This is week 1 of a 3 part series I’m calling “Burn Those Books!” where I’m sharing a little bit about the 3 books that made the biggest impact on me in 2018.
As some of you know, I’m a crazy avid reader.
Right now in front of me, to the left of my computer, I have a stack of 19 books that I’ll read over the course of the next few months. Some of them are just personal reads, others are books written by people I’ll be bringing onto the podcast this year. I usually have a goal of reading 50 books a year, one time I hit 90. In 2020 I’m aiming for 100.
Bitten By A Camel by Kent Dobson.
How the Bible Actually Works by Pete Enns.
Sinners In The Hands Of A Loving God by Brian Zahnd.
The Day The Revolution Began by NT Wright.
The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck by Mark Manson.
How do I read so much?
I’m crazy, that’s how.
Anyways, today I want to talk to you about a book my friend Brian McLaren wrote called “The Great Spiritual Migration”. Brian was on the podcast back earlier in January and he’s someone I have a great amount of admiration for. He’s written a bunch of books and they’re all amazing. Especially if you come from a more conservative background, they will ...
And likely really tick you off.
That’s how we learn and grow and evolve - not by reading stuff we are already 100% on board with that just reiterates stuff we already think, believe, and think we know. Instead, we learn by encountering stuff that makes us think. Stuff that makes us kind of mad. We might end up disagreeing, we might end up never reading the book again ... but, reading it with an open mind to understand the author (instead of reading just to defend our own position) will have made us think about what we believe, why we believe it, and we’ll be better for knowing that there are other people in the world who think differently than we do.
Like I said, McLaren is one of my favorite authors and this is probably one of his most important books. And maybe one that you’d want to burn. HA! His premise, in short, is that Christianity is in need of a spiritual migration.
From the back of the book, the migration he envisions is one where ...
Instead of focusing on beliefs, we focus on love.
Instead of seeing God as a violent Supreme Being, we see God as a Divine Spirit who is working to renew the world.
Instead of identifying ourselves with an organized religion, we identify as people who are following Jesus in our dedication to heal the planet, build peace, and work for the good of all.
Rather than just summarize the book for you, though, I want to share one piece from the book that impacted me the most and then tell you how I’ve been trying to incorporate it into my life and what we’re doing here, at the What If Project.
In John 2:13-22 Jesus staged a protest in the Temple. The Passover was approaching and as Jesus entered Jerusalem and approached the Temple, He saw ...
... And various kinds of animals being sold so that people who were traveling to the Temple had something to offer as a sacrifice.
A quick word about sacrifice. There are many angles to sacrifice and why it was such a big part of ancient Judaism as well as other religions, so this is by no means an exhaustive explanation. I tell you that because if you’re a Bible nerd or scholar or whatever, I realize that I’m barely doing the topic justice and I realize that there is a whole lot more to it than what I’m about to share.
I get it.
In essence, though, the religious law taught that at least ONE of the reasons sacrifice was needed was because God is angry at human sin.
Sin makes God mad.
In order to appease God’s anger, sacrifices needed be made and blood needed to be shed.
In order to have something to sacrifice, people who were traveling from afar to visit the Temple in Jerusalem had to come with some money so that they could purchase an animal whose blood could be shed on their behalf.
Scholars say that doves were likely lesser in price and more affordable, and cattle were probably for people who had a little bit more to spend. On the surface, though, it seems to have been a pretty budget friendly place where everyone was able to make a purchase and make a sacrifice.
He moves into the Temple, sees the animals being sold, braids some ropes into a whip, and drives the animals and animal sellers out of the Temple, flipping over tables and scattering all of their money.
It’s a pretty well known story and in seminary I was taught that part of the reason why Jesus did this was because He was angry at the prices that the people were being charged for sacrifices and was outraged for the poor people who might have desired to make a sacrifice, but wouldn’t have been able to afford even the cheapest of animals.
And so my professors and books taught me that if the prices were cheaper or the animals were even free, then Jesus wouldn’t have been upset.
More importantly, this event, they said, foreshadowed a much bigger event - Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross where after His death and resurrection, sacrifice would have cost EVERYTHING for Him, but NOTHING for us.
