Richard Rohr on the Common Depiction of God


My gears have been grinding over this passage for a couple of months now. From The Naked Now: Learning to See As the Mystics See (Kindle ed; chap 10, section “The Two Heels of a Christian Achilles”):

This all-or-nothing thinking is a cancer at the heart of our preached message, and it takes two major forms: 

1. The individual Christian is told to love unconditionally, but the God who commands this is depicted as having a very conditional and quite exclusive love himself or herself! The believer is told to love his enemies, but “God” clearly does not; in fact, God punishes them for all eternity. This stifles and paralyzes many believers at the conscious or unconscious level, and it should. Such a message will not save the world and surely will not produce many great or loving people. The many loving Christians I have met in my life usually have had at least one unconditionally loving parent or friend along the way, and God was then able to second the motion. There are remarkable exceptions to this, however. I have met a few humanly unloved people whose need for divine love was so great that they surrendered to it utterly. The Gospel worked for them. 

2. Under the message that most of us have heard, we end up being more loving than God, and then not taking God very seriously. Even my less-than-saintly friends, the ordinary Joes on the block, would usually give a guy a break, overlook some mistakes, and even on their worst days would not imagine torturing people who do not like them, worship them, or believe in them. “God” ends up looking rather petty, needy, narcissistic, and easily offended. God’s offended justice is clearly much stronger than God’s mercy, it seems. Why would anyone trust or love such a God, or want to be alone with Him or Her? Much less spend eternity with such a Being? I wouldn’t. We must come to recognize that this perspective, conscious or unconscious, is at the basis of much agnosticism and atheism in the West today.

Parables (Science & Religion 2)


How the Bible Does (and Doesn’t) Work I

Imagine that you live in a place where people think the world is flat.  Part of their evidence for believing this is that the Bible says that the world is flat.

Well, actually, that’s NOT what the Bible says.  In a few places, it refers to “the four corners” of the earth: Ezekiel 7.2, Revelation 7.1 and 20.8.

I’ve never actually met any Christian who wants to argue that the earth is flat, but if one exists, I imagine that these passages are part of his argument.  “The Bible says the world has four corners.  It can’t be a globe, because globes don’t have four corners.  Gotta be flat.”

So: you’re part of the “the Bible says that the earth is flat” club, and you win a ticket to ride on the space shuttle.  What’s going to happen when you see with your own eyes that the earth isn’t flat?

You can react in several different ways.

  1. The Bible is obviously wrong.  I can see with my own eyes that the earth isn’t flat.
  2. My eyes are obviously wrong.  My own eyes seem to be telling me that the earth isn’t flat, but the Bible says that it is, so my eyes must be wrong.
  3. My understanding of what the Bible was saying on the topic must adjust.  Maybe the passages that I thought were teaching that the earth was flat aren’t teaching that at all.  (As Inigo Montoya says: “I do not think it means what you think it means.”)

Obviously, I think that the third option–circular as it is–is the best.

The application to the Genesis debate is clear.  Many loud voices in our culture say that there’s only ONE WAY TO READ Genesis 1, and if you read it in any other way you are not respecting the authority & supernatural nature of the Bible.

My response: I do not think it means what you think it means.

My position: the Bible and science don’t contradict, except insofar as the Bible is from prescientific cultures.  (That’s a faith statement.  I can’t prove it.)

An example of the prescientific-ness of the Bible is the “firmament” in Genesis 1, the barrier that separated the waters above the earth from the waters on the earth.

When Genesis 1 talks about God placing a barrier there, it’s using a primitive, pre-scientific description of the precipitation cycle, the fact that there are waters above and waters below.  It’s not making a scientific statement; quit looking for some canopy that covered the earth until the flood, that’s not the point.


Parables (Science & Religion 1)


I’ve been thinking a lot about the intersection of science (particularly evolution and the Big Bang) and Genesis 1.  I’ve taught Old Testament Survey several times lately, and that (among other things) keeps the topic in mind.

I’ve been trying to think of parables (explanatory stories) that I could use to illustrate good and bad approaches to the topic.  Here’s what I have so far; can you add to my list?

How Science Works I

Imagine with me that you’re sitting in your living room, watching TV.  A baseball crashes through the window on the north side of your house.  What story do you compose in your mind to explain what has happened?

