The Dialectic of the Two Ditches

Greek mythology tells the tale of Daedalus and his son Icarus, who construct wings so that they may flee from their captor King Minos. As they prepare to leave, Daedalus warns his son that he must not fly too high or too low in order to protect the wax of the wings from being melted by the heat of the sun or soaked from the spray of the waters below. However Icarus fails to follow his father’s advice, foolishly flying higher and higher until the sun melts the wax holding his wings together. Icarus falls into the sea, to his death.

It was also the Ancient Greek philosophers who coined the term “golden mean,” or the notion that every virtue was a balance between two extremes, not unlike walking a tightrope. In a sense, life is a lot like walking a tightrope. It’s a delicate balance where if you lean a little too far in either direction, the result is equally disastrous. I have come to see, along with the ancient Greeks, that in many if not most cases in life, the true path of wisdom is a matter of avoiding the two ditches of partial or incomplete truth which lie on either side.

To avoid the two ditches is to live in a tension between two apparent opposites. That is essentially what a dialectic is. In life each individual must navigate their own pathway. Every person walks a unique path, but like our roads, every path is paralleled on either side by a ditch. The two ditches represent polar opposites, the radical extremes on each end of a spectrum. There are some who choose to walk in these ditches, entirely aware of where they are. Others unintentionally fall into one of the ditches and keep on walking as if they’d never left the path. They become oblivious to the damage they are inflicting on both themselves and on others.

There are many reasons we fall into these ditches. In order to illustrate let me use an example from theology. Christians confess that Jesus is somehow both fully human and yet at the same time fully divine. These apparent contradictions must be kept in tension, or we risk falling victim to either the over-emphasis of Christ’s humanity (the heresy of Arianism) or the over-emphasis of Christ’s divinity (the heresy of Docetism).

But the danger regarding the two ditches isn’t just about avoiding two extremes, it can also come in the form of setting two truths against each other. When we pit a position on one end of a truth-spectrum against a position on the other end of that spectrum, polarization occurs. This is most prevalent in American politics. What are sometimes meant to be truths held together in tension are instead seen as incompatible ideas that cannot be reconciled with each other. One is seen as the correct way to do things, while the other is seen as the antithesis of what should be done. Perhaps we need to start seeing some of the seemingly conflicting ideologies as complementary pieces of a more comprehensive and balanced perspective.

This polarization is most widely illustrated in the broken two-party political system here in America and particularly in the culture wars being waged around various issues. It often can seem like the conservative and progressive ideologies could not be further apart from each other. In some sense they are. However I would like to suggest that this is not always the case. For example, it is not uncommon to encounter a more liberal leaning person who will tend to advocate for individual freedom. Conversely, many conservative leaning people, will tend to advocate for individual responsibility. Likewise, those on the left tend to support social or collective responsibility, while the right supports social or collective freedom. Both sides consistently claim that they are in the right and that the other is sorely mistaken, often caricaturing and demonizing each other. But can it really be said that either side is entirely wrong? Or exclusively right? Perhaps in clinging to an either-or paradigm instead of a dialectical view, both sides end up in opposing ditches, in unnecessary conflict with each other.

Of course, it is also true that this polarization is spurred on by legitimate differences. Sometimes these differences are generational. When a previous generation has taken a particular stance on an issue, one that leaves them in one of the ditches, the pendulum is bound to swing towards the opposite direction at some point in the future. The next generation rightfully rejects the one-sided extremism of their predecessors and rushes to the other side and ultimately embraces a new extremism. Some would argue that this explains the contrast between the extremes of over the top political correctness and the corresponding rise of “PC pushback” that has emerged recently. My primary contention with the analogy of the ditches is that often in our rejection of one extreme, we simply replace it with another.

But there is another way, especially for those of us who follow Christ. Some call it the third way, or perhaps the narrow road. This way is a way that should be guided by the fruits of the spirit. Somehow, Jesus called both a far-right tax collector, who upheld the status quo, and a far-left zealot, who believed in overthrowing the establishment, to come together and abandon their extremist ideologies. The truly wise will try to see the validity of opposing views and to discover the understandable concerns beneath what seem to be distasteful or wrongheaded opinions. There are of course times when a line in the sand has to be drawn, but that does not mean we have to leave the middle way in favor of either one of the ditches. Most importantly our journey on this path should always err on the side of mercy, of justice, the side of peace and self-sacrifice. Jesus called Matthew and Simon to follow a middle path of mutual acceptance and understanding in addition to being a prophetic voice of cultural challenge. The Gospel and the teachings of Christ compel us to follow this example. May we reject the ditches in our lives and in so doing, show the world something radically distinct.

– A shorter version of this article was published in the online Bethel University newspaper The Clarion:

The dialectic of the two ditches


Undredal, Norway

There is something deeply compelling and sentimental in remembrance. Remembrance recreates a memory or even reshapes it. Often memory is formed into something new. A creation based on something true, but where the good is exaggerated and the bad forgotten. But perhaps that is the beauty in bringing the past to the present. Sometimes the only way to truly recreate the past is by romanticizing and idealizing it. Thus remembrance can be a spiritual endeavor.

It is a dangerous game to play. The game of revising the past, that is. But it is also rewarding. Once you learn to balance the extremes of remembrance, it can become a true gift, something others will never quite understand.

An Ethos of Creation

God has given us, the human race, stewardship of the earth
And yet ultimately the earth belongs to God, not us
God has given us a great task. To tend, cultivate and protect His garden
Not ours
This earth is wondrous. Immense. Perilous
This earth is fragile. Delicate. Precarious
The earth gives us much. Beauty. Inspiration. Life.
The earth gives to us out of abundance
But we should receive with a humble heart. A gracious heart. A prudent heart.
Only taking what is necessary.
For if we are greedy, if we are covetous
The soul of this earth will be ravaged and plundered, raped and pillaged.
The earth is like Christ. The bride of the Church.
The earth is our bride too. The bride of humanity.
Thus, we should treat it as such.
With humility. With selflessness. And with simplicity.
For all the beasts, all the trees, the mountains and the seas
They too are part of creation
Man is not their master
But their shepherd.

