YHWH’s Servant. An audio teaching on Isaiah 49

Deconstructing without throwing the baby out with the bathwater

When I was a child, I spoke as a child, thought as a child, acted as a child. But when I matured, I put away childish things. The Christian life is about being transformed – becoming more and more like Jesus. More loving. More forgiving. Kinder. More gracious and tolerant. Less judgmental. Humbler.  The process is called spiritual formation. If we cling to old ideas and old habits, we will never grow.  

For example, early in my Christian walk, I was taught that every word of the Bible was literally true. I was taught that God was mad at humanity and that only those who cognitively said a sinner’s prayer could escape eternal conscious torture. I was taught that the earth is about 6,000 years old and that God created everything in it in six 24-hour periods of time. I was taught that there are no errors in the Bible. I was taught that women could not be pastors or preachers. I was taught that America was specially chosen by God, that capitalism was godly, and that killing was justified in times of war, self-defense, or as a punishment for murder. I was taught that the world was going to get worse and worse until Jesus snatches his people out of it and returns in brutal, violent vengeance. I pictured God as stern and unapproachable. I no longer believe any of that.

Stuff happened to challenge my beliefs. I studied biology and genetics. I listened to Christian voices from other cultures. I studied the Bible in the context of the cultures it was written for originally. I saw white, evangelical Christians like me supporting immoral, dishonest, authoritarian politicians. I heard preachers rant condemningly against all sorts or people – immigrants, minorities, LGBTQ+, Muslims, liberals, Democrats, public health officials. I heard them fume against gun control, abortion under any circumstances, and vaccines. I saw them supporting wild conspiracies. I saw mega-churches built on marketing techniques putting on massive shows. I watched as multitudes of millennials and Gen-Zers dumped Christianity. I asked myself if the Jesus I was taught about was really the true Jesus of the Bible. I looked at the fruit and found little cruciform love.

So, I started deconstructing my faith, taking down my assumptions, questioning my preconceived ideas. At times, it felt like death. At times, I was confused, disconcerted, unmoored. But I was never tempted to throw the proverbial baby out with the bathwater. My theology was like I had built a house around my conversion to Christ. The house worked for me when I was younger. Now, it was tattered and falling down. It needed to be torn down and a new house built. My theology needed to change.

What did not change was the core at the center of the house – the foundation – Jesus. 

It would be inaccurate to describe me today as a conservative fundamentalist. I’m growing. I’m seeing more clearly who Jesus really is. I am, day by day, loving him more deeply and knowing him more intimately. I find myself loving others, forgiving more easily, caring about those Jesus called “the least” of his siblings. I’m freer, more connected, more understanding, more loving, more teachable. Now, I have a long, long way to go. I’m not what I should be, but thank God, I’m not what I used to be. 

Religion: Good or Bad?

Religion can give us a higher purpose, a divine purpose, a cause worth dying for. Motivated by religion, we develop compassion, empathy, charity, and a sense of fairness. When religion is the impetuous for justice, great things can be accomplished. Emancipation, civil rights, medical care, Salvation Army, Habitat for Humanity, etc.

But, when religion is amalgamated with empire disaster occurs – wars, persecutions, oppression. Globally dominant empires rise, expand, and maintain power with the assistance of religion. Religion provides legitimacy, moral justification, divine sanction, and makes people willing to sacrifice their lives. 

Empires claim to be ordained and favored by the gods. Their leaders claimed to be divinely appointed. Empires have been supported by popes, priests, imams, holy men (it’s nearly always men) of all sorts. Whether it’s Roman Pax Romana, British Manifest Destiny, or the Euro-American Doctrine of Discovery, empires believe they have a special calling from the Divine to expand, control, and rule. Killing for the empire makes you a hero. Dying for the empire makes you a martyr. National holidays and foundational documents are considered sacred. God and country are inseparable. 

Religions are seduced by wealth and power into supporting empires. Every major religion has at some time traded foundational truth for a share of might, mammon, and official protection. 

Look at Christianity. For 300 years after the resurrection of Messiah Jesus, his followers were mostly poor and marginalized. They loved others, served those in need, rescued the rejected, tended to the sick (even in times of plagues), refused military service, welcomed everyone, judged no one, fed the hungry, clothed the poor, and forgave those who slaughtered and persecuted them. They lived simple, nonviolent, noncoercive lives of loving service.

Then, in 313, Constantine issued the edict of toleration and the persecution stopped. In 380, Theodosius made Christianity the official state religion of the Roman Empire. Suddenly, Christians had power and wealth. With the blessing of theologians and church officials, the Church not only supported, but declared it to be the duty of every faithful believer to take up arms joining the ranks of those who rape, pillage, and kill. The official church supported torture, theft, and slavery for centuries. 

In modern times, people claiming to be Christians infected and slaughtered native peoples, stole their land, worked the land with slaves, invaded sovereign nations, declared wars, and burnt villages. And they often did so with the blessing of their churches.

