Jesus on Poverty (kind of)

jesus on poverty

Matthew 5:42 (Dave’s Translation)

Give to the one who asks you, after, of course, you have made sure they’re not just going to buy beer with your money, and after, of course, you think you have a good handle on how much they need it, and whether they’re struggling because of their own stupid choices or if they are truly down on their luck, because of course you don’t want to enable anybody because there are a lot of deadbeats out there you know, and after all, you work very hard for your money and why should you just give it to this guy just because he’s asking for it anyway?

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From Religion to Spirituality

angels_respite move from religion to spirituality

Image courtesy of mindseyeimagery, licensed under Creative Commons

In my last post I said that in this one I’d deal with the question of how to learn to spot God in all the places where God is (which of course is everywhere). If I could boil it down to one simple thing, it would be that we need to move from religion to spirituality. I’m not talking about the fairly empty-headed spirituality we often see nowadays, which is basically that a person believes in something beyond him/herself and has squishy feelings about it. Such people’s spiritual reading often consists mostly of Khilal Gibran, Deepak Chopra, Eckhart Tolle, and Wayne Dyer. They will often even feel contemptuous towards traditional religions. That’s not what I mean when I say we need to move from religion to spirituality. Without entirely discounting what the men above have to say (on the contrary, I think Christians have a great deal more to learn from these men than most like to admit, but avoid them out of fear), I’m talking about something different.

I am not talking about junking Christianity and going rogue and doing your own thing. One sign that something is real is that it has a form, and so traditional religions are identified by their outward forms. Finding one’s place within a form (a “church”) and living in community with them, is important. What I’m talking about is a shift in mindset, that moves one’s basic dependence away from the form and into the realm of faith — that is the move from religion to spirituality. If you’re familiar with Christian scripture, you might consider this, in the Apostle Paul’s words, moving away from milk and onto solid food. Here are questions you can ask that will help you make the move from religion to spirituality.

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Christians who hate religion

This video has been extremely popular on the internet over the last several months.

It’s the kind of thing many people would probably expect me to agree with wholeheartedly. But I don’t. It’s simplistic (a pejorative term that means naive, or simple to a ridiculous extent). It makes some good points but throws a precious baby out with the bath water. It also demonstrates some poor thinking skills.

Religion is simply the form we give to our worship of God. There’s nothing wrong with religion itself. In fact, when religion is terrible and abusive, it comes from spirituality that is also horrific and malformed. Bad spirituality leads to bad religion. The best spirituality does not and cannot abandon religion but will instead lead to the best religion. It cannot work any other way.

A person can say all he wants, “forget religion, just give me Jesus.” This sounds good, and certainly plays on a sentiment that is becoming increasingly popular in our society. But once a person has Jesus, they must decide how to worship him. That is religion. By the way, because this is true, that is why another phrase Christians like to use is also false. “Christianity is not a religion, it is a relationship.” This is absurd. Of course Christianity is a religion. Certainly Christianity promotes a relationship (with God), but the way a person chooses to act in relationship to a deity is called “religion.” I’m not splitting hairs here. Christians should not attempt to distinguish themselves by making claims that are false. It is unfortunate that I even have to mention this, but the response I frequently get is “well, it may not be true, but it’s not hurting anything.” I say anytime we knowingly say something false, we have hurt ourselves and those around us.

I realize some Christians are desperate to point out the uniqueness of Christianity among the world religions. I get it. There clearly are some ways in which Christianity is unique. But it is definitely not unique because it is not actually a religion at all! If you’ve read more than one or two of my blog posts, you know I’m a pretty fierce critic of the church. We have embraced an anti-intellectualism that is stunning in it’s breadth. We are growing increasingly content with sappy, feel-good-ism in in our faith, and simply do not require our teachers and leaders to be, above all, truthful. Most of us do not question videos like this, but respond emotionally to them and put them up on Facebook without ever really asking if they are truthful, that is, whether or not they correspond to reality. If you claim to follow and worship Jesus, you are religious. If you openly disdain religion while being religious yourself, you are either a hypocrite or you don’t know what religion is. I am convinced that it’s overwhelmingly the latter. Rather than rejecting religion, we should be learning to think carefully so we can spot the kind of shallow stuff we see in this video.

If you claim to follow and worship Jesus, you are religious. Denying that you are religious does not make you less religious, but it does make you a whole lot less credible when you open your mouth about religious matters in the future, and perhaps most other matters as well. After all, if a person cannot see the simple fact that he is religious, what other basic truths about himself or the world might he be unaware of?

Update: Micah Murray linked to his post on this topic in the comments below, and I hope you will zip over and read his as well.

