Friday, December 14, 2012

4 Ways the Bible is Abused

Read the Bible like drinking beer, not sipping wine. – N.T. Wright

In my book, Confessions of a Bible Thumper, I tell the story of how I came to believe the Bible is routinely abused, particularly by fundamentalists and evangelicals, but also by the general public. I make the case the Bible should be taken seriously as an historical document written by human beings that has much inspirational material from God, but nevertheless, is not a heavenly, literal instruction manual to be applied across the board. Discernment is necessary in applying the Bible’s message to modern believers. Here are four ways well-meaning readers abuse the Bible, usually unknowingly:

1 – Not Understanding Translation Problems – Contrary to popular belief, the translation of the Bible is not straightforward. There are many instances where scholars can’t agree on the correct translation for a Hebrew or Greek word or there are variant meanings. Moreover, there is sound linguistic evidence there are many words in our English Bibles that are mistranslated. Bottom line: Although this doesn’t mean we have to question everything we read, readers should not be dogmatic that what they read is the end-all meaning for a word, verse, or passage.

2 – Misinterpreting Passages – There are three major ways this happens. (1) reading verses out of context (not paying attention to the surrounding background or a writer’s overall point), (2) misunderstanding the history, culture, or literary style behind a text, and (3) selecting certain passages from the Bible while ignoring other themes or principles on the same topic in other parts of the Bible. This is why one should read the Bible like drinking large glasses of beer (gaining fuller context), rather than like sipping wine and reading things piecemeal. Moreover, without an understanding of background history and culture, it’s very easy and common to misinterpret the meaning of a passage.
3 – Misusing the Claim to Authority – The Bible is not a set of timeless axioms to be strictly obeyed to the letter. It never claims to be such. Even most narrow literalists prove this by ignoring certain verses. For example, most conservatives don’t allow women to be pastors or teachers but, contrary to Paul’s admonition in I Corinthians 14 and one in I Timothy, they permit women to speak in the church. They are selective literalists. The point is, as N.T. Wright says, “…there is no biblical doctrine of the authority of the Bible.” Don’t get me wrong, I believe the Bible contains authoritative material. But its authority is not an across-the-board application. Its authority is found in as much as it reflects rationality and a remarkable dose of wisdom and moral inspiration that applies to one’s modern context. The Bible doesn’t always do this nor claims to. Not making this distinction gets “biblicists” in trouble as they attempt to get people to “submit to scripture.” Encouraging people to “love your neighbor as yourself” is a worthy goal, but teaching that all Christians must follow Paul’s admonitions for church order (which is also often misinterpreted) in the name of obeying God is just stretching the limits of whatever authority the Bible has. It also leads people to worship the Bible over and above God.

4 – Mislabeling Authenticity – Inerrancy advocates would have us believe the Bible is infallible with no errors whatsoever. But this flies in the face of biblical evidence. In my book, I cite a sampling of places where the Bible is clearly contradictory. As an historical document that sometimes cites eyewitness testimony, the Bible is comparable to other historical writings—it inevitably gets it wrong sometimes. This doesn’t mean it’s mythological, just that it’s a human document at its core (it doesn’t claim to be dictated by God). Such advocates also claim the Bible is wholly authentic. This also flies in the face of the evidence. Textual criticism is an important part of Bible study that not only reveals original meaning but how close and to what extent our modern Bible matches the ancient texts closest to the originals. Evidence suggests the Bible contains copyist errors and inauthentic passages. These aren’t huge discrepancies, but they need to be taken seriously. For example, that one passage (I Corinthians 14:34-35), where Paul says women shouldn’t speak or teach in church, was most probably added by a copyist with theological bias who wanted to keep the status quo of suppressing women in society (See Paul the Egalitarian).

In my studies, I discovered the modern, Western, evangelical way of looking at the Bible (infallible and the only authority for faith and practice) is not even supported by the Bible itself. And, other Christian traditions—the Eastern Orthodox Church, for example—have more rational ways of viewing the Bible that are much less susceptible to Bible abuse. I’ll continue to explore how to expose Bible abuse in later posts, but this is a good introduction to four common pitfalls serious students of the Bible need to avoid. Agree? Disagree? Please join the conversation.

Saturday, November 03, 2012

Book Review: Pub Theology, a Provocative Brew!

Pub Theology: Beer, Conversation, and God, by Bryan Berghoef, published by Cascade Books

Disarming and ingenious; cleverly crafted with a residual sweetness

Bryan Berghoef is an author after my own heart. He loves beer… and Jesus. But not the Jesus we typically find in our traditional institutional church structures, where brutal honesty is squelched, members are spoon fed answers, and the goal is to produce clones who all believe one body of doctrine but don’t think for themselves. No, Bryan’s Christ is humble (open to listen to other perspectives, embraces religious diversity, and makes love, mutual respect, and communal exploration paramount) and his beer is good. It creates the scene for this story—the local pub—one of the best places where a faith (and no-faith) community can learn a whole new paradigm for Christ-like fellowship.

