Faith or Works? A false dichotomy?

One of the most central ideas in Protestantism is the idea of Salvation by faith alone.  This was Luther’s brilliant re-examination of the letters of Paul which he then used to fight the oppressions of the Catholic church of the day – those who would exploit the masses by devising more “works” for them to earn their salvation.

It is taught assiduously to every new convert – including myself as a young pentecostal.  We were not to be like the down-trodden and  “religious” denominations, on a desperate and doomed mission to earn salvation through good works .  We were to be alive, freed and justified through faith in Christ alone.  Judgement based on works is anathema to a Pentecostal and this made perfect sense and appealed to me, there were plenty of scriptures to back it up.

Then a few years later some attitudes I saw in the evangelical circles began to cause me concern.  Although most evangelical Christians accepted the doctrine and continued to grow in good works and faith, there was a sizeable minority that disregarded works altogether as being necessary or even relevant to Christian life.  They would almost sneer at charities or organisations set up to help others, particularly if they had a Christian base.  In their view these people were trapped in a works-based ideology, unable to access the power of the miraculous that faith in Jesus and freedom from ‘works’ brings.

In some strange way the fact that these people know they are completely unworthy and unable to earn salvation makes them even more proud of it when they attain it.

I have had arguments on blogs with people who are convinced that they don’t have to do any works at all – even the ones proscribed by Jesus himself – simply because they believe in Jesus.  They interpret the exhortations of Jesus and Paul to good deeds to be mere rhetorical devices specifying unattainable requirements – for the sole purpose of underlining the fact that faith is the only requirement.

As I read the Bible, some passages kept jumping out that seemed to be about judgement based on works.  In fact a lot of what Jesus says seems on the surface to be about that, and also Paul has a lot of commentary in this vein.  For example Romans 2:

But because of your stubbornness and your unrepentant heart, you are storing up wrath against yourself for the day of God’s wrath, when his righteous judgment will be revealed.God “will repay each person according to what they have done.” To those who by persistence in doing good seek glory, honor and immortality, he will give eternal life. But for those who are self-seeking and who reject the truth and follow evil, there will be wrath and anger. There will be trouble and distress for every human being who does evil: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile; 10 but glory, honor and peace for everyone who does good: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile. 11 For God does not show favoritism.

12 All who sin apart from the law will also perish apart from the law, and all who sin under the law will be judged by the law. 13 For it is not those who hear the law who are righteous in God’s sight, but it is those who obey the law who will be declared righteous. 14 (Indeed, when Gentiles, who do not have the law, do by nature things required by the law, they are a law for themselves, even though they do not have the law. 15 They show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts sometimes accusing them and at other times even defending them.)16 This will take place on the day when God judges people’s secrets through Jesus Christ,as my gospel declares.

Most new Protestants will read that and then harmonise it with their doctrine along the lines of “Well he cant mean that people will be judged on their works, as all have sinned.  Therefore he must be highlighting how people will be judged according to the law (sans faith in Jesus)”  But is that really what is meant?  And what are we to make of the famous scripture “Faith without works is dead”

I’ve recently discovered the “New Perspectives on Paul” movement   of which N T Wright, Bishop of Durham is perhaps the most well known exponent.  These people are looking at Paul’s letters anew and trying to understand them from a first-century perspective and not necessarily from the perspective of a reformer of Catholic christianity in the 16th Century.  Many of the interpretations of terms that Paul used in his letters have been re-examined, eg. the terms ‘justify’, ‘gospel’, ‘works’ have all been re-examined and there are questions over whether the meanings given by Luther and Calvin are exactly the same as the ones intended by Paul.

For futher reading see NT Wright’s “New Perspectives on Paul” at his website.

An interview with Peter Hitchens

The following is the text of an interview with Peter Hitchens from ‘Relevent’ magazine last year.





In contemporary journalism, few figures have as compelling a backstory as Peter Hitchens. Raised in a conservative Christian environment, Peter and his older brother, Christopher, came to adopt a ferocious atheism. Blazingly intelligent and piercingly articulate, they gained notoriety for their winsomely contrarian styles.


But while Christopher would go on to become one of the modern age’s most famous atheists—or, to use his phrase, anti-theists—the younger Hitchens brother followed a different path. Peter left the Trotskyism of his teens and became one of England’s most noted conservative voices, winning the Orwell Prize for journalism in 2010, in which one of the judges called his writing “as firm, polished and potentially lethal as a guardsman’s boot.” More importantly, and perhaps more surprisingly, Hitchens returned to the faith of his younger years. He writes eloquently and forcefully about the need for Christian morality in the public sector.


