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Jesus was a Liberal! (written by a Conservative)

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In conservative Christians circles, a clear shot across the bow is calling someone LIBERAL. It’s a warning, like a mother giving her rambunctious child the stink eye. Watch out, or real consequences will follow!

We hear it all the time in Facebook comments on our Jackass Theology posts; as a preacher I sense it bubbling behind peoples’ questions to sermon content. It seems that to the Evangelical, the greatest fear is fear of being duped by, slipping into, or having compassion for THE LIBERAL AGENDA.

Liberals just make crap up

When someone is deemed liberal, their opinion no longer matters to conservatives, because in the mind of Evangelicals, liberals have abandoned the Bible, tradition, and orthodoxy, and now just make new crap up. So instead of patiently dialoguing, we put you in your place like a good ole’ fashioned Amish shunning, trading in scarlet “A’s” for its 21st century Conservative Evangelical equivalent, BLUE “L’s”.

When someone is deemed liberal, their opinion no longer matters to conservatives, because in the mind of Evangelicals, liberals have abandoned the Bible, tradition, and orthodoxy, and now just make new crap up.

In our experience with Jackass Theology, you are most likely to encounter this type of branding on social issues, where politics and faith collide. These hotbed topics center around class tensions, racial tensions, illegal immigration, the role of women in ministry, faith and sexuality, and the tell-tale sign that you have a serious case of the liberals: adding highfalutin words like “PRIVILEGE” to your vocab.

So I ask the question: Was Jesus a Liberal?

Was Jesus Liberal?

Of course, it depends on how you define it.

So, let’s do that. In the dictionary, liberal has a variety of meanings. So let’s walk through each of them and test if Jesus was a LIBERAL.

In his methods of Education?

Lib•er•al | adj. | 1. Concerned mainly with broadening a person’s general knowledge and experience, rather than with technical or professional training.

Most people hip slinging liberal jabs aren’t referring to Jesus’ pedagogy. But if they were, would he fit the bill?

Jesus was all about broadening experience for his disciples. As he journeyed with them through the countryside, he demonstrated compassion to outsiders. Under Jesus’ tutelage, his disciples were forced to engage the world differently, people differently, and God differently. He didn’t train them technically. He exposed them to a whole way of being and living. He asked them rhetorical questions, demonstrated love, miracles, service, compassion, he challenged their fears, and let them try a few things for themselves.

Jesus embodied a liberal arts approach to education.

In His interpretation of scripture?

Lib•er•al | adj. | 2. (esp. of an interpretation of a law) Broadly construed or understood; not strictly literal or exact

This one is tricky territory, but it is important. Conservatives link themselves arm in arm to a literal “plain-sense” interpretation of Scripture. Did Jesus use the same interpretive lens (hermeneutic)?

Jesus certainly affirms the Old Testament and its teachings. Jesus had a high view of Scripture, and he didn’t twist it to mean anything that suited his purpose, but he didn’t always stick to a literal interpretation either.

Many passages in the Sermon on the Mount are good examples. For example, “you have heard it said an eye for an eye, but I say to you…turn the other cheek” (Matt. 5:38-42). The Old Testament doesn’t say that, but Jesus does. Jesus is implying that turning the other cheek was always the heart of God, even if the law permitted otherwise. That’s a generous understanding of a fairly clear Old Testament passage. But that is what Jesus did, that is why people recognized his teaching as having authority.

Before you freak out and maliciously infect our website with a fatal virus, please understand that I’m not suggesting that we humans should take a free and liberal interpretive approach to all of scripture. There is a difference between some dude on the street, and the Son of God. For our purposes here. I’m simply saying, Jesus does not always hold to a purely literal understanding of Scripture.

But Jesus’ liberal interpretations didn’t ever loosen our moral responsibility to love one another or him. His liberal interpretation often led to an even more stringent view of sin (more on this in the next post) and a much higher demand of love.

In his values?

Lib•er•al | adj. | 3. Open to new behavior or opinions and willing to discard traditional values.

So was Jesus willing to discard traditional values?

Regarding religious structures, Jesus was incredibly liberal. Jesus actively threatened and dismantled the existing religious structure and hierarchy. He talked about the destruction of the temple. Upon his death, the curtain within the Holy of Holies was torn in two. His harshest critiques were at the religiously minded; his life and ministry turned the Jewish religious landscape upside down. In this way, he was the most progressive of progressives regarding religion and its structures.

Regarding social norms, Jesus ate with sinners. He touched lepers. He sat with promiscuous women. He had a reputation as a drunkard because of who he hung around. In the way that Jesus engaged humans he was incredibly liberal, edgy, progressive, and revolutionary.

Regarding moral behavior, Jesus in some senses heightened and in some senses lowered expectations. Jesus said his yoke is not like the yoke of the Pharisees, his yoke is easy and his burden light. But at the same time, he heightened the expectation of commitment. He didn’t expect people to live some exteriorly perfect life, but simultaneously he did not allow anyone to follow him who wasn’t fully committed. Without parsing all this out, let’s just agree that even in morality Jesus did not hold traditional views. He challenged EVERYTHING. In that way I’ve got to say he fits the liberal bill again.

In His Politics?

Lib•er•al | noun | 4. A supporter or member of a liberal party.

Jesus famously called his followers to “render to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s.” It’s basically a big shrug regarding political movements. Ruling authorities exist, but they are not the important thing in Jesus’ mind.

So is Jesus politically liberal? In the sense of joining a political party, nah. I don’t think so. Mostly because I just don’t see him putting much emphasis on the kingdoms of this world.

In His giving?

