The Process Behind the Answers
In the Christian tradition, Jesus is our role model for understanding what it means to live a faithful life that is full of meaning, purpose, fruitfulness, and of course, God. He was referred to as a Rabbi, and based on his teachings, we can clearly identify that he employed a process espoused by the rabbinical tradition of his day. In short, this would mean that he placed value in the scripture as a time-tested-and-honored remembrance of how the Jewish people were experiencing God. The writers were surely humble and prayerful in their recording, and God surely was moving through them in the writing. The text is about God – God is the story – and therefore it is sacred text. And yet all of the fingerprints were left on the pages – all of the context was left there for all to see, which is a very good thing. The ancient rabbis believed there was as much Spirit flowing in the writers of the text as in the readers and interpreters of the text. God gives the interpreter insight as to understanding the meaning and how to apply the text as we carefully appreciate the original fingerprints/context and our own paradigms that filter everything we see and think about. The text was not to be worshiped, but rather worked over and worked into our lives. This is why Jesus felt free to offer new interpretations of scripture and its application – much to the chagrin of the leaders who had been teaching otherwise! It’s partly why he got killed.
My approach to the Bible is in line with Jesus. I treat it as incredibly informative and authoritative, but only when understood with context in mind, which sometimes makes an enormous difference. The rabbis felt free to disagree with each other, to completely ignore passages they couldn’t make out, and to value multiple conclusions and applications regarding specific texts. When I think about the issues of life and faith, I factor in what the Bible says in context, the character and nature of God (as best as I can), what I am sensing the Spirit saying to me in my context, and what other voices are saying in their context (scholars and colleagues). Sometimes that leads me to very unorthodox conclusions, which I think is warranted at times, since orthodoxy itself originated hundreds of years after Jesus’ ministry, within a context that surely influenced the outcome (as is the case for every “amendment” to orthodoxy ever since). My answers, therefore, are not proof-texted, but rather a reflection of what I believe to be responsible Christian praxis – and application of what I sense to be the Way of Jesus.
Ask Anything Answers
1. Angels appeared in scripture. Do you believe angels intercede in healing or situations to help people?
a. I believe God is actively engaged in the world toward redemptive ends which include bringing healing in many forms to a wide range of personal, community, and global concerns. Some people may experience that activity as the presence of an angel(s) for whatever reasons. Belief in angels or not does not, in my opinion, matter a whole lot because the end is the same: God is active.
2. Is it the devil/Satan working in people that creates evil deeds, or people who propitiate evil ideas themselves? Some evil deeds are explained by mental illness, but what about people who plan and propitiate evil?
a. There is no doubt that evil exists in the world. Those who were living in Jesus’ era had developed a way of explaining evil by personifying it with the Satan figure (whose character and role evolved throughout scripture). I don’t resonate with such personification, mainly because I believe it severely limits our understanding of the roots of evil and therefore may hinder our ability to address them. There are lots of reasons people carry out evil in small and large ways. Selfishness seems to be a common theme, which makes sense because the Spirit of God invites us to always be mindful of others as much as ourselves.
3. What is the definition of heaven? If there is no hell but separation from God, what is heaven?
a. There are a range of images for what heaven may be like. All metaphors describing what it might be like to be in the full presence of God. The idea of a literal hell needs to be revisited in light of biblical research chronicling the motivation and development of the concept beginning a few centuries before Jesus was born.
4. Some people believe in being reunited with loved ones or others from their lifetime in heaven. If that is so, what about those of us who don’t want to be reunited with family or other people who harmed us, such as pedophiles? Are pedophiles ever forgiven? Does Matthew 18:6 apply to any harm to children? What assurance do we have of peaceful eternal life without those people?
a. The Apostle Paul uses a metaphor of a refiner’s fire to describe what happens at the end of our lives which reveals what we’ve made of our lives. I like it. There is room for the most broken person who is left with only their soul, yet for those who build their lives with the Spirit’s lead, there is great beauty revealed. Our “family reunion” views are metaphor depicting a happy, hopeful future, but it remains a metaphor. For those longing for the reunion, there is good news – it will be better than that. For those who cannot fathom heaven like that, there is good news – it will be better than that. In the Christian tradition, we trust the teaching and modeling of Jesus. We place ourselves and our hope in his care. What more graceful hope could we possibly have?
