Theology

Mark Driscoll: Gas-Guzzlers a Mark of Masculinity

Mark Driscoll, Photo by James Gordon, Flickr.
Mark Driscoll, Photo by James Gordon, Flickr.

One of us was in Seattle this past weekend to speak at a meeting of biblical scholars. The subject:Evangelicals and the Environment. Seattle was stunningly beautiful, with ample sunshine, clear skies, and an occasional happy breeze. Having grown up in nearby Tacoma, seeing majestic Mount Rainier for the first time in a long while brought back memories of this silent guardian from childhood.

Alas, while it was sunny in Seattle, it was theologically cloudy in Dallas, where one of Seattle's famous residents — young, hip pastor, Mark Driscoll — was speaking at a major evangelical conference: Catalyst. By many accounts on Twitter and in the blogosphere (see Nate Pyle's blog), Driscoll said:

"I know who made the environment. He's coming back and he's going to burn it all up. So yes, I drive an SUV."

And after presenting his driving credentials, Rev. Driscoll reportedly added:

"If you drive a mini-van, you're a mini-man."

No Time for Arm-Chair Activists

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An Open Letter to Rob Bell

Rob Bell's new book "What We Talk About When We Talk About God"
Rob Bell's new book "What We Talk About When We Talk About God"

This letter was written on a plane a week ago. I posted it originally on Facebook as a status update. Out of curiosity I took a gander at it again and decided I wanted to share it here. Things are so fluid on the Ol' F-Book that I thought keeping it here would be good to do. Rob's new book, What We Talk About When We Talk About God, offers someting new and something familiar all at once. What I think Rob is doing is not so much giving us new ideas (though, given some of the ecclesial silos many of us have been reared in some of these ideas might seem new). Instead, Rob is lending his voice to many Christians. His pastorally framed theology is just the kind of thing many people have been clamoring for these last several decades. My grandparents would have loved his new book. So would have their parents. I kid you not.

This book is not about a "new" thing. It's simply about God and how we come to know God in this world. 

SNL’s 'DJesus Uncrossed,' Mark Driscoll, and the American Worship of Satan

Screenshot of SNL's skit, DJesus Uncrossed. From Hulu.com
Screenshot of SNL's skit, DJesus Uncrossed. From Hulu.com

Whenever I talk with people about Jesus and nonviolence, a curious thing happens. Someone will inevitably raise his hand (and it’s always his hand), call me a wuss, and then accuse me of making Jesus-Christ-Our-Lord-And-Savior into my own wussy image.

First, the accusation that I’m a wuss is totally true. No one can surpass my wussiness. I run from confrontation, and if I ever get into a fight my money is on the other guy.

Now, to the second accusation that a nonviolent Jesus is a projection of my own wussy imagination: That is false and, in fact, the reverse is true – a violent Jesus is a god made in our own image. As a self-professed wuss, I would love a bad-ass-machine-gun-toting Jesus who violently defends me against my enemies. I want the Jesus depicted in Saturday Night Live’s sketch DJesus Ucrossed. (A sketch satirizing Quentin Tarantino’s Django Unchained.)  As David Henson brilliantly states in his post “DJesus Uncrossed: Tarantino, Driscoll and the Violent Remaking of Jesus in America,” the sketch “pulls back the curtain and shows us just how twisted our Jesus really is: We want a Savior like the one SNL offers. We want the Son of God to kick some ass and take some names. Specifically, our enemies’ names.”

David goes on to quote Mark Driscoll, a megachurch pastor from Seattle whose theology of hate has had a major influence on American Christianity. Driscoll states,

In Revelation, Jesus is a prize fighter with a tattoo down his leg, a sword in His hand and the commitment to make someone bleed. That is a guy I can worship. I cannot worship the hippie, diaper, halo Christ because I cannot worship a guy I can beat up.

Satan and Hell: A Brief History (Part 1 of 2)

Garden of Eden depiction, Robynrg / Shutterstock.com
Garden of Eden depiction, Robynrg / Shutterstock.com

(I was invited to take part in a debate about hell at a university recently, but unfortunately, the dates don’t work with my schedule this time. But since it’s an interesting topic, and one about which many folks have questions, I thought I’d share a couple of short essays I’ve written on the subject.) 

While Jonathan Edwards wasn’t the first to preach about hell and condemnation, his ‘Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God’ sermon in 1741 crystallizes the beginning of a modern movement in the church. Edwards employed fear of punishment as a primary means for conversion and doctrinal adherence. Meanwhile, his congregants fainted in the aisles and clung to the pews to avoid being dragged down into the abyss.

We can argue day and night about whether fear-based theology is effective, biblically accurate, or even necessary. But it’s worthwhile to consider where our contemporary ideas about hell and Satan even come from.

Today, we’ll begin with Satan; we’ll save hell for tomorrow.

Uncertainty's Graces

JUST A FEW dozen pages into Faith, Doubt, and Other Lines I've Crossed, evangelical pastor Jay Bakker pens what may be the best explanation for the Christian emphasis on church community that I've ever encountered. Noting that doubt can be "hard and scary," Bakker writes: "That's why we have one another, why we have community. We can go through those days of doubt together. I wouldn't be who I am today if it weren't for the people who have been there with me as I question everything."

Many writers have grappled with the challenge that doubt poses for religious believers. But in this honest, searching, and ultimately uplifting book, Bakker pulls doubt out of the shadows where many believers wrestle with it on their own and instead presents it as a reality that Christian communities can and should address together.