When Christianity became the state religion of Rome, it traded the God of Israel and God’s Messiah for the gods of militarism, mammon, and nationalism. In medieval France and Italy, it led to the Inquisition. In the first half of the 20th century, it led to the Holocaust. Today, it has led to Christian nationalism. Freedom, democracy, diversity, pluralism, and tolerance are all under attack. During Holy Week 2023 while Trump was in court being indited on 34 felony counts, Margery Taylor Greene was outside comparing him to Jesus. Christians are demonizing anyone who might disagree with them on social issues. It is not likely to end well.

Those of us who want to faithfully follow Jesus need to live by the Sermon on the Mount like never before. It is time to embrace the cross, serve the least, care for the broken and bereaved, wash the feet of the marginalized, welcome the alien and stranger, feed the hungry, heal the sick, house the homeless, and, perhaps above all, love, pray for, and forgive our enemies and those who despitefully use and persecute us. It’s past time we eschew wealth and political power, give up coercion, and lay aside nationalism. We are citizens of the Kingdom of God. We pledge allegiance to God alone. It’s time to show the world what a follower of Jesus looks like.

They’re not under your bed, but they’re monsters. A video teaching on Isaiah 46-48

Yea, though I Walk

I was a lad of what? 10? 12? Walking home alone the four or five miles from town in a fog so thick I literally could not see my own feet. To stay on course, I slapped my sneakers as I walked on the narrow country road. When I felt the crunch of wild blueberry bushes that separated road from forest, I’d readjust until I once again heard blacktop under my feet. There were no cars – no one could drive in a Cape Cod fog like this. I knew the roads by heart, having ridden my bicycle and walked over them daily. I had no fear; conversely, I enjoyed the adventure. Home beckoned where there were lights, a fire in the fireplace, and fish on the griddle. 

Even though I walk through the darkest valley, 
    I fear no evil,
for you are with me …
 (Psalm 23:4)


Saturday, April 22, 2023

Elliott’s 52nd birthday

51st anniversary of Earth Day

I grieve. I lament.

For my son

For all the daughters and sons cut down by violence

For all those who died by suicide

For all those left behind to weep & ask why

For a nation that loves its guns more than its children

For the planet, choking on pollution,

The earth on fire, burning up, gutted for fossil fuels

For the victims of the storms, floods, & fires

All caused by human greed

My son, my son, would that I had died instead of you

Oh, earth, earth, earth, hear the word of the Lord


At best, prophets are ignored. Too often, they are mocked, persecuted, or killed. Ask Jeremiah or Isaiah. Prophets warn of the consequences of our collective actions. Mostly, we do nothing to correct the situation and suffer the very consequences they warned us about. Captivity. Destruction. Displacement. 

There are modern prophets. Rachel Carson warned us of a silent spring. Greta Thunberg keeps telling us the world is on fire. Gene Robinson calls us to love LGBTQ+ folks. William Barber and Pope Francis call us to serve the poor. Martin Luther King, Jr. warned us of the consequences of America’s original sins. César Chávez called us to treat migrant farm workers with respect. At risk to themselves, they spoke out against all forms of injustice, whether it be racial, environmental, economic, or sociopolitical. 

It behooves us to listen.

Bible, Creationism, Evolution, & Intelligent Design

There’s nothing wrong with the Bible. It is God-breathed. All of it. Its purpose is to lead us to Christ. There issomething wrong with the way biblical literalists have been interpreting the Bible. It’s primarily an American issue. Most of the Christian world sees no conflict between evolution and Bible. 

The purpose of the creation stories in Genesis is to teach us the nature of humanity and God’s purpose for us in God’s world. The first shows us a cosmic God – majestic creator above all, over all. The second shows us an intimate God walking in loving fellowship with the humans God created with his own hands out of soil. They’re both true. 

The creation narratives were never meant to scientifically explain how the natural world came to be. Reading them as such entirely misses the point. God meant for us to have sacred myth as well as sacred history. (I mean “myth” in the sense of a big story that communicates universal truth, not “myth” as is “not true.”) Read properly, the Bible doesn’t contradict thoroughly established science. 

I heard Henry Morris, John Whitcomb, and Ken Ham tell audiences that if the earth is not less than 10,000 years old and was not created fully formed in six 24-hour days, then the Bible is false, unreliable, and you cannot believe anything in it.[1]

Sadly, I’ve seen many young people take them at their word. Having been raised in fundamentalist homes and churches where they were taught young earth creationism (YEC), they take a college course in biology where they discover the whole YEC thing to be false, so they throw the proverbial baby out with the bath water.

It turns out that YEC is easily debunked from a wide variety of scientific disciplines. All the stuff at the Creation Museum and the Ark Encounter turns out to be nonsense on the order of believing the earth is flat.[2]

In addition to YEC, there’s Intelligent Design. Now, there’s Intelligent Design and there’s intelligent design. 

One can understand why there’s confusion. All the Christians I know believe in intelligent design, if by (lower case) “intelligent design” we mean God is the creator of the natural world. God is intelligent, so the mind behind all of creation is intelligent. God has a purpose in creation. Creation is headed somewhere.