My top book recommendations: Psychology/Self-help

Despite having a B.S. in Clinical Psychology and an M.A. in Counseling, I don’t read a lot of “straight” psychology books. Often they are boring and extremely theoretical. I tend to read practical psychology books, the kind that most others would find interesting in this category. A rare exception to this makes up my first choice today:

1. Man’s Search for Meaning, by Viktor Frankl. Frankl (a psychiatrist) and his family were imprisoned in a Nazi concentration camp. In this challenging, galling, depressing, and yet extremely moving account, Frankl theorizes that people and circumstances can rob you of everything you have in the world except the thing that matters most , which is your ability to choose your attitude in any and every situation. This idea is now one of the foundations of modern psychotherapy. Even if you are not a frequent reader of books in this category, do yourself the favor of reading this one soon. You won’t regret it.

2. The Road Less Traveled, by M. Scott Peck. This gazillion seller contains one of the most thoughtful meldings of psychology and spirituality I have seen. Read it and you will understand yourself better and you will be better equipped to love those around you.

3. Emotionally Healthy Spirituality, by Peter Scazzero. This one may not be that interesting to my readers who are more secularly-minded, but it is fantastic with the idea of accepting responsibility for one’s emotional and spiritual growth and how growth happens.

Love Wins? Count On It!

Rob Bell's Love Wins book

What’s the Big Deal?

I just finished reading Rob Bell’s latest book, Love Wins. I did this because so many people have asked my opinion about it. Love Wins is the first Rob Bell book I have ever completed. His material normally is not challenging or enlightening to me on any level whatsoever. Love Wins was the same. However, people are not asking me if I find the material challenging or enlightening. They are asking me if I agree with it. And I can say, for the most part, yes I do. In fact I don’t see what the big deal is.

Shaping God

There’s something people really need to deal with that they often do not deal with. Christian people often refuse to deal with the fact that, as Bell stated, we shape our God and then our God shapes us. A huge number of Christians will tell you that at their church they just teach the Bible, not the “opinion of man,” as if the Bible and our opinion of it can truly be separated. That’s simply absurd. You pick up the Bible. You read it. You think about it, but you tend to think differently about certain things than I do. You see nuances I may not see, and miss ones I may catch. You read with different eyes, different understandings, and even different needs and a different heart.

This is what it means to say you shape your God. You read into the text the God you need to believe in. I know. I do too. We all do. The question is, who do you need God to be? In order for God to “save” you, bring you peace and joy, and assure you that you are safe in this universe, do you need to know beyond doubt that millions of other people have missed the boat and are burning in hell? If so, that’s the God that appeals to you. The thing that’s important is that we stop this shell-game of insisting that this or that opinion of the Bible and its meaning is completely drawn from the text itself and is therefore the authoritative version and any other opinions or ideas must therefore be not only wrong but heretical.


As far as I’m concerned, the very best thing about Love Wins is the number of questions it asks. If someone simply reads all these questions and then sits with them for a while, I think the truth will make itself clear. They will make Bell’s basic point appear necessary, which I believe it is if we are to really believe God is who we have always said God is.

In the meantime, why is this book controversial? Does Rob Bell ever once make the claim that he knows what happens to people after they die? Nope. Does he ever claim there is no such thing as hell or that no one is going there? Much the opposite. Does he ever claim that anyone other than the risen Christ is working to bring people to the knowledge of God? Never.

Objections and Responses

“But it leans toward universalism.” Definitely — at least compared to the “turn or burn” version of things. And still, leaning toward universalism and being a universalist are very different. “It’s terrible theology.” Well certainly it is for those who reject his ideas. C.S. Lewis would beg to differ. Richard Mouw, president of Fuller Seminary, defends the book. “It’s heresy.” So you say, but you didn’t even really read the book, apparently — after all, you still think Bell’s a universalist.  🙂 “But millions of people in hell has been the established position of the church for two thousand years.” Yeah. They thought burning people alive was a good idea too. They’ve had a lot of bad ideas. They’ve been wrong a lot. Don’t be offended by that, it’s just facts.

It’s always funny to me how good Protestants will rail on Catholics like crazy for not really getting the whole God thing, but when Protestant B departs from strict orthodoxy, Protestant A will start saying how “the church has always believed…” (which must mean the Catholic Church since they were the only game in town for so long). Personally, I’m not in the least bit anti-Catholic, but the double-standard is funny. Which is it? Do the Catholics always get it or not? I think they’re like me. And like you. And like Rob Bell. Sometimes they are right, sometimes they are wrong. Hopefully they continue to pray for the wisdom and humility to know which is which.


I’m sure Rob Bell prays for the same. In the meantime, Love Wins said things that need to be said and I applaud Bell for his courage. Of course Love Wins. Isn’t God love? Doesn’t God win?

Rule for commenting on this post. You must have actually read the book.