And that’s what you’ll do if you read Pub Theology. You’ll learn and experience the pub-theology way. Not only how Berghoef, a pastor of a church in Michigan, begins a regular meet up at a brewpub to discuss theology, philosophy, and the meaning of life, but how it attracts an eclectic variety of wayfarers—from conservatives to progressives to agnostics—who experience a challenging and encouraging environment to both deconstruct and discover their faith, or just learn from another—even, or especially, from an atheist, one of the long-time attendees. Which is why you’ll also discover a safe haven, where condescending religious authority is discouraged and the most doubting are welcomed with open arms, and some damn good microbrews.

In telling his story, Berghoef meets head on some of the most controversial faith issues of our day that sorely need addressing. Not only how to rethink church and outreach, but for instance, how to rethink the Bible, still taking it seriously, but being honest about its sometimes contradictory nature and how we need an understanding of its history and culture to discern its message for us today. Moreover, including exploring more inclusive themes for God, questioning faith that is motivated by a fear of hell or God’s punishment, and understanding the sporadic ways the early church developed cherished doctrines, such as the Trinity or the divinity of Christ. In the end, Berghoef deals with some of the objections people have about interfaith dialogue in a reasoned, respectful way that acknowledges the need for a safety net: the discussions don’t lead to leaving one’s faith but to knowing God’s heart for people.

Pub Theology is a fascinating open-minded spiritual journey that will stretch your faith or non-faith and show you an innovative, alternative model for human interaction on theology and the great questions of life. I highly recommend it. Enjoy Berghoef’s journey, but please note: it’s more appreciated when read with a glass of your favorite craft beer!

Pub Theology on Amazon | Pub Theologian Blog

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Film Drives One More Nail in Hell's Coffin

When I first heard about Hellbound?, Kevin Miller's new documentary that critically examines the doctrine of hell, I was encouraged. With the recent plethora of books and commentary on the topic that challenge the traditional position (including two chapters in my book, Confessions of a Bible Thumper), how captivating would it be to put this doctrine under fire on film? Sounded promising. Well, now that I've seen the film (twice), sure enough, my hope for a visual fair hearing of a "biblical" (warning, loaded term) view of universal reconciliation was realized. The movie was sheer genious.

Miller and co-producers David Rempel and Brad Jersak just didn't lay out a case for rethinking hell but forced viewers to face the conventional dogma of eternal damnation head on. We heard straight from the mouths of conservative pastors and evangelists (from the whole spectrum--right-wing wackos from the infamous Phelps church to hip but hyper-conservative Mark Driscoll to moderate-sounding theologian Kevin DeYoung), without interuption, where the notion of hell leads. They let the doctrine speak for itself, in other words. That's when the emotional disconnect between everlasting punishment for one half to 99.99 percent of the human race (depending on who was defending it) and an unconditionally loving God hit viewers like a ton of bricks, kiln-fired to 2000-degrees Farenheit. Huh?, was the unspoken response, just as Rob Bell had asked.

But Miller and company don't leave you there. Just when you were thinking, there must be a better way, through theologians, scholars, and studied authors,* they piled on the preponderance of evidence that hell is a modern misinterpretation of religious narratives anchored in an ancient history we know little about. Gehenna, erroneously translated as "hell" in the New Testament, is a metaphor for judgment in this life, God's justice is restorative, not retributive, the term "everlasting" is mistranslated, and much of the early church embraced the idea of universal reconciliation. The overall impression the film leaves is inspiring and redemptive. Cries of heresy by convervatives are misplaced as should be a sense of superiority by Universalists. So much of this stuff is a mystery. The question boils down to, what kind of God do we think we serve?

Run, don't walk, to see this film. It's an important commentary on our religious divide. It fairly lays out a continuum of positions. It opens up a vision for the nonviolent paradigm Jesus espoused. The honest listening and questioning is refreshing. The music is powerful. Five out of five stars. Easy. After you view it, come back here and join the conversation through your comments. Or, better yet, grab a brew of your preference and have a discussion with friends.

*My only critique of the film is minor. They definitely interviewed top voices who expose the problems with the traditional view, such as Robin Parry (pseudonym is Gregory MacDonald) and many others, but they left out one important author, Thomas Talbott, who in many ways began this conversation about rethinking hell in 1999 with his watershed book, The Inescapable Love of God.

Friday, August 17, 2012

A Unifying Trend in the Body of Christ

When Frank Schaeffer came out with his latest article on Huffington Post, I was encouraged. Not exactly known for being the most diplomatic communicator when speaking of his evangelical past, he confessed he had erred in his tendency to "burn evangelicals" in  his writing. "Instead of damning each other, maybe we can learn to show mercy to those with whom we disagree, taking our cue from a teacher who said that love of enemy — not correct theology or politics — is all that can make us whole," he wrote. Wise words indeed.

