Monday, January 16, 2012

On Christian Religion, Jesus, and Scripture: Why Religion Matters

“‘Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfill” (Mt. 5:17, NRSV).

One cannot preach grace with a machinegun for a microphone.

This past week, twelve million Christians debated over a video that says Jesus>Religion. Jefferson, the Spoken Word creator of the video has a lot to say about Jesus and religion. Is this man preaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ or condemning people who call themselves Christians? Yes. In addition to what I’ve said elsewhere, does the Bible back up the claims of the popular video? Yes and no.

Definitions are important. First, who is Jesus? Jesus is the Son of God, fully man and fully God, he lived, he died (by crucifixion on the cross), and he resurrected from the dead. The work of the cross was done for the redemption of all people because all suffer from a chronic affliction called sin.

Second, what is religion? It is, “a set of beliefs concerning the cause, nature, and purpose of the universe, especially when considered as the creation of a superhuman agency or agencies, usually involving devotional and ritual observances, and often containing a moral code governing the conduct of human affairs” (

What does Jesus>Religion claim and is it scriptural? Claim one, “Jesus came to abolish religion.” I could not find this in scripture, but here’s what I did find: “If you wish to enter into life, keep the commandments” (Mt.19:16-21; Mt. 5:17). Claim two, “Just because you call some people blind, doesn’t automatically give you vision.” True, but that judgment was Jesus’ call (Jn. 9:39-41) and I’d suggest it stay his call. Claim three, “If religion is so great, why does it [insert negative here]?” Religion isn’t the problem; sin is the problem (Ps. 25:6-12).

The claims of Jesus>Religion continue. Claim four, “But, in the Old Testament, God actually calls religious people whores.” This is a bit of a stretch, but the Israelites were called whores because God knew they were inclined to sin and turn from the covenant they had made with the Lord (Deut.31:15-21, ESV). Claim five, “Religion might preach grace, but another thing they practice.”It is true; Christians are guilty of not practicing what they preach. However, grace is from God (Jn. 1:16-18). And, scripture says a lot more on religion and grace (Mt. 5:3-7:27; Acts15:5-11).

Three out of five is pretty good, right? Claim six, “Now I ain’t judging; I’m just saying, quit putting on a fake look because there’s a problem if people only know you’re a Christian by your Facebook.” Unless one is going to take time to disciple “Facebook Christians” this remark is ill-advised (Gal. 6:2-5).

Turning to the opposition of Jesus>Religion; Jesus=Religion. What does the opposition claim? Claim one, “Where do you get off speakin’ up for the man risen from the dead, without botherin’ to quote a single word that he said?” While the point may be valid, it deters from a message of grace and contradicts Jesus’ teaching: “Whoever is not against us is for us” (Mk. 9:38-40).

Since I’m a Lutheran, I share more views with the Jesus=Religion author, but I will compare one point of controversy from each video. “Because, if grace is water, the Church should be an ocean” (Jesus>Religion). “The grace is the water, this baptism now saves you, and the Church is the place where this giving out raises you” (Jesus=Religion). Does scripture support salvation through baptism? Yes and it’s been a heated debate for  easily five-hundred years. We are baptized into Christ’s death and resurrection (Rom. 6:1-7). Thus, baptism brings us into Christ’s resurrection (1Pet. 3:18-22). This is orthodoxy, not heresy, and there are other views if you don’t agree with it.

Finally, Jesus is greater than religion, but religion points believers to the grace of the cross. Both of these rhyming You Tube preachers have solid points and a common problem. As servants of the Lord, Christians are called to humility: “The fear of the Lord is instruction in wisdom, and humility goes before honor” (Pro. 15:33, NRSV). Where the first falsely slanders religion, the other mocks his brother’s folly, and both preach grace with a machinegun.

“Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do” (Lk. 23:34, KJV).

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Religion and the Internet vs. Systemic Affliction

I abandoned the regular flow of dialect to engage the works of others: Lewis, Dostoyevsky, and DeVries. As a result, I’ve enjoyed the invitation to minister to people in the absence of writing. With my eyes fixed on the cross, this blog seems less essential to my being. But, some thoughts have been stirring that I thought I’d share with you all.

Religion is not the problem, as some might suggest, it is infected by what afflicts the greater systemic issue. Religion is meant to serve as a GPS to the cross (where we find God) and the negative symptoms occur when we abandon our navigational tools. Religion is a stabilizer to our experiential and emotional perceptions; it is a set of beliefs, constructed of theologies and philosophies, which do not waiver when we don’t feel good about God. Sadly, religion tends to get the blame for things it has little or nothing to do with and its definition gets lost.  

The greater affliction I mentioned earlier, infect more than just religion. The internet is a relevant example, a system within systems, which is meant to serve the user. Our systemic affliction takes algorithms meant to customize sites (like Google, Facebook, Netflix, and more) and reveals an ugly symptom of the greater affliction (the symptom being individualism). If “it’s all about me” it’s no wonder we point fingers at systems, like religion and the internet.

Dear friends, life is the system and it is afflicted by a chronic condition, the sin nature. Sin isn’t popular and it may be over emphasized in some denominations, but it is a real affliction. Thankfully, religion tells us that the God of the cross died for us. Christ’s death is the antidote for our chronic affliction and the systemic affliction is given over to the hope of resurrection. This is the work of God, through the gift of grace. And that, my friends, is the definition of religion.  

"Just a Song," Girls, (Father, Son, Holy Ghost; music only)

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Minister for Life

Ministry is more than a job; it is life – messy, versatile, eclectic, joyous, sad, unpredictable, fun, and challenging – it is not always easy to gauge success versus failure. As a minister, I’ve made real friends, seen real tears, witnessed real blessings, made honest mistakes, encouraged real discipleship, endured failures, and experienced real success. Ministry is real life – not edited for TV – and it is the living call to express the real promises of God.

I’ve loved my six years in the ministry field. Sometimes it’s hard to hear from youth I once led, when they tell me they don’t believe in the God of the cross or the real promises of Christ. Yet, my ears and my heart open to these people. My life as a minister doesn’t end when I leave a church context. Every story is important to me. I feel privileged when people, I’ve preached the Gospel of Christ to, come to me with their stories, doubts, questions, and so on. Life doesn’t stop when things don’t go as we’d hoped; neither does ministry.

All of my youth kids, from all of the ministries I’ve been involved with, your story matters. You matter. I’m still listening (whether you consider Jesus your savior or not). I am a minister and I am here for you, should you need someone to tell your story. I believe that God loves you and that the cross is the answer to our doubts. May I meet you with love and grace – as I believe Christ does – wherever you may be in life and/or faith.