At-home-ment: Born Again in the Bible

We need to change our understanding of being born-again. And we need to change our emphasis on atonement.

“You’re a ‘born-again Christian’, right?”

I was asked this while at O’Mei, a fine dining Chinese restaurant I worked at through college.

My first thought was, Aren’t all Christians born-again?  But I said, “I don’t know. What do you mean?”

There, in the back room of O’Mei my religious understanding of Christianity in America changed.  My co-worker had just taken a sociology class on “Born-Again Christian Religion in America.”

But I didn’t know what a “Born-again Christian” was. I thought every Christian emphasized the need for adult conversion, the deep spiritual crisis brought on by consciousness of sin, resolved through faith in Jesus who died to forgiveness our sins.

In those years of college I was slowly learning that was an evangelical, a ‘born-again Christian’ who believed I needed to made a decision for Christ and believe with my heart in order to be saved.

Born-Again Atonement

Being ‘born-again’ roughly consists of two major movements (depending on which evangelist or tradition you come from).

First, you need to become aware of your sin and the consequences of sin.  This usually entails fiery illustrations used to scared the hell out of you, or to put the fear of hell in you.

Second, you needed to have faith in Jesus to forgive your sins because he had paid the penalty for your sins. He paid the penalty by dying on the cross as a substitute for us.

This is the “penal-substitutionary” view of the atonement (a theological word I wouldn’t learn until seminary a couple years later).

Atonement = At-one-ment

Atonement is a funny word.

It is an English word created—yes, it was created—in order to translate the Greek words for sacrifice for the King James Bible.

People often break up the word “atonement” as “at-one-ment” to emphasize how the sacrifices bring people into relationship with God. They are now “one” with God.

We usually think this is just a cute preaching device to teach a concept. But funny thing, this is EXACTLY what the word means!  It was created to mean coming to be “at-one” with God.

Trouble with Atonement

The trouble with focusing on the idea of atonement is that the process of often overwhelms the purpose.

We now have so many atonement theories, so many mechanisms for explaining what Christ’s death accomplishes, and so many disagreements about what is “most important”, that we often forget the goal of atonement.

And the goal of atonement is union with God, it is to live with God.

Born again into a new family

To be “born-again” is a fairly rare concept in the New Testament (though you might not know this in certain conservative circles).  It shows up in John 3:3-7 and in 1 Peter 1:3 and 1:23.

From use in evangelical circles “born again”, one might think it means individual salvation from the consequences of sin. But this is wrong.

Being “born again” is a family term.  It emphasizes one entering into a new family and living in a new household, a new home.  To be “born again” is to enter God’s new home and live with God.

At-home-ment

John H. Elliott says that one of the main themes in 1 Peter is the “at-home-ment” accomplished by God. In Jesus we can now approach God, live in God’s home, and call God Father.

Through God’s at-home-ment we live with God and God lives with us. 

Now, if you follow me on Facebook or Twitter you know that “God with us” is a major theme for me.  In fact, I think it is the theme the holds the entire Bible together, and indeed, it is the fabric of salvation itself—and the cosmos too.

(In fact, if you Subscribe to the blog I’ll send you the first chapter of a book I’m writing with my wife about all this “God with us” stuff.)

Two Things

So I submit before you two things for consideration.

  1. Being “born-again” is all about salvation, but not salvation through some atonement theory.  It is salvation through entrance into a new family and a new home.
  2. We should focus less on theories of atonement and more on practices of at-home-ment—”at home” with God and “at home” with one another.

How would a focus on at-home-ment change your understanding of the Gospel, of life, and the church? (Non-rhetorical question. I would love to hear your thoughts).


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The Other Bridge Illustration: Visual Christus Victor

For all those visual learners who need to see it to understand it. This is the “Other Bridge Illustration.” And yes, I drew these while at Starbucks.

(David Fitch and I did an entire podcast on this topic if you are interested.)

The Original Bridge Illustration

But first we must talk about the Original Bridge Illustration, that staple of evangelism in my corner of evangelicalism.

The Original Bridge Illustration (pardon my drawing)

This is how I was taught to explain it.