A Letter from France

The day after the election my mother received a poetically written letter of encouragement in an email from our sweet, dear friend Brijit. She and her two cats live in France, in a two-tiered chalet tucked along the slope of a mountain in the French Alps, the silhouette of Mont Blanc visible on the horizon. Her words brought me much comfort.

Hi my love

I can’t help thinking of you on that day.

The Donald duck has won with money and horrible ideas.

such is democracy …..

in France, next elections won’t be better…..

I’m  dreaming of a better world
with people like  you and me.

yes we can love each other !

a lot of kisses

I miss you, I miss people so lovely than you

your friend,


It isn’t hard to imagine the sound of her adorable broken English seeped in a thick, rich French accent. I’m so thankful for beautiful, kind souls like hers, during a time like this.

Merci beaucoup Brijit.

Are Millennials really so bad?

Self-absorbed, narcissistic, lazy and uniformed. These are the first words that come to mind when I think of my generation. Others have christened us the “Me me me generation.” (The ‘baby boomers’ were also called the ‘me generation.’)

Do these labels so often used to describe millennials seem fair?

It’s highly likely that most millennials probably wouldn’t take the time to read an article in the New York Times about the geopolitical significance of the Syrian civil war or the conflict occurring in Ukraine. They’d just skim past it with disinterest before clicking on a BuzzFeed link like this one called “13 Potatoes That Look Like Channing Tatum.”  In fact, it’s fairly safe to assume that most millennials likely couldn’t find either one of these countries on a map.

Millennials are the generation that thinks that being an Instagram model is a real job…or that everyone can be a professional photographer and still make a living, even if every other person and their aunt has started a “photography business.” Millennials are the generation that will post a poem or quote from someone like Walt Whitman or George Orwell without reading a single line of O Captain, My Captain or 1984. 

Millennials are the generation that turned selfies into a raging, crazed global catastrophe (The fact that numerous people have been injured or killed while taking a selfies or by someone else taking a selfie, should make you seriously consider never taking a selfie again).

Millennials are the generation that has turned the English language into an incomprehensible monster with words, acronyms and phrases like “bae,” and “I can’t even.” Millennials are also the generation that will spout all their opinions and self-aggrandizing reflections on life on their personal blog as if anyone in the world actually cared. (Okay now were getting a little too close for comfort ;))

Millennials aren’t entirely clueless however. Some have dubbed millennials “Generation nice.” In fact, studies show that millennials are in fact more open minded, inclusive and compassionate than previous generations. Surprisingly, millennials are actually very frugal and cautious about how they spend money. Millennials are also quite communally minded. Interestingly enough, more than half of millennials are humble enough to admit that they are perhaps the most narcissistic and self-absorbed generation.

It’s important to remember that millennials have a lot on their plate. Raising children is more expensive now. Millennials pay an average of $3000 more a year to raise children than the previous generation did. The gap between the rich and the poor is larger than it has ever been. College tuition has skyrocketed and incomes for graduates have dropped. In fact, contemporary college students often pay as much as $30,000 more in tuition than their parents did. So the next time your uncle says that millennials need to pull themselves up by their bootstraps, just remind him that bootstrap-pulling may be harder than it used to be.

Many make a fallacious comparison between the downfalls of millennials and the greatness of previous generations. In truth every generation has its strengths and weaknesses. The baby boomers had problems and so did their predecessors. To idealize or romanticize any generation is an egregious mistake, one that borders on historical revisionism.

Often you’ll hear an elderly person reminiscing about the ‘good old days’ and how the generation that lived through WWII was the golden generation of America. You might hear something like, “Back in my day, we didn’t take nothin’ that we didn’t earn.” But the truth is millennials aren’t any lazier or more entitled than previous generations.

Let’s not forget that racism and misogyny were the norm a half century ago. “The Greatest Generation” was far from great. Lynchings of African-Americans like fourteen year old Emmett Till, who was brutally tortured and murdered for catcalling a white lady,  were commonplace. His face was beaten into a bloody pulp to the point that it was unrecognizable.

“America’s so-called Greatest Generation is great only in comparison to the rubbish that followed them, which frankly and literally they begat.” –Stephen Masty

It’s important to nuance history. We shouldn’t overlook that the WWII generation certainly overcame many obstacles. Similarly, we shouldn’t overlook that sexual and racial discrimination was rampant. The “greatest generation” also confined Japanese-Americans in concentration camps, enforced the Jim Crow laws, firebombed Tokyo and Dresden and segregated schools. The greatest generation was responsible for creating the most destructive force known to man, nuclear weapons, which gave humanity the ability to annihilate itself.

Yes millennials have given us the horrors of selfie-sticks and pseudo-connoisseurs. But we aren’t responsible for the monstrosity that is the 2016 election. We aren’t responsible for the endless series of pointless and immoral wars and government coups that the United States has instigated.

Every generation has its evils. Every generation has the power to rise up against injustice and every generation has done it in their own way, however flawed that may be.

Millennials aren’t any worse or any better than previous generations…the legacy of the next generation, on the other hand, remains to be seen…  😉



I stand(and sit) with Colin Kaepernick

The early church would be utterly baffled by the idea that future Christians would shame someone for not swearing allegiance to the empire.” -Rachel Held Evans

If this place really were the “land of the free” someone would be able to sit during your song and not be endlessly harassed for it.” -Dr. Benjamin L. Corey

If Jesus had come to us in the 21st century in America rather than Palestine two thousand years ago I’m convinced that he would be seen in much the same light as Colin Kaepernick. Jesus’ words and actions were prophetic and radical in Palestine two thousand years ago and they are prophetic and radical for us now.

A recent firestorm of harsh criticism and even shocked outrage was sparked after San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick sat during the national anthem to protest racial issues in the U.S. The same cultural conformity police that hates any kind of non-compliance to what they perceive as faithful devotion to the creeds and rituals of the national civic religion, has gone nuts over this so called unpatriotic and offensive action. God forbid, someone stand up for the oppression of minorities by blaspheming the sacred idol of America.