I commented on his post and told him I'm glad he has made this turn, but hope he doesn't lose his prophetic edge. There's a difference between condemning the other and offering loving constructive criticism. I can only hope that my writing has done the latter. If I have crossed the line and condemned, I was wrong and wish to join a more compassionate approach.

Then I saw this on Patheos (What do you want to see in the future for Evangelical Christianity? ). At Wild Goose East, three young evangelicals sat down with Frank to talk about the issues that matter to both of them. "Many conservatives would have wanted to lay into Mr. Schaeffer for his “heresy” and the “evil” he is spreading with his liberal message. But after spending a week witnessing Mr. Frank’s love and Christ-like character, I was convinced that despite our major theological differences that he was a brother in Christ and I wanted to get to hear his story."

Thank you Brandon Robertson for sharing your story. What struck me was Brandon's heart as much as Frank's. "I just wanted to publicly commend Mr. Frank Schaeffer as a young, conservative evangelical Christian who believes that liberals, moderates, and conservatives can all work together to see God’s Kingdom come and will be done on earth as it is in heaven."

Yes, the day has come, when divergent Christians have this attitude and can actually work together (despite their wide differences in theological/ideological views). Brandon calls Frank "liberal," and emphatically includes "liberals" in his list. I'm encouraged that a wing of the conservative Christian movement has take a huge step toward unity and someone like Frank Schaeffer has done the same. I commend both Brandon and Frank. If liberals, progressives, moderates, and conservatives can learn to agree to disagree, agreeably, and in respect and love, and not demonize the other, we just might get a slice of what Brandon Robertson desires: the Reign of God come and God's will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Let it be.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Readers Weigh In on the Book

First of all, to anyone who has reviewed my book, Confessions of a Bible Thumper, I want to thank you. Whether it's a positive or negative review, I honestly appreciate people putting their time and effort into reading the whole book and sharing their honest assesment. I'm pleased that the overwhelming response is positive, but also appreciate a couple more negative reviews that have come in. The point is, people care enough to express their opinion, and that's all good. Again, thank you reviewers!

Now, with the 15-16 total reviews out there so far (Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Goodreads, and various bloggers), I have to admit, it's fascinating to compare responses. For example, most people have said I have a respectful tone when critiquing evangelical doctrines. "When there is disagreement, the author respects the views of his friends. He doesn’t put them down, or indicate that they are in some manner less Christian than he is... Michael is critical of his conservative religious background, but his is not judgmental," says the pastor at Desert Streams. But the reviewer at Perceptible Reflections disagrees: "...the words used showed an arrogance of 'I’m right and your wrong' attitude, with a feel that if you disagree, it is because you don’t understand this higher level of thinking." Hmm... which is it?

On the craft beer theme, I can't tell you how many times people have praised the idea of anchoring half the book in a pub and using the conversations over microbrews to make theology accessible. One of my editors called it "genious." One Amazon reviewer "...found this format refreshing and brilliant." Not so, says the Parish reviewer: "He also has a bad habit of setting conversations in a bar which allows him to nerd out about his favorite microbrews, a complete waste of time for an undertaking like this, and indicates the book needed more editing." Hmm... mixed messages. That's why everyone is entitled to their opinion!

Although the Parish thought the sex and gay rights chapters are worth reading, he had pointed critiques of the Intelligent Debate chapter (where I critique creationism, defend intelligent design, and make a case for unorthodox evolution), which I fully expected. He didn't like me sourcing David Berlinski because he's not a scientist (A Ph.D in Philosophy and post-doctorate studies in Mathematics doesn't count), but with the exception of Lynn Margulis (who I give as an example of an unorthodox evolutionist), he overlooks the other scientists I cite, like Stephen J. Gould, Niles Eldridge, James Shapiro, and Michael Denton, as well as atheist/philosopher Bradley Monton.

Overall, a great collection of reviews and I look forward to more. I invite readers to offer their opinions here or write a review on one of the sites listed above. Cheers!

Friday, June 29, 2012

Coming Home to the Wild Goose!

Despite the oppressive heat, last week’s Wild Goose Festival in North Carolina, proved to be a refreshing respite for my wandering soul. I went there to promote my newly launched book and discovered something I have sorely missed of late: a dynamic like-minded community within a progressive Christian movement devoid of religious overtones. I had a honkin good time at Wild Goose!
                First, there were the surprising parallels with my big idea. I thought my book (Confessions of a Bible Thumper) was unique with its craft beer theme—which anchors my spiritual evolution in a pub and uses microbrews as a metaphor for true freedom in Christ. But as my daughter Beth and son Nate helped me set up our book booth, no more than 100 feet away stood the beckoning beer tent run by a popular Durham microbrewery! As I perused the schedule, my eyes locked on sessions entitled “The Theology of Beer,” and “Beer and Hymns.” Hmm… my kind of festival! I mused.  Before long I found new friends like Pastor Jimmy Chalmers, known for praising God for hops and brew techniques as much as grace. And Bryon Berghoef, author of the forthcoming book, Pub Theology, about his experience connecting with God and friends in pubs and other unlikely places. Here we are below discussing the future of microbrew theology and attitudes in the church.

