Stephen Mattson 01-22-2014
Holding hands, Mats Bergström /

Holding hands, Mats Bergström /

Beyond the realm of churches, religious blogs, and bible colleges, nobody really cares about theology. What does matter is the way you treat other people.

Within Christendom, we’re often taught the exact opposite: that doctrines, traditions, theologies, and distinct beliefs are the only things that do matter. It’s what separates churches, denominations, theologians, and those who are “saved” and “unsaved.”

Historically, Christians have been tempted to categorize the Bible into numerous sets of beliefs that are either inspired or heretical, good or bad, right or wrong — with no room for doubt or questioning or uncertainty.

It’s easy to get caught up in theorizing about God, but within our everyday lives reality is what matters most to the people around us. Theorizing only becomes important once it becomes relevant and practical and applicable to our lives.

When I'm sick, and you bring me a meal, I don't care whether you're a Calvinist or Arminian

Julie Polter 01-05-2014

Sisters in the Wilderness: The Challenge of Womanist God-Talk by Delores S. Williams / Social Music by Jon Batiste and Stay Human / What Do We Tell the Children: Talking to Kids About Death and Dying by Joseph M. Primo / The Age of the Spirit: How the Ghost of an Ancient Controversy is Shaping the Church by Phyllis Tickle and John M. Sweeney

Leah Kostamo 01-05-2014

Planted: A Story of Creation, Calling, and Community by Leah Kostamo

The Editors 12-19-2013

Learn more about the Sojourners Women and Girls (SWAG) work.

Joanna Harader 12-13-2013
Anne Kitzman/Shutterstock

Christmas carolers. Anne Kitzman/Shutterstock

One of the downsides of a theological education (and/or an overactive theological imagination) is an inability to sing some favorite old hymns with naive gusto. During this Christmas season in particular, we simply know too much about the biblical story (and the reality of childbirth and babies in general) to fully believe all of the touching words in some of the most popular Christmas carols.

So as a public service, I have written historically accurate versions of three of the most beloved holiday hymns. Without personally endorsing any of the theology below, I also offer some alternatives to those who don't theologically jive with the current version of "Joy to the World."

Some churches calling themselves Christian continue to act as if women are second-class citizens in the kingdom of God—despite what the Bible says.

Danny Mortensen 12-04-2013

Gustave Dore drawing of Job and his friends. Nicku/Shutterstock

The world of Christian theology has seen its fair share of writings that address horrible suffering and the confusion about God’s character that it causes. The question has been on my mind in light of the Philippines’ calamity. Although satisfying answers are difficult to come by with a topic like this, I offer a few insights that have helped me to continue to trust God’s love. The biblical character of Job shows us how, as believers in a loving God, we should regard and respond to suffering around us.

It no longer surprises me when I hear people express cynicism and doubt about a caring God — I sometimes wonder why more Christians have not done so. Whose faith can remain undisturbed when Typhoon Haiyan kills 5,000 Filipinos and inflicts misery on thousands more? I recall a photo of a woman weeping by her child’s body inside a damaged church. Who can imagine her despair? Can we conceive of the hell endured in the same region by enslaved women and girls who are raped and degraded every day, every hour?

Even as the world’s powers grasped for a last-minute resolution to the crisis in Syria, it remained an open question whether any amount of diplomacy could prevent the conflict from claiming at least one more victim: the classic Christian teaching known as the “just war” tradition.

The central problem is not that the just war doctrine is being dismissed or condemned, but that it is loved too much. Indeed, both sides in the debate over punishing the Syrian regime for using chemical weapons are citing just war theory, but are reaching diametrically opposed conclusions.

Speaker's podium at the Values Voters Summit, where the Emergent Church will be

Speaker's podium at the Values Voters Summit, where the Emergent Church will be a focus this year. Photo by Gage Skidmore/flickr

Christian conservatives who think Satan is using communism and Islam to bring down America can add a new “adversary” to the list: the Emergent Church movement.