Tragically, Christopher passed away in 2011 from esophageal cancer. But Peter continues to work as an author and journalist, with a regular column for the Mail on Sunday. He took a little time to talk with us about his journey back to faith, religion’s place in civilized society and what he sees ahead for the next generation.


Q: So, when did you first become a Christian?


A: I was brought up in an explicitly Christian society and taught by teachers whose assumption was that Christianity was the religion of my people,  that I held, and held before I came to school   … Christianity was still, in my upbringing, what you might call the default position of the English person. So I don’t know if the word “become” really applies.


Q: Was there a definite moment when you decided you didn’t believe in God anymore?


A: Oh, there was definitely a moment when I decided it wasn’t true—in my early teens. I was never indifferent to [Christianity], nor was it ever not a force in my life and in my surroundings and in everything in England. From the architecture to the music, to the shape of the towns, to the language, to the songs that we sang, were all Christian in their nature. You couldn’t have escaped it if you wanted to. But what you could do, which I did do, was deny it and say you no longer believed in it. That was a definite moment, identifiable and clear.



“The fundamental proof of the goodness of our belief has to be the fruits of it.”

Q: Was there a moment where you reverted back?


A: No, no, nothing so identifiable. It was a process so gradual that the moment at which I might have been said to be a believer again cannot be clearly distinguished from the moment when I didn’t believe. I can’t remember a specific moment. It was a very gradual, imperceptible thing and at some point it was necessary for me to acknowledge to myself and to other people that, that was the case.


Q: Do you feel that the time of places like the U.S. and the U.K. being Christian nations is completely a thing of the past?


A: I fear it is, yes. The only thing that’s holding up the recognition of that is the afterglow of Christianity. There is a continued assumption in people’s lives, even though they aren’t specifically and explicitly Christians themselves … People are still governed by assumptions that are Christian, but they no longer acknowledge the roots from which they come. In the end, if you separate any plant from its roots, the plant will die. But there will be a period, depending on the size and age of the plant, during which it will appear to be still alive. But it has undoubtedly died at the roots. I think as the originally Christian societies of the world become less so, it’s going to be harder to believe. That will just be the case. And it will take considerably more courage than anyone in my generation ever had to face.


Q: Some people would say it might be a good thing if we stop being a Christian nation—that we can still hold to the truth, that we don’t have to legislate our own morals on a larger group that doesn’t necessarily hold to them. Do you agree?


A: I think society has to have a fundamental agreement about what its morals are and what the origins of those morals are. You can have a more or less chaotic and lawless arrangement, or you can have a sort of armed truce. But what you can’t have is a functioning, inventive, lively civilization unless it has pretty much agreed on a shared foundation for what it believes is good.


Q: So what do you say then to people who would say—and a good many of them do—“Who are you to tell me that your morality is more right than mine?”


A: I would say the source of morality is not me. I’m merely informing you of another authority that seems to have a good deal more force than I could ever command. But in the end, of course, the illusion of self-authority—which has been one of the major developments of the past 100 years—has persuaded people that they need no such thing. And not only that they don’t need the concept of the deity, but that they actively want there not to be such a thing, which is one of the reasons the new atheism is such a passionate, intolerant and in many cases, rather unpleasant phenomenon. The people who have adopted it actively want there not to be a God. They know that if there is a God then that God must be a source of authority. If a purposeful creator made the universe in which we live, it would be idle to imagine that you could ignore that creator’s desires as to how you should live.


I’ll put this very crudely: It’s like buying a very expensive piece of equipment and trying to work it by actually looking at the manual and doing the opposite of what it says. It won’t work. If you don’t acknowledge that there is a manual or that anybody else knows more about it than you do, all kinds of things will happen which you might even conceivably think are good but they wouldn’t be. You wouldn’t know that because you would have tossed aside the very concept of there being an absolute right or wrong way to use this incredibly complex, delicate, finely engineered piece of equipment.


Q: But many people will point at religion, particularly Christianity, and all the harm that’s been done in its name.


A: Ah, but this is sort of schoolboy stuff, isn’t it? One of the fundamental points about the Christian religion is that it asserts that man is himself fallen and, without aid, is bound to fail.


Q: But people will look at widespread corruption—like some of the abuse scandals that came out of the Catholic Church—and say religion is the common denominator to all that.