Jimmy Chalmers, Bryan Berghoef, and Michael Camp at Wild Goose Festival, June 2012
Pastor Jimmy Chalmers, Bryan Berghoef, Michael Camp, and friend
at the Wild Goose Festival, Shakori Hills, NC, June 24, 2012

                Despite the incredible interest in my book—amazing conversations and half-decent book sales—I found it more challenging and inspiring learning from workshops and making connections. Nikole Lim shared how she used photography and video to start a mentoring and scholarship program (Freely in Hope) to help women in Kenya affected by sexual abuse and poverty. Roger Wolsey, author of Kissing Fish, had an excellent session on The Progressive Reformation. Not only did I hear Frank Schaeffer speak (he had endorsed my book), but finally met him and his wife Genie. Phyllis Tickle spoke on the history of Christianity and how every 500 years a reformative stream arises in society. We are in one now, she says, called the Great Emergence. Finally, there was a sneak-preview of portions of a new film called Hellbound? that is due out this fall (I was unable to see it but there is a trailor, which you gotta see!). As does the Universal Life chapter in my book, it dissects and debunks the doctrine of hell and the churches that teach it. I also met and had a delightful conversation with Rich Koster of the Christian Universalist Association (I love this guy) and Eric Elnes of Darkwood Brew.
        If you attended Wild Goose, I’d love to hear your experience. If not, I highly recommend it and if out West, do attend Wild Goose West in Oregon this coming Labor Day weekend. If you resonate with emergent, progressive, or convergence Christianity, attend Wild Goose and support this amazing now-annual festival—a needed answer to the partisan and polarizing Christian Right and standard evangelical fare. I welcome your comments.   

Monday, May 28, 2012

Beer and the Bible

John and I got a laugh over the way the brewing noises of Sound Brewery (Poulsbo, WA) keep interupting our video shoot. I decide not to cut it, better to see the lighter side of amateur video. With a glass of a delicious dark Abbey-style ale in hand, I explain how I started down the road to rethink the Bible from my conservative evangelical days. There are two important chapters in my book that address this, Investigating Inerrancy and Confronting Bible Abuse. Check it out and stay tuned for more!

Sunday, May 20, 2012

New Video Series! Craft Beer and Christianity

Check out my new video series. The first three are completed, including an overview of the book and summaries of the chapter on Bible abuse and how I started down the path of rethinking hell and adopting a more inclusive theology. Craft Beer and Christianity Series. More to come!

Wednesday, May 09, 2012

New Book Distills Faith and Fellowship Over Local Brews

Press release on book is out!

“Confessions of a Bible Thumper,” out June 19, traces author’s spiritual journey from devout evangelical to progressive believer; challenges status quo on modern religious issues.

Seattle, WA (PRWEB) May 08, 2012 -- When a former Christian conservative and missionary begins to question his faith, where does he find God? In Author Michael Camp’s case, inside a microbrewery near Seattle, Washington. He’s not imbibing irresponsibly, but rather enjoying Pacific Northwest craft beer, reflecting on his 25-year evangelical sojourn, and talking reasoned theology with friends.

“Confessions of a Bible Thumper: My Homebrewed Quest for a Reasoned Faith” tracks Camp’s story and his nine eye-opening revelations that caused him to rethink an array of conservative doctrines, including paradigms on the Bible, the church, the “end times,” gay and lesbian rights, and salvation.

Read full release

Thursday, April 19, 2012

On Belonging, Behaving, Believing, and Brewing!

When I saw Diane Butler Bass's new book, Christianity After Religion: The End of Church and the Birth of a New Spiritual Awakening, I was excited that, again, the ideas I espouse in my book, particularly the Save the Ales (from the Church) chapter, are being embraced and promoted by others. Diane brings up a great point I want to share.

Dogmatic or traditional spiritual paradigms set up a process for people to go through to become part of the "church." People have to believe certain doctrines, then behave a certain way--i.e., follow the behavior codes and rituals of the church--whether it's traditional or contemporary--before they can belong in the community. This is the Believe, Behave, Belong approach and is almost universal in conservative churches. To become a member of a church, one must adhere to the church's statement of faith or even sign a covenant or theological statement (Mars Hill and Overlake are two examples in Seattle). One must believe the right things and then behave the right way. No one can truly belong until they jump through the right hoops.