Lib•er•al | noun | 5. giving generously, (as in liberal amounts of wine being consumed)

Since liberal can be synonymous with generous, this fits Jesus perfectly. When it comes to giving, nobody out gives Jesus. He was liberal in his love. He was liberal with his life. He called his disciples to live outrageously liberal lives. He challenged a rich young ruler to sell all and give it to the poor. Jesus is generosity. 100%.

Since liberal can be synonymous with generous, this fits Jesus perfectly. When it comes to giving, nobody out gives Jesus. He was liberal in his love. He was liberal with his life. He called his disciples to live outrageously liberal lives.

What Should I Do About this?

For starters, the next time someone accuses me of being liberal, I will take it as a compliment and know my many hours at the feet of Jesus are paying off, because I’m becoming more and more like him.

If you are highly offended at this statement or this post, just wait till next week when I’ll post: “Was Jesus a Conservative?” You just might find that Jesus had the capacity for a little of BOTH.

Resources:
If you want to watch a hilarious video. Watch “GOP JESUS.” If you are a Republican you need to have a sense of humor, or you will miss the point.

Dan White Jr. has a great book, called LOVE OVER FEAR, in which he gives a great break down of the polarizations we experienced in our world and in the church. It gives some hope that Liberals and Conservatives can coexist.

Stop Equating Peacemaking with Compromising

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Somewhere along the line, we as Christians collectively decided that peace is no longer worth fighting for. In fact, we’ve decided that it’s dangerous because it can only be achieved by betraying the truth. You may think I’m being overdramatic in saying this, but I don’t believe I’m exaggerating at all. I had this realization when I posted Matthew 5:9 on Twitter: “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.” In response, our Twitter friend @Phoenixfoxy said, “I fear that instead of valuing peacemaking, our rightfighterness makes us see the peacemakers among us as compromisers, and thus dangerous.”

I love the term “rightfighterness.” We’re so busy being watchdogs and finding reasons to disagree with and oppose each other that we spend our energy fighting for what’s right. And I’m not just talking about doctrine (though that’s a huge piece of the pie). I’m also talking about public policy, democrats vs. republicans (and vice versa), anything-on-Fox-News-is-right-and-everything-on-CNN-is-from-Satan (and vice versa), complementarian vs. egalitarian, etc.

When this rightfighterness becomes our focus—and it has—then the people who step in to try to bridge divides and moderate between warring groups get labelled as compromisers and are viewed as dangerous. Peace is for pansies, nuanced positions are for politicians, and a willingness to maintain relationships with people who disagree on significant issues is for the spineless.

Unless that’s exactly wrong. Unless Jesus taught us and showed us how to make peace. Unless being willing to be wronged is noble (1 Cor. 6:7). Unless loving and forgiving even those who try to make themselves our enemies is what it means to follow Jesus (Matt. 5:43–48). Unless peace and love are actually FRUITS that demonstrate that THE SPIRIT OF GOD is living and working within us (Gal. 5:22–23).

If we’re calling ourselves followers of Jesus, we don’t get to decide that his ways are misguided or dangerous. The rest of the world will do what it thinks it needs to do to accomplish what it wants to accomplish. But if we’re following Jesus, who allowed himself to be spit upon, beaten, and killed out of love for those who tried to make themselves his enemies, we can’t simply decide that peacemaking is dangerous. Do we have to throw away truth if we’re going to allow for disagreements? Honestly, why would we think that? That’s not rational. Jesus IS truth, yet he spent time with, lovingly interacted with, and even sacrificed his life for people who were totally ignorant of the truth and even actively opposing it (yes, I’m talking about you and I (see Rom. 5:8) among many other shady characters in his day).

“If we’re calling ourselves followers of Jesus, we don’t get to decide that his ways are misguided or dangerous.”

Sure, Jesus said he came to bring a sword rather than peace. I’m bringing this up now because I’ve heard this response often as we’ve called for people to love each other. But let me just ask you, when Jesus said this, do you honestly believe he meant: “Just to be clear, I don’t want you going around loving the people who disagree with you like some kind of pansy! The mere thought of it disgusts me! What I really want you to do is make sure you’re angry and disagreeable and whenever someone offers a different view, I want to make sure you put them in their place.”

Ridiculous as that sounds, I honestly think that if this verse were in the Bible, it would better account for what I see in many of the corners of Twitter and Facebook I’ve been in. Maybe I just need to find some new corners? Perhaps. But I’m nervous that this is indicative of Christianity in the West right now. Here’s what Jesus actually said in that passage:

“Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. And a person’s enemies will be those of his own household. Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.”

– MATTHEW 10:34–39

Those are strong words! He’s going to rip families apart! But what are the dynamics he’s describing? Look carefully. Jesus is NOT saying, “By getting my followers to turn against their families and fight against them on matters of doctrine, I will destroy families—and have fun doing it!” Look at it; he’s not saying that. Look at the second half, Jesus is saying that HE has to be our first love. The call is not to treat others poorly, it’s to love him fully. If we’re not willing to lay down our lives, we’re not really following him. If we choose anyone over Jesus, we’re not really following. It’s not us ostracizing our families, it’s the potential for our families to ostracize us.

“Who are the wolves Jesus warned would try to devour the sheep? The peacemakers who are trying to draw us closer to the heart of Jesus, or the doctrine police who are bent on driving wedges through the flock?”

I hear Christians citing this verse to justify the harsh things they say to other Christians. But Jesus is saying, “Follow me, be like me, and if others disown you for being like me, you have to be willing to let them go.” If someone gets mad at you for being a jackass, that’s on you. If someone walks away from you because you’re too compassionate, loving, forgiving, self-sacrificing, or too much like Jesus in any other way, then that’s a price Jesus asks you to pay.

Meanwhile Jesus always has and always will embody grace and truth. He absorbs animosity and disagreement. He leaves the 99 orthodox sheep to lovingly re-gather the one wayward sheep back into the fold. Yes, he fights off the wolves that seek to devour the sheep, but let me ask you this: who is trying to devour the sheep? The peacemakers who are trying to draw us closer to the heart of Jesus, or the doctrine police who are finding every opportunity to drive a wedge through the flock?