A portion of the upcoming Values Voter Summit in Washington will stray from its usual focus on politics and consider the Emergent Church as one of three “channels the adversary is using to bring America down.” Art Ally, president of The Timothy Plan, a Florida-based mutual fund company devoted to “biblically responsible investing,” will lead the breakout session.

“Why would Satan use Communism? It’s a godless form of government,” said Ally. “Why would Satan use Islam? Same reason. It’s not a religion. It’s a movement to dominate the world under the guise of religion. The Emergent Church plays right into that by weakening further our church community.”

Bob Smietana 08-07-2013
 Photo courtesy Getty Music

Songwriter Keith Getty, shown with his wife Kristyn, is the co-author of “In Christ Alone." Photo courtesy Getty Music

Fans of a beloved contemporary Christian hymn won’t get any satisfaction in a new church hymnal.

The committee putting together a new hymnal for the Presbyterian Church (USA) dropped the popular hymn “In Christ Alone” because the song’s authors refused to change a phrase about the wrath of God.

The original lyrics say that “on that cross, as Jesus died, the wrath of God was satisfied.” The Presbyterian Committee on Congregational Song wanted to substitute the words, “the love of God was magnified.”

The song’s authors, Stuart Townend and Nashville resident Keith Getty, objected. So the committee voted to drop the song.

Evan Dolive 08-05-2013
Young girl with annoyed expression, Aaron Amat /

Young girl with annoyed expression, Aaron Amat /

I live in Texas. To many of its millions of residents, it is the greatest state in the union. We like things big and we like them to be bigger than every other state blessed to be in the Union. Texans are proud of their state; chalk it up to early indoctrination of Texas history throughout the life cycle of Texas Public Education.

But being in Texas, especially East Texas, means that we are sitting squarely and firmly in the buckle of the Bible Belt. The Bible Belt is a term used to describe the area where conservative Christianity is the prominent player in the state’s religiosity; generally this term refers to a high level of conservative, evangelical Christians. This does not mean that you can’t find conservative, evangelical Christians outside of this arbitrary boundary, but for some reason they seem to cluster in these areas in high concentrations.

I didn’t grow up in a church that beat people over the head in church or judged people for they way they acted. I felt loved and welcomed in a place where people were friendly and they loved serving God. I learned about Christ and God’s love for humanity. It wasn’t until I was older that I began to hear more Christians speak more and more on the necessity of evangelizing to people or even being “saved correctly.” I can remember on several occasions a certain church in the town I grew up in going door to door and asking people if they were to die tonight would they go to Heaven. I can remember thinking that it was an odd tactic to get people to come to church. It seemed so stand offish and so self-righteous that it left a bad taste in my mouth.

Has the uptick in Christians eager to adopt overseas done more harm than good?

Danny Duncan Collum 07-01-2013

Bobby McFerrin's "don't worry" optimism sets up some serious cognitive dissonance with the spirituals.

Morf Morford 05-29-2013
 man walking through open doors, Mopic /

man walking through open doors, Mopic /

The Jews believe that the Messiah is yet to come.

Christians believe the Messiah is coming back.

Those of other – or no – religions haven’t noticed much difference and don’t really care.

But all would agree that there is plenty of work left to be done.

We, by any standard, are far from an age of any Messiah — an era of justice, peace, and restoration seems as distant or alien or even incomprehensible as a blockbuster sci-fi film.

But perhaps, in some odd way, that is the point.

Adam Ericksen 05-29-2013
Stained glass illustration of the Holy Trinity, Nancy Bauer /

Stained glass illustration of the Holy Trinity, Nancy Bauer /

You may not realize this, but senior pastors throughout the world were on vacation last Sunday. Not because they were celebrating the American holiday weekend of Memorial Day. No, senior pastors the world over were conveniently on vacation because it was Trinity Sunday.

Of course, I can’t blame pastors for taking a nice weekend vacation and leaving the challenge of preaching the Trinity Sunday sermon to their associates. I’ve always had a hard time with the Trinity — not because of the math. I was always horrible at math. I frequently tell people I became a pastor and a blogger because I failed Algebra. So, the concept that 1 + 1 + 1 = 1 has never been an issue for me.