Diane reminds us, that this is ass backwards. Taking the example of Jesus, the new spiritual paradigm is Belong, Behave, Believe. On the basis of love, everyone belongs right from the start. Doctrines, as important as they might be, are not paramount. Heretics are welcome. Once you belong to a group practicing Jesus' love ethic, the right behavior gradually emerges. It does not need to be imposed through law. Moreover, when acts of love fulfill the rulebook, behavior need not be strict and narrow. Outcasts are welcome. If they like what they see, they begin to emulate love. Finally, only after belonging and behaving does believing come. People have been loved, are learning to love back, and once they have, they are able to articulate what they believe. And it doesn't have to necessarily fit the offical party line. Iconoclasts are welcome. No need for clones.

Now, Diane used great illiteration for this lesson, but forgot the critical fourth part of the equation: Once you feel like you belong, you behave accordingly, and form a personal belief, you're ready for a higher level of fellowship: Brewing! As in enjoying craft beer, that is (well for some of us, at least). Actually, it should come first. I'd say brewing is crucial to making friends and letting them feel like they belong. So, here's to Brewing, Belonging, Behaving, and Believing. Cheers!

Sunday, March 25, 2012

The Christian Nation Myth Revisited

Despite the fact that he's Catholic and evangelicals have been historically suspicious of Catholics, Rick Santorum has managed to do something Rick Perry, Michelle Bachman, and Newt Gingrich failed to do: win the hearts of the Christian Right. How? By focusing on social and conservative issues, such as marriage, family, and abortion (and paradoxically, contraception, something evangelicals are typically not against), and by his bulldogged campaigning that has left the others in the dust. Unlike Romney, whose Mormonism is even more suspicious, Santorum is delivering the goods for Christian conservatives, including the cry to revive our nation's Christian heritage.

At one of his campaign stops in Louisiana, he pitched his message to 1,000 strong at the Greenwell Springs Baptist Church. At one point, the pastor delivered a message that summarizes the movement's motivation (and that evening's theme) and why they are now pinning their hopes on Santorum: "This nation was founded as a Christian nation," he said. "If you don't like the way we do things, I've got one thing to say: Get out! We don't worship Buddha. We don't worship Muhammad. We don't worship Allah. We worship God. We worship God's son Jesus Christ." [1]

Hmm... does that sound American to you? In Confessions of a Bible Thumper, I relate how I always wrestled with such claims and how I discovered the myth of a Christian nation. The Christian Right rewrites history ignoring the historical evidence that clearly shows our founding fathers to be a conglomerate of Christian progressives (most would be considered liberal heretics by the Baptist Church audience!) and students of the Enlightenment, with a slim minority being what we would call evangelical Christians. And would they make such assinine statements, that those of other faiths should just get out? Hardly! This pastor, and Santorum's association with his church, reveals a disturbing, familiar theocratic theme: Only those who worship our way, or at least only those who like our "Christian" way of governing, are deserving of citizenship.

There were two other statements that revealed this pastor's narrow-minded bias. He said, "We don't worship Muhammad." Well, who does? Last I checked, Muslims don't either. Worshiping Muhammad would be heresy to them. He also said, "We don't worship Allah." Are you sure, pastor? Last I checked, Arab Christians, who believe the same as you do, worship Allah. "Allah" is merely the Arabic term for God. So, yes, you actually do worship Allah, sir. You just don't know it!

I had hoped with the work of moderate evangelicals like Mark Noll (In Search of Christian America) and Gregory Boyd (The Myth of the Christian Nation), this kind of talk would be scarce by now. But no, the fallacy continues and apparently is the rallying cry of Santorum and his supporters. God help us. I welcome your comments.

[1] Time Magazine, April 2, 2012, The New Christian Right, page 33.

Wednesday, March 07, 2012

The New Spiritual Paradigm: Not Church

I recently cracked open the newest issue of Time magazine, which displayed the words “10 Ideas That Are Changing Your Life” on the cover, and was pleasantly surprised one of those ideas mirrors one of the major themes in my book: Many believers need to be saved from the church. The article explained how American society is experiencing a shift in its concept of spiritual community. More and more people, without rejecting God, are leaving the institutional church and rethinking “religion.”

Time’s article calls the number four idea “The Rise of the Nones,” the Nones being the now 16 percent of the population who say they have no religious affiliation. That percent does not correlate with the 4 percent of Americans who identify as atheist or agnostic, meaning 12 percent of these “Nones” are still believers. Their hunger for spiritual meaning and connection is still strong. Many have fled the doctrinal battles, hierarchal control, and spiritual abuse happening inside the church to create grassroots Christian communities, often meeting in homes.

There is an irony to this phenomenon. This movement of Nones and Not Church (what one Sunday gathering calls itself) is worlds closer to the original intention of what New Testament writers called ekklesia, in Greek, or what is commonly translated “church,” than what fundamentalist, evangelical, and Catholic churches have become. In Confessions of a Bible Thumper, I explain (as does author Frank Viola) that a more historical and linguistically accurate reading of the Bible does not support our modern concept of church.