A: I find all of this rather tedious. It’s not a proper argument. If you want to dispute the claims of the Roman Catholic Church, by all means, do so. I dispute some of them myself. But dispute them on that basis. Don’t attempt to smear it by the actions of some of its officials, members or hierarchy, who have broken its own rules … Any large organization is human, and again, you have the problem: We’re fallen creatures. If we are in charge of any large organization, even if its aims are fundamentally good, there will be failures. But this isn’t an argument against the institution.


Q: There was a survey taken here in the States stating that something like 90 percent of people outside the Church consider those inside it to be judgmental.


A: Opinion polls and devices generally are for influencing public opinion rather than measuring it … I’d be interested to hear how the question was put. But it wouldn’t matter to me how many people said something was true if it weren’t true.


“It’s often the case what is right is not easy, and it’s always the broad primrose path that leads to destruction.”


Q: You would say that the public opinion isn’t so important as that what we’re doing is right in our own eyes.


A: I don’t see what is to be gained by being ashamed of what you believe because you’re afraid that some indoctrinated person – who has been a victim of conventional wisdom and received opinion – has been told to believe what you say is, in some way, wrong. The fundamental proof of the goodness of our belief has to be the fruits of it. Look at what the Roman Catholic Church does worldwide. The amount of good it does hugely outweighs the amount of evil that is done – in contradiction of its own principles – by some of its officials.


This is a period of great material wealth and the worship of economic growth – and the century of the self, in which religious belief is going to be in trouble. The best metaphor for the state of mind in which we find ourselves is:  this is the first generation of the human race which doesn’t generally see the stars at night. It has blotted them out with street lamps and car headlights and everything else. You simply can’t see the stars in most places where human beings are concentrated, and, in the same way, the triumph of consumerism and growth and the temporary joys of pleasure as a substitute for happiness,  have blotted out the metaphorical stars of religious faith. It’s very hard to expect people who can’t see the stars to examine the significance of the stars or see their beauty.


Q: There doesn’t seem to be an easy way to fix that.


A: Sometimes there is no easy way. There’s an English hymn which goes … (slowly recites)


Father,  hear the prayer we offer; Not for ease our prayer shall be … But the steep and rugged pathway May we tread rejoicingly …


It’s often the case what is right is not easy, and it’s always the broad primrose path that leads to destruction. There’s nothing new about that. If it’s easy it’s probably wrong, if it’s difficult it may be wrong, but it’s also quite likely to be right.


See :



Can anything good come out of Mark Driscoll’s Mars Hill? Well apparently yes!

From Cross Walk

Elder and worship leader Zach Bolen has resigned from Mars Hill Ballard. Bolen, a high profile elder at Mars Hill, is the leader of Citizens, a popular band which has become well known outside of Mars Hill circles. The band’s first album, the eponymous disc Citizens, was released in March 2013 and has enjoyed critical and commercial success. Bolen served at Mars Hill University District prior to coming to Ballard in February of this year. Bolen was one of the most popular and accomplished worship leaders at Mars Hill.

Bolen’s resignation comes amid significant staff changes at Mars Hill Ballard. Recently, popular biblical living pastor Phil Smidt was fired and then this week pastor Aaron Mead and elder candidate Tim Klassen resigned. In recent months, elders Nate Burke, Jon Krombein, and Mike Wilkerson also left Mars Hill Ballard.

The UK Christian music magazine Crossrhythms raved about Bolen and Citizens,saying:
“Clearly Citizens have a bright future ahead of them. As Breathecast commented, “Musically, Citizens have created a patented type of indie rock that flutters with the electronic beat of Switchfoot, yet shimmers with the emotional intensity of Hillsong United. Above all, Bolen sings with a sense of honest gravitas; it is as if leading worship is more than just a day job. Rather, he sings with a deep-seated passion that can only come from a man who knows grace.”

A single, You Brought Me Back to Life, was released around Easter from an album slated to be completed by August.

Although Bolen’s future in music and ministry looks bright, it will not include Mars Hill Church.

A Visual Journey Through Reformed Theology

Reformed Theology
click on the image to go to a larger version


Penal Substitution

A visual History of New Calvinism

Rev Vince Anderson and his Love Choir – Dirty Gospel Music

5 Controversies That Still Plague the Church

And here’s the good news: Those hundreds of years have put many of these works in the public domain, which means you can benefit from the wisdom of our forebears, for free, on your laptop.

You may not agree with the thoughts of all these ancient theologians, but it’s still vital to be mindful of them. As C.S. Lewis once wrote, reading old books is worthwhile not because there is “any magic about the past. People were no cleverer then than they are now; they made as many mistakes as we. But not the same mistakes.” You won’t have to agree with all of these thoughts to find that wrestling with an older perspective is worth your time.