Don’t Exaggerate for Your Good Cause

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After picking up my daughters from school a few weeks ago, my wife, Laura, found a flyer on her windshield criticizing public schools. In California, a newly approved social studies curriculum has been a huge source of outrage. I almost wrote “debate,” but I haven’t seen that. All I have seen is people yelling at or about each other. The flyer warned about what our kids were going to be exposed to in public school.

Our kids found the flyer first. They’re in first grade and third grade. So ironically, the flyer that was trying to warn us about what our kids were going to be exposed to is the thing that exposed our kids to something they hadn’t seen before.

We decided that this would be a good time to have a deeper discussion on sex and gender than we had previously done. Honestly, it was a wonderful discussion, focused on love and grace and how to dignify and care for people with whom we disagree. I’m sincerely glad we got to talk about it, and we realized this was the perfect age to begin this discussion. We have lots more discussing to do.

“Whether I’m taking my kids to public school or to my own church, I know they’ll be exposed to ideas and people with whom they will disagree.”

We have never imagined that in sending our kids to public school we would agree with everything our kids were being taught. Actually, I don’t bring my kids to our church assuming I’ll agree with everything they’re being taught. This world is not homogenous, and if I know anything about the Christian landscape, it’s that we’re not all the same. So whether I’m taking my kids to a government institution or to my own church, I know they’ll be exposed to ideas and people with whom they will disagree. I actually think that’s a valuable part of education and continued personal growth.

Grace is the key. We have to learn to dignify and love the people with whom we disagree. When we decide we can’t learn from or with people who differ from us, we’re adopting a cocoon mentality. I’m not taking some moral high ground here. I still want my kids to choose good friends and I have no intention of enrolling them in a satanist school. We all have to make the best decisions we can for our kids. I do my best to care for my kids and follow my convictions. I also think it’s important to make that assumption about the people who wrote that flyer and about the people who passed the new social studies curriculum.

If being part of your camp requires you to assume the worst of everyone who is on the other side, then your camp is inherently problematic and dehumanizing. If you’re unable to state the opposing view in a way that its adherents would agree to, then you’re not engaging in dialogue. You’re attacking a fake opponent and you’re harming everyone, including yourself.

(To be clear, I’m not saying that everyone who is concerned about California’s curriculum is fighting against a straw man, but I have seen some blatantly false information flying around. As an example, I’ve seen people attacking components of sex ed curriculum—”can you believe they’re going to teach this to kindergartners?!”—but the components they’re addressing are designed to be taught to older kids, and the California curriculum in question is not sex ed, it’s social studies. I’ve also seen our specific school district send out communications dispelling some of the myths directly, but it seems those communications are being ignored in favor of more fearful assumptions. I’m not saying everyone has perfect intentions or a wise approach, but I am saying we shouldn’t assume the worst of everyone.)

“If being part of your camp requires you to assume the worst of everyone who is on the other side, then your camp is inherently problematic and dehumanizing.”

Truly, I’m not trying to defend anything in particular, I’m just asking all of us to engage in sound logical discussion and to spend some time listening and researching before we settle our opinions. And most of all, I’m asking that we frame everything in love. I understand that many parents don’t want their kids exposed to concepts they disagree with. Do what you need to do to educate your kids—I’m not here to judge. But we need to reach a point where we love the people behind what we perceive as an “agenda.” I’ve heard a lot of fearful statements saying that California is trying to make all of our kids gay. I’ve also talked to a lot of teachers who say they’re just trying to make sure no LGTBQ kids—or any kids—are bullied or made to feel like freaks. Tragically, we don’t have a good track record in this regard. Compassion is a noble goal. Acknowledging someone else’s humanity is vital. Not every idea is equally valid, but we’re not helping our cause—regardless of how good it is—if we have to distort the facts in order to more fully demonize our opponents.

“Not every idea is equally valid, but we’re not helping our cause—regardless of how good it is—if we have to distort the facts in order to more fully demonize our opponents.”

This is just my personal opinion, but I don’t have a ton of faith in lobbyists and politicians and school board execs who don’t have actual education experience (I know some do). But I do have a lot of faith in every teacher my girls have ever had. These have all been wonderful people who love my girls and genuinely invest in their education and growth. They’re not twisting villainous mustaches trying to make my daughters into Hitler, they’re just trying to help them on their journey. I’m so thankful for these wonderful human beings who refuse to let crap salaries deter them from pouring themselves fully into our children and therefore our future.

Don’t agree with me. Debate, discuss, but don’t demonize. As some of us choose to engage in public education and as some of us choose to opt out, my prayer is that all of our interactions will be characterized by dignity and love, and that every human being will be treated as what they are: beautiful people carefully crafted by God in his own image. That’s no small thing. And it matters more than any of our ideas.

3 Justifications for Hate

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A couple weeks ago, a Gary Oldman (actor) meme hit reddit.

What was interesting was how quickly it moved up reddit, and how many people felt the need to make exceptions for their right to hate certain types of people.

Below are three of the common reasons people gave as justification to hate others and a few “Jesusy” things to consider.

1) I can hate you because you harm others

I hate murders. I hate child molestors. I hate biggots. I hate racists. I hate Nazis. These were common sentiments across the thousands of reddit comments.

Does God hate morally evil people? Take a look at Proverbs 6:16-19.

There are six things that the LORD hates, seven that are an abomination to him:
haughty eyes, a lying tongue,
and hands that shed innocent blood,
a heart that devises wicked plans,
feet that make haste to run to evil,
a false witness who breathes out lies,
and one who sows discord among brothers

“Just because I disagree with you, that does not mean I hate you.” – Gary Oldman

Notice in this proverb that there are seven things that the Lord hates. Pride, lying, innocent bloodshed, wicked hearts, pursing evil, false witness, sowing discord among brothers.