Bakker's approach to the often-taboo topic of questioning—or, as he puts it, "the sense that faith is crap, life is meaningless, there is no God, the Bible is a fraud, Jesus was just a charismatic man turned mythological figure if he existed at all"—is shaped by his childhood in a Pentecostal environment that left no room for doubt. As Bakker ruefully notes in the book's introduction, "I will probably be 80 years old and still introduced as Jay Bakker, son of Jim and Tammy Faye." That unusual background only provides the impetus, however, and not the substance for this book, which reads mostly as the stream-of-consciousness meditation of a man pushing and pulling at his faith to see if it holds up.

The beliefs that pull Bakker up short, that cause him to question what he's always been taught about his faith, aren't that different from what many of us are told in our own religious communities. Our membership is often contingent on accepting a certain concept of God, a certain idea of eternity and where people get to spend it, a certain understanding of the Bible. Above all, many communities demand certainty.

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Top-Notch Theology (or Not)

Rev. Bryan Fischer, American Family Association

DIVINING GOD'S intent is incredibly easy—all you have to do is seek out his representatives here on earth, like Bryan Fischer, director of "issue analysis" for the American Family Association, "where he provides expertise on a range of public policy issues."

Indeed, Rev. Fischer speaks for the Lord on any number of topics (badness of gay people getting married, badness of Barack Obama who nurtures a "hatred of the white man," badness pretty much of anything that's changed since Fischer was born in 1951). But in the autumn, he offered the authoritative assurance that there was one thing God thought was really, really good: fossil fuel.

Fischer said that not using all the coal and gas and oil we could find was an affront to God—it would hurt God's feelings. In fact, he offered an analogy: Once "I opened up a birthday present that I didn't like, and I said it right out, 'Oh, I don't like those,'" he explained. "And the person that gave me the gift was there. And it just crushed that person. And you think, that's kind of how we're treating God when he's given us these gifts of abundant and inexpensive and effective fuel sources," Fischer added. "And we don't thank him for it and we don't use it. ... You know, God has buried those treasures there because he loves to see us find them."

That's really top-notch theology, as other similar top-notch theologians would attest. Dr. Calvin Beisner, for instance, is a founder of the Cornwall Alliance, the premier faith-based climate-change-denial operation on the planet. Sharing the microphone with Rev. Fischer, Rev. Beisner pointed out that not burning fossil fuel is really "an insult to God"—and that Jesus, too, wants us burning coal. If we didn't take advantage of all the flammable rocks on the planet, Beisner said, we would be like the "wicked and lazy steward" who was given talents by his master but simply buried them.

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A 'Historic Moment' on Climate Change?

A RECENT RETREAT of evangelical environmentalists raised this theological question: Should we have expected most people in the developed world to hear the scientific evidence proving the great dangers of climate change and then decide to quickly change themselves—their view of the world, their lifestyles and politics—and to withdraw their support from the fossil fuel economy that is threatening the planet and its people?

Those of us gathered at the retreat didn't think so. We human beings just aren't that smart, wise, good, or unselfish. It's more human to deny the evidence, attack the messengers, delay the response, and just hope everything works out. That's what many have done. And since our political system is even more dysfunctional than most of the people it represents—and is bought and paid for by the gas and oil interests that control the economy—the chances are low for courageous and far-sighted leadership.

So what kind of wake-up call will it take to reduce the carbon emissions we humans create, which are warming the earth's temperature and endangering our future in increasingly dramatic ways? Perhaps it will take disruption and devastation—which is becoming the "new normal." So-called once-in-a-lifetime storms are now becoming frequent, with Superstorm Sandy only the most recent example.

Sandy seemed to get people's attention in a way we haven't seen since the 2010 BP oil spill in the Gulf. It came in a year when the lower 48 states suffered the warmest temperatures and most disruptive weather patterns since such records have been kept. We're already spending billions in emergency aid for the victims of hurricanes and weather disasters; those numbers will only increase. In addition to Sandy, we had 10 other billion-dollar weather disasters in 2012, including Hurricane Isaac and terrible tornadoes across the Midwest and Great Plains.

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John McCain’s Theology of War is Wrong

Joe Raedle / Getty Images
McCain waits to speak during a campaign visit to support former presidential candidate Mitt Romney. Joe Raedle/Getty Images

John McCain angrily insisted on “right” and “wrong” answers to his questions of Chuck Hagel yesterday. As a theologian and a religious leader, I want to say that John McCain is “wrong.”

I watched the hostile questions that Sen. McCain asked Hagel in the hearings on his nomination for Secretary of Defense. The angry attacks from McCain were about the Iraq War, for which McCain was one of America’s leading advocates. Hagel had previously called the war in Iraq the biggest American foreign policy mistake since Vietnam. Obviously furious, McCain tried to force Hagel to say the last “surge” in Iraq, which McCain had made his cause, was right after all. Despite the aggressive and disrespectful questioning from his former “friend,” Hagel wouldn’t submit to McCain’s demands and said these questions would be subject to history — and to theological morality, to which John McCain has never submitted his views. In fact, his repeated desire to invade other people’s countries is offensive moral hubris.

On Scripture: Can We Speak of God’s Activity, in Triumph or Tragedy?

Photo: Candle vigil, © Canoneer/ Shutterstock.com
Photo: Candle vigil, © Canoneer/ Shutterstock.com

Luke 1:39-55

Sometimes, the worse the tragedy, the more abhorrent the theology it elicits.

Still numb from the overwhelming evil perpetrated against helpless children and schoolteachers last Friday, now we have to read harsh words from James Dobson and others who declare the senseless carnage a sign of God’s judgment against America. His words are disgraceful. I find them exploitative and unchristian.

Certain Christians seem compelled to speak for God in disorienting moments like these, and the results are frequently terrible. The rest of the church has a responsibility to get angry and repudiate the statements.

In times like these, I find myself wanting to disavow anyone’s attempts to speak on God’s behalf.

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