Here are five voices from church history to get you started:

1. Justin Martyr (100-165 AD) On The Destiny of the Unevangelized

What happens to people who die without hearing about Jesus? Does God condemn the majority of humanity, even though they never had a chance to be saved?

This debate flared anew with the 2011 release of Rob Bell’s Love Wins, but it’s hardly original to our time. Justin Martyr, one of the earliest Christian apologists, faced the exact same issue just a century after the life of Christ, when Hellenic philosophers claimed that the Christian God was unjust for this very reason.

Justin responded by arguing that God is constantly drawing all people to him according to their capacity, “always urging the human race to thought and recollection, showing that He cares for it and provides for men and women.” Some of the unevangelized, Justin suggests, may respond to God’s revelation in their own hearts and in nature, coming to saving faith through the work of Jesus without explicit knowledge of that work.

Read: Justin Martyr’s First Apology

2. Tertullian (160-225 AD) On Christians and Pacifism

When Tertullian was writing from Africa in the 2nd and 3rd centuries, Rome was at its peak. And as the new church spread throughout the empire, the question inevitably arose: Should Christians serve in the Roman military? Although Jesus had explicitly rejected violence for His followers, the gospels don’t record him telling the faithful centurion, for instance, to quit his job.

Faced with this issue, Tertullian argued for peace:

Shall it be held lawful to make an occupation of the sword, when the Lord proclaims that he who uses the sword shall perish by the sword? And shall the son of peace take part in the battle when it does not become him even to sue at law? And shall he apply the chain, and the prison, and the torture, and the punishment, who is not the avenger even of his own wrongs?

Tertullian answers with a strong negative, suggesting Christians should avoid war even at the cost of martyrdom.

Read: Tertullian’s De Corona (The Crown), especially Chapter 11

3. John Chrysostom (347-407 AD) On Consumerism and Poverty

Though comparatively unfamiliar to Catholics and Protestants in the Western church, John Chrysostom is well-loved in the Orthodox tradition. A monk from Antioch, John was made the Bishop of Constantinople in 398 AD—a position he accepted unwillingly at the behest of the populace.

Installed in the most important pulpit in the most important city in the empire, John railed against consumerism in the face of poverty, preaching uncompromising sermons which would lead to his exile. In one homily, he chastises those who use fancy chamber pots while others starve: “So many poor stand around the Church; and though the Church has so many children, and so wealthy, she is unable to give relief to even one poor person…one voids his excrement even into silver, another has not so much as bread! What madness!”

Read: John Chrysostom’s homilies on Colossians, especially #7

4. Margaret Fell Fox (1614-1702 AD) On Women in Church

The “mother of Quakerism,” Margaret Fell was the wife of George Fox, the primary founder of the Quaker movement. A wealthy and educated woman, Margaret used her means to foster Quakerism in its early days, fund mission work, and support religious tolerance in England. She also argued in favor of full equality of the sexes within the church, writing while imprisoned for refusing to abandon her beliefs.

In “Women’s Speaking Justified,” Margaret makes a bold case, suggesting that those who silence women are doing the work of the devil:

Let this Word of the Lord, which was from the beginning, stop the Mouths of all that oppose Women’s Speaking in the Power of the Lord; for he hath put Enmity between the Woman and the Serpent; and if the Seed of the Woman speak not, the Seed of the Serpent speaks; for God hath put Enmity between the two Seeds; and it is manifest, that those that speak against the Woman and her Seed’s Speaking, speak out of the Envy of the old Serpent’s Seed.

Read: Margaret Fell Fox’s “Women’s Speaking Justified”

5. Roger Williams (1603-1683 AD) On Church and State

If you’ve heard of Roger Williams at all, it was likely via a quick mention in high school history class of his role in founding the state of Rhode Island. Roger was a Baptist in an age when it was dangerous to be a Protestant—much less one of those weird Protestants who rejected the idea of a state church. He left his native England to pastor in Plymouth, MA, but found himself expelled from the colony when he tried to separate his congregation from the English government.

After founding Providence, RI, Roger stirred up controversy first by advocating fair treatment of Native Americans, and then by calling for a separation of church and state. His groundbreaking defense of legal tolerance argued that “an enforced uniformity of religion throughout a nation or civil state, confounds the civil and religious, denies the principles of Christianity and civility, and that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh.”

Read: Roger Williams’ “The Bloody Tenent of Persecution”


A Dear John Letter to John Calvin

Dear John,

Ok, first off I know, “Dear John” letters are usually written between former lovers and we were never even friends. But, John, I tried. I really, really did.