As someone who has, since elementary school, chosen not to recite the pledge of allegiance or put my hand over my heart and sing the national anthem, I would like to voice my solidarity with Colin Kaepernick and others who would do the same. While Kaepernick might not share the convictions and beliefs that drive my choice not to participate in such activities, I admire his decision to do likewise.

There is no shame in refusing to stand for the national anthem or choosing to abstain from placing your hand on your chest or reciting a pledge of allegiance to a piece of cloth. If America is truly ‘free’ then its citizens should not have to fear backlash for their choice to abstain from oaths of allegiance.

And for us Christians, we would do well to remember the countless Christians who were martyred by the Roman Empire for their refusal to say, “Caesar is Lord.” The Early Christians were dubbed as, “atheists” by their contemporaries because they refused to swear loyalty to Rome and to its Emperors, who were seen as divine representatives.

Rachel Held Evans correctly noted that early Christians would be shocked to learn that future Christians would shame someone for refusing to pledge their allegiance to a nation. But as I see it, early Christians would be more shocked to learn that modern Christians would choose to declare allegiance, or ultimate loyalty, to nations and empires. Such power structures are fundamentally committed, by the very definition of nation or empire, to promoting their own advantage and survival through the use of force and coercion and even killing of perceived “enemies”.

It’s important to distinguish that for the Early Church saying “Jesus is Lord,” was not simply a spiritual mantra, but an overtly political declaration. It amounted to taking a subversive, counter-cultural stance of allegiance for the kingdom of God.

I stand (and sit) with Colin Kaepernick, not just because I believe there is racial disparity and injustice in America, but also because I believe my true allegiance is not to America, but to Christ and his kingdom. Christ’s kingdom is a kingdom that has no condemnation, no judgement, no chains. A kingdom that speaks for those on the margins of society, the oppressed, the poor. A kingdom that rejects injustice, violence and hate. It is for all peoples and all nations. There are no borders, there are no flags. Only the emblem of the crucified lamb. And in Christ’s kingdom there is only one Lord, one King, and only he merits our true allegiance. All else that we do in this world must coincide and look like Jesus.

Jesus is Lord.


For Jesus’ words on serving two masters and taking vows:

*Matthew 5:33-37, Matthew 6:24, Matthew 22:21, Mark 12:17



Friendship: Beautiful & fragile

Friendships are beautiful and fragile things. They have to be nourished and tended, just like a garden. If you don’t give them enough time, attention, and affirmation they wither away and die, becoming forgotten and lifeless. And if you give them too much challenge, push-back or resistance they will pull away or shut you out. Living things, whether plant life or relationships, do best in the Goldilocks zone, where things are neither too hot or too cold. Relationships need a place where both people can be themselves no matter the dialogue.

During one of our many opinionated conversations after class, a friend and I had been discussing military matters in Iraq and the middle east when he expressed his desire to return. He was a veteran of Afghanistan. I wondered if I would be able to keep my thoughts to myself. I bit my tongue and let him continue on uninterrupted as he explained how the war had been a success. “We killed thousands of ‘them,” he said proudly. My stomach churned, the familiar revulsion rising within me. Now I had to respond. I challenged him politely, bringing up my concerns: firstly the massive number of civilians, killed directly or indirectly by America. This seemed to irk something in him and he quickly reprimanded me: “The Military doesn’t kill civilians.” He said and continued to lecture me. What does he know? I’m sure he was thinking. After all, I hadn’t fought in Afghanistan. How could I possibly know anything? His condescending tone irritated me. I’d heard his arguments before and they didn’t convince me, they infuriated me.

I was reminded of the horrifying footage of children in Fallujah, born with terrible birth defects and cancerous tumors as a result of the intense bombardment of the city with white phosphorous and uranium-enriched weapons. I remember the sick feeling I felt upon discovering how white phosphorous melted the skin off its victims, slowly burning them to death. I’m still haunted by these images and I suspect I always will be.

I decided not to push back too much more on his statements. They always say we are supposed to avoid two topics at all costs: religion and politics. This conversation had a mix of both, so it was particularly loaded with explosive potential. I began to realize that I valued our friendship more than winning an argument. At least I wanted to. The conversation ended amicably and we moved on to the subject of his pet lizard, a topic we could find common ground on no doubt.

We’ve had many conversations before, all of them filled with respectful dialogue amidst controversial subjects that we are both opinionated about, but I sensed that this time I had triggered something in him and in me. I began to realize that I wasn’t going to let this keep me from sharing my beliefs and my sincere anti-war principles. This was a part of me. What did I know? If only he truly knew how much torment and sorrow wracked my heart. Every story of collateral damage flooded into the catacombs of my soul, drowning me in a strange heavy sadness, like a raft filled with too many survivors, slowly becoming engulfed by the waters of the ocean. The screams of the innocent now fill my imagination, becoming something that has overflown into the novel I’m writing. I discovered a dark side of my thoughts that I hadn’t realized existed. But it came from a reality that I knew really existed. The iconic picture of the little naked Vietnamese girl, Phan Thi Kim Phuc, burned by Napalm dropped on her village seared into my memory. The remains of the Urakami Cathedral, incinerated, along with its congregants, milliseconds after the Plutonium bomb, Fat Man, fell, hardly a block from the church.

I’ve seen the documented cases of civilian casualties and I’ve read the testimonies of mothers who’ve lost children, sisters losing brothers, husbands losing wives. What of the countless stories that have gone untold? The stories smothered in dark clouds of willful ignorance, the stories hidden by corrupt governments and jingoistic military officers and politicians, unwilling to face the ugliness of our own violence. Who speaks for them? Yes we’ve heard the unrelenting, innumerable praises of the the military and their bravery, how they protect our freedom. They have enough advocates. Where are the advocates for the Iraqi mother whose son was shot by an American soldier while crossing the street to buy bread? Where are the advocates for the the Yemenis killed as their wedding convoy approached the groom’s village?

