Archive for February, 2010

From CN:

Dear Liberal Preacher,
I hate church. Despise it. I love the idea of finding a liberal church (like yours) and for once worshipping with people who aren’t afraid to ask the “big” questions. I have been reading a lot of your blog and have been diving into your website, I really love it.  I also have a degree in religion and psychology and currently work in a ministry position, and yet I can’t stand the idea of sitting through church. It is the standing, sitting, singing, and gathering of sweaty bodies that just kind of make my stomach turn. I have come to associate church with cheesiness, fake smiles, and uncomfortable shoes. I wish I wanted to go to church, but mostly I just want to have my Sundays to myself. Is that so bad? How do I get over the “I just graduated college and I hate church” hump?



The church needs you.  But the world needs you more, and the world is the point.  And if going to church saps you and is a waste of time, time that you could be using to love the world, well, snub the institutional church.  Or start a cell group yourself.  Do some new form of church.  The Church needs a kick in the pants.  It is impotent and is missing the point/s.

There are no perfect churches and there are no perfect people, but, like you, the cheesiness, the inability to ask big questions, and the fake smiles are just too much.  I mean, have they ever read Job or Ecclesiastes or the lament Psalms?

I’m going to email you the best story I’ve ever read.  It’s about a drunk named Old Ike.  The story is from  Wilfred Pelletier’s No Foreign Land:  The Autobiography of a North American Indian.  Old Ike steals a Gideon Bible and discovers real religion; finds out he is more like Jesus than the priests.  It’s funny, but it’s hard-hitting.

I’m more interested in you following Jesus than being in a church, but if you can, help the Christians in churches.  They need it badly.  Unfortunately, the type of help they want from you (your money, you sitting on the pew, you sitting in a million long and boring meetings listening to people think of a thousand reasons not to do something Jesus said to do) is not the type of help which could make them more faithful, real, and relevant.



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From Theologically Curious:

Dear Liberal Preacher:

You told MJ that Hell doesn’t exist. How can you be a Christian and not believe in Hell? If Hell doesn’t exist, does Heaven? Can you believe in Heaven, but not Hell?

Theologically Curious

Dear Theologically Curious,

Yes, you can be a Christian and not believe in hell.  I’m a Christian and I don’t believe in hell.  I find an ever-lasting, punishing hell to be contrary to a loving God.  So did some early church fathers.  Origen of Alexandria and Gregory of Nyssa questioned the eternality of hell and the literal interpretation of it as a fiery place.  I go one step further and doubt hell exists. 

So if hell doesn’t exist, why do I believe heaven does exist?  Isn’t that convenient to believe one but not the other?

Good point.

Actually, the idea of heaven itself is problematic.  Why not set up the world as heaven in the first place?  Why put human beings to the test?  Why didn’t God get it right the first time?

Furthermore, is heaven a place we go to or does heaven describe a reality on earth?

Personally, I’m pulling for heaven on earth, something like what is described in the Sibylline Oracles, which was a Jewish vision of utopian social transformation from around the time of Jesus’ birth.

The earth will belong equally to all, undivided by walls or fences. It will then bear more abundant fruits spontaneously. Lives will be in common and wealth will have no division. For there will be no poor man there, no rich, and no tyrant, no slave. Further, no one will be either great or small anymore. No kings, no leaders. All will be on a par together (Sibylline Oracles 2:319-24).

Doesn’t that sound pretty good?