I’ve heard for so long that my frustrations with Calvinism were really due to your Neo-Calvinist followers giving you a bad name. That made sense to me. After all, I couldn’t believe that some of the rephrensible and callous things being said and taught today would be derived directly from someone of your theological prowess. So, I wanted to give you a chance at redemption in my eyes.

Since you’ve been, um, not present in the body for the past 450 years, I thought the best way to get acquainted with the real Calvin would be to read the work you are most famous for. I’m talking, of course, about your Institutes of the Christian Religion.

In my effort to get to know you better I spent my last semester at Yale in a class devoted entirely to the reading and discussion of your epic work. I admit we didn’t make it through every single chapter (forgive us John, but the book is nearly 1,000 pages long and we needed time to discuss what we read each week), but we did make it through almost all of it (we mostly skipped a few chapter at the end about church polity). And even with those handful of overlooked chapters, I’m still willing to bet we made it through more of the Institutes than many of your followers today have read. (I say this as a Wesleyan, who has read far far too little of what Wesley actually wrote.)

I have to admit, John, you’re a brilliant guy and a great writer. Your passion and honesty were obvious from page one and at times refreshing given the way we so often dance around what we really think in the church today. I really admire your conviction and willingness to say what you believe to be true even if it wasn’t the popular thing to say. Without a doubt, you had some great things to say and, at times, I even found myself close to shouting “Amen!” Like the time you called out those who want to believe in the absurd notion that God can predestine some to heaven while not necessarily also predestining everyone else to hell, ”This they do so ignorantly and childishly since there could be no election without its opposite reprobation.” (3.23.1)

Ok, maybe, that amen wasn’t exactly for the reason you would like, but still, it counts for something, right?

Anyway, class is now over, our reading of your monumental achievement complete, and I’ve had some time to process everything you said.

So, can I be totally honest with you, John?

You crushed my hope for reconciliation.

I found your theology to be every bit as appalling – and maybe even more so – than your followers.

To be blunt, as a Christian, I don’t recognize your God and I have no clue what the good news is in the Institutes. That some people are saved no matter what? I guess that’s good for them. But you’re clear that God also creates people for eternal damnation,

By predestination we mean the eternal decree of God, by which he determined with himself whatever he wished to happen with regard to every man. All are not created on equal terms, but some are preordained to eternal life, other to eternal damnation; and accordingly, as each has been created for one or other of these ends, we say that he has been predestined to life or to death. (3.21.5)
And you also say that God tricks some of those same people He dooms to hell into thinking He loves them by “instilling into their minds such a sense of his goodness as can be felt without the Spirit of adoption” simply so he “better convince them.” (3.2.11) John, what kind of perverse and manipulative God would do that?

But it gets worse.

Much worse.

For, according to you, God ordains every single horrific act of evil that has or ever will occur.

As you explain over,

Scripture, moreover, the better to show that every thing done in the world is according to his decree, declares that the things which seem most fortuitous are subject to him. For what seems more attributable to chance than the branch which falls from a tree, and kills the passing traveler? But the Lord sees very differently, and declares that he delivered him into the hand of the slayer. (1.16.6)
And over,

As all contingencies whatsoever depend on it, therefore, neither thefts, nor adulteries, nor murders, are perpetrated without an interposition of the divine will. (1.17.1)
And over,

Let us suppose, for example, that a merchant, after entering a forest in company with trust-worthy individuals, imprudently strays from his companions and wanders bewildered till he falls into a den of robbers and is murdered. His death was not only foreseen by the eye of God, but had been fixed by his decree. (1.16.9)
And over again, God is behind every act of evil that ever takes places,

I concede more – that thieves and murderers, and other evil-doers, are instruments of divine providence, being employed by the Lord himself to execute the judgments which he has resolved to inflict. (1.17.5)
In other words, if a child is raped, a family murdered in their sleep, or an entire population of people sent off to the gas chambers, that wasn’t just the act of evil men. It was the will of God.

And, of course, God doesn’t just have it out for us in this life; God has it out for some people for eternity too because as you say, “Those whom the Lord favors not with the direction of his Spirit, he, by a righteous judgment, consigns to the agency of Satan.” (2.4.1)

You say all of this wrath is due to our depravity. Ignoring Paul’s words affirming the complete opposite, you say ”wherever sin is, there also are the wrath and vengeance of God” (3.11.2) And as if to drive your point home at just how much God hates us, you claim that it’s not just adults that God despises, but infants too because they ”cannot but be odious and abominable to God.” (2.1.8) John, you go to great lengths to establish the total depravity of man, and I agree that we are indeed sinful people. But in the end, based on your own argument, the one looking the most depraved is God. For it is God, not humanity, who ordains evil and institutes eternal torture regardless of act or decision.