When people express their right to hate, usually they are pointing to things on this list, or a list that is rooted in similar ideas. I hate murderers (innocent bloodshed). I hate sexual abuse (wicked heart and plans). I hate racists (discord among brothers). The interesting thing is that God HATES these THINGS too!

So we might do well to have a little more hatred of these THINGS in our lives. But notice the emphasis. God hates these THINGS! Hating these THINGS is radically different than despising the humans that do them. In our culture, we are horrible at separating the person from their actions, except of course, when we are looking at our own failures.

Sure, let’s hate the hate. Hate the murder. Hate the sexual abuse. Hate the misogyny. You need not be mild mannered about these despicable acts. Jesus was righteously indignant a few times. Flipping over temple tables comes to mind.

But I’m not sure that hating HUMAN BEINGS for any reason is profitable, healthy, or necessary. Especially not if you have a sober view or yourself and a God-sized view of love.

2) I hate you because you hated me first

One “closeted gay man” wrote:

“I can’t peacefully coexist with people that don’t agree with my existence. I am a closeted gay person. People have made homophobic jokes, complained about the gay agenda, to my face. People have advocated for eugenics to me.”

Another man wrote, “I hate racists, when they target my family and say that my children should die in a gas chamber.”

These are painful to read. Never would I ever want anyone to be the recipients of such hate. I empathize. People are awful, and when their words cut to the core of a person’s value and identity it feels like the only appropriate response is to hate those who have hated you.

Yet, The “I hate you because you hated me first” argument isn’t going to bring change. It will never bring healing to the crazy cycles we get stuck in. 99% of my kids’ disputes begin with, “I hit him because he hit me first.” While all this behavior is normal and understandable, Jesus had another way.

“99% of my kids’ disputes begin with, ‘I hit him because he hit me first.’ While all this behavior is normal and understandable, Jesus had another way.”

“If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you.” – John 15:18-19

Jesus warned his followers of the hatred that was coming their way. But if Jesus proved anything it was that God’s love is vast enough to absorb the hatred thrown his way. And if the cross doesn’t do it for you, remember Jesus also famously counseled his followers to “turn the other cheek.”

In the book The Hate U Give, Angie Thomas unpacks the many layers of hatred that provoke violence and racism in America. Whether you love the book or hate it (ironic), the book is a thesis on hatred. The hate given to the black community, the hate directed at law enforcement, the hate involved in black on black crime—all of it simply produces ripples of chaos and violence. The only way to stop the ripples is to cease the ripples of hate. If that is going to happen, someone must be first. Someone must—in the name of love—absorb it rather than retaliating.

Are you willing to do that?

“Hate can’t drive out hate, only love can do that” – MLK

3) I hate you because I hate everyone (and I also happen to disagree)

One reddit reader wrote,
“I don’t hate people because I disagree with them, I hate everyone and just happen to disagree with some of them…”

While this comment was meant to be funny. I think it might be the most honest of the bunch. Not because I think most people hate everyone, but because in most cases hate actually precedes disagreement.

First we feel hatred, then we justify its existence.

Our hatred often has more to do with our own emotional and spiritual garbage than it does with the person that we actually hate. People make us feel insecure. Having villains makes us feel superior. So we come up with reasons why others are beneath us.

A secure person has plenty of grace to give, plenty of room to admit their own faults, and plenty of compassion to extend for the mistakes of others.

“A secure person has plenty of grace to give, plenty of room to admit their own faults, and plenty of compassion to extend for the mistakes of others.”

Jesus looked at humans with compassion

All this hate talk brings to mind a single verse Matt 9:36.

When he [JESUS] saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.

When Jesus looks over the crowds he doesn’t see what we see.

When we stand before crowds, we make it about us. Are people with me? Are they against me? We are easily insecure and nervous under the scrutiny of others. When Jesus looked at the crowds it was about them. He could see into their souls. He looked at prostitutes, religious zealots, carpenters, priests, diseased, afflicted, rich, and impoverished and it MOVED HIM to be compassionate.

“I talk big about love and ‘agreeing to disagree’ but there are certain types of people that I LOVE to HATE. And as Angie Thomas reminds me, The Hate I Give &*$#@ Everybody!”

Jesus sees people differently than I do. He is empathetic. He knows what his harassed and helpless sheep need.

I’m not so different than all the Reddit commentators. I talk big about love and “agreeing to disagree” but there are certain types of people that I LOVE to HATE. And as Angie Thomas reminds me, The Hate I Give &*$#@ Everybody!

Why We’re So Prone to Exclude

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“Us” and “them” isn’t just a problem to fight against, it’s a universal human experience. In fact, you could argue that this is necessary to belonging: you can’t be part of a group without drawing a line around it. Exclusion is inevitable, and demonization follows on its heels.

I’ve been reading Tim Keller’s Making Sense of God, which is resonating with me on this topic. Keller presents a summary from the philosopher Miroslav Volf on “four ways that we can assert and bolster our self-worth by excluding others” (from Volf’s book Exclusion and Embrace). These are wonderfully descriptive and convicting.

(1) The most blunt and effective means of bolstering self-worth by excluding is either killing or forcing someone out of our living space. It seems barbaric, but American history and politics show we’re not above this. On a personal level, this might look like moving to a new neighborhood or joining a different church to avoid interactions with someone.

(2) Volf also lists assimilation as a means of exclusion. In this approach, you can have your arms wide open to newcomers, but the price of entry is complete assimilation. I’ll love you as long as you become just like me, adopting my values, culture, beliefs, and enemies. Keller quotes Volf: “We will refrain from vomiting you out…if you let us swallow you up.” This one stings, both as an American and as a Christian.

