Tuesday, December 30, 2008

God of Wrath or God of Love?

I have been shaken to the core of my eschatology through the book “Everything Must Change” by Brian McLaren. McLaren deconstructs evangelical Christianity and I can’t argue with his conclusions. I can sum it up with saying that he does a good job of relating evangelical Christianity with the doctrine of the Empire instead of the gospel of the Kingdom. He reminds the reader of the Jewish (oppressed by the Romans) context of Jesus’ ministry. However, it does change how we interpret certain parables and miracles. For example, the feeding of the 5,000 was Jewish and there were 12 baskets left over. The feeding of the 4,000 was Gentile and there were 7 baskets left over. The 12 baskets for the 12 tribes and the 7 baskets refer to the 7 Canaanite nations displaced by Israel. It happens right after Matthew refers to the Syro-Phoenician woman as a Canaanite. It is the only reference to Canaanites in the entire NT. They were displaced by the Jews and the use of Canaanite means that God was no longer punishing, or calling for a separation of, the Jews and the Canaanites. The parable of the unjust steward finally makes sense when we see the steward as a minion of a landlord with sharecroppers who have lost their land due to the taxation system of the Romans. The land barons augment the oppression by making an almost feudal system. All of a sudden Jesus praises a steward for giving justice and appeasing the oppressive landlord at the same time. I never understood that parable before and could never justify the lying until I saw it in this context.

That brings me to eschatology and the “shaken to the core” statement. I have always been suspicious of the wrath and anger of God in Revelation, but have been afraid to mention it because “if any one adds to this book….” Here was my dilemma: If the wrath of God against humanity was satisfied on the cross, against Himself as the incarnate God, then why is there more wrath at the end of the current human existence? McLaren verbalized my fear in bold language when he says: “the cross then, is a fake-out and God really is a God of wrath.” I guess he verbalized a fear that I have. The fear being that I can’t reconcile Revelation with the rest of the Bible. (I have no problem reconciling the destruction of Canaan with the NT when I recognize how evil the Canaanites were. God was making an example out of them after He gave up on convincing them to repent.) Why Revelation? Why this second judgment? Wasn’t the cross enough? Isn’t the unfairness of the cross, the Innocent One dying for everyone else the most pure form of justice? Somewhere justice wasn’t going to be fair, so God took the unfairness oh Himself. What love! But then Revelation shows God getting revenge for it. I had this dilemma.

Then I understood it from the perspective of the oppressed. I am not buying into all of McLaren’s explanation that Jewish Apocalyptic literature was merely a Jewish liberation theology technique designed to give hope to the Jewish people in the form of a coming judgment against the Imperialists and their collaborators. (A point he makes in the book “The Last Word, and the Word After That.”) In that book, he deconstructs the doctrine of hell. And I did change my theology of hell after reading it. My theology of hell, as you know is: “Hell is the divine act of Love by the righteous judge of all the earth on behalf of the oppressed.” Hell is important. Without hell, the oppressors go free. That could be mercy, but it isn’t love on behalf of the oppressed. Sure, they can, and have to forgive. But the loving parent gives justice to all of his or her children. Brian alludes to his belief that Jewish apocalyptic literature is merely oppressed people seeking hope, I tend to believe that Daniel and Revelation are supernatural visions from God. All that aside, I am still relived to have an answer to my dilemma. The answer comes in Revelation 19. This chapter takes place after all 21 judgments are meted out. In the chapter, the saints of God and the oppressed are praising God for giving them justice. It changes the whole book from Angry God to God of Justice (who loves the oppressed). It certainly explains the soteriology of Lazarus and the statement by Jesus about the rich man who was in torment: “You had your leisure on earth; he now has his in heaven.” (Lazarus never answered an altar call -it appears he was saved merely because he was poor.). It explains Luke’s telling of the beatitudes: “Blessed are the poor (without the words “in spirit”), for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven.”