On one side is humanity. Humanity sins (Rom. 3:23). And the wages of sin—what you earn—is death (Rom. 6:23). So “sin”, “wages”, and “death” mark the cliff separating humanity from God.

But on God’s side, God chooses to forgive our sin, which is a gift of grace—not earned like wages.  And this gift leads to life (Rom. 6:23).  So “forgiveness”, “gift”, and “life” are on God’s side.

The death of Jesus—his cross—becomes the bridge by which we cross over from sin and death and receive forgiveness and life.

We cross over to God through the cross of Jesus.

Simple, right?

Problems with this Bridge Illustration

Often—but not always—this presentation of salvation emphasizes individual sin and individual responsibility and individual salvation (notice a theme?).  It also assumes a movement from the side of humanity (on “earth”) to God’s side (in “heaven”).

Also, this view, when unpacked, usually holds to certain understandings of God’s wrath against humanity and how Jesus’s death satisfies God’s wrath so that we can avoid hell fire (drawn at the bottom of the chasm—too bad I didn’t have a red sharpie).

And lastly, this view can lead to truncated understanding that “Jesus came to die” or “Jesus was born to die“—which I regularly hear on Facebook or Twitter when I emphasize the significance of Jesus’s ministry or the kingdom of God.

The Other Bridge Illustration

But humanity IS separated from God.
Something needs to be done.
We need salvation.

So here is the Other Bridge Illustration.

The Other Bridge Illustration (the bridge if made of stones, if you couldn’t tell)

On one side is humanity. We are within the kingdom (or reign) of death (Rom. 5:14-17). We are slaves to sin (Rom. 6:17).  And we are captives of the powers (Col. 1:13).

But on God’s side is the kingdom of life, the redemption from sin, and liberation from the powers.

The bridge is made of three stones—the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus (I don’t know why stones. It’s just what came to me).

God coming to us.

But here is the main twist.
Through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, God is coming to us.

God comes from heaven to earth. God comes to the damned and the sinners. God comes to the enslaved and captives. God comes to seek and save the lost.

The totality of Jesus’s life, death, and resurrection witnesses to this. 

Salvation comes to where we are. And this has always been the case. From Genesis to Revelation, God seeks to dwell with humanity. And God is pursuing humanity, bridging every divide, overcoming every obstacle.

This is the victory of God—not that we leave the place of sin and death, but that God overcomes by coming to our place of need, of desperation, of death.

Both/And…ish

To be fair, parts of the Original Bridge Illustration are true and we shouldn’t ignore them.  But we must place them in the larger context of the Other Bridge Illustration—The Christus Victor Illustration.

What needs to be added?

What would you add to make this better?

(I want to figure out the best was to add the Holy Spirit to this illustration.)


(This post it is part of my “20 for 20” post where I write for twenty minutes a day for twenty days [BUT I WENT WAY OVER TODAY].  So these are quick thoughts as I push out my ideas and practice writing.  See my explanation here.)

4 Reasons Salvation is Coming…Not Going

Going Home

Believe it or not, in eighth grade I wrote a song called “Home.”

It was all about “going home” to heaven, finally being with God.  It was actually pretty good. In was an 8-bar blues song in the key of “C” with decent lyrics (for an 8th grader). I can still play it on guitar, but I’ve lost all the words—I’m sure you bummed.

Of course, given my evangelical-fundamentalist upbringing it is no surprise I viewed salvation as going home to heaven.  The Rapture was going to whisk us all away. The earth was going to burn. And we needed to get everyone into the raft before Jesus came back and all was lost (yes, I know that is mixing metaphors of flood and fire, but hey, that’s what I was given).

Of course there are passages of the Bible that seem to suggest this—that we will leave this place and go somewhere else.

And for many that is GOOD NEWS.  Because, well, this place can kind of stink.  Many people can not find a home, a place to belong, or a place for love and welcome.

So, we’re going home!

Coming Home

But what if we aren’t going home.

 What if our home is coming to us?  

What if God had always made earth our home and will make it our home again?

This would fundamentally change the direction of salvation. Salvation is not about “us getting back to God” with a little help from God. Rather, it’s about “God coming back to us.”

