Here's the Q:
I've read quite a few of your books... I'd like to espouse your cause
but have honest questions. Jesus in Luke 16:19-31 speaks of "hades"
or hell. He speaks of Abraham as saying (verses 29 & 31) that people
have Moses and the prophets relating to this. So how can you say that
the concept of hell in Christendom is a result of it being high jacked
by the Greco/Roman philosophy?
One brief comment. Whatever that passage teaches, it does not teach that the only way to go to heaven is by believing in a Christian atonement theory. It does not teach that the only way to avoid hell is through adherence to a certain religion or creed. It does not teach that the sinner's prayer will lead to heaven. If it teaches anything (in a literalistic sense), it is that rich people go to hell and poor people go to heaven, or that people who are lacking in compassion for the poor go to hell and the poor they are careless toward go to heaven. So ... if people want to take the passage literally, they should teach what it plainly teaches.
I don't believe Jesus is teaching us about the geography or ontology of hades/hell in this passage, any more than I believe he is teaching about being able to communicate across the "chasm" between heaven and hell. I believe he is teaching us that the living God is deeply concerned about the way we treat the poorest and most vulnerable among us. Any way of interpreting the text that takes us away from that central moral summons is, I think, a colossal adventure in missing the point.
Caring for the poor is what Moses and the prophets emphasized - as, for example, Deuteronomy 15 and Isaiah 58 make clear.
I know that differs from what many have been taught, but I think it's pretty hard to reach any other conclusion when you approach the texts reverently and without preconceived conclusions in mind.
Here's the Q:
What, in your understanding, is jihad?
I think conservative Christians who use the term "spiritual warfare" will have a sense of what many Muslims mean by "jihad." In both religions, sadly, warfare language that is metaphorical can easily be "literalized" and "weaponized" by violent leaders.
That's why in all my most recent books, I've written a lot about violence in religion. I think it's time for us to firmly and decisively repudiate religious violence. The differences between this religion and that are important and meaningful, but the differences between violent and peaceable varieties within each religion demand focused attention by us all.
... to my request for help.If you can't help at this time, you might know someone who can ... it would be great if you could forward the request to them. Over the weekend I'll be responding to all who reply. Again, thanks. Response has been truly gratifying.
There's a new Walter Brueggemann site up. A great resource!
Back in February, Adam Hamilton wrote one of the shortest yet most helpful pieces on the church's struggle over human sexuality ... here:
An important update on our global climate - http://www.nytimes.com/2013/05/19/opinion/sunday/climate-warnings-growing-louder.html?src=un&feedurl=http%3A%2F%2Fjson8.nytimes.com%2Fpages%2Fopinion%2Findex.jsonp
If you haven't read my book Everything Must Change, this wouldn't be a bad time to do so.
A great piece from Southern Baptist Ed Stetzer. May more and more people share the generous spirit he articulates here. Quotable:
Don't be so lazy to assume that the worst of a group represents the entire group. They hardly ever do. Perhaps a better idea is to meet them, learn about them and treat them as your neighbor.
Want to visit the Middle East from your own home? Here's an excellent chance, through an interview with Alick Isaacs. http://www.middleeastexperience.com/meet-alick-isaacs-on-may-22nd/#.UZpi1ZW--K9
And here's an important new book on Israel and Palestine by Michael McRay who lived there as an agent of peace: https://wipfandstock.com/store/Letters_from_Apartheid_Street_A_Christian_Peacemaker_in_Occupied_Palestine
A few months ago, I spoke in Memphis and met the good people of Church Health Center. If you're looking for a fascinating embodiment of the oft-used but seldom-defined term missional, I'd say these folks are a great place to start. On staff there is Stacy Smith - a gifted leader and the co-author of a book I really enjoyed, suitable for clergy of any gender: Bless Her Heart: Life as a Young Clergy Woman.
My friend Shane Claiborne wrote a powerful piece about the death penalty recently. It makes an obvious connection between that issue and a well-known Bible story - one I had never recognized. Read it here. Shane introduced me to Heather Beaudoin and the work of EJUSA, a group drawing attention to one of the most under-acknowledged justice issues in America. You can learn more and sign a related petition here.
Sheldon Good contributes to a thoughtful and challenging article on terrorism and US foreign policy, here. Quotable:
This nation has always struggled to align its ideals with its historical reality, climaxing in movements to abolish slavery and uphold citizenship and voting rights for women and minorities. That struggle continues as the nation deals with its new position as a global empire, the clear aggressor in its conflicts abroad. But it will come down to our collective efforts if we are to reverse the momentum that brings that war home, with all of its violence and evil. It is not just our liberty or our security that is at stake, but our humanity.
