Sunday, December 25, 2016

The He** Dance

Have you ever heard an Evangelical or Mainline Protestant sermon that talks about who gets salvation and who doesn't?

Here's an interview with Evangelical pastor Tim Keller.

These sermons typically feel like a ballroom dance. Waltz, or Tango. Definitely duple, though. Not much swing step. Step forward, step sideways, step back. Forward, back, side-to-side.

Some dances are about celebrating a wedding. Some are about cultural heritage. This is a dance... about four letters or six. Who is going to which. "H-Place" number one? Or number two.

The dance gets faster and faster like a Greek circle dance. With the hankies. Like the child's game "Hot and Cold." Cold, cold, cool, getting warmer, lukewarm, warmer, warmer, hot, scalding hot, boiling oil hot, lava pit, center of the earth, surface of the sun, Burning He**fire!
Kristof: So where does that leave people like me? Am I a Christian? A Jesus follower? A secular Christian? Can I be a Christian while doubting the Resurrection?
Keller: I wouldn’t draw any conclusion about an individual without talking to him or her at length. But, in general, if you don’t accept the Resurrection or other foundational beliefs as defined by the Apostles’ Creed, I’d say you are on the outside of the boundary.

For folks privileged enough that everyone in their family is reasonably well-nourished and well-sheltered, lives without fear of physical violence, gets six or seven hours of sleep at night, affords basic health care, and the adults work for less than half their waking hours... O, privileged folks, I am one of you.

And if you are like me too, then your thoughts about H-Places might be well-explained by cognitive dissonance theory. The abyss is just too weird and Kafkaesque. I'm a chill guy, I live a comfortable life. Aspiration for the skies and discontent with purgatories seem far more relevant to my personal experience. I don't cook with a coal oven enough to relate to hellfire and brimstone.

Why did I show up to this dance anyways?

Fortunately for my racing pulse, even sermons like Pastor Keller's don't dance in the same direction. Forward, forward, back back.
Keller: The Bible is clear about two things — that salvation must be through grace and faith in Christ, and that God is always fair and just in all his dealings. What it doesn’t directly tell us is exactly how both of those things can be true together. I don’t think it is insurmountable. Just because I can’t see a way doesn’t prove there cannot be any such way. If we have a God big enough to deserve being called God, then we have a God big enough to reconcile both justice and love.
So I read this back-stepping, and it makes me think of the Parable of the Sheep and the Goats in Matthew 25.
of-Nazareth: The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’
If bringing the Good News of the Gospel empowers the weak and encourages the abused, then it is glorious. But if it is badly wielded, to extract excessive tithes, or erase a heritage, or coercively indoctrinate faith through fear, then it becomes a Bad News Gospel.

Imagine telling a devout Hindu/Buddhist/Muslim/secular-humanist/etc. that they are da**ed for the way they worship God... and it turns out that Jesus happens to be hanging out in that person in that moment.

At least as violent as any other error mentioned in the Sheep&Goats Parable. Too weird. Makes you want to reach for your fancy smartphone to check

I think pastors like Keller realize this, so you don't hear fire and brimstone sermons much anymore in empowered communities. But the Bad News Gospel is as American as apple pie, as Euro-American as the Saturnalia Solstice evergreen wreaths.

Those last two are good things. But colonialism is so rooted in our Euro-American culture, that we might even think it was a good thing.

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