Well, if you live in a neighborhood where the kids play catch in their yards, you probably assemble a story based on things you’ve seen (kids playing ball) and things you know about people (Billy, the neighbor boy to the north, is always running into things and breaking things.)

You take something you observe (a baseball breaking glass on the north side of your house and landing on your living room floor) and combine it with previous knowledge (a neighborhood full of kids, Billy’s predilections, the fact that his house is on the north side of your house) to explain what happened.


  1. Scientists observe stuff.
  2. Then they mix what they observe with previous knowledge (knowledge from previous observations) to form hypotheses about what happened.

Then (3) they test their hypotheses.  For example: what happens if you go next door and find out that Billy has been away at a relative’s house all week, and was not in the same zip code with you when the ball crashed through your window?  You adjust your explanation / hypothesis.

How does this apply to the discussion of Genesis 1 and the Big Bang?  

When scientists say that the universe is 13.77 billion years old, they are (for the most part) not trying to attack Genesis 1.  They’re stating the results of a whole bunch of complex observations, and a whole bunch of extremely complicated math.

They’ve observed the presence and prevalence of different elements in the galaxy; the distance from earth of the cosmic background radiation that appears to be the most distance phenomenon we can observe, etc.

And based on all those observations, and a whole lot more math than I want to think about, they say (in essence): “What I see makes sense IF the universe is 13.77 billion years old, and it began with the explosion of a singularity that initially contained all space-time, …”

Which is a lot like dusting the broken glass off the baseball, picking it up and taking it next door, and saying to Billy’s dad, “What I see makes sense if Billy is in town, and he and his friends were playing baseball in the side yard.”

The Party of Reagan Is Dead …


… long live the principles of Reagan.

Witness the greatness of @jimgeraghty, in today’s Morning Jolt.

Considering the Circumstances, Why Shouldn’t We See a Revolt at the Convention? 

Why is anyone surprised that talk of a delegate revolt at the convention in Cleveland is picking up? Donald Trump isn’t doing the basic tasks a presidential candidate is supposed to do.

He isn’t hiring staff; he has about 30 paid staff around the country while Hillary Clinton has something in the neighborhood of 700.

He’s refusing to spend any money on ads:

The Clinton campaign and its allies are airing just over $23 million in television ads in eight potential battleground states: Nevada, Colorado, Iowa, Ohio, Florida, North Carolina, Virginia and New Hampshire, according to data released by NBC News.

The Trump campaign? Zero.

Either Trump is illiquid, or he doesn’t have the money.

He’s either refusing to fundraise, or seriously slacking in this key component of a presidential campaign:

While Trump had promised Priebus that he would call two dozen top GOP donors, when RNC chief of staff Katie Walsh recently presented Trump with a list of more than 20 donors, he called only three before stopping, according to two sources familiar with the situation. It’s unclear whether he resumed the donor calls later.

He’s destroyed existing relationships between the Republican party and corporate America that previously had been beyond the realm of policy differences:

Apple has told Republican leaders it will not provide funding or other support for the party’s 2016 presidential convention, as it’s done in the past, citing Donald Trump’s controversial comments about women, immigrants and minorities.

Unlike Facebook, Google and Microsoft, which have all said they will provide some support to the GOP event in Cleveland next month, Apple decided against donating technology or cash to the effort, according to two sources familiar with the iPhone maker’s plans.

He’s getting less popular and he’s only creating more headaches for everyone else in the party. He’s trailing in Kansastied in Utah, and Arizona looks shaky.

Republican primary voters selected a candidate with very little appeal to the broader electorate. So which is worse? Alienating the 13.8 million voters who selected him in the primary? Or alienating a majority of the 120 million to130 million who will vote in November? There’s no good option left; which one is less bad?

For those arguing the delegates have no business overruling primary voters . . . What are delegates for if not to avert a disaster like this? If they aren’t there to use their judgment and conscience, we might as well replace them with programmable robots.

Say this for a ticket out of any two other Republican lawmakers: that ticket will not destroy the party. It’s first act after a terror attack will not be to congratulate itself. It will not suddenly call the troops thieves. It will not call an Indiana-born judge “the Mexican.” An Anybody-Anybody ticket will stop creating problems for other Republicans and start solving them.