Finally, here's an article and interview about one of my recent trips.
Readers of my books and blog know that I am a movement person.
On this blog, in my speaking, and in my books I get behind a wide array of organizations, causes, and projects that I sense are moving in the same general direction. My great sense of calling has been, and continues to be, to contribute to a broad-based movement that embodies a Christ-like ethos and leads to Christ-like action for the good of the world.
Grace and I recently decided to make a significant financial investment in building some behind-the-scenes support structures for this movement to take its next steps.
I think the time is ripe.
I’m looking for some people to join in this initiative.
Let me be clear: I’m not asking for money for myself. Grace and I both work hard and we cover our own expenses. Our desire is to give and seek others to join us in giving.
What I’m looking for is a team of partners to join me in a generous and strategic impulse.
If you believe in the kinds of things I write, say, and do, and would like to join me in making a significant financial investment over the next three years - to help a broad-based, diverse, and deep Christian movement rise to the next level, I am hoping we can come together in a joint project.
You might be able to give in the four, five, six, or seven figures. Or you might know a person, foundation, or other donor who can. Or you might be willing to start giving a smaller amount on a regular basis for the long term.
At a later date, I’ll be asking for people who can help with skills ... but first, we need some people who can put together some funds.
If you are open to explore this further (no pressure or obligation, of course), I hope you’ll contact me at this email address:
I’ll be back in touch with more information within a few days. (Of course, I’ll keep your contact information confidential and it won’t be sold or given to anybody else.)
Thanks for considering this request for help and passing/forwarding/tweeting it on to others who you believe might be able and happy to help.
Warmly and gratefully,
Here's the Q:
Hi Brian. Great work you doing, Bro. Hang in there.
A question about your Christology. Have read several of your books but can't really get a handle on your idea of the need for Christ and His death. If you don't believe in original sin, what do you think was the purpose of the cross then?
Thanks and will keep following yr blog.
Here's the R: This is an important question. The places I deal with this most pointedly in my writings are
A New Kind of Christianity: You're very perceptive to realize that Christ is valuable and essential in what I call the "six lined narrative" because his death solves the problem of "original sin." If you're working in that narrative, if you take away original sin, the whole thing collapses. What never made sense to me, though, is that Christ was truly important to the early Christians before the doctrine of original sin had ever been articulated (which happened in part through Irenaeus in the 2nd century and mostly through Augustine in the 5th century). I propose a different narrative or "framing story" - one more based on the Hebrew narratives of creation, liberation, and reconciliation - and in that story, all dimensions of Christ - his birth, life, teaching, deeds, death, resurrection, ascension, sending of the Spirit, etc. - are truly important, meaningful, and needed.
Why Did Jesus, Moses, the Buddha, and Mohammed Cross the Road? You're right that I question the popular conception of original sin, but it's not true that I don't believe in original sin. In my most recent book, I follow the work of James Alison and others in reading the key biblical texts behind the doctrine - exposing "the desire to acquire," the tendency to rivalry (including rivalry with God), and our proclivity to achieve peace through violence as our original sin. In that light, Jesus' death is more important than ever before ... but in a radically different way. I deal with this throughout the "Doctrinal Challenge" section, but it comes to a climax in my "Liturgical Challenge" chapter on Eucharist as table of fellowship and reconciliation, not altar of sacrifice.
More and more churches are using Naked Spirituality as a basis for sermon series and small groups. Pastor DavidlTinney of Vancouver First United Methodist Church prepared a set of daily devotions based on the book and graciously agreed to share them.
You'll find the first ten weeks of devotions below, covering the words Here, Thanks, O, and Sorry. Again, thanks to David!
The Beginning of our Journey Theme for the week: Our response to God’s call
Scripture: Genesis 17: 1-17
Reflection: It is good to know that the Bible is real and not written to hide emotions. I cannot imagine a document with such brutal honesty being written in today’s world of spin doctors and PR departments. We have all decided to take a journey together for the next year. We will also write and sign a covenant about how we treat each other and hold to the promises we agreed we wanted to share. Today’s reading is about a covenant and also about Abraham’s frank response to God’s promise. As you read this story today, put yourself in Abraham’s sandals and imagine that you are the one talking with God. Read it through completely and then go back again and find one word or phrase that captures your attention and spend a few moments repeating it slowly and heart-fully.
Questions to ponder:
What promise would you like to receive from God as you embark on this year-long journey?
If God spoke to your heart right now and said, “I am going to make you a mighty disciple and you will do great things,” would you fall down and laugh?