(3) Next is dominance. We will accept people who are different than us as long as they remain consciously inferior, allowing us to be dominant. You can belong, but only if you play your role. Keller’s examples include: only working certain jobs, only receiving certain levels of pay, and only living in certain neighborhoods. We’ve definitely seen this at work inside and outside of the Church. This makes me think of some of the crap Beth Moore has had to deal with, but that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

(4) The last approach to exclusion that Volf identifies is demeaning and ignoring people who are different. You can tolerate them, but you’re still disgusted by them. You ignore their opinions, needs, and contributions. Volf says we like this approach because it gives us “the illusion of sinlessness and strength.” As a Christian, are you ever proud of the way you “tolerate” weak or sinful Christians, or do you find yourself grieved that many aren’t making the same choices you do? If so, this one is yours.

I find this list convicting because it accounts for those who consciously exclude and demean, but it also leaves room for people who do this with subtlety, perhaps even unconsciously. But it’s not just the WAY in which we exclude. Some suggest that exclusion is NECESSARY for the formation of a personal identity. That honestly terrifies me! Are Ryan and I just the biggest jackasses of all (probably) for calling attention to something we just need to accept and move on with as politely as possible?

Is there no solution for this? Can we really not have an US without a THEM?

Volf (with Keller’s elaboration) explains that there is, of course, one solution to this. It’s Jesus. It’s the gospel.

Think about the absolutely game-changing power of the gospel. If it’s about finding the US who share something fundamental in common and excluding the THEM who aren’t like us, then all that binds us together is our similarity. It’s what Kierkegaard calls a PREFERENTIAL LOVE—we love the people we prefer, the people who bring us joy.

But Jesus offers us something different. He offers us humility, whereby we are freed from the compulsion to believe that we are better than everyone else. He offers us self-sacrificing love, whereby one person can put another’s best interests above their own, even incurring pain so that someone else doesn’t have to. He offers us forgiveness, whereby when an offense enters the relationship, peace and wholeness can be restored. He offers us God’s very Spirit, who transforms us from the inside so that we become a conduit of God’s love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, and self-control.

“Just as Christians spent decades copying ‘secular’ music and adding a Christian veneer, so we seem to be appropriating the vitriol around us and adding Bible verses to give it a Christian twist.”

Don’t underestimate this. Human beings are wired for “othering” in a fallen world. As Christians, we are not exempt from this. But as Christians, we claim to be transformed by the very thing the world needs in this regard. As society around us “bites and devours one another” to the point that they are “consumed by one another” (Gal. 5:15), we don’t have to play along.

I’m not convinced that we realize this. Just as Christians spent decades appropriating the musical styles of the best “secular” bands, adding a Christian veneer, so we seem to be taking the vitriol, the polarization, and the arrogant superiority that flies all around us and adding a Christian twist. We fight the way everyone else does, but we attack each other with Bible verses!

It’s gross, and it needs to change. Thank God he has given us a path forward. May we stop with all of the exclusion and lean into Jesus. He is the only hope we have.

Have Fewer Opinions

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You have too many. That’s just my opinion, of course. But I’m serious about it. I know because I have too many opinions. I actually feel obligated to have more opinions than I do.

Do you ever feel this pull to be more opinionated about more topics?

In their dated but insightful book How to Watch TV News, Neil Postman and Steve Powers landed a thought that felt so freeing to read:

“Reduce by one third the number of opinions you feel obligated to have. One of the reasons many people are addicted to watching TV news is that they feel under pressure to have an opinion about almost everything.”

– Neil Postman & Steve Powers, How to Watch TV News, 1993

Depending on your age, you may need to swap out “social media” for “TV news,” but the point works either way.

I have read so many stinking articles on the Mueller report: what he’s trying to say in it, why he said what he did and why he left out what he left out, whether or not Barr was accurate in his summary, and why every single writer’s take on it is the most important thing in the world. I keep feeling this pressure like I need to know! But I don’t.

The problem is bigger than social media. As a pastor, whenever I’m talking to someone in a struggling marriage or in a difficult parenting situation, or even when I’m talking to a recent high school or college graduate, I warn them: Listen, you’re going to have to figure out what God is calling you to do here. But you should also know that a lot of people are going to share their opinions with you about what you should do. Most of them mean well, but most of these opinions will not be helpful.

What is it that makes us feel like we have to have an opinion about what other people should be doing? What do you think about the Mueller report? What’s your cap for how much a pastor should spend on shoes? Who should be watching Game of Thrones? And coming soon to everything you’ll see, hear, read, and watch for an entire year: who should become (or stay) the next President?

“Can I ask you to give up the opinions you’ve done almost zero research on or to stop posting on the issues you think you know about just because someone ranted about it on Facebook?”

It’s not uncommon for me to scroll through Twitter and see several statements like, “If you’re a pastor and you don’t speak out on ______ this week, then you’re part of the problem.” Or some variation thereof. It’s hard to read that and not think, Oh shoot, yeah, maybe I should say something about that. But I don’t know a ton about that thing. I’d better learn about it real quick so I can share my opinion.

What if we really did try to hold 33% fewer opinions? Honestly, think of how many opinions you find yourself expressing that you’ve done almost zero research on. Think of the issues you think you know about just because someone ranted about it on Facebook. Think of the people you don’t know very well but about whom you have a pretty strong opinion. Maybe we could let all of those opinions go.

Wouldn’t it be amazing if the only opinions we held were hard-earned? If we tried to use phrases like “I’m not sure” or “I haven’t looked into that” or “I could be wrong here” when speaking about issues where we haven’t sought out multiple voices and read multiple articles and done some real soul-searching and engaged in some respectful dialogue? You’ll all be fine—better, actually—without my lazy, ill-informed take on the Mueller report. What opinions could you spare your friends, family, and the online community?