So, really quick, here are 4 reason salvation is “coming”, not “going.”

4 Reasons Salvation is Coming

  1. The Biblical Bookends Say So

    Genesis opens with God creating a home for humanity in God’s presence. And this home is here.  God created all things as a cosmic-temple of his presence. In addition to this, God walked and talked with humanity in the garden-temple of his presence. 
    And in Revelation, at the end of all things, we hear of heaven coming down to earth. And heaven comes so that God can dwell with humanity forever.If heaven is the place God lives, then every passage that speaks of heaven as somewhere else must be provisional, not final.
  2. God comes to Israel With the call of Abraham and the deliverance of Israel from Egypt, to the building of the tabernacle and temple, God comes to his chosen people. And when God comes there is salvation and life.The entire life of Israel is marked out by the fact that God lives with them. The sole purpose of the Law was to facilitate the presence of God among his people.
  3. Jesus is the who comes as sentJesus, the Son of God, is sent to us as one of us. He comes to “dwell among” us as the “tabernacle” of God (John 1:14).  Jesus comes declaring the kingdom of God and his ministry makes it present. In Jesus, heaven is coming to earth in forgiveness, in healings from sickness, in deliverance from the powers.In Jesus salvation has come to us.
  4. The Church comes as sentAnd finally, like it or not, the church comes with the presence of God.It is no small thing that they church is called the “body of Christ” or the “temple of the Holy Spirit.”  These both indicate the place where God dwells (in a primary sense, although God of course is in all places and times—which is a comfort to all who suffer in secret).

Home Coming

The real question is, Are you welcoming God home in your life right now?

And the next question is, Are you living as a home for others?


(This post it is part of my “20 for 20” post where I write for twenty minutes a day for twenty days.  So these are quick thoughts as I push out my ideas and practice writing.  See my explanation here.)

Evangelism and the Missional Church (video)

Evangelism In The Missional Church: How The Kingdom Breaks In Among Us

Missional Learning Commons 2014

November 7 @ 7:30pm – November 8 @ 3:00pm | $25

 (Wait for the 1:08 mark to learn what Fitch really thinks of Geoff, and evangelism…)

 

This year’s Missional Learning Commons will focus on the oft forgotten member of the 5-fold gifts: the Evangelists. While the Attractional Church focuses mostly on Pastors and Teachers, the Missional Church often gravitates toward the Apostles and Prophets. But what of the Evangelists?

On Nov. 7th and 8th we will focus our attention on the Practices of Proclamation & Presence as we seek the Kingdom of God among us in personal spaces, social spaces, and public spaces.

The Missional Learning Commons is a great value as a 2-day conference (only $25, lunch and childcare on Saturday included), bringing together experienced pastors and theologians into conversations around important themes for the contemporary  church.

Get all the DETAIL AND REGISTER HERE.

 

The Forgotten Lesson of Bonhoeffer, and the American Church

I am worried about the rising popularity of Bonhoeffer in the United States.

Very worried.

I’m worried not because of his theology, or his political views, or his activism.

I’m worried because so many people are interested in him…so many different people.

Some people laud him for his non-violent pacifism, and other for his violent attempt at activism. Some laud him for his commitment to community, and others for his religion-less Christianity. Some laud him for his non-metaphysical theology, and others for his pastoral care. Some laud him from the far left, and others from the far right.

When this happens we have to dig deeper and ask, “Is there something we are missing here?”

The Forgotten Lesson of Bonhoeffer

We often think of Bonhoeffer as a hero of the church, but I think of him more as a cautionary tale.

The forgotten lesson of Bonhoeffer is not that we should all strive to be more like him, but that we should strive to be a church that wouldn’t need him!

article_images-3_8_Pastors_Does_the_American_Flag_Belong_in_Your_Church_766070041I worry that people will either look for the next Bonheoffer or try to be the next Bonhoeffer in some heroic protest, rather than entering the more humble protests of daily life. I worry that people will think that large gestures of protest are the way to change the world, rather than entering on the difficult daily path of ordinary resistance.

You see, Bonhoeffer had to be Bonhoeffer because the national church in Germany failed to be the church at all.