I cannot claim the same direct experiences as my friend. I have never fought in Afghanistan or Iraq and would never willingly do so. I cannot claim to have experienced anything remotely close to the horrific experiences of the untold numbers of men, women and children whose lives have been decimated directly or indirectly by war. All I can say is that I feel their pain and I feel it deeply. It is a responsibility that I’ve chosen to shoulder. If I can somehow be an advocate for those who have no voice or who have had theirs taken from them, I believe I must.

I really respect and love my friend. I disagree with him on a great deal. He has a huge heart. Which is why I want him to see and feel what I do. Yet I’m learning more and more that sometimes you have to speak through silence. I may not be able to convince him that he is mistaken and maybe that’s not what I should be trying to do. And I may have to sometimes sacrifice my pride in an argument to protect the friendship. As our friendship grows, I can still find opportunities to respectfully challenge his assumptions as he challenges mine. Still, I find myself unable to truly feel that I am being myself without him fully understanding how much weight my convictions carry. My staunch anti-war beliefs are a core part of who I am. How do I maintain an authentic friendship without voicing who I really am? At the very least I feel like I am called to be a voice for those who have none. I have felt the weight of these convictions for many years. I’ve never fully understood it myself, but in a strange way, I’m grateful for this responsibility.

I think what friendship has come to mean to me is neither parroting one-another’s opinions, likes and dislikes, nor silent accommodation of each other’s values and convictions.  What it means to me is mutual honesty, understanding, and acceptance and also loving challenge and push-back. Not to make the other conform to our wishes. But to help each other see other points of view, and to either adjust these or to at least have better reasons for maintaining them. Friendships are beautiful and fragile, yes, but just like plants in a garden that have been well-nurtured and have matured, they can be hardy and resilient. To do this we must learn the delicate balance between unconditional acceptance and loving challenge.


This was from my final essay in an essay writing class I took this semester at Bethel University  with April Vinding (Author of Triptych).


Christian Karma?

‘…Till on that cross as Jesus died,
The wrath of God was satisfied …’ 

These lines, found in the popular song, “In Christ Alone,” often strike me in an unpleasant way as I listen. The idea that God’s wrath must be satisfied is as revolting as it is unbiblical. Let’s keep it real here: the theology of Penal Substitutionary Atonement, that God must make people pay for sin, is really in my mind just a form of Christian Karma.

Side note-In the NASB, nowhere do the words “wrath”, “satisfied” or “appeased” appear together – The NASB is the most literal Bible Translation.

The book of Job tells an ancient story that captures perhaps the most common and deeply rooted religious assumptions of humanity about the basic posture of God or the gods toward humans. When evil and misfortune fall upon Job, his friends tell him that he must have sinned for these kinds of things to be happening to him. Suffering is punishment for sin. However at the beginning of Job, in the prologue, God declares that no one on earth is as righteous as Job.

All the most ancient religions seem to have similar beliefs that God/gods/or the transcendent forces of the universe reward creatures for good and punish creatures for evil. Essentially, bad things happen to bad people and good things happen to good people, and this is how the universe or the gods exact “justice.”

In the book of Job, all the main characters (Job and his three friends) share this same sentiment, that God must punish evil in order for justice to be served. By the end of the book of Job, God himself states that none of the people have spoken rightly about him, calling into question the notion that God is somehow required to punish evil in order to remain just or good.

Though we don’t know when Job actually lived, it was most likely between the time of Abraham and Moses, which was around the time that Vedism began to emerge and spread to India (around 1750 BCE) before later evolving into Hinduism.

Aside from the faith relationship that the Old Testament patriarchs had with God as recorded in the Hebrew Bible, and the various forms of primitive polytheistic beliefs that can be traced as far back as recorded history, Hinduism was the first major organized religious tradition to emerge in the Ancient World.

The earliest, most primitive religions and ideas of the sacred were all polytheistic and not organized into a religious system. All shared the idea that humans needed to placate or appease the gods in order to get blessings or avoid misfortune. If they didn’t do that, bad things would happen.

So the universally accepted picture of God or the gods was that they were reluctant to bless, but quick to punish, that all human acts of wrongdoing simply had to be punished tit-for-tat. This basic assumption that every bad deed had to be punished or paid for is essentially what the Hindu concept of “karma” is all about.

There’s a clear illustration of this widespread notion that all evil must be punished by the gods, and that all suffering is punishment from the gods, in the book of Acts. In chapter 28, Paul has just survived a shipwreck off the coast of Malta. While gathered around a fire with the locals, Paul is bitten by a poisonous snake. The locals, who were adherents of Greek religion, exhibit this karmic mentality when they say, “Undoubtedly this man is a murderer, and though he has been saved from the sea, justice has not allowed him to live” (NASB). In the Greek, the word ‘justice’ used here is the word, δίκη (Dike), which was the name of the goddess of justice in Greek religion. Dike was the daughter of Zeus, and according to scholar Ben Witherington, she “kept watch over injustices on the earth and reported them to her father, who dispensed final justice” (Commentary on Acts, pp. 778-79).  Witherington points out that the ancient Phoenicians also had an equivalent deity who functioned in the same manner.  This story clearly illustrates how entrenched the idea of justice as the punishment of evil by the gods was in many, if not all, ancient cultures, apart from that of the Hebrews. The Hebrews appear to be the one exception to this in that their concept of justice was not punitive but restorative.

The fundamental premise of Hinduism, is that there are many gods that inhabit both the intermediary realms between the world and the ultimate force behind everything, called Dharma. Hinduism states that Dharma must punish wrong-doing, and that the punishment occurs through karma, which is the explanation for all the bad things that happen on earth or to people.  Put simply, karma is the required punishment that the justice of dharma requires for all wrong doing.

The concept of dharma in Hinduism, translates this primitive idea into a more sophisticated idea, but the essence of it is still that the universe itself must and will punish all wrongdoing, therefore all bad things that happen are punishments for wrongdoing. People must pay in some form for justice to be served and the universe to be balanced. This is precisely what Karma is. Just punishment for wrongdoing.

The other major eastern religions all share this same basic belief.  And so apparently did Job’s friends, but as we have shown above, God himself rejects this theology.