Prayer for the day: Lord this is all new to so many of us. This is the first time for many of us to take our spiritual journeys seriously. So we ask for your guidance and help.
As we enter into this journey we pause right now to pray for what we need for a covenant between us to be strong enough to bind and grow us.
You'll find the rest after the jump ...
Here's the Q:
HI! I met you years ago (around1984?) at a summer camp I went to with my friend. Anyway, at that camp I bought a cassette of your music and I love it and played it so much it s kind of worn out and doesn't play well anymore. The title escapes me at the moment but it had "Martha Martha slow down" on it. I would like to buy another one if you have anymore. Please let me know.
My UK editor, Katherine Venn, recently shared these reflections on Dallas Willard, who died last week from cancer:
I hope you’re well. I really loved your tribute to Dallas Willard on your blog; wasn’t he such an amazing man? I can honestly say that, of people who aren’t directly ‘in my life’ as it were, he has had the most profound impact on me spiritually. The Divine Conspiracy was an absolute game-changer for me. When I picked it up I didn’t know if I was a Christian, or even wanted to be; by the time I put it down I was overwhelmed by the beautiful vision of the kingdom he’d given me – and more than that, he shared the tools to put being a disciple into practice. I only met him a couple of times, but as a person, wasn’t he even more beautiful than his words? You can’t fake that kind of love, or humility, or graciousness. I consider him a spiritual grandfather and have wept more than a few tears since his death on Wednesday (I’m welling up as I write this…). We’ve lost a treasure, though I know that his influence will continue to shape the kingdom and the world it’s invading…
Hope to see many of you there!
Here's the Q:
At Cedar Ridge, our Sunday morning book group has been reading The Fire of the Word by Chris Webb (written when he was President of Renovaré). I don't know if you've read it. What prompts me to write is a section in Chapter 14, From Reading to Contemplation (pp. 177-181).
Webb references here the words attributed to Teresa of Ávila which start with "Christ has no body now but yours." Since you set these words to music (which we still sing from time to time at Cedar Ridge), this made me think of you. Webb insists that "Teresa never wrote anything of the sort and would almost certainly have found the sentiment shocking. The poem appears nowhere in her collected works or letters."
Webb believes the sentiments in this piece attributed to Teresa reflect a basic misunderstanding of the contemporary Western church that God needs us to achieve His purposes. Webb maintains "that the exact opposite is true," and this (opposite) understanding is the very basis of the contemplative life, and that contemplation would make no sense if the contemporary Western activist assumptions were correct.
My first question is a factual one. Do you have a source for the quote which would indicate it really was written by Teresa of Ávila?
In the second place, I would like to hear your comments on Webb's thesis that the activist approach, as exemplified in the poem, is a corruption of the true message of Christianity, and is at basic odds with the contemplative approach. I know that you and others (I think especially of Richard Rohr) see activism and contemplation as complementary rather than conflicting. I have tended to take that approach, which is why I found what Webb had to say somewhat startling. I would love to hear your comments on this.
We are doing well at Cedar Ridge, but we do miss you. Wish you could visit us more often.
And here's a follow-up:
I was interested in Chris Webb's contention (Fire of the Word, p. 178) that the poem "Christ has no body" usually attributed to Teresa of Ávila (and so attributed on the screen at Cedar Ridge when we sing the version set to music by Brian McLaren) was in fact not written by her, so I did a little exploration.
I found that several people who have studied Teresa in some depth agree that it is not her work. I found an interesting piece which suggests it is a combination of the work of Methodist minister Mark Guy Pearse and Quaker medical missionary Sarah Elizabeth Rowntree. That is a blog entry at http://mimuspolyglottos.blogspot.com/2011/11/whose-hands-another-possible-case-of.html
I found further support in another blog through a quote from a British Quaker periodical:
Sarah Eliza Rowntree gave an interesting account of the recent establishment of the “Home” in Pearl Street, and the progress of the Mission there. She appealed for more workers to assist its further usefulness, concluding with some words of Mark Guy Pearse, “Remember Christ has no human body now upon the earth but yours; no hands but yours; no feet but yours. Yours, my brothers and sisters, are the eyes through which Christ’s compassion has to look upon the world, and yours are the lips with which His love has to speak. Yours are the hands with which He is to bless men now, and yours the feet with which He is to go about doing good through His Church which is His body.” –The British Friend, volume 1, number 1, 1892, p. 15
(See http://livinginthemonasterywithoutwallsdotcom.wordpress.com/2013/02/04/christ-has-no-body-but-yours-teresa-of-avila/ ) This entry suggests that Rowntree added the first half of the poem to what Pearse had earlier written.