I’ve said all along that Trump was trolling the GOP and had no intention of being elected or serving as President.

Chalk all this up to confirmation bias if you wish, BUT: after Trump loses to Hillary in proportions McGovernesque / Mondaleseque, and goes laughing back to his casinos and cocktail parties and dalliances with his friends’ wives and daughters, remember: he’s laughing at you.

He’s laughing at the gullible GOP primary voters, the gullible Evangelicals who hated Obama and Clinton more than they cared about following Jesus, and the GOPe who thought they could use him for their purposes.

He’s laughing at everyone who took him seriously.

Play Manchurian candidate with me for a moment: if the Clintons ( or the Illuminati) had plotted to ruin the GOP by taking it over from the inside, would it have played out much differently from this?  (Chalk that one up to paranoia, I guess.)

Like the scorpion said to the fox: “You knew what I was before you let me climb on your back.”  Republicans: you knew what he was.

This is the death of the GOP as we know it.  Good riddance.  And the death of a whole bunch of GOP careers: even better riddance.

I pray a more principled, disciplined center of gravity for conservatism develops in the GOP’s wake.  The party of Reagan is dead; long live the principles of Reagan.

Dead & Company, Cincinnati, 2016-6-16


You want to see & hear what I partook in last night?  Here’s a link to the recap, setlist, and audience recording of the show.

My memories of the show:

  • Mayer was great.  His vocals were great.  He played “Jerry-style”–the pins-and-needles major key arpeggios and modal stuff, always bending up to the major instead of the minor (which is more SRV), but on the jams–especially Viola Lee Blues, where he played an old SG–he played more of the SRV-shaped stuff I’m used to hearing from him.
  • Weir is a hoss.  He’s sixty-eight years old, and he stood toe-to-toe with John Mayer for 3 hours 40 minutes.
  • Kreutzmann and Hart are amazing, too.  Drums > Space > Viola Lee redux was awesome, even though it felt like they kept trying to dovetail into a different song.
  • Maybe it was just the adrenalin of being at the show, but I remember EVERY song being tight and excellent.
  • The jams and dovetailing were not super-smooth or telepathic.  There were a half-dozen or so clunky moments where one song was finished and they wanted to go somewhere else, but didn’t quite know how to get there smoothly.
  • Two disappointments:
    • FIRST, they didn’t play any of the rare gems (although the triumphal Box of Rain was amazing.)  I didn’t expect Dark Star, but a St Stephen? Or Scarlet > Fire.  Or Playing in the Band. Or (dare I dream it?) a Terrapin Station.
    • SECOND, Oteil Burbridge is an incredible bass player, and he brought a lot of energy and personality even without taking the microphone.  But I’d really love to see Phil Lesh.
  • The highlight of the night, and one of the greatest musical experiences of my life, was Jack Straw.  The vocals (Weir and Mayer) were smooth and strong, and the jams at the end were simply furious.

It was the perfect evening with my beautiful daughter, and the best Father’s Day gift ever.

Oh, and I got a really cool t-shirt.  I haven’t worn tie-dye since the 7th grade.

On Monogamy and Sexuality


A question for “Ask Science Mike“:

I have a question about monogamy and sexuality.

There appear to be many reasons that monogamy is preferable to promiscuity. Families are more likely to be stable, which makes society more likely to be stable. Sexually transmitted diseases. Strengthening commitment between partners. Plus there’s that whole, “thou shalt not commit adultery” thing, which–even with the differences between ancient Israel and the modern West–still holds a great deal of authority and brings numerous benefits.

But monogamy does not appear to be natural. I’m an evangelical Christian, married, heterosexual, fifty-something-white-guy.  From experience and observation, it’s clear that most heterosexual males are naturally interested in more than one partner–biological imperative, whatever.

But for a variety of reasons, I and many people like me don’t seek out or cultivate opportunities to be with other partners. Christianity teaches me that my desire for other partners is from the ego / flesh, is sinful, etc. In addition to wanting stable families and stable societies, and to avoid sexually transmitted diseases, etc., I don’t want to betray God that way.

So: the best thing for me and men like me to do is to fight that part of our sexual nature, deny and discipline it.