However, the question of imperialism and current eschatology comes to play here as well. I think from reading Brian McLaren that he resists current eschatology because it isn’t green. I am not a tree hugger. But I concur. As a registered theologian for over 30 years, I have always wondered just what would happen if Jesus didn’t return in my lifetime. I mean we all expect it and hope for it. But honestly, so did Paul and Peter. So did those who died in concentration camps in Germany. So did Christians during the reign of Communism in the USSR. So did the Huguenots during the mini-ice age when it snowed in July and they were being oppressed. Realistically, we could be wrong and I don’t think any sincere Bible scholar disagrees. Brian’s problem then is this: If we believe this is the final generation, then a PASSION for caring for the earth is not important and that could have terrible ramifications for our children. As a matter of fact, if the earth falls under the manifold problems of pollution, then perhaps the plagues in Revelation have the impudence to happen, (And, it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy). Brian’s point is that we should care. I would say that even if we believe that it will happen, we must live like it won’t happen. The book of Genesis makes it clear that God entrusted the earth to us to care for, not exploit.

But that isn’t the imperialistic problem with current eschatology. The symbol of the cross was pretty significant to any Jewish person. The Empire of Rome made it clear that if you did not accept their peace, then you would be tortured into submission. If God is a God of wrath who will torture and burn his enemies, then Empires who use torture are partners with God in the way they treat the people they have conquered. McLaren’s point is that we have justified aspects of our warfare based on this incorrect eschatology. Amen. That is the difference between the good news of the Kingdom of God and the doctrine of the Empire. God has called Christians to another way of living. Jesus said it like this: “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the children of God.”

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

My thoughts on the election so far


 As to the candidates being Christian. I watched Jeremiah Wright's interview on Bill Moyer and wept for joy that a Christian pastor was speaking the truth about injustice. What impressed me in the Rick Warren/Obama/McCain discussion was the way Obama said "evil exists out there AND in the United States. We have to confront evil everywhere." His implication (I believe) was that confronting certain evils of our own, in foreign and national polity will have a positive effect in addressing some of the root causes of terrorism directed against us.

For example. I get these "Christian" scorecards about the candidates. Clearly spoken is an issue: Candidate A is against giving Social Security benefits to illegal immigrants. Candidate B is for giving said SS benefits. Which is the Christian response?

Leviticus 19:33-34 "Do not take advantage of foreigners in your land; do not wrong them. They must be treated like any other citizen; love them as yourself, for remember that you too were foreigners in the land of Egypt. I am Jehovah your God."

I want to remind Christians that this is just one chapter removed from Leviticus 18:21-22. A passage that we take our stand on about righteousness blessing a nation or lack of righteousness cursing a nation. I want to ask why it is not a Christian viewpoint that we care for illegals as much as we care for ourselves? US border policy is just as big an issue as abortion and gay marriage. It is a Christian issue because it elevates the Word of God over the Constitution, national security or hoarding our resources for ourselves.

It seems problematic to me that one side is carping on a few issues, making up others, and ignoring other important biblical concerns. Well, probably both sides. But at least one Candidate is willing to say "the problem is with US as well." I see one candidate being very Christian in his confessional humility. I see another candidate doing what some evil despots have done in the 20th century by creating a following through focusing on a common enemy.

Why do people ignore border policy when it is one chapter away from the strongest indictment against homosexual behavior? It seems to me that fingers are pointed in one direction in order to distract us.

I disagree with Obama's stand on abortion. Abortion, except in the case of the survival of the mother is murder. Period. But, the court is already favorable. Yesterday (October 13) CNN was making an issue of how important the court nominees would be and they made it clear that in the 4-8 years of an Obama presidency, 3 liberal judges will probably be replaced. But it won't change the court because there is a 5-4 majority. I voted Republican for the last 20 years in order to get this court. Reagan appointed Suiter, who is described as one of the liberals who will probably go off during this next presidency.

My vote for Reagan was wasted on that issue (I still think he was a great president and am glad I voted for him in spite of his failure to fulfill that promise -and I know, he had a Democratic senate to work with).