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From MJ:
Dear Liberal Preacher,
Can you explain the Holy Trinity? If God and Jesus are the same was Jesus talking to himself from the cross when he said “forgive them father for they know not what they do”?
Dear MJ,
No, I can’t explain the Trinity.  That graph above helps me about as much as a sore throat helps me.
Three in one.  Monotheism but trinity too.  Sounds like talking out of both sides of your mouth.
Well, I guess with God you are trying to explain the unexplainable.  We have to make attempts at God-talk, at theology.  My problem is with religious folk who think they’ve given the final answer.  It’s not like we are on Who Wants To Be A Millionaire.
Here’s a question I have.  Let’s suppose all this conservative theology is correct.  Here’s my question:  Why God, why make “it”, why make theology, so complicated?  Life is hard enough without God making theology so darn confusing.  Why not spell it  out.  If you are going to provide us with Scripture, how about some Scripture that is clear?  Blaming theological and biblical confusion on the limited brains and understanding of humans – that little manuever is not going to work.
MJ, I don’t know if Jesus on the cross talking to God was Jesus talking to himself or not.  I talk to myself all the time, but then again I’m not God. 
Thanks for your question.  I like your questions more than the Christians’ answers.

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From MJ:
Dear Liberal Preacher,
I believe Jesus was a good man and I follow his teachings, but I don’t know or care if he was the son of God.   Again I do follow his teachings because they are the right thing to do; so am I condemned to hell?
Dear MJ,
Like you, I too find much about Jesus that is appealing.  (For the record, there are a few texts in the gospels which reveal a Jesus who either was having a bad day or a Jesus we should not imitate.  Yeah, we’ve got to be honest about those texts too.)
And like you, I’m sure I don’t have Jesus’ personhood, Christology, etc. all figured out.  I’m also sure the people who think they are sure shouldn’t be so sure.
So no, you aren’t going to hell.  Hell doesn’t exist.
As for Jesus being the son of God (or Son of God), well, we really can’t even be 100% sure of what “Son of God” means.   I will not get into all the scholarship on this matter.  What I will do is encourage you to read Bart Ehrman’s Lost Christianities and you will discover just how diverse early Christianity was, including diversity on who Jesus was.  The diversity will astound you.
Before closing, I also want to mention a guy by the name of Arius (AD 256 – 336).  The first ecumenical council of the church, the First Council of Nicaea, excommunicated the fellah because they didn’t like his understanding of Jesus.   That’s what the church does with folk who don’t sign  on the dotted line; they excommunicate them.  And, the church sends them to hell.
I’m a Baptist.  We are not creedal.  (Some Baptists have not figured this out yet.)  I will not sign on any dotted line, including that of The First Council of Nicea or any other church council.
Or put another way, it’s good to have you as my Jesus-sister.

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From Dottie:

Dear Liberal Preacher,

“If one wants to believe in heaven, but has a problem with the bible contradicting itself, does that person call himself/herself a Christian or just a spiritual person?”



Dear Dottie,

There is a growing number of people who want to be spiritual but don’t care for the baggage of being Christian.

There also is an an increasing number of Christians who are jumping at the bit to tell other Christians they are not Christians.  If you don’t believe like me, then……….then you aren’t a Christian, they say.  That’s their little illusion and their propaganda.

Don’t believe a word of it.  Just because a loud mouthed Christian/preacher says you are not a Christian or just because a church council says you are not a Christian does not make it so.

Christians have believed diverse things about God and scripture from the beginning of Christianity.  Conservative Christians don’t want you to know church history.  I mean, how can you read ten minutes of church history and not see major differences among the Christians?  And as for biblical contradictions, early church figures, unlike many modern Christians, at least fessed up to problems in biblical interpretation.  I’m not saying I like their “solutions,” but at least they fessed up.

Dottie, I, like you, believe in heaven and am honest about contradictions in the Bible.  I have friends who are spiritual but not Christian.  Hope you will join me in staying Christian.  The world needs some honest Christians. 

Yes, definitely yes, you can be a Christian and be honest about biblical contradictions.  In fact, I would argue that if you aren’t honest about biblical contradictions you aren’t being the Christian God and the world needs you to be.  I hope and pray the Christians don’t believe and live certain biblical texts or the world is in trouble.

