological need for the crucifixion (or the resurrection).

So then, if all this is to be assumed, Tony rightly begs the question–why a crucifixion?

If Jesus didn’t die to break some cosmological sin-curse, why did he have to die? Why couldn’t he have just “ascended” like Elijah (physics and historicity aside)? Why is this violence central to Christian theology?

I think this requires a quick reworking of the associative property:

  1. God is love.
  2. Jesus is God incarnate.
  3. Therefore, Jesus is love incarnate.

Ha. Mrs. Eldredge was right after all–I would need to use math in real life.

So, if Jesus is love incarnate, then the reason for his life is to spread and teach the ultimate  αγάπη love. This is a radical movement on his behalf. While there might not be such a thing as original sin, we can think of sin as a disease that spreads throughout all humanity–namely, selfishness–and thus we can understand that we are all chronically, but not terminally, ill. Jesus is our great healer. His radical, completely selfless love is the means by which humanity is redeemed. He invites all creation in, even the sickest people, and loves them recklessly.

However, if this love is our medicine, it surely is not one that goes down easily.

Because this great love can move us to do wonderful and amazing things, but it can also make us furious, jealous, or even vengeful when we can’t seem to look past our own selfishness and let love abide. It is especially threatening to those of us with great privilege, as this love requires us to let go of the things that have given us power over others, power which we rather like.

So, forsaking humility, we take that love and we dominate it. We arrest it, strip it, scourge it, and mock it. We pin it down and nail it to a tree–where we can keep an eye on it and be assured it won’t get out. We starve it of food, drink, rest, even air. We push it to its breaking point. We let it die.

And the beautiful, yet incredibly terrible thing about this love is that it submits to it all.

This love chooses to die. Because if it chose not to, it would be going against its very nature and choosing self over others.

But do not let submission read as giving up. Because this love does nothing of the sort.

Beautifully and terribly, this love rises from the ashes. This love is so strong that not even the worst thing we can do to it can overcome it. Our very worst–the depths of our selfishness–are nothing in comparison to the depths of this love.

Tony asked why a crucifixion is necessary. Ontologically speaking, it isn’t. Even considering the pervasiveness of sin, it still isn’t necessary. But, presented with the choice between being crucified and saving himself, Jesus shows us why choosing the crucifixion is the only choice, and why the resurrection is the only possible outcome.

Because, dear friends, in the end, love wins.

When Hope Dwelled Among Us.

So, yesterday, Tony Jones began progGod round two. This time (in the spirit of Advent), it’s on the Incarnation. As a progressive and a theologian-in-training, I’m providing my thoughts. If you fit the same description, you should too.

I have to admit, I’ve never really heard a good theology of the Incarnation. The one that was most familiar to me in my time at my evangelical-Baptist college had something to do with Penal Substitutionary Atonement, but since I (and many progressives) don’t hold to that Atonement theory, that Incarnation theory doesn’t work well. So we need something else.

When I read the Incarnation story, and the story of Jesus in general, I find five main reasons for Jesus’ coming (versus a divine act from on high without physical presence):

  1. Jesus came to restore creation to even more than its former glory, beauty, and fullness. In this, Jesus breathed new life into a creation in turmoil, giving it a new beginning and a new hope. Jesus did not come to “fix a problem,” but to completely undo and renew the whole of creation. This was a cosmological shift in reality. Not backwards to some previous perfection, not forwards to a coming utopia, but an altogether different direction.
  2. Jesus came to bring hope to the broken. By coming and changing the formerly unchangeable, Jesus stands as a beacon of hope for all who are broken and suffering, to say that better things are coming. This is where the “firstfruits” metaphor becomes relevant: Jesus sets in motion the beginning of a new age of hope and blessing.
  3. Jesus came to fight for the oppressed and marginalized. Jesus stood on the side of the outcasts of society, the otherwise unloved, and turned the whole system around to put them on top. We hear this one quite often, so I don’t feel the need to expound on this one much, I will say this: read the Sermon on the Mount if you have any question that this is true.
  4. Jesus came to issue a “revolutionary threat” to systems that produce injustice. Jesus stood up to those in power and called them into a new order; by submitting in a revolutionary way to their injustice, Jesus exposed it for exactly what it was and threatened its livelihood.
  5. Jesus came to teach followers how to reflect the divine to the world, and vice versa. Jesus came as both physical and divine, perfectly mirroring each realm to the other, and called us to do likewise. As the divine in the midst of humans, Jesus made love and all its compatriots abound. As a human uniquely and wholly intertwined in the divine, Jesus brought the world into relationship with the Creator in a way not previously possible.

All of this requires a physical existence:

  1. At the dawn of creation (however you choose to view it), God had to intervene in a physical way by creating existent matter. Jesus, in bringing about not simply repair, but restoration, must likewise intervene physically. A new beginning requires a new creation, and a new creation requires intervention.
  2. Jesus comes and does physical acts–feedings, healings, et cetera–as a promise that a new day is dawning. Without the physical presence of Christ, this promise is empty. Jesus is, as a human, the light in the midst of great darkness. Verbal or, more deeply, spiritual promises from God mean nothing if reality stays the same. Jesus broke through the wall separating God and creation and wove the promises into reality–physical healing and spiritual freedom, et cetera.
  3. Jesus cannot become one with the oppressed and marginalized without becoming oppressed and marginalized. Empathy and solidarity are two very different postures. Without Jesus’ suffering, we would not be able to confidently claim that God is on our side. Instead, it would appear quite the opposite.
  4. Holy texts have been used since their penning to justify horrible things. A physical Jesus cannot, while still present, be twisted in such a way. The “Word incarnate” language is relevant in this, that Jesus is a self-sent decree from on high which cannot be mangled when it can respond, dialogue, and critique.
  5. God cannot adequately teach humanity how to have a relationship simultaneously with the divine and the world if Jesus had not first modeled this. God cannot call us to this level of responsibility without modeling it first. If we are to be doing as Jesus did, Jesus has to have done this at some point.

All of this can be fairly well summed up to say that Jesus, in coming as both human and divine, was hope embodied. Hope for a creation groaning for restoration, hope for the broken waiting for a light to shine in their darkness, hope for the oppressed and marginalized in desperate need of a revolution, hope for leaders who have lost concern for justice, hope for all, that in this moment, the divine is being woven into the earthly. Hope that there is a God who is love and who desires for that very love to abound. When Jesus came, incarnate, hope dwelled among us. And the world was never the same.

“Blessed are the poor in spirit,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn,
for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek,
for they will inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
for they will be filled.
Blessed are the merciful,
for they will be shown mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart,
for they will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers,
for they will be called children of God.
Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”