But one final thing. One side tries to build support by rallying against terminal sexual deviations (abortion, homosexuality). I agree that these are issues of righteousness. But terminal sexual deviations are not the reason we will be judged, they are the judgment. Ezekiel 16:48, Romans 1. Why are we judged? Ezekiel 16:48, again. Lack of concern for the poor. Which candidate will help us win revival? The one who places concern for the poor over concern for the rich.

Do I really believe that one candidate cares that much for the poor? Nope, I am realistic. Both candidates are politicians Our political system is designed to serve the interests, whether it be the "gay agenda," "abortion mills," or insurance companies who want to continue to deny or restrict health care to the unhealthy, to the oil/energy concerns, Wall street, or any other group with enough financial clout to buy votes and influence in order to create an unfair advantage over others with political power and legislation.

SO, I know how I am voting, because I know what is happening isn't working. Being truly Biblical, having the values of Jesus expressed in Mathew 25, is bigger than the narrow issues that one side is making them out to be. I am voting that way because of my deep commitment to God's Word and my Christian faith. But my hope is not in either candidate, my hope is in the Lord.

Phil Reynolds

Monday, June 09, 2008

My Story So far

I have learned the most about me. I discovered that my worldview is Post-Modern. What a freeing discovery! Although I do not embrace the concepts of syncretism and pluralism as part of my theological understanding, I do embrace them socially and politically.

I find that my many years of pastoral ministry have exhibited this journey. My first years could simply be defined as ministry born out of “a reaction to modernity.” This was fleshed out through a passion for apologetics, memorization of most of the New Testament, study in the original languages, and the history of the Church and its development of theology. The passion for this gnosis became a polemic because it was reactionary. My own personal experience was that the importance of orthodoxy was elevated over orthopraxy in Western Christianity. This happened across Western Christendom but especially within my own camp: American Evangelicals. The Evangelical community became a Christian sub-culture that is good at cursing the darkness of modernity. However, the world moved on into post-modernity. The “cursing of the darkness” became an embarrassment to me. It is irrelevant to our culture. Therefore, although it might create disciples of the Christian sub-culture, it is no longer an effective means of proclaiming the good news to the post-Christian world. When I began to evaluate the rhetoric of the Christian sub-culture I decided I needed to compare it to the value system of the post-modern world. I finally admitted that even my passion for apologetics, during my “fighting modernity” stage of my ministry, was merely me trying to assuage the guilt of arrogance by trying to show that believers are not kooks. I did that by emphasizing the teachings of Jesus Christ and the prophets –especially those dealing with justice and mercy.

This journey was freeing because I realize that the Christian Sub-Culture in the West had abandoned the most important teachings of Jesus and the prophets. (I actually get regular email from a group describing itself as “right Christians” that directly oppose Leviticus 19:34 and call it a Christian value to make stricter US border policy.) I find the missional concepts of evangelism that are designed to reach the post-modern world are much more in line with the teaching of Jesus. Story-telling in my preaching is more in line with the way Jesus taught. But more than that, it reconnects me with the good reasons why I became a hippie in the 70’s in an holistic, Christ-centered way. It feels like a full circle with real purpose and meaning. More than that, it helps me deal with the painful experiences I have faced in 22 years of pastoral ministry. It re-connects me to our Anabaptist roots.

It seems to me, that every time we arrive at a central position in dialectic, it becomes a new extreme and a new dialectic is formed. Then the new dialectic moves us to another center, which in turn becomes another extreme; and then an even newer dialectic is formed and so forth. In other words, emphasis on orthodoxy was the correct response to modernity. However, we got so wrapped up in it that it led to what I call Neo-Gnosticism. The dialectic created is leading us into the emerging church movement. I need to remember that some day it will become an extreme, and another dialectic will form and another new center will be created. (Hopefully I will be in heaven by then and not have to learn it all over again!) As it is right now, the Church has in many ways become irrelevant. There are millions of Christians in the West who will get to heaven, but it seems they have forgot that the Church exists for the good of the world.