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From Daniel:

Dear Liberal Preacher,

One thing I have always had problems with is combining my belief in God and Jesus Christ with capitalism.  I believe we should take care of the poor and the helpless but I also believe they have to also take care of themselves.  I can’t bring myself to think that health care and housing and such are rights that everyone should have regardless.  Honestly I can’t bring myself to believe that greed is completely morally wrong.  I teach at a community college and one of the reasons I teach here is because I like helping people who are trying to help themselves, but everyday I see people who are not and I find it hard to continue caring for them when they are arguably making their own bed.  I enjoy science and went into it for that reason, but I also went into it because I knew that I could find a good job that would provide well for me and for any family I might have.  I can’t see the desire to have nice things, and the desire to have things and be safe (greed) as innately evil.  To me that would be too much like saying capitalism is innately evil.
Does being a Christian mean you need to be a socialist?      



Dear Daniel,

I appreciate your honesty.   Here’s how I honestly feel.  As a Christian I hate voting for political candidates who I know will harm my economic self-interest.  (It also means people I vote for rarely win.)

There is something to the notion that in our efforts to help individuals we can enable them, and thus harm them.  Bleeding heart liberals do come up short on the need for personal accountability.

I’ve decided, though, to err on the side of judging people less.  I find that people respond much better to encouragement rather than judgement.  I know I do.  I’ve seen folk beat up by others, and humanoids who practice daily self-flagellation, who never “figure life out.”  In contrast, I’ve witnessed amazing turnarounds by people who start to celebrate and appreciate themselves, in part, because someone in their life, a teacher or friend or pastor, has affirmed them.

People these days are worrying about the United States becoming a socialist country.  We are a far cry from being a socialist nation.  In American churches capitalism is preached by the minute while numerous biblical texts which blame the rich for poverty are ignored.  (See Proverbs for texts supporting the idea that poverty is the fault of the poor.)

On earth as in heaven.  Ummm.  I’m not sure how that computes, but it seems we might better use our limited time and energy on something else other than worrying about socialism.

One of the most troubling things I’ve read is a quote by Gustavo Guiterrez, “Instead of talking about the Church of the poor, we must be a poor Church.” (A Theology of Liberation, p. 117)

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From Scott:

Dear Liberal Preacher,

Where are all the clergy in the current debates on HEALTH CARE REFORM and the sacramental nature of ALL marriages….gay or straight?  Like where is our backbone!??


Dear Scott,

Clergy have to make a living.  They have to put food on the table, for themselves and their family if they have a family.  Some Christians say they like for their toes to get stepped on by the preacher during the sermon.  I actually heard a Christian say that today.  It’s not true. 

So preachers like to stick to heaven and hell and psychology sermons.  Typically, the hell remarks aren’t directed to the flock who are “saints.”  Preachers, you might, say preach to the choir.  If sin is preached on it’s the safe sins.

But it’s not just preaching.  Do something Jesus did or said to do and you are out the door.

On the other hand, I know of one preacher at an uppity church who instead of preaching from the pulpit preached in front of the first pew.  This style of preaching didn’t quite fit the socioeconomic image of church members and his marching orders were delivered shortly thereafter.

It doesn’t take much to upset the Christians so preachers tend to lose their backbones.

I don’t say that judgmentally because I’ve got a wife who has a job and I’ve known that if I get kicked out I will be able to eat beans, and I really like beans.

It raises several questions:  Can paid clergy preach prophetic sermons?  Will preachers always be the world’s greatest wasted resource?  Can you be a preacher and not be impotent or gagged?

Another question I have is:  Do we set church up so very little Jesus said to do ever gets done.  We build buildings, which the early church didn’t.  We have to pay for our big buildings.  We need rich people with money to pay for our buildings. Jesus said rich folk have the hardest time understanding and living kingdom of God values.  So……….

Clarence Jordan in his book The Substance of Faith:  Cotton Patch Sermons says, “I preached the word of God in south Georgia, and I didn’t think I would survive the ordeal . . .”

Say a prayer for preachers and churches.

I’m with you, I think health care reform needs to happen and all people, regardless of sexual orientation and gender identity, should be treated equally.

May the world and churches be filled with more Christians like you!


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