Many Christians hold this assumption about God and what justice means in the Christian tradition. But is this an accurate theological understanding of the Bible and Yahweh? Does this correlate with the traditional understanding of atonement and Jesus’ death on the cross?

The premise that God must punish humans, or that Jesus’ death on the cross was a required payment to God to satisfy justice is a common assumption, but I argue, as many others do, that it is wholly unbiblical and not theologically honest. It is essentially “Christian Karma.”

There are many problems with this traditional belief (which by the way was not held by the Early Church). In fact the great author C.S. Lewis rejected the idea of penal substitutionary atonement in Mere Christianity, arguing that this view, known as Anselmic theory in its earliest development, is mistaken.

“According to that theory God wanted to punish men for having deserted and joined the Great Rebel, but Christ volunteered to be punished instead, and so God let us off. Now I admit that even this theory does not seem quite so immoral and silly as it used to; but that is not the point I want to make. What I came to see later on was that neither this theory nor any other is Christianity. The central belief is that Christ’s death has somehow put us right with God and given us a fresh start.” -C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity 

C.S. Lewis parallels Jesus’ death on the cross and shows how it is not about satisfying God’s wrath, but rather expressing the nature of God’s love, which is about defeating sin and freeing us from sin but not making someone pay for our sin (Theologian and author Brad Jersak summarizes the beauty and symbolism of the atonement in C.S. Lewis’ The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. See article here ).

Many assume that God must punish and cannot forgive unless someone pays for the wrong … but this goes against the logic of forgiveness itself, which means precisely that a debtor is released from their debt without having to pay … BECAUSE the one wronged assumes the debt, which means he himself “pays it” by simply accepting and absorbing the loss himself.

The idea that God must make someone pay also goes against the teaching and example of Jesus on forgiveness, in which he repeatedly makes it clear that forgiveness is not something extended only if or after some payment is made, but something offered without any required payment.  Here are just a few examples:

Luke 23:34 – Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.  Jesus asks God to forgive those who were crucifying him, with no requirement of repentance on their part, and this is before his death was completed on the cross.

Mathew 18:21-22 – Then Peter came and said to Him, “Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me and I forgive him? Up to seven times?” Jesus *said to him, “I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven.  Jesus instructs his disciples to offer unqualified forgiveness on an unlimited basis to all others.

Matthew 18:27 – And the lord of that slave felt compassion and released him and forgave him the debt.  Jesus tells a parable of a slave being forgiven a huge debt by the king, simply based upon the king feeling compassion.

John 8:10-11 – Woman, where are they? Did no one condemn you?” She said, “No one, Lord.” And Jesus said, “I do not condemn you, either. Go. From now on sin no more.”  A woman caught in adultery was about to be stoned for her sin, being made to pay the price for her wrongdoing.  Jesus extends unconditional forgiveness to the woman with no reference whatsoever to wrath or penalty needing payment.

So, why do so many insist that God can only forgive humans if a sin-payment is made, in spite of the fact that this goes against the logic / meaning of forgiveness as well as the teaching and example of Jesus?

Again, it reveals the deep-seated assumption of “karma” – that “justice” is a balancing of the scales of the universe where all wrongs are accounted for in the heavenly ledgers.  This is a misunderstanding of biblical “justice” … what if scale-balancing is not the heart of justice, but instead grace, mercy, and shalom are?

What if the scales are balanced another way, not by “two wrongs making a right” – i.e., I do something bad so something bad must be done to me … but instead by every wrong being countered by an equally weighty “right” or good … of which self-sacrifice, forgiveness, compassion and the like are the good?

What if justice and scale-balancing are about “overcoming evil with good”?

Christ’s death on the cross is certainly atoning … in ways we may never understand, it removes sin and guilt and frees us and reconciles us to God.

And it is certainly substitutionary … Christ fulfills the covenant for us, living our covenant life and dying our covenant breaking death in our place and representing us to God as our covenant representative.

But it is not in my view “penal substitution” … God making Jesus pay for our sin so that he can forgive us.  Forgiveness is the choice to NOT make someone pay a debt owed … it needs no prerequisite to “make it possible”, it is a free gift.  Karma is the age-old, mistaken idea that forgiveness cannot be offered for free and that all wrongs must be paid for and all guilt must be punished.  This is neither an Old Testament nor a New Testament idea but rather an ancient deception by God’s adversary to malign God’s character and to keep God’s people in fear and alienation from him.

It is my deeply held conviction that the theology of Job’s friends is detrimental to the true gospel of Jesus. I don’t believe God punishes us for sin and I believe the Bible rejects this theology, both in the Old Testament and in the full revelation of God through Jesus. These notions of God are condemned by God himself as a misrepresentation of his nature by the end of the book of Job, calling into question the fundamental assumption that God must punish evil and wrong-doing in order to be God. God’s justice setting all things right and making all things new. He restores, not punishes, his mercy triumphs over judgement. God desires our wellbeing, just like a father desires the wellbeing of his children.

We must to reject ‘Christian Karma.’ 

Jesus did not take a bullet from God, but from us. We killed Jesus.


Je suis human

“There is no way to peace. Peace is the way.” –Brian Zahnd

Having a daughter one day (more than one hopefully) is the greatest longing of my heart, so when I watched this video for the first time, my heart was smashed into little pieces. Imagine being a father and having your child go through this. Would you not give your life to bring your child to safety? A lack of compassion is a sign of a weak heart. And a compassionless heart is an ugly heart. If you still fear letting Syrian refugees or any refugees into your country, maybe this video will touch your heart, like it did mine.

The people of France are in everyone’s hearts right now. There are few if any words that can heal the immense pain that the French people and the people of the world are feeling right now. There is little that we can do to erase the fear that such devastating violence brings. However, the sadness that this brings upon us all is not a sign of weakness, but a sign of our shared humanity, something that we all too easily lose sight of and something we must certainly strive to retain.

I am a Parisian. I am a human. But first, I am a Christian. Even though my heart is with the people of France, it is also with people everywhere suffering. Many people realize this, so I don’t want to beat a dead horse, but France was not the only country that suffered immensely this past week. We cannot forget that what happened in Paris is what people live through on a daily basis in Iraq, Syria and elsewhere.