This is the forgotten lesson of Bonhoeffer: The Church in Germany had failed!

Headed toward Failure?

So I’m worried that everyone interested in Bonheoffer might not be learning the real lesson: that we in America might be the type of church that, in a time of crisis, will capitulate to preserving the American Dream rather than living as a Kingdom Reality.

During this 4th of July weekend, are we Christians in America more American than Christian? How would we know? Does that distinction even makes sense? And if it doesn’t, then I worry that we have turned to Bonhoeffer into an inspirational story rather than a cautionary tale.

Let us not make Bonhoeffer merely into a Christian Celebrity…

Lent and Human Limitations

I often always tell people the best spiritual thing they could do is get a good night’s sleep.   Sleep is a necessary limitation to human striving, to the pride of achievement, or of the folly of wasted time.  Eventually we have to sleep.

And I hate that. 

I find it hard to take my own advice and go to bed.  Just one more email to check. Another post to write.  Another page to read.  Another show to watch.

 

 

Limitations

Right now I’m in a season of learning my limits, and so Lent is lining up great for me.

I’m learning not so much my physical limits, but my spiritual and relational limits.  I’m being pushed and pulled (by God) into situations where I don’t have a wise word, a helpful plan, or creative solution.

All I have is my limit. I just don’t have anything else to say, I don’t have a plan or a solution. It is beyond me to know how to help or move a situation forward.

I’m continually reaching my limit of human wise, power, and creatively and I am just throwing up my hands to God for the rest (which is equal parts peaceful release and helpless terror).

Lent

In many ways I think this is what Lent is for.  We give up good things, or bad things, in our lives, and say “I embrace this limitation.” 

In this we acknowledge what God already knows, that we can’t do everything (even when they are good things).  We have to step back and embrace that we are limited in time and space; limited in a body that demands rest (Sabbath); and limited in our knowledge and power.

But God is not burdened by these limitations (Praise be to God).

This morning I had a cross marked on my forehead with the ashes of palms branched (used last year in our Palm Sunday Celebration) to remind me that “from dust we come and to dust we return” (Eccl. 3:20).

While death is the natural limitation of us all, life in Christ is our spiritual end (goal/purpose), but this comes from God, not from us.

Gal. 2:20-21: “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”

More Than Splitting the Difference: Missio Dei (a)

CHT174193

So often we want to jump right into joining God’s mission because we feel we already know what God’s mission is.  But before even asking, “What is God’s mission?” we need to ask, “Who is this God on mission?” and “How does God go about this mission?”

Is God distant? Is God everywhere? These are the questions for us in this third video of our “More than Splitting the Difference” series as we explore why it is so hard to push beyond this right-left polarity and a “best of both worlds” approach. The hope is to offer a more than “third way” for mission among evangelicals and beyond (and check out Prodigal Christianity for a bit more on what I’m talking about here).

To keep the videos short I split this one up, with the second part coming on Monday (although something happened to speed up the first 10 seconds. Sorry).

And please consider subscribing to the post on the right, or following me on these other streams.

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“We Have Theology, the Rest of You are Just Visiting…”

I think that much of theology works with the assumptions expressed by Matt Damon’s character in “The Good Shepherd” (about the CIA).  When asked about what “you people have?” he answers, “We have America. The rest of you are just visiting.” (FYI, racial slurs in the dialogue) (My thoughts below).

I think many pop theologians (especially Evangelicals) have the general assumption that it is well and nice that Latin America theology brings liberation, and Black theology brings justice, and Feminist theology brings gender, and African Theology brings the ancestors, and Pentecostal theology brings the Spirit, etc.  But real theology (i.e. white, upper-class) is just theology itself (without an adjective), and the rest of you are just visiting.

Sadly, I worry this represents the state of much of  what goes around as ‘missional’ theology.

Pentecost: Babel Overcome ≠ Babel Reversed

The cover of Thomas Hobbes' Leviathan.I often hear that in Pentecost the curse of Babel is reversed. But this is not true. Babel is overcome, but not reversed.