Here's the R:
First, thanks for doing all this research. It sounds like all the evidence is against these words being St. Teresa's. As you probably know, the same seems to be the case with a famous prayer "attributed to St. Francis." It reminds me that many things that we "know" based on "common knowledge" turn out to be questionable or false in the long run. The technical term for keeping this in mind is "epistemological humility." Thanks for adding to mine!
Thanks also for bringing up the polarity between a certain kind of contemplation and a certain kind of activism. Either extreme can be defended by quoting certain Bible verses - God does everything, so we can rest in God's sovereignty, and God does nothing except through us, so we must be busy and engaged.
After several decades of learning to follow Christ, I am firmly with Richard Rohr on this. He talks about how in the name of the organization he founded - Center for Action and Contemplation - the most important word is "and." As I contemplate God's character - for example, being deeply mindful of God's creativity and compassion - how can I not be inspired to let my own creativity and compassion grow? (I think of Paul's words about beholding as in a mirror God's glory, and being transformed into that glory.) And if I am compassionate and creative, I will find creative ways to move in compassion toward others.
Similarly, if I am active in working for worthy goals, I will continually face roadblocks - inner roadblocks in my own strength and know-how, outer roadblocks in intransigent systems of injustice, etc. At those times, I will be tempted to give up unless I retreat a little, engage in contemplation, and recenter on a God whose power and patience and commitment to good are equally unlimited.
So I don't pit the two against each other. Action without contemplation easily becomes a shrill moralism, and contemplation without action can easily become a smug indulgence in luxurious piety. But put the two together and you have a kind of "spiritual fusion" that can empower a spiritual movement.
I set the poem to music and recorded it with my gifted friend Tracy Howe Wispelwey.
Canadian treasure Steve Bell also has recorded it beautifully.
Whatever the source of the poem, I think it beautifully captures the daring image so precious to Paul - that we are the body, or embodiment, of Christ. What an honor to contemplate, and what a summons to action!
My creative non-fiction/instructive fiction "New Kind of Christian" trilogy is available via a UK publisher - SPCK - now:
I hope you'll enjoy having these available.
A great new edition of my friend @iancron’s book “Chasing Francis” has just released. Order it now! http://bit.ly/11OBxwA #ChaseFrancis
Need an understandable introduction to the work of Rene Girard? Here it is:
A beautiful NPR report by Lily Percy on Gordon Cosby ...
Here's a love letter, to you:
Jonathan Merritt asks if Mark Driscoll is this generation's Pat Robertson. When I heard what he said at a recent Catalyst conference in TX, I thought he must have been joking. But apparently not. Young Evangelicals certainly have a choice in what they will make of Evangelicalism in the future, and Mark Driscoll represents one option.
And don't miss Anne Howard's piece on the church and Pentecost. Beautifully and insightfully written:
Here's the Q:
Hi Brian. I feel like I don't even know God anymore. Please help!
I'm a thirteen year old girl from [a state in the south] and I go to a Christian school. About two years ago, my family and I left our church. We still haven't found a new church yet. Being under the influence of other teenagers all the time may be the cause of this. I have been thinking about my Christian faith for quite a while...it has shaken. I still love God, I just don't spend enough time in His word.
My questions are:
-Even though I have lost touch with Him, can I gain that "friendship" back? And how?
-I read the Bible sometimes and I don't feel anything. Why don't I feel Him anymore?
-How can I break old sinful habits and make new righteous ones?
I would really like to find my Christian identity that I seemed to have lost. It would mean so much to me to have a response!
First, I want to encourage you by telling you something you may not realize: you care! You care about whether you're in touch with God. You care whether you're living a good life. You care whether you get caught up in unhealthy habits. You want to experience closeness with God. These are amazing things! I know you're feeling kind of down right now - but I didn't want to say anything without saying, first, what a remarkable thing it is that you care. A lot of your peers, I think, wouldn't give any of this a second thought, you know?
I would rather have one young adult like yourself who cares but is frustrated than a thousand who don't care and are satisfied! What's essential (as I explained in my private email) is that you find some mentors - some folks a few steps farther down the road who will listen to you, encourage you, let you be 100% honest, and share with you what has helped them keep pressing forward in the Christian faith. (You could even show them this blog to give them an idea what you need.)
Of things I've written that might be helpful, at the top of the list would be my book "Naked Spirituality." And a close second would be "The Secret Message of Jesus."
I hope we'll get to meet someday in person. You're in my prayers today - and I know a lot of readers will join me.