We must not forget our common humanity and the value and worth that every single human being has, even those that are deemed lost causes by this world and sadly by so many Christians.

As beings created in God’s image, we must acknowledge that all people are worthy of love. As followers of the Crucified God, we are called to forgive all people at all times and in all circumstances. The choice to love and forgive is entirely our own. There are no ifs, ands or buts. We can and must choose to forgive, no matter the circumstances. We can and must choose the response of radical love over vengeance.

So in the midst of this, we must join in mourning with the French people and all others suffering. We must put ourselves in their place and imagine the terrible pain they have experienced and are experiencing.

At the same time we cannot forget our Muslim brothers and sisters. As Christians we must reach out to them as well, both the Muslims in our own communities and across the world, both peaceful and violent. We must be peacemakers. The vast majority of Muslims do not support the kind of violence just perpetrated upon Parisians, and yet now, as the inevitable targets of direct and indirect anger, judgment, hostility and hatred based on what some other radical so-called Muslims have done, they too have become victims of these terrible acts of violence. And those Muslims who do support and have even participated in these terrible acts are, whether or not we know it or believe it, themselves victims of generations of violence, injustice, hatred, bigotry, pain and loss which has seeped into their souls and so embittered them that they now are simply passing that on as it was passed on to them or their families and ancestors. To break the cycle of violence and retribution, we have to take seriously the call that Christ gave us to love our enemies and to overcome evil with good. Loving your enemies is a simple calling in declaration, but much harder to carry out in action and yet at the end of the day it remains our calling. It’s not a metaphor. It’s not some idealistic notion that cannot be attained until Jesus returns. It is for the here and now.

To break this cycle we have to rebuke the myth of redemptive violence, for it is a lie from the enemy, a lie that degrades our humanity. We, as Americans need to take responsibility for the sequences of violence that breed radicalism. Violence breeds violence. The road to peace is not war, but peace. War is simply a short-term answer for something that can only be overcome through peaceful means. The stories of real-life peacemakers like King and Gandhi tell us that peaceful means can and do bring peaceful change, we just need to give peace a chance.

Social Activist, author and peacemaker Thomas Merton put it well, when he said that, “The tactic of non-violence is a tactic of love that seeks the salvation and redemption of the opponent, not their…defeat.”

No one is beyond redemption. That is why we must seek the salvation and redemption of those who live by the sword. If we seek to kill those who live by the sword with the sword, we ourselves will eventually reap what we have sown and die by the sword. It is the story of cyclical violence. I can guarantee that as the number of bombs falling on ISIS increases, the number of terrorist attacks carried out in return will increase. A violent response is exactly what causes radicalism to grow. If you believe otherwise then why has the ‘War on Terror,’ led to an increase in radical Islam and violence?

Let us not forget so quickly the history of violence that has created the chaos from which refugees are fleeing. Many of the countries filled with violence and war were quite stable before their governments were overthrown, either directly or indirectly by the West. The U.S. and its allies are undoubtedly responsible for much of the instability that the Middle East is experiencing. The U.S. has blood on its hands. To deny this is to rewrite history, to deny history.

The kingdoms of this earth will respond how they have to respond, out of fear and vengeance, but we as Christians are called to be radically different, for we are citizens of Christ’s kingdom and our battle is not with flesh and blood, but with powers and principalities.

So how does responding in love look like? Well, first I will tell you what it certainly doesn’t look like. There is no room in the kingdom of Christ for hate. There is no room in the kingdom of Christ for vengeance and violence. There is no room for participation in acts of war and destruction, not for genuine followers of Christ.

Feeling anger in response to terrorist acts such as what happened in Paris is normal and human. Our emotions reflect our deepest concerns, and anger is meant to be a healthy signal that something wrong has happened. But the Bible tells us to “be angry” and yet “do not sin.”  When anger goes beyond being an indicator that a wrong has occurred to actually driving us to counter with more wrong, then this is sin. Anger is about setting things right, not adding wrong to wrong.

I’ve been deeply saddened by the fear-based reactions of many Christians advocating to refuse entrance of Syrian refugees into their states. They have rejected Jesus himself, for Jesus said, ‘I tell you the truth, when you refused to help the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were refusing to help me.’ Many of the refugees are our Christian brothers and sisters. So we are not only rejecting Muslims, but our own brethren in Christ. Fear drives us away from Jesus, I pray that love for others brings us back to him. Perfect love drives out all fear and we have nothing to fear, because we know that Christ has already won!

The Bible is very clear about helping the needy. If you aren’t a Christian then my quarrel, our quarrel, is not with you. However if you call yourself a Christian, then you might as well tear the whole New Testament and much of the Old Testament out of your Bible if you believe our faith allows us to reject immigrants.

For the sake of those who are not as familiar with the Bible, here are some verses that make it pretty clear as to how refugees should be treated. (All verses taken from NLT translation).


Job 31:32  “I have never turned away a stranger, but have opened my doors to everyone.”

Leviticus 19:9-10 “When you harvest the crops of your land, do not harvest the grain along the edges of your fields, and do not pick up what the harvesters drop. It is the same with your grape crop-do not strip every last bunch of grapes from the vines, and do not pick up the grapes that fall to the ground. Leave them for the poor and the foreigners living among you. I am the Lord your God.”

Leviticus 19:33-34 “Do not take advantage of the foreigners who live among you in your land. Treat them like native-born Israelites, and love them as you love yourself. Remember that you were once foreigners living in the land of Egypt. I am the Lord your God.”

Ezekiel 16:49 “Sodom’s sins were pride, gluttony and laziness, while the poor and needy suffered outside her door.”

Deuteronomy 10:18-19 “He ensures that orphans and widows receive justice. He shows love to the foreigners living among you and gives them food and clothing. So you, too, must show love to foreigners, for you yourselves were once foreigners in the land of Egypt.”

Exodus 23:9 “You must not oppress foreigners. You know what it’s like to be a foreigner, for you yourselves were once foreigners in the land of Egypt.”