How then is the opposite argument–“it’s their nature, you can’t fight against or judge acts (to say nothing of judging people) that are according to nature”–used to legitimize same sex attraction? I sense that in some ways, I’m comparing apples and oranges. Help me suss this out.

P in Dallas

Pete Enns on Hermeneutics & the Historical Adam Debate


A follow-up to the Rob Bell / hermeneutics discussion: Peter Enns clearly articulates a bunch of stuff that I’ve been mumbling about for years.

11 recurring mistakes in the debate over the “historical Adam” (reprise)

What We Talk About When We Talk About Rob Bell, pt 4


In Conclusion:

So what do I think?

I hope the preceding survey, brief as it is, demonstrates that Rob Bell’s approach to the Bible and to biblical authority is not a simple yes/no, does-he-or-doesn’t-he question.

The fact of the matter is: everything Bell does, theologically and hermeneutically, can be found elsewhere in the broad Judeo-Christian tradition.  In the same paragraph, he may meld materials from 19th century Catholic mystics, the nascent Orthodoxy of the 3rd century Desert Fathers and Mothers, rabbinic Judaism, etc.

His approach is eclectic, largely PRE-modern (or at least, the raw materials that he mines are largely premodern), even though he’s sometimes referred to as postmodern.

The thing about him that’s most postmodern is the mixing, the kitbashing (metaphorically, the mixing of pieces from disparate sources, ergo the mixing of techniques from different approaches), that’s postmodern.

The effect is anti-modern, which flies in the face of what passes for modern Evangelical hermeneutics.  In a postmodern world, Evangelicals are exemplars of modernity.  No one clings more stubbornly to the philosophies and theologies of 15th and 16th centuries than “modern” Evangelicals.

So again: what do I think?

We have to realize that the way we Evangelicals were taught to read the Bible is not the only way the Bible has ever been read.  We were taught to read individually (by ourselves, silently, in isolation, asking “what does it mean to me?” or “what is God saying to me?” first).  We were taught to read for historical meaning, authorial intent.  We were taught that the text’s plain meaning (usually = authorial intent) is discernible, and controls our understanding and application of the text.

Understand two things.  FIRST, there are a hundred different philosophical assumptions / conclusions in that single paragraph.  Does “plain meaning” really exist?  Is authorial intention discernible?  Does the priority of reading silently in isolation produce a different reading than reading, say, aloud in a community?  Is there a “historical meaning”?

SECOND, understand that the way we Evangelicals read the Bible is a relatively new way of ingesting the Bible.  Historically, most Christians and the faithful Jews before them did not read or digest the Bible the way we were taught to do.  Arguably, more Christians over the past 2,000 years have read the Bible the way Rob Bell does than have read the Bible the way the modern Evangelical does.

All of which is to say, the fact that Rob Bell is reading the Bible differently from how we were taught to read the Bible doesn’t mean he isn’t taking scripture seriously, or that he disrespects biblical authority.

We can say that his conclusions are wrong.  Or that the ways he’s reading the Bible are wrong.  Or that we hate how politically correct and trendy he is.  But we can’t say that he’s deserted the Bible, or disregards biblical authority.  The fact that he’s reading it differently doesn’t mean he’s denying or rejecting it.

So again: what do I think?

I like Rob Bell.  He’s not only very likable, and a gifted communicator, but I have found healing and direction from his teaching.  I listen judiciously, and occasionally cringe at some of the things he says.  But even then …

Most of the things he does that make me nuts are a reflection of how he understands his calling.  Bell believes he has been called to be a pastor to the pastorless, the spiritual but not religious, the de-churched.

You know about the de-churched?  There are unchurched people who don’t go to church.  But what I’m talking about are the de-churched, people who ran away [or were run off] from the church, screaming in agony, after terrible experiences with abusive church leadership, etc.

It makes me nuts, for example, when he goes out of his way NOT to use the word “God”, preferring to refer to “the Divine,” etc.  But he does this because he has a segment of people who listen to him that shut down when they hear the language of traditional religion, so (rightly or wrongly) he thinks using “the Divine” is more effective.

Same with “faith community” instead of “church.”

He avoids talking about God as “father” for similar reasons.