The idea that Babel is reversed goes something like this. Because humanity, in its pride, sought to raise themselves to God’s level, God confused them with multiple languages and they were scattered.  But in Pentecost, everyone hears the Gospel and therefore the curse of Babel is reversed.

From Forced Unity to Dividing Diversity

But truth is much deeper than this.  Babel, and the tower it attempted to build, was a forced unity that led an oppressive domination.  People don’t usually build towers like that back in the day: they are forced to build it. And what is a principle way of dominating oppressed people? Destroy their native language. The politics of Babel is in direct opposition to God’s bless that humanity should multiply and fill the earth (multiply in culture; not just in number).

What often is understood as the curse of Babel is also a blessing in the God is returning diversity to the world.  But in our fallen state this diversity leads to divisions, and racism, genocide, and enslavement have been the norm ever since.

True Diversity

Pentecost overcomes the forced unity of Babel, but also overcomes the dividing diversity after Bable.  In Pentecost each “hears in their own language”, not some universal language.  Diversity is not reversed, only the divisions caused by our fallen fear and panicked prejudice.

Pentecost overcomes Babel, by doing more than reversing it.

(While most would use some depiction of the Tower of Babel for this post, I instead used the cover from Thomas Hobbes’ “Leviathan”.  Think about it…it leads to my next post).

Also, these thoughts are related to the “Prodigal Diversity” signpost in Prodigal Christianity.

Can’t or Don’t Want To? On Not Being Emergent or Neo-Reformed

1Way-Another-Way-Sign

“Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another.” (Rom 13:8).

You don’t choose to pay a debt; you are compelled.  But we will return to this in a moment.

Last week it was suggested that Dave Fitch and I, when we said that “we couldn’t” live by the answers that Emergent was offering (nor the Neo-Reformed for that matter), we should have said that “we didn’t want” to live by those answers.

Saying we “couldn’t” seemed to indicate our inability; saying we “didn’t want to” indicates our lack of desire.  But I don’t think the commenter meant just wanted to focus on issues of desire. Rather, the claim that we “didn’t want to” is most often linked with choice or preference.  To say we were unable to follow an Emergent or Neo-Reformed framework, in the minds of many, is patently false because clearly we are able to choose such a path, and many do live this way.  So the matter, for this commenter, really is a question of choice.  In this line of thought, Dave and I were not compelled to move beyond Emergent or the Neo-Reformed, we just chose to do something else.

Our language about conversion often muddies this by re-enforcing the movements of choice. We often say that we “choose to follow Christ” or we speak of having “decided to follow Christ.”  This way of talking tends to emphasize “choose” and “decide” rather than “follow”.

Without getting into the nuances of predestination, prevenient grace, and all that, it must be observed that to “choose to follow Christ” means exactly to “choose to stop choosing for oneself” and instead to follow the choices of Christ on the way of love (i.e. this is discipleship).  In other words, following Christ is the choice to stop choosing sinful gratification in self-love and the neglect of others, and be compelled the love of God to love others.  So to follow Christ is exactly to cease merely choosing for oneself, and exactly to begin following the way of love.  This is the debt of love that Romans 13:8 speaks of, a debt that we don’t choose, but are compelled, to pay off.  And the proper place of doctrines and practice is to secure this way of love against false ways (and we all know how difficult it is to root out insidious self-love).

If to choose Christ is to stop choosing, then, isn’t reducing matters of doctrine and practice to individual choice rather than faithful compulsion (i.e. lacking a certainly ability) just a repetition of modern individual liberalism? Isn’t discipleship exactly the overcoming of this?

And if so, perhaps Dave and I didn’t misspeak when we said we “couldn’t”.  Perhaps our “choice” to move beyond Emergent and Neo-Reformed doctrine and practice is a compulsion based in the conviction to love, not merely a personal choice.

Maybe we could add a verse to the classic conversion chorus:

I have decided….to stop deciding
I have decided….to stop deciding
I have decided….to stop deciding
No turning back…no turning back.

(Everyone now!)

Now certainly Dave and I could be wrong, and we are open to that, and this is why we need to understand discernment better.

What do you think? Is choosing our doctrines/practices just in line with liberalism? Or is our compulsion just a quick road back to fundamentalism?