So, there are general principles, perceptions and practices that I feel the church needs in order to be invited back to the table. This list is not exhaustive or a comprehensive answer to all of Western of Christendom, but personally developed out of my passions and understanding. I believe this is what God is leading me to focus on:


  • Orthodoxy is irrelevant if it does not create Christ-like behavior.
  • Jesus came to save the world from its sin.
  • Jesus will always be with the Church, empowering her to preach good news.
  • The Church exists for the good of the world.
  • The Church is called to reflect Jesus to non-Christians.
  • We do not have the privilege of bringing our world back to Jesus as if we were like the early believers preaching in the streets of Jerusalem. Instead we are more like the early believers preaching in the streets of Rome or Corinth, where the good news is not generally known.
  • Jesus is the only way to the Father.


  • To Prevent:

· Christians hate homosexuals

o Racism used to be taught from conservative pulpits, if they were wrong about racism, are they also wrong about homosexuals?

· Christianity is Imperialistic:

o God is a Republican.

o America has a manifest destiny

§ Emphasized in the Religious Right’s decrying of UN involvement

§ The erroneous view that if we did it, it must be right

§ The erroneous view that the Constitution is as divinely inspired as the Bible

· Christianity is irrelevant.

  • To Proclaim:

· Jesus loves the homosexual as much as us.

o Just as Christianity was instrumental in overcoming slavery, Christianity was instrumental in overcoming racism.

§ We need to confess our own part in racism as sin.

o We need to confess our creation of homophobia as sin.

o We are all sinners and singling out homosexuality is merely cursing the darkness.

o God is the one who sets people free, and sometimes it may not be until they get to heaven.

o Jesus never taught that homosexuality was okay, normal or a viable option. But on the other hand, He never bothered to elevate it as a litmus test of true spirituality or biblical authority.

o We cannot judge another servant of the master, because in the Master’s eyes (not ours) they stand or fall.

o Terminal sexual deviations will not bring the judgment of God on our society; they are the judgment of God (Romans 1).

§ Just as we understand disease to be a judgment, we never hate the person infected with that disease.

§ Disease is often non-specific in who it attacks.

§ Let us be as merciful to the homosexual as we are to the cancer patient.

· God loves the whole world, no exceptions:

o We need to be about a 2 kingdom theology that overcomes the political belief in the manifest destiny of America.

o Jesus is not a Republican or a Democrat.

o We need to admit that Columbus was probably more interested in gold than sharing Jesus.

o Even though Israel does have a manifest destiny, its destiny, along with ours is to be a blessing to the entire world.

o America needs to confess its sin of dominating the world economy for its own welfare instead of the good of the entire world.

o American Christians need to influence the government to do justice.

· Christianity is still relevant

o It is still the only world religion doing good works in almost every area of deep poverty (for example the caste system of Hinduism actually sanctions the poverty of the poor).

o The teachings of Christ Jesus still inform us how to live.

o When Christians are acting like Christ, good things happen.


  • Do justice.
  • Be humble.
  • Love Mercy.
  • Work with other faiths and religions to overcome injustice.
  • Expect the power of the Holy Spirit to draw people to Jesus.
  • Create authentic community centered on our mission.
  • Be unapologetic about justice.
  • Distance myself from the arrogance of the Religious right.
  • Be more open-minded than the liberals.
  • Explore more of the mystery of God.
  • Have Faith
    • Pray in faith
    • Do not be afraid of evildoers
    • Do not fear the rhetoric of the Religious Right
    • My ministry is at God’s privilege, therefore hold it with an open hand.
    • Be anxious for nothing, but in everything with prayer and supplication, let my requests be known to God.
    • Trust in the fact that God is leading me to know Jesus, and the fellowship of His suffering.
  • Remember the leaven of the Pharisees (for me this is important).