Archive for the ‘Redemption’ Category

Saving the World

Saturday, January 5th, 2019

For God to resort to violence in order to save the world is not saving the world; it’s condemning the world. But John tells us, “Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.” God saves the world not through the impatience of violence but through the infinite patience of divine love. I understand the incredulity of unbelievers toward the idea that the world can be saved by love and without violence; it is this very incredulity that lies at the foundation of their unbelief. But it is the very inconceivability of God-saving love in Christ that Christians are to believe in most of all. If John 3:16 is to mean anything, it must mean that God gets what God wants through love, or not at all. If I believe that love never fails, it’s because I believe that God is love. To believe in the sufficiency of God’s love to save the world is not naïve optimism; it’s Christianity.

— Brian Zahnd, Sinners in the Hands of a Loving God, p. 206-207.

Photo: South Riding, Virginia, March 21, 2018

Compassion, Not Separation

Tuesday, January 1st, 2019

According to the traditionalists, God’s holiness lies in God’s right to retributively punish sin forever out of being offended by human sin. However, Jesus defined God’s holy perfection much differently. He didn’t describe God’s holiness as God’s need to restore his offended majesty, but rather he explicitly and clearly defined God’s holiness as God’s unbounded love for God’s enemies (Matt 5:43-48). Remember, it was the Pharisees who defined God’s holiness in terms of separation from sinners. The Pharisees (whose name means “separate ones”) excluded sinners from their fellowship because they believed they were imitating the way God relates to sinners. Jesus, on the other hand, welcomed sinners into fellowship with himself because he believed he was imitating the way God relates to sinners. Jesus subversively redefined God’s holiness as compassion, not separation. When thinking about the holiness of God, it is crucially important that we let Jesus define divine holiness for us, since he is the pinnacle of God’s revelation to us. “No one has ever seen God,” the apostle John writes, but Jesus “who is close to the Father’s heart has made him known” (John 1:18). God is holy, to be sure, but traditional defenders of hell rely far too much on the vision of divine holiness put forth by the Pharisees, and not enough on the way Jesus revealed the holiness of God as compassionate love.

— Heath Bradley, Flames of Love, p. 146-147

Photo: Ely Cathedral, England, April 24, 2005

The Power of Love

Monday, December 24th, 2018

I hope you recognize love as the most powerful force for personal change and for changing the world around us.  Yes, we live in scary times.  Yes, people are hurting.  Yes, people are hurting one another.  But anger is not the key; revenge is not the answer.  The way of love — the love and power of God — is the key to our hope and to our future.

The message of God is very simple.  Love one another.  Take care of one another.  Take care of creation.  And while you’re at it, love me — love God.  Do that and you will find your way.  That is the core of the gospel.  That is the only sermon that matters.

— Michael Curry, The Power of Love, p. xvi.

Photo: Leithöfe, Germany, Christmas 1996

Good News

Sunday, December 23rd, 2018

Indeed, in Scripture, no two people encounter Jesus in exactly the same way. Not once does anyone pray the “Sinner’s Prayer” or ask Jesus into their heart. The good news is good for the whole world, certainly, but what makes it good varies from person to person and community to community. Liberation from sin looks different for the rich young ruler than it does for the woman caught in adultery. The good news that Jesus is the Messiah has a different impact on John the Baptist, a Jewish prophet, than it does the Ethiopian eunuch, a Gentile and outsider. Salvation means one thing for Mary Magdalene, first to witness the resurrection, and another to the thief who died next to Jesus on a cross. The gospel is like a mosaic of stories, each one part of a larger story, yet beautiful and truthful on its own. There’s no formula, no blueprint.

— Rachel Held Evans, Inspired, p. 151

Photo: South Riding, Virginia, December 12, 2018

The Narrow Gate

Friday, December 21st, 2018

What Jesus certainly does not say is that the sheep and goats are divided on the basis of who has and who has not said a sinner’s prayer! Unfortunately, a cobbled-together misreading of Paul has been used to either ignore or evade what Jesus taught about the priority of loving our neighbors as ourselves being the criterion for judgment. Jesus taught that the Golden Rule is the narrow gate that leads to life. The narrow gate is not a sinner’s prayer but a life of love and mercy. The way of self-interest that exploits the weak is the wide road to destruction; the way of cosuffering love that cares for the weak is the narrow road that leads to life.

— Brian Zahnd, Sinners in the Hands of a Loving God, p. 129

Photo: Isle of Iona, Scotland, July 13, 2003.

Life Here and Now

Wednesday, December 19th, 2018

In the New Testament, however, salvation is about much more than just getting our soul into heaven when we die, and evangelism is about much more than getting our name on the right side of the divine ledger. Salvation is about getting heaven, the realm of God’s saving presence, into all the different aspects of our life here and now. The early Christians did not understand their mission in life to be to simply get people to assent to certain religious beliefs so that they would have a good afterlife waiting for them. They believed that Jesus is the world’s true ruler, and so their mission was to live in that truth and announce it to the world. The first Christians believed that through his resurrection and ascension, Jesus was exalted as King over all, and so the way we enable God’s kingdom to come on earth as it is in heaven is by following Jesus here and now.