5. How am I to understand other religion’s “God” when our God loves us all. Is their God real?
a. Every religion is trying to make sense of the world, life, faith, the future, etc. When we get stuck on the details of the specific doctrines, we see great separation. When we listen to the mystics from those same traditions, we get unity: God is love, peace, joy, life – we are tapping into the same Ground of Being. When we worship religion, we’re in trouble. When we worship what religions are trying to help us seek, we worship the same Greater Other. Aside: When you’re hearing hatred, you are not likely hearing God.
6. Pastor Pete, you’ve said in a YouTube video that Jesus can be viewed as a demigod, rather than THE GOD incarnate. How is that reconciled with John 1:1? And would you say the same thing about other gods throughout history – that they were “with God in the beginning?”
a. What I was highlighting was something we very easily overlook as Christians 2,000 years removed from Jesus’ birth. As Matthew and Luke tell the Jesus story, God in some fashion got Mary pregnant, making it a divine-human baby. This was welcome news to a non-Jewish audience who were accustomed to such beliefs from their Roman and Greek mythology. It added to Jesus’ credibility in their eyes. BUT! The idea of a Jewish-demigod-Messiah was appalling – they would never believe such a thing. I mentioned it to encourage a bit more roominess in our thinking about the mystery surrounding what was going on in Jesus. As for John 1:1, scholars understand that the Word refers more to the anointing Spirit rather than Jesus’ physical person. The Word is that agency of God that comes. Inhabits, and speaks to the world.
7. Is there any sin that is unforgivable? If so, what are the unforgivable sins? Whose sin was worse, Peter’s denial or Judas’ betrayal?
a. The Bible speaks of denying the Spirit as an unforgivable sin. I think forgiveness is a bigger deal for us than God. We can’t really “own” forgiveness until we are on the other side of sin where we recognize what we’ve been up to and seek to turn it around (the meaning of repent). It’s not that God is unwilling to forgive – it’s that we are still messing things up willfully and therefore unable to see what we’re doing and be open to reconciliation. In that sense, God’s hands are tied – God is waiting with grace once we come to our senses. Hard to know which sin was worse – both suck. Both are reminders of what well-meaning, Jesus-loving people are capable of.
8. Why does the Church focus so much on original sin from Genesis?
a. Because Paul created the idea to provide a biblical/theological rational for Gentile inclusion. Original Sin is a Christian concept, not Jewish. We shouldn’t be focusing so much on it, frankly – it was derived for a purpose that we have coopted for our own theology. I think Paul is rolling in his grave about this.
9. Why did Jesus have to die on the cross? What if he didn’t?
a. The classic answer rooted in orthodoxy is that he had to die so that a final sacrifice could be made on our behalf – he became the substitutionary atonement that satisfied God’s need for justice to keep heaven holy, pure, sin-free, etc. This idea did not come readily to the disciples. It took years for them to figure out what to do with Jesus’ crucifixion. Substitutionary atone and paying the ransom was the answer that made sense to them. However, the Bible is ultra clear that God in no way shape or form desired or ever dictated human sacrifice to be made to atone for sin. Soooooooo, that makes the idea of Jesus’ death-as-God’s-means-of-atonement troubling, at best. Jesus’ whole life and teaching was about the grace of God in its beautiful depths. If he would have died at a very old age after a long life of ministry, and then appeared in resurrected form to his disciples, my guess is that we would be talking about the beauty and depth of God’s grace just like we are now, but without the need for substitutionary atonement. Shocker: God was gracious and forgiving before the cross. The cross became a new symbol for grace – but it did not change God’s level of graciousness.
10. What’s CrossWalk’s position on divorce?
a. Divorce is an extremely excruciating experience that nobody signs up for on their wedding day. It signals the brokenness of covenant, trust, shared dreams, and much more – which is why God hates it. We should be compassionate with those who are involved in divorce at all levels instead of legalistic. People need love here, not a spanking.