I’m excited about this trend. I believe a Not Church movement has begun. A movement that exposes controlling churches and denominations, such as Sovereign Grace Ministries (SGM), which I was apart of in another life (and whose abuse is thankfully gradually being exposed here and here) and Mars Hill Seattle, whose recent extreme “church discipline” case was reported by KOMO 4 News Seattle. Moreover, I would hope, it would be a movement that funnels energy and money into fighting poverty and oppression, pursuing social justice, and simply loving others unconditionally (Jesus stuff), rather than building ego-driven empires that too often control the flock, idolize the Bible, and canonize doctrine. As I say in my book, the models for such communities are endless, way beyond simply a home church movement. I welcome your comments.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Curing the Plague of Churchianity

Someone wiser than I once suggested that in many churches, what is needed is not a long, skillfully-delivered, scripturally-based sermon following a passionate time of worship but rather a short admonition. She imagined God wanting a pastor to simply stand up and declare, "Brothers and sisters, God's word to us today is 'Love your neighbor as yourself and love your enemies.' Go now and immediately put this into practice. There's no need to return next week unless you have completed the assignment. You're dismissed." That would be the extent of the service.

As I've written in my chapter on church, Save the Ales (from the Church), churchianity--the practice of making the demands of the institutional church more important than loving others--is a plague on evangelical and fundamentalist Christianity. Richard Beck made a similar point when he lamented how church and religious rituals (and I would add, believing the right doctrines) have supplanted the most basic Christian practice: being decent human beings. Rather than focus on what really matters, followers of churchianity put more stock in "church attendance, worship, praying, spiritual disciplines, Bible study, using religious language... and arguing with evolutionists..." (This is the short list). The outcome? As Beck says, churches become "jerk factories."

Churchianity rears its ugly head when we hear of spiritual abuse in denominations like Sovereign Grace Ministries and the Seattle Mars Hill church. I recently read the Mars Hill membership covenant and was shocked how lopsided it is. Members promise to "submit to church leaders, doctrine, discipline, and the authority of scripture," "not function as a member of another church," "commit to the mission of the church," which is to "make disciples (get other people to do the above) and plant churches" (get even more people to do the above), and promise to practice a long list in a behavior code having to do with sex, not living together before marriage, and refraining from pornography, alcohol abuse, and drug use. There was not one word about loving one another or loving the unlovely.

I'm not pretending that none of the things in their covenant are important, but that it's emphasis is on things only the church and its leaders can control (how they do church discipline, decide what's right to believe, decide what part of the Bible is authoritative, which interpretation to believe and which to ignore, what moral practices to follow, etc.). Churchianity is primarily interested in controlling others and empire building, not loving our fellow man, promoting social justice, and allowing people to govern themselves through Christ's superior law of love. These are the only cure for the plague. I welcome your thoughts.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Confessions of a Bible Thumper Book Summary

First some random thoughts. I liked Mike Morrell's Heresy Hunting piece on how to handle alternate views on theology and faith. He reminds us, despite accusations (or subtle implications) of heresy by some people directed towards us emergent, questioning, and universalist types, we should not tolerate the practice of demonizing people.

Second, I really liked this article by Richard Beck called The Bait and Switch of Contemporary Christianity. He makes the point that much of Christianity has become a mechanism to replace being a loving human being with an endorsed "spiritual" list of ritualistic substitutes. The chapter in my book on the church--Save the Ales (from the Church)--is on this subject. I will blog something on this later.

Finally, as I said below, last week John and I made a video in a local microbrewery (Sound Brewing, Poulsbo, WA) that summarized my book. This will be the first of several videos I do on Confessions. Also visit to read some new reactions to the book. As usual, I appreciate any comments!

Monday, February 13, 2012

Nine Reasons Beer Is Better than Religion*

*source unknown

I had the priviledge this past weekend of hearing Marcus Borg speak in Seattle and was pleasantly suprised when he began with a light-hearted piece about beer. It's seems every where I go, the subject of beer in relation to faith just crops up.