Yes, John, you’re right. All of these quotes and points are lacking in their immediate context, but they’re not random thoughts. They are, as you demonstrate so well, the logical conclusions of your theology of divine sovereignty and, therefore, at the very heart of what you believe about God. Worse, this isn’t a case of you overstating without thinking through the conclusions. You’re clear that this sort of God who ordains genocide, murder, rape, children abuse, and every other conceivable horrendous act is the God you worship.

Not surprisingly, you say that we should fear this God, not just honor and revere Him, but actually be terrified of Him. (3.2.26) I suppose on that point we are in at least partial agreement. If this is a God who arbitrarily ordains the death of children and the torment of people before they’re even born, then of course we should fear this God.

Which is why, John, I’ve got to be brutally honest with you.

I think your God is a monster.

I don’t say that casually or based on a handful of random one liners. I say it based on the foundation of your theological project and your insistence on a God who both ordains evil and creates people simply to torment them for eternity. John, this is not the God I find in the Bible, nor is it a God I think is worthy of worship. It’s a God who can only be feared for His arbitrary, callous, and evil ways, and pitied for his enslavement to wrath.

To me, John, your God looks nothing like Jesus of Nazareth. And, for me, that’s a big problem.

Now, John, it wouldn’t be a good breakup letter if I wasn’t clear about why I don’t like you like that anymore (or I guess ever did). I’m know a lot of those reasons are obvious already, but in the spirit of your Institutes, I don’t want to leave any room for doubt as to why we need to go our separate ways.

First, John, as awed as I am by your intellect, you’re way way way too overcommitted to your theological system. I know your methodology and meticulousness are derivative of your training as a lawyer, and while those can be great qualities in a person, in your Institutes your utter devotion to your theological system creates an unbelievable callousness that is totally foreign to the Jesus I meet in the gospels. Experience, reason, compassion, and even huge chunks of scripture are sacrificed on the altar of your theological system. Relationships require compassion, humility, and at a times a bit of flexibility. John, we’ve all got some work to do in those areas, but that’s especially true for you.

You also have a tendency to talk out of both sides of your mouth. This isn’t good for a relationship because it means I can never really trust what you’re saying. F0r instance, in order to acknowledge the obvious reality of freewill while defending your hardcore understanding of divine sovereignty, you try to create a make believe difference between compulsion and necessity, as if just because we necessarily have to act in a certain way because God has ordained it so, we’re not actually compelled to do that. (2.3.5) John, that makes no sense. Likewise, you argue that even though everything is determined by God long before we even exist, we’re still responsible for out actions. (1.17.5)

Look, I get it, you’ve got a system to maintain and you need to make sense of sin and guilt. But, John, you can’t have your cake and eat it too. Either we freely choose to sin and are therefore responsible or God causes us by divine decree to sin and, therefore, God is ultimately responsible. Which leads us to the worst doublespeak of all in your book. You make is clear that God ordains evil, but isn’t the author of it. John, buddy, as you heard throughout your lifetime, if God is the source of and the one who ordains evil acts, then God is the author of evil. Which means your God isn’t really as loving and good as you would have us believe. In fact, your God is pretty stinking evil.

Which is why, John, it’s hard not to conclude that Calvinism is a sustained exercise in the defense against the obvious. By which I mean you’re constantly on the defense against the obvious conclusions of your claims. To your credit you offer up an exhaustive defense. It just runs counter to basic logic. There’s just no way around the fact that you’ve simultaneously created a God who is the author of evil while rendering the Christian life irrelevant because if our eternal fate is already sealed, there is absolutely no point in bothering to live in any particular way.

Also, John, and I’m not trying to be mean here, but your use of scripture is just awful. I know, I know, I know. Who am I to criticize the great John Calvin’s exegesis? But buddy you cherry pick scripture like it’s your spiritual gift. You completely ignore the context of the verses you pick. And, with only a few exceptions, either ignore or dismiss out of hand any and all passages that contradict your position. But, John, I’m not sure that’s even the worst part of it for me.