— Heath Bradley, Flames of Love, p. 137-138

Photo: South Riding, Virginia, December 17, 2018

Original Blessing

Thursday, December 6th, 2018

But this distorted understanding of the cross gets worse. If we say that at the cross Jesus was being punished by God for our sins, it forces adherents of this theological system to say that what Jesus suffered in torture and crucifixion is what every person deserves. We’ve probably all heard preachers say that very thing. What Jesus suffered on the cross is what we all deserve! (I used to say it!) But is that true? Is it true that every person deserves to be tortured to death? Is it true that your grandmother deserves to be tortured to death? Is it theologically accurate to point to a six-year-old girl and say, “That little girl deserves to be tortured to death”? Is it true that God created humanity in such a way that every single man, woman, boy, and girl deserves to be beaten, scourged, and nailed to a tree? Of course it’s not true! You know it’s not true! No one deserves to be tortured to death! So where does this religious nonsense come from? It mostly comes from Calvin painting himself into a theological corner in order to maintain the logic of his system. (Once you’ve concocted a theological system that forces you to defend the idea that every person deserves to be tortured to death, it would be best to just scrap the whole system!) But to assert that every person deserves to be violently tortured to death is worse than theological nonsense; it’s a vicious assault upon divine goodness and human dignity. What sinners need (shall we say deserve? is love and healing, not torture and death. We are worthy of God’s love and healing not on the basis of personal merit but because of the image we bear: the very image of God. Original blessing is more original than original sin!

God did not kill Jesus, but Jesuus’s death was a sacrifice. Jesus sacrificed his life to show us the love of the Father. Jesus sacrificed his life to shame the ways and means of death. Jesus sacrificed his life to remain true to everything he taught in the Sermon on the Mount about love for our enemies. Jesus sacrificed his life to confirm a new covenant of love and mercy. Jesus sacrificed his life to Death in order to be swallowed by Death and destroy Death from the inside. The crucifixion of Jesus was a sacrifice in many ways. But it was not a ritual sacrifice to appease a wrathful deity or to provide payment for a penultimate god subordinate to justice.

— Brian Zahnd, Sinners in the Hands of a Loving God, p. 107-109

Photo: South Riding, Virginia, November 24, 2017

The Way

Monday, December 3rd, 2018

Jesus once told a story about three people who encountered a beaten and battered man on the side of the road (Luke 10:29-37). The first two had all the right religious beliefs, and indeed were official representatives of their biblical religion. The third man was a heretic, from the perspective of the first two men. The first two men passed by without helping. The third man went out of his way to help the stranger, and this is the man Jesus held up as the model for what God asks of us. It’s a haunting and powerful story that challenges the way in which we want to make being right with God about something as easy as believing the right creed or engaging in the right religious ritual, rather than accepting the challenge of letting divine compassion fill our hearts until they overflow with action. Jesus defined real heresy as hard-hearted living, not simply wrong-minded thinking.

Inclusivism strikes me as the theological option that is most open to making room for this central insight of Jesus. On this view, what matters most is actually walking the Way of Jesus; the Way of unlimited forgiveness, unbounded compassion, restorative justice, and nonjudgmental truth-telling. People from a variety of religious perspectives, or no particular religious perspective at all, can walk on this Way of life that Jesus incarnated. We can be assured that when we walk this Way, it will lead us directly into the heart of God (whether that is our goal or not). Perhaps, with this in mind, John 14:6 isn’t a harsh threat at all. What if Jesus meant it as an assuring promise? When we follow “the Way, the Truth, and the Life” that he fully embodied, we can be assured that we are walking the path to God.

— Heath Bradley, Flames of Love, p. 130

Photo: Schloss Dhaun, Germany, July 2002

Restoration Mightier Than the Fall

Sunday, November 25th, 2018

I plead for the acceptance of the larger hope, as taught by so many in primitive days (a fact fully proved); a hope, that it has ever been the purpose of “our Father” to save all his human children. To believe or to hope for less than this would be, not alone to contradict Scripture, as I have tried to show, but to mistake its whole scope and purpose. For the Bible is the story of a restoration, wide; deep; mightier than the fall, and therefore bringing to every child of Adam salvation. It is not, as the popular creed teaches, the self-contradictory story of one almighty to save, and yet not, in fact, saving those for whom he died. It is the story of infinite love seeking “till it find”; a love that never fails, never, though heaven and earth pass away: a love that is, from its very nature, inextinguishable — being the love of a divine Father. It is the story of the unchanging purpose of the unchanging Lord God Omnipotent.

— Thomas Allin, Christ Triumphant, p. 334

Photo: South Riding, Virginia, September 21, 2014

No Payment in Forgiveness

Monday, November 19th, 2018

God is not beholden to retributive justice. We are the ones who demand sacrificial victims, not God. We are the ones who insist upon a brutal logic that says God can’t just forgive. We are the ones who mindlessly say, “God can’t forgive; he has to satisfy justice.” But this is ridiculous. It’s a projection of our own pettiness upon the grandeur of God. Of course God can forgive! That’s what forgiveness is! Forgiveness is not receiving payment for a debt; forgiveness is the gracious cancellation of a debt. There is no payment in forgiveness. Forgiveness is grace. God’s justice is not reprisal. The justice of God is not an abstract concept where somehow sin can only be forgiven if an innocent victim suffers a severe enough penalty. In the final analysis punitive justice is not justice at all; it’s merely retribution. The only justice God will accept as justice is actually setting the world right! Justice is not the punishment of a surrogate whipping boy. That’s injustice!

In the parable of the prodigal son, the father doesn’t rush to the servants’ quarters to beat a whipping boy and vent his anger before he can forgive his son. Yet Calvin’s theory of the cross would require this ugly insertion into Jesus’s most beautiful parable. No, in the story of the prodigal son, the father bears the loss and forgives his son from his treasury of inexhaustible love. He just forgives. There is no payment. Justice as punishment is what the older brother called justice. The only wrath we find in the parable belongs to the Pharisee-like older brother, not the God-like father. Justice as the restoration of relationship is what the father called justice.

— Brian Zahnd, Sinners in the Hands of a Loving God, p. 102-103

Photo: Schloß Heidelberg, Germany, December 1996