My Unique Journey

As I look back on the journey I’ve taken in the last 15 years, I find it intriguing the path I was led to walk.MyUniqueJourney

Fifteen years ago I was a Calvinist who defended the inerrancy of scripture (with leanings toward the King James Version as the best translation) and the importance of praying a prayer that gets you into Heaven when you die and avoiding never-ending torture in Hell. Now I’m not. How did that happen?

I think the seed for this blooming was Dallas Willard’s magnum opus “The Divine Conspiracy”. I didn’t fully understand the implications on first read, just his point that Jesus is not just nice – he’s brilliant. His “Sermon on the Mount” acted as a de facto “Kingdom Manifesto” and it’s architecture is genius. The flow, the way the logic builds, what it commends and condemns… genius. I’ve since read it twice more.

It gave me new appreciation for Jesus as more than just my surrogate whipping boy. I started to take the very words of Jesus seriously rather than ignoring them as being from an “Old Testament Dispensation.” My on my how we explain him away when it doesn’t suit our preconceived ideas!

Then I discovered through some friends that N.T. Wright was arguing for a “New Perspective on Paul”, one that viewed Paul’s writings from the lens of Jesus rather than viewing Jesus from the lens of Paul. This connected with Dallas Willard’s focus on Jesus’ “kingdom of God” proclamation – that when Paul talked about having citizenship in heaven and being ambassadors… he actually meant that. And he lived it out – his first priority was neither to the Roman Empire (of which he was a citizen) nor to the Jewish culture into which he was born; no, it was to this alternative society, this new family/househould to which he now belonged. That resonated with me.

Around the same time I read Rob Bell’s “Velvet Elvis”. I found his style engaging, but what really blew my mind is how he exposed what certain terms actually meant back in that culture – words like bind, loose, and yoke. It made so much more sense than the arrogant, ridiculous conclusions my trusted teachers provided. It made me wonder what else they totally misunderstood because they didn’t really understand the cultural context… and I started to find out more and more examples.

When I learned how totally wrong the “Romans Road” reading of Romans 10:8-9 was, when I learned it had nothing to do with praying a prayer and confessing sin in order to get into a blissful afterlife but was rather a subversive political statement that encouraged citizens of Rome to say “Jesus is Lord (NOT Caesar)!” and encouraged them to not fear the repercussions of such a stand. That’s when most of the house of cards really tumbled down.

Over the next few years I read a number of other authors who affirmed this viewpoint, and I didn’t feel so alone anymore (even though I was from a local church standpoint). So I kept silent but kept traveling.

Around this time I started to question the genocide (which is supposed to be bad) that God himself commanded the Jews to commit on the inhabitants of Canaan. I came away with the untested conclusion that the author of the book of Joshua probably did tell the Jewish people that God was commanding genocide… but that doesn’t logically mean that God actually did command it. It could just as easily have been Joshua’s excuse by appealing to a higher authority… we see right through that whenever anyone calls for jihad (Holy War ordained by God). We know it’s not God commanding that, but rather some angry man. Now the house of cards was knocked to the floor.

I came to understand that the real good news Jesus proclaimed was that there are no barriers of access to participate in the Kingdom/Society of God, and this way of living is available right now. It’s about the principles and values Jesus taught in the Sermon on the Mount. It’s not about “individual salvation” to “get out of Hell” – it’s about the salvation (healing, restoration, rescue) of the entire world, and there’s a hope that in the end (in this life or the next), ALL people will experience this salvation. That’s GOOD!

I also was able to finally be free of the notion of Hell and  of the angry, sociopathic God who would torture people in fire endlessly for them not praying some prayer during their short lifespan. When I learned that Sheol, Hades, Gehenna, and Tartarus were all different things that the KJV translators dishonestly translated as Hell (which is really a mythological Norse underworld “Hel”), I realized there is no biblical basis for this absurd teaching. The God who is love doesn’t manipulate with fear.

So now I’m left with a Bible where the authors are sometimes saying it’s God speaking when it’s clearly not, a Bible that contains all kinds of cultural euphemisms that cannot simply be read as a 21st century white Western male, and a Bible where the translators sometimes had vested interests. I still want to “trust” it, but only within its appropriate context. Enter Pete Enns.

Pete Enns is a scholar my age who loves baseball and beer and ancient studies. He’s the kind of guy I would have hung with in high school. And, like me, he found himself good at things he hadn’t expected.

I started with his book Genesis for Normal People, which was a simplified version of The Evolution of Adam (which I also read). Then I read his book The Bible Tells Me So (Why our defending the scriptures makes us unable to read them) and his latest How The Bible Actually Works. These provided the scholarly and philosophical foundation for me to now approach the scriptures more realistically.

To summarize what I learned from Pete:

  1. The Bible is ancient (so we have to approach it on its terms)
  2. The Bible is diverse (there are many different voices that conflict at times)
  3. The Bible is ambiguous (it doesn’t spell everything out; how do exactly you honor your parents?)

He therefore argues that then entire Bible works like the book of Proverbs: as wisdom literature. You don’t go there for a single answer so much as you go to it to see the different answers and you use that input to cultivate a mind and heart of wisdom. That’s especially important when you read conflicting advice and have to figure out which apply – for example, “Answer a fool…” and “Don’t answer a fool…”.

This journey is now to the point where I at least have some confidence to speak what I think rather than shrinking back from discussions. But I will definitely shrink back from arguments – I don’t need to prove to anyone that I’m right, I just need to keep following Jesus.

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