Malachi 3:5 “…I will speak against those who cheat employees of their wages, who oppress widows and orphans, or who deprive the foreigners living among you of justice, for these people do not fear me…”

Solomon’s prayer of dedication in 1 Kings 8:41-42 “In the future, foreigners who do not belong to your people in Israel will hear of you. They will come from distant lands because of your name, for they will hear of your great name and your strong hand and your powerful arm….”

See Isaiah 58:10 as well.


Matthew 25:35-36 “For I was hungry, and you fed me. I was thirsty, and you gave me a drink. I was a stranger, and you invited me into your home. I was naked, and you gave me clothing. I was sick, and you cared for me. I was in prison and you visited me.”

Matthew 25:45 “I tell you the truth, when you refused to help the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were refusing to help me.”

Galatians 5:14 “For the whole law can be summed up in this one command, Love your neighbor as yourself.”

See Luke 10:29-37 also.

So what are some practical ways Christ followers can love our enemies as well as our local and global neighbors?

John Piper (yes I’m quoting John Piper), talks about loving your enemies in a post he wrote that can be found here.

Mr. Piper asks the question, “What is this love?” He goes on to list three simple steps we can take as Christians to love our enemies and I will paraphrase the three points and add my own thoughts.

  1. ‘Simply greeting them’ – What I like about this is that even if this can’t be done to the members of ISIS, it can be done to the Muslims all around us and it really can make an impact. I had the opportunity to visit a Somali mall in downtown Minneapolis with some people from my church led by Jay Perske, who is doing amazing ministry outreach with the Twin Cities Somali community. The simple act of smiling and greeting the Somali Muslims walking about in the mall would instantly light up their eyes. I could see the gratitude and appreciation that was evident in their interactions with us. They wanted to be understood. They wanted to be accepted. It’s a simple step and it can really make a profound impact on not only others, but yourself. It breaks down fear and it builds trust and helps you see the humanity of another human being who comes from an entirely different background.
  1. ‘Practically meeting their physical needs.’ –This is another great way to love your enemies. No, this doesn’t mean arming them and sending them monetary support (hint, hint U.S. government). Once again this can be hard for us to do, when ISIS is far away in another country, but there are Christians who are called to those areas of conflict and we must support them, because the reality of what enemy love can bring is incredible. There are countless stories of non-violence leading violent people to Christ. Some of you may have heard of the story of the ISIS member that became a Christian.
  1. ‘Praying for them.’– God is always at work and for me prayer is still a mystery. But the Bible tells us that it is something to engage in. I believe it is more than just a sign of obedience to God’s will, but an engagement in spiritual warfare. The enemy is always at work, but so too is the Holy Spirit and prayer is not something to be taken lightly, it is perhaps one of the most important elements of our faith.

Pacifism is not passive. Pacifism does not mean being some weak-minded hippie. No, pacifism seeks reconciliation at the possible cost of one’s own life, by far the most courageous pathway any human can choose. It takes tremendous bravery to respond in love and to refuse to hate your enemies. Firmly saying, ‘I refuse to be your enemy,’ will begin to transform the hearts of your enemies, I guarantee it, Christ guarantees it. This will open new doors for the Holy Spirit to work through and in your actions for those who do not know Christ.

Prayer is great. Acknowledging your enemy’s existence is great. Serving your enemies is great. But first you have to SEE. First you have to open your eyes to truly see those who consider themselves your enemies. Once you know who they are, once you have seen them,  you must seek to understand them, seek to know their history, their suffering and their beliefs. Once you have SEEN then you can immerse yourself in the conflict and contend for their reconciliation.

My pastor Greg Boyd shared a beautiful sermon this weekend and in it he gave his testimony of an encounter with a potentially violent person. While driving Greg crossed paths with a bicyclist who was clearly drunk. After getting out of his car, Greg found himself being confronted by the man, who apparently thought Greg had cut him off. The man grabbed Greg by the shirt and pushed him up against a car and was threatening to bash his face in. At this point Greg could smell the alcohol on the man’s breath and knew that this man could easily do what he was threatening to do. Rather than attempting to resist or respond in force, Greg simply said, “You can punch me and hit me, but I am not allowed to hit you, because I am a follower of Christ.” Immediately the man relented and drew back and the situation was resolved.

For many of us in this circumstance, fear would bring us to respond in-kind, but Jesus tells us to turn the other cheek and to repay evil with good. Imagine how the state of the world would change if every Christian lived like this.

This week I encourage us as Christians to step out and interact with our Muslim brothers and sisters, locally and maybe even globally if the opportunity arises. A good friend of mine from house church has been a wonderful example of being Jesus to Muslims. My friend Josh (who is on fire for Jesus) has been getting to know Muslims in his neighborhood in Minneapolis. I have been so inspired by his walk with Jesus and how he models Jesus to the people he meets. He sent me an email this week, entitled ‘Jesus is for every Muslim.’ I think that perfectly encapsulates what we as a church need to be about. Joshua is taking the time to understand Muslims and what they believe. Here is an excerpt from the email he sent me after a very meaningful time at our house church this weekend.

“We the church have done a pretty lousy job reaching Muslims because we have refused to see the Truth that they have in their culture,  faith, and even in their holy book, the Quran. Our typical approach is to bash their prophet (Mohammed) and bash their book. After we have done that we feel that we have to tell them what they need to believe in order to be Christians.

Our approach is different. Instead we look to what we can hold up that they have in their culture, faith, and even their holy book. We use the common ground we have in these places as a bridge to talk about Jesus (whom they love). This naturally leads to sharing from our book (which the Quran holds up very highly as well).

Jesus said, “If I be lifted up, I will draw all men unto myself.” We are doing our best to keep focused on this and let so many of the things that we tend to get distracted by be left on the side.”

I leave you to ponder the words of a man whose son was in Paris during the attacks.