For us to simply “believe in Him” and “ask Him into our hearts”, thus appeasing God’s anger much like the blood of the dove or the cattle in John 2:13-22.
I remember in one sermon I preached about 10 years ago at the church I used to pastor, I said something like, “He flipped over the wooden tables in the Temple because He believed that sacrifice should be available to everyone and His death on the wooden cross just a few years later made that a reality.”
It got some ooo’s and ahhh’s from the crowd, that is some pretty preaching.
I’m not too sure I believe anything like that anymore, to be honest. Not to go down a rabbit hole about the atonement and why Jesus died on the cross, but every day and every time I read my Bible, I’m becoming increasingly ...
... Convinced that He died on the cross to appease God’s wrath against my sin so that by believing in Him I can escape some sort of harsh judgement and go to heaven when I die instead of going to hell where I’ll suffer for all of eternity.
Like, I just don’t believe it.
And I don’t believe it because that’s not what I see in the life and words of Jesus. If Jesus is the exact representation of God, then Jesus did a pretty lousy job at representing a God who is sending a large part of the human population to hell for believing the wrong stuff.
We’ll talk more about that some other time, but for now ...
... What if by flipping over the tables in the temple and driving out the animal sellers, what if Jesus was getting at something different than just being upset that the animals cost so much money?
Like, what if Jesus wasn’t just protesting the COST of the sacrifices, but what if He was protesting the entire sacrificial system and everything it represented?
What if He was protesting the long held idea (that many people still hold on to today, mind you) that God is angry and vengeful and full of wrath against humanity and our sin and His wrath is so serious and so severe that it needs to be appeased with blood?
McLaren says, “perhaps Jesus is overturning that belief right along with the cashier’s tables, right along with the whole religious system built on it.”
And so what if by flipping over the tables and driving out the animals that were to be used for sacrifice, what if Jesus was really saying, “there is no need for any of this because God isn’t full of wrath, God isn’t angry, and God doesn’t need a blood sacrifice in order to be appeased. He never did. He never will.”
If you haven’t already thrown your computer or phone out the window, props to you. But know that if this really is what Jesus was getting at, He wasn’t the first to make an effort to drive this point home because throughout the Old Testament we see many of the prophets saying the very same thing.
Hosea 6:6 says that God desires compassion, not sacrifice.
Isaiah 1-2 says that God found the sacrifices of the people disgusting because they weren’t also seeking justice for the oppressed.
Psalm 51 says that God takes no pleasure in sacrifice, but in a contrite heart and truth in the innermost being.
And so if Jesus really was making the point that God isn’t angry and therefore doesn’t need sacrifices to take that anger away, He was doing so in the footsteps of generations of prophets that came before Him.
The reality is ...
Glenn is not the first one to say something like this.
McLaren wasn’t the first one to verbalize this idea.
Neither was Jesus.
Generations of prophets challenged the sacrificial system.
Generations of prophets spoke out against the Temple practices.
Generations of prophets declared that God isn’t angry like everyone assumes He is.
In the church one of the most tightly held beliefs is that God is angry at human sin and needs to punish it and so Jesus became the ultimate blood sacrifice so that by believing in Him God’s wrath could be satisfied, putting us back into God’s good graces. In the world of theology this is called “Penal Substitutionary Atonement Theory” and In North America, anyways, this theory makes up a large part of the landscape of Evangelical Christianity so much so that those who hold to it label anyone who thinks differently as a heretic.
One who has gone astray.
But here’s something to think about. McLaren says ...
“If Jesus dared to side with the prophetic tradition and suffer the wrath of the priestly establishment, shouldn’t His followers do the same when necessary?”
In other words, if Jesus challenged the religious leaders of His day and stood in the footsteps of the ancient prophets to declare that ...
God isn’t angry.
God isn’t full of wrath.
God isn’t waiting to strike humanity down.
God isn’t looking for a blood sacrifice.
... And was put to death (at least partly) because of those declarations, shouldn’t we, as Jesus’ followers, be challenged to declare the same? To pronounce what the prophets of long ago pronounced?
That God isn’t angry.
Never was angry.