The next night, I went to a local microbrewery to video a blurb about my book and several of the patrons came up to me afterwards to voice their interest in my story. My friend John and I ended up chatting with Melody and her husband over some nice Belgium Porter about open-minded faith and how the church has squelched certain freedoms, one being the responsible enjoyment of beer. It really is a shame, because it's true. Beer really is better than religion (but not genuine reasoned faith) and here are nine perfectly good reasons why with my additional thoughts:

1. No one will kill you for not drinking beer. [Or devise some elaborate torture method, use it on you, and claim they're doing you a favor by compelling you to recant and thereby save your soul]

2. Beer has never caused a major war. [Or a nasty church split]

3. Beer doesn’t tell you how to have sex. [Nor when to have it]

4. When you have a beer, you don’t knock on people’s doors trying to give it away. [Or hand out simplistic tracts that you have to apologize for to intellectual types]

5. They don’t try to force beer on minors who can’t think for themselves. [Or force it on adults by telling them it's dangerous to think for themselves]

6. You don’t have to wait 2000 years for a second beer. [Or a second well-crafted microbrew fit for a returning King]

7. There are laws saying that beer labels can’t lie to you. [Or decieve, manipulate, or twist the truth]

8. You can prove you have a beer. [No need to blindly believe because a church or a pope says so]

9. If you’ve devoted your life to beer, there are groups to help you stop. [They meet in buildings devoted to religion]

Any other reasons beer is better? I welcome your comments.

Saturday, February 04, 2012

Did Jesus Hate Religion?

That is a question that Jefferson Bethke addressed in his "Why I Hate Religion but Love Jesus" video that went viral. When I watched it, I found myself agreeing with a lot of Bethke's assertions, but was uneasy with the way in which it was expressed. It seemed like he wasn't getting to the root of the problem that I see in religious institutions.

Then I saw David Brooks' fascinating article on how Bethke caved to his critics; people like Kevin DeYoung, who "corrected" Bethke, saying that Jesus, although he hates self-righteousness, doesn't really hate religion because he observed Jewish holy days, went to the Temple, founded the church, instituted church discipline, initiated communion and baptism, and didn't abolish Jewish law. Bethke apparently wrote DeYoung in an email exchange and admitted to him that he actually "agrees 100 percent." Ahh, so this is perhaps why I was uneasy about the video. The "religion" Bethke critiqued was not the same as the one that DeYoung defends. But it's the religion that DeYoung defends that needs the critique!

In my book I make the case, based on historical analysis by people like Garry Wills, that Jesus in fact did not found a church, perpetuate Jewish law, and insitute a set of rituals to be followed to the letter. These ideas are read into the New Testament, not derived from a fair, exegetical reading of them. When Jesus taught on the church, he did not have our modern churches in mind, particuarly ones that promote spiritual abuse in the name of "church discipline," he is widely misunderstood on Jewish law (that's why Paul says "we have been released from the law" and "we are not under its supervision"), and in fact, not only was he opposed to this type of religion, but confronted the corruption of the Temple and accurately predicted it would be destroyed!

David Brook argues that disaffected youth and protestors have to do more than just cry injustice. They have to come up with an appropriate alternative, preferably based on an already establshed counter traditional school of thought, or else their critiques are vague and ineffectual. Excellent point.

On the other hand, in my mind, the answer to the "religion" Bethke ranted about is not DeYoung's view of Jesus' religion. Jesus' religion was a religion of the heart, where love is the only law. It wasn't a religion of unquestioned institutions and ecclesiastical authority. The alternative to DeYoung's "religion" (and the issues Bethke addressed) is Jesus' established but misunderstood philosophy of the loving reign of God. I appreciate your comments and thoughts.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Price of Biblicism Part II - Mars Hill and Mark Driscoll

I thought I'd go onto another topic, then a friend sent me a link to this blog, which discusses a recent church discipline action taken by Mark Driscoll's church, Mars Hill, right here in Seattle. Talk about spiritual manipulation and abuse!This is a another sad example of the price of biblical literalism, as a church uses Matthew 18 and a few other verses to "discipline" a member who fell into "sexual sin" (having non-sex contact with a single woman and having sex with his finance). They issued him a church discipline contract to sign that spells out his requirements for gaining restoration (including writing out his whole "detailed sexual sin and emotional attachment" life history! - and "all sins" during this time period!). Then when he refused to sign it, leadership sent instructions to the church to not even talk to this guy unless he was willing to abide by the hoops they set up (check out the level of control they stipulated in the letter to the church). So, he's basically booted out of the church with the whole congregation not only knowing his "sin," but commanded to shun him.

Where do I begin? This whole case makes me so angry. It's similar to what I encountered in PDI/SGM back in the 80s and 90s and share in my book on the chapters on church and bible abuse. First of all, even if one believes the Bible should be applied this way to spell our exactly how to discipline someone (which I don't), Mars Hill has gone way beyond the Bible! Where does it say draw up a contract in Matthew 18? Or get the guy to spill his guts by listing all his sins? Moreover, when Jesus said if a sinner doesn't listen to one or two or three others, then tell it to the church, he wasn't talking about broadcasting it to a mega church. The term is "gathering" and in a local setting it was always a small group. When Jesus said "treat him as a tax collector or pagan," since when does that mean don't talk to him unless he's ready to sign a contract and grovel to the demands of leadership? Last I checked, Jesus treated the Gentiles and tax collectors pretty well and told his disciples to do the same.