As an amateur naturalist, I look at the wonders of nature and take note of the intricacies, beauty, and astonishing adaptations and variety. I consider the fine-tuned constants of the universe and the beauty of the mathematics that describes them, and I cannot help but come to the conclusion that God exists, God is wonderfully creative, a lover of variety and beauty, and has been the guiding hand of unfolding creation. The idea that it all happened just by chance seems so unlikely as to be absurd. That’s intelligent design (lower case). 

Intelligent Design (capitalized; abbreviated ID) is a formal effort to prove God exists by looking at nature. ID is a pseudoscientific[3] hypothesis associated with the Discovery Institute, a conservative Christian think-tank. 

ID asserts that there must be a God who created nature because some things are irreducibly complex; they cannot be explained any other way. Various examples are given of complexities in nature. William Dembski adds what he calls “specified complexity” –  the fact that complex patterns can be found in living things indicates some kind of intelligent guidance in their formation.

While I would agree that amazing complexity is evidence for a creator, it is not the proof ID maintains it is. I cannot prove the existence of God. I can give you very strong evidence, but there is always the remote possibility of alternative explanations. And, even if ID could prove the existence of a creator, that would tell us nothing about the nature of that creator. 

Every time ID comes up with something that seems so complex that it cannot be explained evolutionarily, scientists offer very plausible evolutionary explanations. ID is really just another “God of the gaps” theory. Whatever we do not understand we attribute to God. Then, as knowledge advances, one by one, all the gaps get filled in.

Evolution is not a “theory,” as in something that may or may not be true. It is a scientific theory like gravity – a mechanism of life supported independently by a vast number of different scientific fields all coming to the same conclusion. Biology, botany, molecular biology, paleontology, genetics, zoology, anthropology, geology, and many other disciplines, independently conclude that life on earth evolved over time due to natural selection. The burgeoning field of genetics is the nail in the coffin of ID and YEC. 

The universe came into being about 14 billion years ago. The earth is around 4½ billion years old. Ancestors of humans populated the earth somewhere between 5 and 7 million years ago. Modern humans first appeared in Africa about 200,000 years ago. We are all related to them. 

Rather than shake my faith, that enhances it. Creation and Creator are so much more glorious and wondrous than I could have imagined. Each day with each new insight is a delight. A better understanding of the mechanisms of nature only increases our sense of awe. We’ve nothing to fear.

[1] I’m struck by the fact none of those men are (or were) scientists. I’m also struck by the fact that atheists like Richard Dawkins make exactly the same argument. Morris, Whitcomb and Ham make the argument to reject science. Dawkins uses the same argument to reject belief in God. All of them are reading the Bible incorrectly. All of them are reading the Bible on the level of primary Sunday school class.

[2] For an intelligent discussion on how faith in Christ integrates with science (and vice-versa) check out BioLogos @ https://biologos.org

[3] It is pseudoscientific because it begins with the conclusion. It starts with the assumption God exists, then tries to work backwards to prove it. Science does the opposite – it begins with evidence, then draws tentative conclusions. 

How to Recognize Christian Nationalism 

Nationalism is the belief that one’s country is superior to all others.

Religious nationalism has been the center of every empire.

Empires are the domain of the satan according to Matthew 4. All empires are exploitive and violent.

Christian nationalism is so common in the United States, most people simply think it is Christianity. 

Sadly, it is normal Christianity in many places.

American Christian nationalists:

  1. Believe the nation is ordained by God
  2. Believe the nation has a special divine calling in the world
  3. Believe the nation is favored by God above others 
  4. See the nation’s founding documents as sacred, almost on the level with scripture
  5. Believe that all those who die for the nation are heroes, martyrs.
  6. Believe it is a (usually male) citizen’s duty to die for the nation
  7. Believe the nation’s wars are honorable and just
  8. Believe the nation’s leader is appointed by God (if that leader is white, male, & conservative)
  9. Pledge allegiance, sing patriotic songs in church
  10. Decorate houses of worship with national symbols
  11. Equate God and country as if they were inseparable 
  12. See citizens as superior to noncitizens
  13. Open sports events with the national anthem
  14. Insist everyone stand for the national anthem and pledge of allegiance
  15. Imagine that modern nations, especially Israel & the USA, are referred to in the Bible
  16. Think the USA has a special place in prophecy
  17. Promote public prayers during national holidays
  18. Identify as an American citizen rather than as a citizen of the Kingdom of God
  19. Try to control educational, political, religious, familial, scientific, entertainment, and media institutions that serve a pluralistic populace
  20. Use power and coercion to impose morality on others

For the first three centuries of Christianity, followers of Jesus did none of the things listed above. They refused to kill under any circumstances, refused military service, refused to pledge allegiance to Caesar, and did not participate in the myth of Roman superiority. Instead, they loved, served, healed, took in strangers, orphans and those who were sick, and forgave all who trespassed against them. They were despised and persecuted. They were the happiest people on earth.

Loving God Rescuing All

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