As a fellow Christian I know this might be a little hard to hear, but you deal surprisingly little with what Jesus himself actually had to say. Sure, you talk about his role in salvation plenty, but when it comes to supporting your various claims, you seem to quote everybody but Jesus. In fact, I’m pretty sure you quoted the entire book of Romans. And yet the words of Jesus himself were few and far between. Knowing your bravado, I’m sure this wasn’t the case but it was almost as if you intentionally ignored him because some of the things he said threw a huge wrench your system that could bring the whole thing crashing down on itself, like that pesky John 3:16-17 loving the whole world and not just the elect nonsense or that stuff in Matthew 25 or James 2 where salvation by faith alone seems to be an unwelcome guest.

But, John, I think the ultimate problem between you and me is the starting point in your grand theological endeavor. For you, everything begins and ends with the glory of God. I wholeheartedly agree that giving glory to God is an important thing. But John, I don’t know what Bible you’re reading if you think that receiving glory is God’s primary interest in and purpose for mankind. If anything, the Bible is a sustained account of God’s disinterest in glory. It’s the story of a God who desires above all to be in a loving relationship with His people and God’s willingness to do anything to make that happen, including abandoning all sense of glory even to that point of death on a cross.

But perhaps the most ironic point in your emphasis on glory is that in your attempt to glorify God you destroy that very glory through your understanding of divine sovereignty and election. For if God ordains murder, rape, and abuse, while creating some people – maybe most people – for eternal torment, then that God is not worthy of glory. Period.

Now, I know your followers today will tell me I’m “misreading” you and don’t understand what you’re “really” trying to say. I heard a lot of that this semester as we tried to reconcile the words on the page with their practical implications. But this letter isn’t about the 450 years of interpretation and reinterpretation that have followed in your wake. I’m responding to the words you yourself wrote. And, for me, what you wrote was far too often abhorrent.

And can I tell you something else, John? I don’t think your followers today are nearly as comfortable with your theology as you are. At least, not a lot of them. Don’t get me wrong. You’re on an incredibly high pedestal for them, but time and time again I see them jumping through hoops and doing mental gymnastics to avoid or at least soften the very clear claims you’re making. And I see others rejecting out of hand some of the things you said, while trying to hold on to the rest.

But I get that. We all want to defend our heroes. The bigger issue I have, John, is that you have a tendency (cause I’ll be the first to admit they’re not all like this) to create incredibly arrogant and sometimes hateful followers who are just as cold, calculating, and callous in their theology and selective in their use of scripture as you are. Just like you, too many of your prominent followers today denounce their critics as heretics while praising God for a whole host of evil things that happen in the world from earthquakes and tornadoes to the marginalization, oppression, and destruction of people made in the image of God.

John, I don’t know how to say it any other way – you’ve got a bad habit of making disciples that aren’t very christlike in their love, mercy, compassion, and grace towards others.

Now, I know if you were still around to respond, you would probably tell me like you did so many of your opponents, that I’m a “virulent dog” (3.23.2) or maybe a satellite of Satan (3.17.1) because in my “rebellious spirit” (3.21.4) I have the audacity to question your understanding of God, God’s sovereignty, and election which I should never do (3.21.1-2) because by doing so I ”assail the justice of God.” (3.21.7)

Maybe you’re right.

Maybe I am an agent of Satan lost in my own heresy and sin and I just don’t realize it.

But John, I don’t think I am. Like the millions of Christians that came before you and billions that have come after, I believe in a God who confronts sin with grace, defeats evil with love, and offers redemption to all.

Which is why, John, it’s not going to work out between the two of us.

Maybe when I see you in heaven and we both see things a bit clearer, we can try this relationship thing again.

But for now, I think you would agree, we need to go our separate ways.

It’s what’s best for the both of us.

Grace and Peace,

Zack Hunt

The Evangelical in a Vacuum

Dog whistling and the Prosperity Gospel


Shot For Asking A Question: What We Can Learn From The Jars of Clay Fallout

by: Benjamin L. Corey
Dan Haseltine, lead singer of Jars of Clay, is learning the hard way that questions are frowned upon in these parts.
After a show in Australia he was invited to sit on a panel discussion where some of the co-panelists were lobbyists fighting against the legalization of same sex marriage. After the discussion, Haseltine realized he actually hadn’t given the entire subject enough thought, and wanted to process some questions to formulate a more thoughtful position. As he describes on his blog:
“I was immediately aware that I had not given much attention to the dialogue about gay rights. I knew it was a focal topic for many people in the church, and that it was a major issue in the growing partisanship of American politics, I just had not had the opportunity to think about it much.”