John Piper's Twitter page

John Piper's Twitter page

Oklahoma’s devastating tornado stirred up a theological debate that was set off from a series of deleted tweets referencing the Book of Job.

Popular evangelical author and speaker John Piper regularly tweets Bible verses, but two verses he tweeted after the tornado struck some as at best insensitive and at worst bad theology:

“Your sons and daughters were eating and a great wind struck the house, and it fell upon them, and they are dead.” Job 1:19

“Then Job arose and tore his robe and shaved his head and fell on the ground and worshiped.” Job 1:20

In the Book of Job, God allows Satan to afflict “blameless” Job, killing his 10 children, livestock and servants. While Piper’s tweets didn’t mention the tornado by name, critics said it was too close, and inappropriate.

Piper, who recently retired from the pulpit of Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis, is a leading theologian of the neo-Calvinist movement that’s sweeping many evangelical churches. In essence, Desiring God staffer Tony Reinke wrote, Piper was highlighting God’s sovereignty and that he is still worthy of worship in the midst of suffering and tragedy.

Stephen Mattson 05-22-2013
Churches vector,  Baobaby Studio /

Churches vector, Baobaby Studio /

“God is doing amazing things!” is the Christian way of saying, “Look, we’re popular.”

The idea that faithfully following God’s will is associated with people attending (or donating to) churches, ministries, and organizations is a fallacy that can be debunked by simply looking around us. Islam is growing, Mormonism is growing, and so is Kim Kardashian’s Twitter following. They could all use the exact same logic: that popularity equals success. If we gauge God’s favor by the numbers of followers we have then Justin Bieber is probably God’s newly anointed prophet. 

But Christians are addicted to popularity. Denominations focus on church planting, pastors obsess over attendance, budgets rely on congregational turnout, and we pay special attention to Christian leaders who are famous.

In a Westernized culture captivated by success and money, we often make judgments based on the size of a church — or organization, ministry, and community. But our preconceived opinions are often wrong.

Adam Ericksen 05-22-2013
John Piper's Tweet

John Piper's Tweet

Many of my liberal friends never call themselves “Christians.” Their hesitancy is usually a reaction against conservative Christians who, let’s face it, are an embarrassment to the name. You know what I’m talking about – those who make crazy claims like natural disasters occur because God is angry at homosexuals. And then there are those who use phrases like, “legitimate rape.

Influential pastor John Piper provides the latest example. While most of my friends on Facebook and Twitter lamented the devastation wrought by the Oklahoma City tornado, Piper decided to show off his biblical acumen with this tweet:

"Your sons and daughters were eating and a great wind struck the house, and it fell upon them, and they are dead." -Job 1:19

Piper’s tweet is a bit ambiguous. His reference to Job doesn’t say that God caused the tornado, but Piper has historically claimed that God causes these types of disasters. In fact, this wouldn’t be the first time Piper has tweeted something so theologically insensitive. A few years ago Piper claimed God caused a tornado in Minnesota because God was angry at homosexuals. Piper’s god is a fickle Cosmic Jerk.

Male & female figures, StockThings/

Male & female figures, StockThings/

I remembered after the first lecture I came home and told my husband about the pronoun, but as I read through all 20-something lectures, I noticed it again and again. I was the theologian; was the believer.

Was this difficult for my professors to do? Did it take lots of conceding to women’s different or special needs? Or, rather, was it a possible and reasonable upsetting the “status-quo” that still often tells us that “he” or “man” means everyone and that I’m just too touchy if I refuse to accept that.

This small kindness was, I think, one of the best things about my first semester of seminary. These two white men — one in his early 60s and one in his early 30s — were incredibly intentional about the female pronoun being the “default” for the generic personal pronoun.

Julie Polter 05-11-2013

A Dog Walks into a Nursing Home: Lessons in the Good Life from an Unlikely Teacher by Sue Halpern / Kinship Across Borders: A Christian Ethic of Immigration by Kristin E. Heyer / Skipping Stones / In the Footprints of Francis and the Sultan: A Model for Peacemaking