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.)

Making Peace with the Bridge, for Now.

Like many of us, I’ve been longing for something beyond the “bridge illustration” to share the gospel (with others, and my children).  Something short, visual, clear, explaining the gospel in an appropriate way.  But of course, the more I learn and grow in the Kingdom the more difficult it is to summarize, especially when you have all these old, truncated ‘gospels’ bouncing around in your brain that you are trying to overcome (the gospel of sin management, the gospel of health and wealth, the gospel of going to heaven, etc).

But then Soren (8 years old) comes home from a church basketball camp yesterday super amped about the ‘bridge illustration.’  It’s all he can talk about.  He pulls out our white board and insists on drawing it out for us and explaining it to us (of course as a seasoned evangelical I’m filling in some of the forgotten steps and verses…).  So I had to step back and rethink my loathing for the ‘bridge illustration.’ (If you are not familiar with the ‘bridge illustration’ check it out here).

Making Peace

I guess this is something that I have know for awhile, but haven’t wanted to admit very loudly (or publicly).  The ‘bridge illustration’ really is a good presentation of the gospel, even if it is just part of the gospel.  I have seen the light come on for children and adults where they begin to understand what God has done for them in a deeper way.

And especially for children who are in the black and white stage of moral development, the ‘bridge illustration’ makes sense.  “We are over hear because of sin.  God is over there because he is perfect.  But in Jesus we can be with God again.”  It makes sense.  It is simple.  It helps them put in place a piece of their spiritual puzzle.

And it fits especially the intellectual development of children Soren’s age.  They haven’t yet reached the world of complexity and abstraction which causes the ‘bridge illustration’ to breakdown or be known as incomplete.

For Now

But the whole point is that children would grow up, and their faith along with them.  Too often we have adults who have prayed a prayer after hearing the ‘bridge illustration’ and 20 years later their faith is still at the same stage.  The problem isn’t in the ‘bridge illustration’ itself but the underlying theology of atonement which is exhausted in the illustration. Certain understandings of the gospel see the bridge not merely as an illustration, but the entire reality.  This leads to the spiritual immaturity and stunted grow of so many believers (which has led to my own discomfort with the illustration).

It is one thing to say that for “now” the bridge is a helpful and, dare I say, true explanation of the gospel.  But only for now.  Not for always.  At the beginning it is true, but faith must grow here and now, and not merely wait for heaven.  We can’t remain stuck on the level of the ‘bridge’ for our entire spiritual lives, just like Soren isn’t going to remain stuck as an 8 year old.

Bridge to the Kingdom, not merely Heaven

We for “now” I’m very pleased that Soren is excited about the bridge, that it has helped him organize some of the biblical stories and ideas that we have been brainwashing him with (ha).  But are already laying the ground work for that spiritual development.  After Soren explained about crossing the bridge in Christ and receiving eternal life (which that church of course links with ‘going to heaven’), I started to redirect from ‘going to heaven’ to ‘life in the kingdom’ here and now.  And I reminded him of the Lord’s Prayer, which we prayer everyday, and how it talks about God’s Kingdom coming to earth from heaven.  The goal is that Soren would come to know all that all those who cross the bridge in faith enter Christ’s Kingdom, which is now!

But filling that all out will come later, and through example, and prayer, day by day, year by year.  But for “now” the bridge will do.

For now.