“My son was in Paris last night. He took the metro back from the Eiffel Tower right under the area of the shootings, without knowing it. He and his friends had discussed going to the rock concert where the majority of the killings took place. They had discussed going to the area where the bars were. It’s only a trivial choice; half a kilometer, half an hour, and it would have been him. One day it catches up with all of us. President Hollande has declared war. But war is already on us. In us. War is what the enemy wants, and we are the enemy. In the intense shock and grieving of all these situations there has to be another voice. To appear weak? Helpless? Is that so bad? Because we already are. Rolling down the road of terror. Who was it that gave the wagon the first push? It doesn’t matter. What is important is to stop it, entirely. I pray that all of us have the faith and courage at least to jump off, if not–as Bonhoeffer said–seek to derail the wheels of the wagon.”Anthony Bartlett

Thanks for reading,






What’s wrong with Penal Substitutionary Atonement?

I’m tired of the Christian theology that states that ‘Jesus got what we deserve’ and that Jesus bore the wrath of God that God would’ve otherwise unleashed on us. Jesus saved us from the death! Jesus defeated death! Jesus saved us from what we do to ourselves, not from what God was going to/or had to do to us. Penal Substitutionary Atonement paints a picture of a vengeful, grotesque and retributive God entirely contrary to the nature of Jesus. PSA essentially says that God requires a sacrifice to not only satisfy his wrath/justice but to pay the debt of our sin. I see Jesus’ death as God’s willingness to absorb sin, violence, injustice and retribution as the only and final way to defeat all of these things.

The penal substitution view under emphasizes the true nature of God’s agape love and also ignores the themes of spiritual warfare and covenant faithfulness, both of which permeate the entire Biblical narrative. The PSA view presupposes that the cross was not about defeating Satan and death, thus ignoring what the Bible implicitly states in 1 John 3:8, that, ‘the Son of God came to destroy the works of the Devil.‘ This is reiterated in Hebrews 2:14. ‘For only as a human being could he die, and only by dying could he break the power of the devil, who has/had the power of death. Only in this way could he set free all who have lived their lives as slaves to the fear of dying.’ 

Colossians 2:13-15 ‘You were dead because of your sins and because your sinful nature was not yet cut away. Then God made you alive with Christ, for he forgave all our sins. He canceled the record of the charges against us and took it away by nailing it to the cross. In this way, he disarmed (or stripped off) the spiritual rulers and authorities. He shamed them publicly by his victory over them on the cross.’

This verse exactly explains the point that Jesus was not paying a debt but cancelling it … to “forgive” is to release someone from a debt and to absorb the debt yourself, to not make anyone pay but to accept the loss.  To make someone else pay a debt would not only NOT be forgiveness but would also not be “cancelling” the debt, but instead merely transferring it. (Erasing debts is also another theme found in various instances throughout the Bible, but I’ll save that discussion for another time)

By not making anyone pay for injustice but instead absorbing it, Jesus defeats the endless cycle of “crime and punishment”, of “infraction and retribution” that is itself a central aspect of the fallen world and of Satan’s kingdom:  rules and revenge.  Jesus destroys this, breaks the cycle, shows a completely different way … one where he himself accepts injustice without revenge or retribution in order to forgive and then reconcile.

In Ephesians 2:14-22 we see an emphasis on peace, one of the major themes of Christ’s kingdom. It emphasizes the reconciliation BY discarding the laws/rules system. I see Penal Substitution Atonement as not only archaic, but pagan, because God needs no sacrifice to pay for our sin. To say so assumes that God is either unable or refuses to forgive our sins without payment.

We see in the New Testament, the use of the word, ‘free gift,’ in regards to the new life that can be found in Jesus. It would not be called  both ‘free,’ and a ‘gift,’ if Jesus was some kind of sacrificial lamb meant to quench God’s justice. I agree with Baptist Minister Steve Chalke when he said, “The cross isn’t a form of cosmic child abuse—A vengeful Father punishing his Son for an offense he has not even committed.”

Some would argue that PSA can be supported because of the use of sacrifices to cleanse people of their sins in the Old Testament. Some scholars question whether the whole system of animal sacrifice was ever God’s idea in the first place, or whether it was a fallen human system to which God accommodated to as he clearly does with many other fallen human practices (polygamy for instance).  Whereas with pagan animal sacrifice, the gods fed on the blood or spirits of the murdered animal (or human in extreme cases), the meat of the animals sacrificed in all but one of the Levitical sacrifices were shared in a meal, representing restored covenant and reconciled relationship. To support the argument that God never had in mind animal sacrifices as a payment for sins, one need look no further than such Old Testament passages as Psalm 51:16, Hosea 6:6 and Micah 6:6-8 just to name a few.  Animal sacrifice had occurred throughout all of history. All cultures practiced it and the Israelites were likely already practicing it as slaves in Egypt. God constantly temporarily accommodates to cultural norms and does this for the purpose of moving the culture into another direction. Paul even says in 1 Corinthians 10:19-20, that ‘..these sacrifices are offered to demons, not to God.’ 

In Hebrews Chapter 10, the sacrifices are described as pieces of the old system of the law under Moses. In this system, sacrifices occurred over and over, but never gave perfect cleansing and in fact actually reminded the people of their sins rather then purifying and cleansing the people of their guilt. Then it quotes Jesus, where he says that,

  • “You did not want animal sacrifices or sin offerings. But you have given me a body to offer. You were not pleased with burnt offerings or other offerings for sin…” The importance and emphasis on this next verse cannot be stressed enough. “Then I said, ‘Look, I have come to do your will, O God-‘ As is written about me in the Scriptures.”

Jesus was not needed as a sacrifice to appease God’s anger or satisfy some need for punishment. No, what was needed, was for Satan’s rulership of Earth to be defeated and given back to humanity, and for this to happen a human had to be fully obedient to God unto the point of death, thus fulfilling covenant faithfulness with God which was broken by Adam and Eve. The Trinity conspired together to achieve all this, to fulfill God’s ultimate plan. It was not to feed God’s hunger for some revenge, but to free humanity from evil and restore us to adoption as children through sinless, self-sacrificial obedience to God’s will to the point of death.  Perfect obedience defeats Satanic rebellion; mercy triumphs over judgment.

God is like Jesus. Jesus is God in the flesh. So what are you going to believe in?