Bell is like a missionary to post-Christian America.  He’s preaching the gospel to people who would never listen to a more traditional, more recognizable, more Evangelical source. (People who would never listen to ME, for example.)

Don’t compare him to Matt Chandler or Rick Warren.  Compare him with Dr. Phil, or Oprah; they’re closer to what he’s trying to do, and make his Christ-centeredness much more clear.

He’s telling people who would never be caught inside a church about a God who loves them, who wants to be involved in their lives.

He talks about Jesus a LOT: not the caricature, judgmental Jesus who hates everyone who doesn’t vote Republican, but the Jesus who taught people how to treat each other and how to get back to God when they’ve wandered off the path.

He even talks about sin.  And repentance.  (That’s another great sermon, by the way.)  And he talks effectively.  And I pray that God is using him, and making him even more effective, because his listeners are people who aren’t listening to you or me.

May his tribe increase.

“Don’t Be a Donkey!” (a sermon on Psalm 32)


Let me tell you two stories.

Story #1: about eight years ago, I had an infection.  I had a low grade fever that wouldn’t go away.  Being a normal American male, I ignored it, figuring it would go away.

It didn’t go away.

So I took Tylenol and Alieve, and the fever would go down but it soon returned.  I went to the doctor, and she gave me antibiotics.  They knocked the fever down, but it (again) returned.

For about ten weeks, I had a fever that just completely never went away.

Finally, after just short of three months, my doctor sent me to a surgeon who removed some infected scar tissue from my leg.  See, the infection had found a home in that scar tissue on the back of my leg.  I could ignore it, I could even throw medicine at it, but it wouldn’t go away until someone dug it out and removed it.

Story #2: David was the king of the Jews, living in his palace in Jerusalem.  His reign had been one long string of successes.  He was like Midas: everything he touched turned to gold.  God had blessed him over and over and over.

2 Samuel 11 begins: “In the spring of the year, when the kings of the nations went to war…”, David had sent his army out but he himself remained behind.  One evening, out walking on the roof of his palace, he saw a beautiful woman bathing on a neighboring roof.

He was intrigued.

He asked about her and learned that she was the wife of his friend, Uriah.

He was STILL intrigued.  So he sent for her, and when she was brought to him, he had sex with her.  We call that rape, by the way, when a man has sex with a woman who has no power to consent or refuse.

And then he found out she was pregnant.  So he tried to get his friend, her husband Uriah, to be intimate with her so that everyone would think that the baby was Uriah’s.  But Uriah refused.  So David, the king that God had blessed over and over, sent Uriah back to the army, back to the front lines, carrying the orders from David that led to Uriah’s murder.

And David thought: “I’ve covered this up.  No one will ever know.”

And weeks and months passed, until Nathan the prophet came and told David a story; “You are the man.”  And David confessed.  And David repented.  And David wrote:

Blessed is the one
    whose transgressions are forgiven,
    whose sins are covered.
Blessed is the one
    whose sin the Lord does not count against them.

When we sin, we can respond to it in one of two ways.

FIRST, we can deny our sin.  We can avoid it or hide it.  What does David say in v. 3?  “When I kept silent …”  He denied his sin, and tried to cover it up.

It’s a very human impulse; we do something that we know is wrong, and we’re embarrassed.  We’re ashamed.  So we hide it, even if hiding it means lying or worse.

David says (vv 3-4):

“When I kept silent,
    my bones wasted away
    through my groaning all day long.
For day and night
    your hand was heavy on me;
my strength was sapped
    as in the heat of summer.”

What does David say happened to him as he hid his sin, focused on keeping it hidden?  His strength drained away, evaporated.  Ever been there?  You’ve done something and you’re hiding it?  Maybe from a parent, or a spouse, someone we don’t want to disappoint, and we know they’ll be disappointed …

What does having a shameful secret do to your relationship with your husband, or your wife?  Or when you were a child: what did having a secret sin do to your relationship with your parents, or others in authority over you?

We see it in Genesis 3; Adam and Eve eat of the fruit of the tree, and when God comes, they hide.  We’re just like that.