I fully acknowledge that there is such a thing as a Silent Jackass, and I am often that guy. Sometimes we need to roll up our sleeves and learn about someone else’s struggle so we can help. Don’t let some vague pressure force you into these opinions, let love for real people pull you in. Loving your neighbor will mean understanding what her experience is like. And that takes time. But if it’s time you’re invested in loving someone, it’s worth it.

Can we give this a try? It might help with how awful and heated and shallowly divisive things have been lately. But truly, that’s just my opinion.

Read “Love Over Fear”!

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I was introduced to Dan White Jr. through one of his tweets:

“Reflecting on pastoring for 20 yrs:

With a therapist, I cataloged all the folks that have ghosted me (almost 100 over the years).

Spent time in their homes, baptized their kids, cried with them in pain, counseled them through crisis. Then vamoosh they’re gone. It’s a weird job.”

I read that and instantly knew that Dan White Jr. and I have a lot in common. I too have been in ministry nearly 20 years. I too have been ghosted by countless friends. I too need to talk to a therapist about it.

If you like Jackass Theology, you will devour Love Over Fear. Dan’s latest book, just released by Moody yesterday, confronts the epic problem of polarization in our culture.

I’ve noticed after doing ministry in the same place for many years that some people leave the church because it isn’t meeting their families needs. Many leave the church because they have not figured out how to be comfortable with people who are different than them. Conservatives can’t coexist with liberals. Young can’t coexist with old. MacArthurites can’t coexist with Rob Bellions. Rich can’t coexist with poor. It seems that everyone thinks the solution is to find a community of people that feels what they feel and practices exactly the way they do.

We live in a diverse world. A world with countless ethnicities and subcultures. Latino, black, white, gay, straight, suburban, urban, male, female, and questioning. The diversity is both an opportunity and threat. It is an opportunity to experience the elasticity of the Gospel, and see how the good news truly can be for everyone. The threat, as Dan puts it, is FEAR.

FEAR is powerful. Fear is at the root of nearly all sin. Adam and Eve feared missing out, so they ate of the tree. Cain murdered his brother because he feared the comparison Abel represented. The news and social media peddle fear like Crackerjack at a Giants game.

Fear demands an object. Do you fear snakes? Do you fear financial scarcity? Do you fear for your kids’ safety? Do you fear the impact of LGBTQ on politics? Do you fear a socialist agenda? Do you fear abuse of power? Do you fear having a bigot in the White House?

The only healthy source of fear, biblically speaking, is fear of God.

Fear can not simply linger as an abstract feeling for long. It must find a home in something tangible, someone or something or some event to blame. Fear is always searching for someone to blame. It’s this transfer, when human beings become the object of our fears, the reason for our concerns, that destroys our chances for peace, dignity, and love. Sadly, the person, people group, or villain we attach our fears to often carries far less responsibility than we imagine for our unsettled spirit, and their demise is absolutely impotent in resolving our inner anxiety. That’s the jackass part of it all. Blaming people for our fear.

White flight happened in neighborhoods when the simple presence of African Americans in the community enflamed fear of property devaluation. The “right” fears the agenda of the “left” and therefore they must find an embodiment for that fear: the stupid pundits of CNN, Obama, the LGBTQ agenda, or Colin Kaepernick. The “left” fears the agenda of the “right” and therefore they must find an embodiment of that fear: big business, Ann Coulter, abuse of power, the hatred of the religious right, or Trump’s 2020 campaign. The point is that fear has a difficult time remaining abstract. So our fear divides America, it divides families, and it divides churches.

The only healthy place for our fear is fear of God.

As Dan White Jr. brilliantly describes in his book, LOVE—which we all long for and all acknowledge is superior to fear—has the ability to overcome fear. But in order for fear to be overcome, it must be placed in the only appropriate object: God!

Dan’s book is desperately needed in our time. The entire second half of the book is devoted to practical ways we aid in love overcoming fear in our own lives. Read it! Check out his website. My prayer is that LOVE OVER FEAR becomes not just a book, but a movement.

Rachel Held Evans & the Fight Against Jackassery

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Most of you know that Rachel Held Evans died late last week. Tragedy is not a strong enough word. If you’re not familiar with Rachel and her work, just go to Twitter and search for #becauseofRHE. It’ll tell you everything you need to know. Actually, that’s really all you need to know, you don’t need to waste your time reading this post. I’m not qualified to say anything about what her life and work meant. I’ve read one of her books (I started a second today), several of her blog posts, and I’ve followed her on Twitter for several years. That’s it. But I’ve seen enough to know that aside from the fact that we’re all jackasses, Rachel Held Evans was about as un-jackass as they come. And so much of her ministry was devoted to fighting jackassery. We have a lot to learn from what she spent her short life embodying.

Rachel took a lot of crap on Twitter. A LOT. She brought it on herself, but not at all in the way we usually use that phrase. I just mean that she was not afraid to make herself a target for angry, hateful people. In my experience, gracious, patient, loving people don’t intentionally step into intense conflict. Rachel was unique in that as far as I can tell. Brian Zahnd said it well when he tweeted, “It’s going to be weird coming to Twitter and not see[ing] what bear Rachel Held Evans is poking next” (@BrianZahnd). He meant that with so much respect. The day she passed he had tweeted, “Christianity has a long history of vigorous debate. But at the end of the day we belong to the body of Christ. Rachel Held Evans was an important interlocutor in our ongoing debate. Today she finished her race.”