The amazing thing is, when you read the case, you'll see that by any reasonable standard the guy really did repent of his "sin." He just refused to sign the contract and good for him. But again, this case also reveals the incredible paranoia of the church over sex, a obsession that doesn't follow from a fair reading of the Bible as I explain in my chapter called The Sex God. You see, technically, having sex with your fiance, if love rules, is not a sin. I don't have time to go into it now but this is one of those fabricated offenses the church overreacts to. Look, read the case. This man wasn't spotless in what he did, but he's now paying the price for a church that adheres to a strict biblicism--and one that even goes beyond what the Bible teaches. This blantent spiritual abuse and manipulation and controlling behavior must be exposed.

Monday, January 09, 2012

The Price of Biblicism

I've written elsewhere about the dangers of fundamentalist or evangelical biblicism--the practice of attempting to apply the Bible's teaching based on the assumption that it is inerrant, self-sufficient, self-evident, internally consistent, and universally applicable. One obvious example is the way biblicists use the Bible to condemn gays and lesbians to an agonizing struggle to become "ex-gay" or remain celibate. Others are when they use it to preach salvation in very exclusive ways or still another, when they teach the supposed "end times," which is, by the way it's taught, extremely manipulative.

These results are the "price of biblicism," the fruit of making the Bible into something that the original writers (and God, I believe) never intended it to be. Another grave example I highlight here is the real-life case study of Soveriegn Grace Ministries (SGM - formerly People of Destiny International), a 30-year-old denomination that is now going through a very public investigation of ongoing spiritual abuse of church members and leaders. The root of this, I contend, is this denomination's strict adherence to biblicism.

The heart of most of the problems in this denomination is how it views its leaders' authority. For example, they take very literally Hebrews 13:17, which says "...Obey your leaders and submit to them. For they are keeping watch over your souls as those who will have to give…an account." And as the leader of SGM, C.J. Mahaney, recently taught, they believe God has inspired and preserved these specific words in Hebrews with their churches in mind.

To see the fruit of taking such a Scripture so literally and applying it to church leaders, pastors, and members, one only has to visit two websites that track a myriad of cases of serious, spiritual and emotional abuse. and are chock full of stories from former SGM members who report on specific examples of leaders using verses like Heb. 13:17 to control people's lives, impose psycological guilt trips, and manipulate/reject members or other leaders when they stand up to the abuse. It's a sad commentary, but important for people to be aware of so I encourage interested readers to check these sites out. The abuse can only stop when things come to light.

I was recently reminded of these websites when I noticed one of the founding leaders of SGM, Larry Tomzcak, had finally posted his story of how he was spiritually abused more than 13 years ago. Also, having attended one of these churches back in the mid-to-late 80s and early 90s, I have personal experience. Finally, one friend of mine from those days, Darla Melancon, wrote a book about her family's abuse (I just discovered last year), called The Things I Learned After Being Kicked Out of Church. These sites and this book is a massive case study on the horrific price some people have to pay for biblical literalism.

Sunday, January 01, 2012

Buried Truth Revealed Pisses Off Religious Elites

BOOK REVIEW: The Kairos, by Paul E. Hartman - Buy on Amazon

What if someone found sound historical proofs from Jesus’ lost years that revealed two shocking revelations about Jesus’ life? What if conservatives considered one revelation to be blasphemous, and liberals counted the other as mythological? Paul Hartman, in his new religious thriller, The Kairos—a term that signifies a point when God breaks into human history—deftly answers those questions. You don’t want to miss the ramifications found in this book.

When Hartman’s protagonist, Dr. Lute Jonson, a world-class archeologist and Dead Sea Scroll scholar, decides to unveil to the world these heretofore hidden proofs (scroll fragments accurately carbon-dated to the early first century), all hell breaks loose. Jonson inadvertently puts himself, his family, and friends in grave danger as powerful fundamentalist religious and secular forces (where else could you find Vatican officials and CIA agents working together?) race to stop him before he reaches a international media outlet. You won’t be disappointed with the book’s global intrigue that takes you from Jerusalem to northern Alaska, or its heart-stopping twists and turns, or an ending that’s anything but predictable.

What’s at stake, according to some, is the faith of a billion Christians worldwide. But the message in Hartman’s fictional account of what could be, goes beyond what the book’s characters think to the heart of Jesus’ message: follow the way of love, not historically-bound law, and embrace this love that drives out fear. Moreover, it goes to the heart of how we read the Bible. This engaging book reveals both a Jesus we never knew and one we always did, while reminding us to embrace the marginalized of our day.

Don’t let the few places where the protagonist sounds overly religious scare you away (the ongoing internal prayers and scripture citations were a tad overkill for me). You’ll get beyond that minor wrinkle and into a fascinating story and premise with realistic Dead Sea Scroll scholarship. I recommend this book! * * * * * [five stars]