And to follow His lead in building a model of God’s Kingdom on earth that doesN’T have sacrifice to a wrathful, angry God at it’s foundation, but a dedication to a God who gives ...
Love for all.
Grace for all.
Mercy for all.
Forgiveness for all.
Inclusion of all.
... Not only at its foundation, but at its very core ... running deeply through its DNA?
Here’s the thing, though. I love this idea. But what I’ve learned (especially over this last year) is that this way of thinking or being in the world can’t be argued into existence. It can’t be debated into a reality.
Here’s what I mean by that.
Last year I posted something along these lines on Facebook. My ideas weren’t too thought out yet, but they were developing and growing and evolving. I shared some things on Facebook about God not being angry and not demanding a blood sacrifice and to my surprise my page and messenger was LIT UP with angry comments.
“You’re a heretic!”
“I can’t believe they let you preach!”
“You just tickle people’s ears with what they want to hear!”
“I used to respect you!”
“You’re a snowflake!”
“You’ve lost your way.”
On and on the stuff went from a handful of people. I tried to respond, sometimes nicely and sometimes with a zesty bite to my words. Some of the things I said I wish I could take back, other things I wish I would have said with more spice to my words. Whatever the case may be, we went back and forth, back and forth, back and forth, for hours and days and into the next week.
The back and forth bickering stopped. And when the smoke finally settled and I had some time to think about it, I realized that the system of “God is Angry Christianity” isn’t going to change because I can eloquently describe or articulate a different or better way of believing and living.
The system will begin to change and morph and evolve because a group of people are living according to a different way and are, thus, actively changing the world through their love and words and actions and deeds, bringing heaven closer to earth with every spoken word and every loving deed.
McLaren puts it like this ...
“You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.”
If the existing model is “God is Angry Christianity” or “God only welcomes, includes, and accepts those who believe the right things about Jesus Christianity” then the new model needs to be “God Isn’t Angry Christianity” or “God welcomes, includes, and accepts everyone, everywhere regardless of who they are, where they are from, what they believe Christianity”.
And building that new kind of Christianity won’t come by fighting against or trying to tear down the other kind of Christianity, but it will come by simply working to build the new one each and every day.
With loving words.
Moving inclusively throughout the world.
And so, honestly, that’s what I’m aiming to do here at the What If Project - working to build a new Christianity. I tweeted the other day that the work I’m doing here is proving to be hard.
I’m re-thinking things I’ve always assumed to be true. I’m re-reading things I’ve read a thousand times and coming to new, radical conclusions. I’m letting go of things I’ve held close to my heart for a long, long time. Some relationships have ended as a result. Some harsh words have been said. People who used to look up to me now look down on me.
It’s all quite challenging and exhausting. But following in the footsteps of Jesus and the ancient prophets and challenging the status quo of longly held religious traditions in the name of giving the world a clearer picture of their Creator ... it’s supposed to be hard, right?
Even so, when I get an email or a text or a Facebook message or a Tweet or a comment on a podcast that says, “thank you for doing this. Thank you for saying this. Thank you for giving me the freedom to explore this and to feel what I feel, to ask what I’m asking. Thanks for creating a space that is loving, inclusive ... of even people like me” ... when I get that comment or hear those words, it makes all the hard stuff more than worth it.
And so wherever you are today. Whatever you have going on. Whatever you did last night. Wherever you’ll be tonight. Regardless of the mistakes you’ve made, the ways in which you’ve let people down, the ways in which you’ve let yourself down. The amount of drugs you’ve done. The amount of alcohol you’ve consumed. The ways in which you rebelled. The amount of people you’ve slept with. The things you did that you wish you didn’t do, the things you said that you wish you didn’t say. All the reasons you’ve believed that God is mad at you, disappointed in you, waiting to flip the switch that will send you to hell.
Know today that God isn’t angry.
Soak that in.
He never was, never will be. His only motive and only feeling towards you and everyone that will come across your path today and forever is open arms, love, grace, acceptance.
God isn’t angry. Believing that, though, is going to make a lot of other people angry. Let them be. Let them be angry, and you just keep moving forward, making the world a little more like heaven with your words, your actions, and your deeds.
Much love to you my friends.