There are exactly zero people with whom I agree on everything (which I’m sure is a type of jackass—I’ll have to start writing that post!). Rachel was one of the all people with whom I had disagreements. But I learned a lot from her writing; I was constantly challenged to think and rethink. And my grief at the loss of Rachel and my massive admiration for her are bigger than the way she made me think. I think I’ve been most inspired by the way she loved in the midst of debate.

I’ve seen Rachel take on some of the biggest bullies on Twitter. I can’t imagine how terrifying it must have been to stand up to people who called her horrible things and used Bible verses to shout hate at her. And these are people with thousands of followers eager to do the same. Yet she set what God put on her heart in a gracious but firm way and didn’t allow herself to be pushed around. In doing this, she earned the respect of people across the theological spectrum. For example, she would push back on Russell Moore from time to time (btw, NOT one of the bullies I just mentioned), but the interactions were constructive. After her death, one of his expressions of respect for Rachel was, “Let’s not conform to the pattern of this vicious social—Darwinian age. Let’s kindle kindness, even (especially!) for those outside our tribal silos” (@drmoore). Beth Moore (another conservative Moore), tweeted out, “Thinking what it was about @rachelheldevans that could cause many on other sides of issues to take their hats off to her in her death. People are run rife with grief for her babies, yes. But also I think part of it is that, in an era of gross hypocrisy, she was alarmingly honest” (@BethMooreLPM).

Shane Claiborne (@ShaneClaiborne) tweeted this quote from Rachel, and it seems an excellent summary of what she embodied for so many people from so many different traditions: “Imagine if every church became a place where everyone is safe, but no one is comfortable.” She kept people from making loud but lazy assertions and pushed us all to think more carefully and love more sacrificially.

So much of Rachel’s fight was for the dignity of marginalized people. She was tireless in fighting to see women, the LGBT community, and people of color empowered, treated with respect, given space for their voices to be heard, etc. To many people, Rachel became a sort of online pastor. She gave them so much love, encouragement, and truth through her public voice, but I’ve also heard so many stories of her reaching out personally to encourage and assist and strengthen. That’s a pastor in the truest sense, and it’s all the more impressive because she was able to do it through an online platform that most find impersonal and dehumanizing. She brought love and humanity to debates that had become dehumanized, to platforms that had become loveless, and to people who had been dismissed and mistreated their entire lives.

“Rachel Held Evans was a pastor in the truest sense, and it’s all the more impressive because she was a pastor through an online platform that most find impersonal and dehumanizing.”

Audrey Assad gave one of the most powerful statements I’ve read yet about Rachel’s impact: “I find myself praying and hoping that @rachelheldevans’ severest critics will read #becauseofRHE and see the garden she tended, the fruit it has borne, the way it has flowered in the world” (@audreyassad). I literally tear up at the thought of someone saying something like that about me when I’m gone. Her impact, ultimately, was “the garden she tended.” She was a generative person (in the rich sense of Makoto Fujimura’s Culture Care concept). She was a culture maker (in the rich sense of Andy Crouch’s Culture Making concept). She loved persistently and modeled inspiring debate on important issues, even while aggressively loving the people affected by those debates. She’s an amazing model for me of what it looks like to fight jackassery. It’s tragic that she’s gone. We’ll all have to carry the work forward in as Rachel-like a manner as we can muster.

Is Piper Wrong about Yoga?

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John Piper takes the “better safe than sorry approach” to yoga (my words not his, in his 2015 article on Desiring God). In short, because it is derived from Eastern Practices and because those practices are not rooted in the same things as the Gospel, he personally would devote his time to a different kind of exercise. For what it’s worth, I love John Piper to death. I deeply respect his opinion and I have no agenda to persuade him to take up yoga. But I also feel that the premise of his argument can lay the foundation for a lot of jackassery, so it’s worth talking about.

Full disclosure: I am a pastor. I love Jesus. And I practice yoga regularly. Not even just the Christian version with Toby Mac beats in the background. Some may be surprised to hear that I have yet to contract any evil spirits. At least, not to my knowledge.

FREEDOM seems to me a very KEY emphasis of the Gospel. The Gospel brings freedom from Law and demands dependency on the Spirit of God. Going back to Piper: he denounces what he calls the “maximalist approach to life,” which he defines as constantly trying to get away with as much as possible. I agree 1,000,000% when we’re talking about matters of objective sin (worshipping other gods, adultery, theft, dishonesty). In such cases, who are we kidding? A little bit is too much. And if yoga, or any other lifestyle choice, causes you to worship other deities, stay the HELL away from them!

But if we are afraid that a Spirit-filled follower of Jesus might accidentally slip into idol worship because their preferred exercise practice originated on a different continent, that is a different thing entirely.

“‘Better safe than sorry’ is the mantra of the Pharisee. It’s the ideology behind American churches banning the drinking of alcohol, dancing, and dating.”

This “BETTER SAFE THAN SORRY” approach is not as wholesome—or as safe—as it initially appears. Better safe than sorry is the mantra of the Pharisee. It’s the ideology behind American churches banning the drinking of alcohol, dancing, and dating. (Remember good ole’ Joshua Harris? Don’t worry, he recanted 20 years later, so dating is once again an “approved conservative Christian practice.” Sex before marriage is not.)

Behind its wholesome exterior is FEAR. Fear that sin will overtake us. Fear that the Holy Spirit is an insufficient source of discernment. Fear that it’s really not possible to live in the world without becoming part of the world. But Jesus prayed differently in John 17.

The Christian must fear God. The Christian needs a healthy respect for sin, but the Christian also must live a FREE life and a missional life. Those two things together allow for a lot of cultural adaptation (not gospel adaptation, but cultural adaptation).

If Paul was better safe than sorry, Gentiles would not have the gospel. He would have caved to Jewish cultural expectations and it would have remained a Jewish movement until someone was willing to follow the Spirit into the wild, crazy, pagan, Gentile world.