11. Does God laugh?
a. Of course! What other explanation could there be for thunder?
12. What is the good history of the Baptist Church?
a. We started out as people who read their bibles freely and interpreted it as they saw fit, which led them to believer’s baptism. Baptists have also at times been instrumental in the work toward freedom from slavery and for civil rights. Martin Luther King, Jr. was a Baptist preacher. Recently, however, as conservative dogmatism has increased, Baptists are more associated with being judgmental jerks that only care about abortion and gay marriage, and who is going to hell.
13. What is the point of life given its brevity, followed by a never-ending eternity?
a. The point of life is to experience the gift of life to its fullest potential with the hope that when this life gives out (we die), we will return to the very source of life (God). The Good News is that no matter what cards we are dealt, God is with us, loving and leading us toward that greatest experience of life that ultimately has absolutely nothing to do with how much money we make or how we look or how much we weigh or how many Facebook friends we have or… In the Christian tradition, we believe that way of life was modeled by Jesus, who was all about stretching, kneeling, gracing, incarnating, connecting with God, choosing God over self, all for the purpose of new life, restoration, resurrection here and now for everybody, always. Pretty compelling.
14. What are your views on the death penalty?
a. I think it’s a bad idea for a number of reasons. First and foremost, dehumanizing one person allows us to dehumanize many, many more, which is an afront to the core idea that we are all created in the image of God. Second, there is no evidence that the death penalty reduces violent crime. Third, there have been cases when the wrong person was put to death. Fourth, it is an unbelievable waste of money. Nobody sentenced to death in our country dies next week – maybe next decade after appeal after appeal is attempted. Life in prison without parole is a much more fitting sentence that saves a lot of money.
15. How does this church guard against “giving/serving burnout”?
a. Some ministries are more prone to this than others. Children’s ministry, in particular, is very prone to burnout. So, we try to limit how often our volunteers and staff serve, and try to keep tabs on their health. We also try hard not to impose guilt or shame on anybody who needs to step away. As a pastor in a field where burnout is really high, I try to build balance into my life with regular days off and vacation. If I am modeling balance, there is a better chance we will not overly celebrate workaholism in the church. There are no bonus points for ruining our lives and families in the name of the Lord…
16. What’s the best approach to reading the Bible?
a. Slowly, thoughtfully, and methodically. There is value in reading the whole thing so that you have a clue what’s in there. But, in case you haven’t noticed, it’s a pretty big book – a collection of 66 books. I would start with one of the Gospels and simply read it through slowly – stopping often to reflect on what is being said. Journal about it. Getting a good commentary can be very helpful in uncovering the context and nuances that would otherwise be missed. I think The New Interpreters One Volume Bible Commentary and the Harper Collins Commentary are great additions to anyone’s library. Making Sense of the Bible by Adam Hamilton is a book we sell here – it’s a very good guide. Pete Enns also has a book on the Bible that we will sell in 2020 when the paperback comes out. Read it as if you are reading someone else’s mail.
17. What role does the Eucharist play here at CrossWalk?
a. An infrequent one, unfortunately… If you are coming from a Catholic or Episcopal background, the infrequency of communion may be startling. I’d like to change that, but need some help to make that happen. The Baptist tradition generally offers communion once a month. The reason for the difference has much to do with where emphasis is placed on worship elements. In the aforementioned traditions, communion is really central, where in most Protestant traditions, the teaching of the Bible is most central. If you love communion, let me know so I can recruit you to a team to make it happen!
18. How can CrossWalk embrace mysticism and the Divine Feminine?
a. We’re certainly open to it and working on it. The upcoming class on meditation will certainly help. I’m a mystic myself, and love Richard Rohr – so there is plenty of motivation coming from my office.
19. Best way to deal with difficult people?
a. Really good boundaries and a lot of prayer. Get the book, Boundaries, by Townsend and Cloud.
20. What’s a good ten minutes to start my day?
a. I think it is very wise to incorporate into the beginning of the day solitude/silence/stillness, sacred input (devotional, scripture, listening to spiritual’ish music), reflection, and resolve to be your healthiest self. This centers us, grounds us in God, and reminds us of who we are capable of becoming.