So, he did what someone should do when wrestling with an issue– he wanted to process the arguments. Unfortunately, he’s a public figure and decided to process the issue on twitter, which now has him feeling the Evangelical backlash.
Perhaps what most set people off was his twitter admission that he realized he was finding the argument against the legalization of civil gay marriage to be less than compelling, and asked if anyone had other reason to convince him:
“I’m trying to make sense of the conservative argument. But it doesn’t hold up to basic scrutiny. Feels akin to women’s suffrage. Is the argument born of isolated application of scripture or is it combined with the knowledge born of friendship with someone who is gay? I just don’t see a negative effect to allowing gay marriage. No societal breakdown, no war on traditional marriage. ?? Anyone?”

Let us just say, the tribe isn’t too happy about his questions. The response on their Facebook page was vile; fans saying they’re done, nearly every thread has been hijacked regardless of the actual original post, and there were even comments taunting same sex marriage supporters to commit suicide. One of the most disturbing aspects of the story is how the Conservative Christian Internet quickly began twisting his words into their headlines, especially the consistently dishonest folks over at Christian News Network. Headlines across the internet continue to read that Haseltine has “come out” as a gay marriage supporter, which continued to fuel the fire since that’s not what happened.
And of course, we have Michael Brown over at Charisma News who is quickly becoming the angry father figure on the American Christian landscape. I suppose no news would be complete without Michael’s predictable response.
All this, because he simply asked questions about the legality of civil, same sex marriage.

The Evangelical response to him simply asking questions on civil same sex marriage is quite telling, when we step back and look at the big picture from a cultural point of view. To get a 50,000 feet view of where various Christians land on the issue, consider the following graph which describes the six categories I see people landing in (there may be more, but this is just my view of things):

In understanding the issue and the significance of the Jars of Clay backlash, its important to understand how these categories work and some of the main concepts involved. Primarily, we must be able to distinguish civil from religious marriage. Marriages in our culture are only legal when recognized by the civil government. Everyone, regardless of faith tradition or none at all, gets a marriage license from the local government. When that licensed is signed and filed, the marriage becomes a legal marriage in the eyes of the state. To solemnize the marriage, one can choose to have the marriage blessed by their faith community (“religious” marriage) or they can have the marriage officiated by an officer of the state, such as a Justice of the Peace (civil marriage).
Historically, the most in-fighting that takes place is between category 1 and 2, as they are the most diametrically opposed. Category 2 would be the default conservative Christian stance, while category 1 would include some mainline traditions and those in progressivism proper (born out of mainline). There are also a number of progressive Evangelicals/Emergence landing in category 1, but not all of them by any means, so it’s important to not make any assumptions.
Typically, there is a strong response when someone shifts from category 2 to 1 (non-affirming to affirming)– which is understandable, that’s a massive shift. Where a growing number of Evangelicals are trying to find a peaceful solution in the current culture is by shifting not from 2 to 1, but from 2 to 3 or 4. These are Evangelicals who either have shifting theology (Category 4) or shifting social views (Category 3). Those in category 3 have realized that there are real societal benefits tied to legal (civil) marriage and that every member of society should have access to those benefits. As a result, they become a supporter of marriage equality even though their theology has not changed (they support the legality of SSM, but aren’t advocating for their faith tradition to endorse it from a religious aspect). Essentially, those in category 3 simply separate church and state in their own mind and feel very little rub in doing so- it gives people equal rights in society while maintaining religious freedom. Category 4 may share these same sentiments, but also has the component of shifting theology on the issue, so they arrive at a similar place, simply by slightly different means.
Here is where the Jars of Clay incident shows us something interesting from a cultural standpoint: we see that Evangelicals won’t even tolerate their own people separating church and state by moving into category 3, or even consider moving to category 3, since that’s all Haseltine did. He did not question theology, he did not say his faith tradition should begin solemnizing same sex marriages– he simply questioned if legal (civil) same sex marriage was the right and proper thing for a secular society to do. Classic separation of church and state.

However, he’s being treated like he moved all the way into category 1, which isn’t what happened. He reported via twitter that some radio stations are now pulling Jars of Clay from the radio– which wouldn’t shock me if he moved to category 1, but category 3? I think this is a new line being drawn in the sand for today’s Evangelical: you cannot separate church and state on this issue and still be in the tribe.

In the World Vision nonsense, we learned that Categories 4&5 were off limits, but now we see that even thinking of moving to #3 gets you booted from the tribe as well.
Clearly, Dan is learning that questions are frowned upon.
What can we learn from this? I think it’s clear: unwavering opposition to both civil and religious same sex marriage is now a hallmark of being Evangelical. No reasonable, middle ground (separation of church and state in the matter) will be allowed– and they are willing to fight a civil war to make this issue the foundation of American Evangelicalism.
Ugh. Aint nobody got time for that.

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