People got drunk at parties in Jesus’ day too, but he still made wine. He joined in the festivities without becoming like his peers. He didn’t stand outside, worried that he might get a contact high, or a bad rep. He went where the people were.

“Jesus didn’t stand outside of the parties of his day, worried that he might get a contact high or a bad rep. He went where the people were.”

You don’t need to stop eating Thai food because they have a Buddha statue on display. You don’t need to stop using the internet because porn exists on it. We don’t need to abandon all social media because it can get saturated with polemical vitriol. You don’t need to stop listening to secular music because the musicians are philosophically misguided.

Humans don’t contract sin by standing next to it. You will never have a mission field if you are always living the “better safe than sorry” life. Just because it can be dangerous, doesn’t mean we need to BAN it. Danger means we must be careful. We must rely on the Spirit of God. But all of life is dangerous, all things in life can steal our affections and heart. So as Jesus said, we must grow up into people who “live in the world, but not of it.”

Lots of people love yoga. So do I. It’s a perfect place to deal with my back issues. I don’t love it for its eastern spirituality. I love it for the people I meet, the relationships I build with my friends as we exercise together. When it’s quiet I pray. I do avoid chanting mantras in other languages when I don’t know what I’m saying, but that’s my choice in the matter.

Should you try yoga? It’s up to you. If you don’t feel comfortable, that’s great. Just don’t hate on me and my Jesus yogis because you read a Piper article once or heard that people can catch yoga demons.

Can Yoga be sinful? Absolutely, if you are worshipping false gods, denying Jesus, or tempted to syncretize eastern philosophy with the Gospel. As with most sin, it is more a matter of the heart.

Romans 14 tells us, “whatever you do, do it will full conviction, to honor the Lord,”

Let’s be careful to not lazily employ the “better safe than sorry” technique, because we don’t understand it, have never tried it, or somehow chose that particular cultural practice to get self-righteous about. If it were up to me, I’d employ the “Better safe than sorry” to NASCAR. But that’s just my opinion.

The Silent Jackass

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“I must make two honest confessions to you my Christian and Jewish brothers, I must confess to you that over the last few years, I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the negro’s great stumbling block in the stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Councilor, or the Ku Klux Klanner but the white moderate who is more devoted to ORDER than to JUSTICE, who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension, to a positive peace which is the presence of justice.”

– Martin Luther King, Jr., Letter from a Birmingham Jail

The Silent Jackass is one of the most common forms of being a jackass, because it is disguised as civility. Silence seems like peace, but in actuality it is nothing of the sort. I have fallen into this trap for a long time. For years I have observed Social Media vitriol and rolled my eyes at the immaturity and contention. Why the big fuss? Everyone needs to simmer down.

The day after Donald Trump was elected President, I got on a phone call with a group of Pastors from all over the nation for a regularly scheduled cohort meeting. This small group of pastors were from relatively diverse contexts, and many of them were utterly heartbroken over the election, and specifically over evangelical support for Trump. They were heartbroken for their people—the minorities they ministered to, the LGBTQ community they ministered to—who were suddenly afraid that hatred and bigotry would be permissible under this new administration. I sat silent on that phone call, and kept thinking to myself, “What’s the problem? God is sovereign, why are we making such a big deal of this? Presidents come and go.”

The “why are we making such a big deal of this” perspective is one of the mantras of the Silent Jackass. The Silent Jackass thinks that peace in life is free of conflict. “If I just stay out of the fray, I won’t make it worse.”

Don’t get me wrong, in a world of vitrol and finger pointing, sometimes a little silence is welcome. The jackass part occurs when one of two things happens: Either the silent one begins to think they are in fact superior to the vocal ones clamoring for justice and causing a disturbance, or the silent one sees injustice happening, and is too afraid to say something. Both are dangerous.

“The Silent Jackass comes in two flavors. Those who are silent because they fear the repercussions of speaking up, and those who are silent because they honestly don’t see the pain of others. Both are dangerous.”

I see the Silent Jackass as so many suburban white people turn their nose at the protests of the African American community every time there is an officer involved shooting. Suburban white people call for civility. They call for peace. They call for order. (Please hear me: I’m not saying every officer is at fault every time there is a shooting; I’m talking about the lack of compassion and unwillingness to acknowledge the suffering of another group of people.)

As Martin Luther King demonstrated, peace doesn’t come through silence. It requires speaking up. It needs to be fought for. It doesn’t require violence, but it does require conflict and tension.

The problem rests in our definition of PEACE. Peace in the Hebrew Bible is Shalom. It’s physical, spiritual, and emotional harmony with the world, others, and the God who created it all. It isn’t just the absence of conflict. Shalom is an ideal, it will never be experienced fully until God himself restores all things for good.

The forces of the world and the forces of the enemy are constantly fighting against Shalom. They are trying to pull it all apart. If nothing is done at all, like entropy, things just dissolve. It requires the active work of the Holy Spirit and the costly loving response of God’s people to fight against this natural decay.

“The Silent Jackass is fine with things staying the same, or living under the delusion that the necessary changes will happen in silence, without conflict, without needing to get their hands dirty.”

So when Martin Luther King spoke up, I believe it was the Spirit of God in him, crying out for a little piece of Shalom. When we call our churches to LOVE, PEACE, JOY, and HUMAN DIGNITY, we are fighting for Shalom.

The Silent Jackass is fine with things staying the same, or living under the delusion that the necessary changes will happen in silence, without conflict, without needing to get their hands dirty. Let me remind you of how many times Paul was imprisoned for the gospel, how many Christians had to die for the gospel to spread to you and me. Let me remind you that peace doesn’t come from silence. The most beautiful acts of love come from speaking up for another’s injustices.

Don’t be the Silent Jackass. Step up to the mic, you’ve got peace to spread!