Online Reading (July 17, 2018)

Community: Nancy Guthrie comments on what to do when Christians let us down (and it WILL happen)

Unintended Consequences I: Laws preventing criminals from profitting for their crimes can sometimes cause problems for other victims of the criminal.

Unintended Consequences II: When activists made sure that (non-transgendered) star Scarlett Johanssen gave up her role, it may have kept the movie from even being made.

Anti-Semitism: Get Religion points out how a flattened understanding of the relations between Judaism and Israel seems to be leading to a rise in anti-semitism.

Blessing the Community: Hannah Chao at TGC talks about a ministry of an LA Church that helps high schoolers learn skills to express themselves in film.

Struggling with Unbelief: Mark Alrtrogge has some scriptural good news for those of us who struggle with unbelief at times.

The Heresy of Underestimating God’s Grace. (Redemption in Christian Community part II)

This is part II in a series on redemption. In yesterday’s post I talked about the puzzling problem of a culture that seems to love redemption, but doesn’t seem at all compelled by the real redemption that is central to the Christian message. Why is that? I think the problem lies in two separate but related functional heresies at work in the Church (here meaning heresies in what beliefs are reflected in the way we behave, even if we swear up and down with large conferences, studies and sermon series’ to the contrary). The first is the heresy of core goodness; that we were simply good people on a wrong path before Christ came and saved us. The second is the heresy of surface neatness, as opposed to deep righteousness.
The first heresy works to make us, at least in the way we act, imagine that some people are beyond salvation, by imagining that we were not “beyond salvation” before God came and saved us, regardless of how respectable we were at the time.
Just by way of review, let me remind us of where we were before God found us. We were one of the “all” that were going their own we, we were not doing righteousness, because none were (read Romans Ch 1-3 for a full elucidation of the topic… and yes, Romans 1 applies to all of us). The simple fact was that our righteousness was as dirty rags (and so our evil was even worse). We were not seeking God, we were seeking our own righteousness when God saved us.
By forgetting this, we imagine that certain people (usually people who don’t meet our standards of surface neatness… more on that tomorrow) are beyond God’s salvation. We may use religious language to cloak it (misappropriating Jesus’ words about pearls before swine), but the result is the same, we believe we were closer to God when he saved us than those other people are, so there is no reason to have patience with people who struggle with sins that are different from our own.
It’s also going to mean that we’re going to have “second class Christians” (or even go so far as to call other people not Christian) for “sins” that are minor in the Biblical metanarrative (drinking alcohol, failing to divest of investments in politically problematic companies), all the while ignoring sins that are major (failing to love people created in the image of God…. all people, or failing to love God).
This gets really dark when it’s linked with the other major functional heresy. More tomorrow

Losing the Plot (Redemption in Christian Community Part I)

Many people will say that church isn’t all that interesting. At some level, that’s because people who have not been reborn of the Holy Spirit don’t generally enjoy the real things of God, but in addition to the direct sinfulness of humanity, I think we Christians may also bear part of the blame for the lack of value in Church.
Churches generally spend a great deal of time trying to be more relevant, whether through changing worship styles, better small group programs, or even through shifting doctrine to be more inclusive, but all of this is strange considering the compelling nature of the Gospel (or how it was compelling to previous generations).
I don’t say this without evidence. Despite the great antipathy the culture has been feeling for the Church over the past several years, this past week, we saw society compelled by the witness of a group of Christians in Charleston, South Carolina. The reason is, in the face of a gross evil visited upon them, a group of Christians determined to offer forgiveness to the man who performed the evil deed. I have no idea if they saiid theologically correct things, but they did choose to overcome evil with good.
The interest in this part of a tragic story opposes the idea that we have simply arrived at a historical period where the message of the Gospel no longer has any clout. The idea that we can be acceptable to God; that all the mistakes and evil we have done in our own lives can not only be forgotten, but remade into a display of God’s goodness… into something beautiful…. Maybe that is no longer valuable to people. Yet when the men and women at Dylan Roof’s bail hearing wished mercy on his soul, many again felt the
Yet generally, as the Church, I think we have lost the plot, so this week, I’m going to do some short posts about where I think we’ve gone wrong, and how we can get right. In the meantime, though, it’s easiest to say that we have often followed our unbelieving culture, and lost our love of seeing God’s redemption because in order for something to be redeemed from a sinful state, it must be well and truly bad. 
We have sought to isolate ourselves in the church from both the sins of others and the sins of ourselves, and even sought security and safety in things other than God, rather than facing evil squarely with the Gospel. We have as a result lost the ability to see God’s beauty in saving the lost and repurposing what we intended for evil for His ultimate good. Why has this happened? Tune in tomorrow.