Sin breaks our relationships with God and with the people that we’ve sinned against.  It builds a barrier a mile high and a mile wide and a mile deep, and we can’t get through it or tunnel under it, or climb over it.  And we’re the ones who build it, brick-by-brick, walling ourselves off from the one who loves us the most, the one we most need, the only one who can heal us.

The other alternative: we can confess it, and deal with it by bringing it to God.  Fact is that we ARE sinners.  As we admit and accept that fact, climb out of denial, we can begin to heal.

We know we’re sinners.  God knows much more clearly, it’s not like we’re going to shock him.  He not only knows what we did, he also knows the darkness in our hearts that leads to our sins.

Guilt and shame are reflexes that God wired into us to protect us.  When we sin, we feel guilt and shame, and it’s just like feeling pain when you touch something hot.  God designed your system so that you would pull back from something because it’s dangerous.

With physical pain, the reflex is to withdraw, pull back to safety.

With guilt and shame, the reflex is to run to God, turn to him for healing and cleansing.

David says that he confessed his sins to the Lord.  “Confess” means “to agree with someone.”  When we confess our sins to God, we’re agreeing with him about the nature of what we’ve done.  We’re agreeing with him about our motivations, not fooling ourselves or excusing.

Ever gotten a non-apology?  “I’m sorry if you thought I was being disrespectful.”  That’s not confession, confession agrees with God’s perspective on our sin, no rationalizations or excuses, no blaming others, no equivocations.

Notice the benefits that David said he received when he confessed his sin to God:

  • Forgiveness (5): “… you forgave the guilt of my sin.”  God removed the penalty, broke down the barrier.  How does it feel when you’ve been estranged from someone you love, and then they forgive you and receive you with open arms?  That’s the picture.
  • Protection (7):You are my hiding place; you will protect me from trouble and surround me with songs of deliverance.”  In an uncertain, troubled world, God can be your refuge and protector, IF you turn to him.  But you can’t turn to him if you’re hiding some shameful sin.
  • Direction (8-9): “I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go.”  Vv 8-9 is a different voice than the rest of the psalm; everything else is David, but vv 8-9 is God speaking, promising that if you will give up your pride, he will guide and direct you.

Have you ever been lost, taken the wrong turn?  God’s promise is that he will give you direction, as you turn to him and depend on him.

  • Unfailing love (10): “… the Lord’s unfailing love surrounds the one who trusts in him.”  God’s covenant love refuses to let go.  Fierce, tough, tender; the love of a mother bear for her cubs, “the reckless, raging fury that they call the love of God.”

Four takeaways:

FIRST, you ARE going to fail.  The measure of your faith, your ministry, your service to God is not whether or not you fail but how you respond.  Will your failure shatter you?  Keep you running for the next forty years, never to settle and deal and grow?  Or will you be crushed and rebuilt by his grace?  You WILL fail.  Own it.

SECOND: God does his most powerful work in our lives through failures IF we respond to them with humility, repentance, and faith.  When you fail, look at your life and think, what can God build out of even this?

THIRD, the source of your power is God’s presence.  God’s grace gives you entry into that presence; you NEVER earn it, and you never deserve to be there.  Unresolved guilt and shame short-circuit our ability to access God’s grace.

If your prayers are powerless, if your relationship with God is stale and dead; If you have no patience with people, if you’re not able to forgive, …

… could it be because you have unresolved sin standing between you and God?

FOURTH, your secrets–even the shameful ones–lose their power when you drag them into the light.

For many years, the old Municipal Stadium in Cleveland OH was known as “the mistake by the lake.”

They built the stadium over a garbage dump, or used garbage from a dump to fill the land–I’ve heard the story both ways.  And when NFL players hated playing on that field, because when they played there, the garbage–glass, masonry, metal–that was buried under the field, under the dirt, would work its way to the surface and cut and scrape the players.

That’s what sin and guilt are like: buried garbage that refuses to stay buried, keeps working its way to the surface.  Like an infection that you’re trying to ignore, but the symptoms keep getting in the way, making you miserable.

God wants your life to be shalom, to be better than it is.  Jesus said, “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.”  Sin in your life–and we ALL sin–will build an impenetrable barrier between you and God, between you and his grace, IF YOU LET IT.  But God will smash that barrier if you let him.

Don’t let guilt drive you away from God.  Turn, confess, repent, receive, and be healed.