Grace Emerges

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Fuel for the Decision Engine

by Brad D.

I love to write about what salvation means, and have written previously about the human trinity, capacity and opportunity, freedom and the Kingdom of God.  This article brings these concepts together again and looks at how salvation changes us, providing the fuel needed by our decision engine.

In so many ways, what we believe about ourselves frames what we believe about God and his Good News to transform us and liberate us.  Salvation implies leaving the old behind, and embracing the new; that’s the transformation.  It also implies Freedom, as we were captives before, and now we are free; that’s the liberation.

So, what is the context of this change, or, Who Am I?  And then what is this transformation and liberation, or, What Changes?  If we can answer these two questions we can get to the heart of Freedom, the very purpose of the Good News.

Who Am I?
We are each a trinity of intellect, emotions and spirit.  We are created by God in his image, as points of spiritual light that represent a life of great value, individuality, potential, capacity and opportunity in the eyes of God our maker and father.  Our father longs for us, seeking and calling us, and desiring most of all to establish a meeting of his trinity, with ours.  A meeting of the minds, an understanding of thoughts and emotions, and a joining of spirits.  In other words, intimacy and relationship.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Non-Toxic Gospel FAQ

by Brad Duncan
A new understanding of the gospel is emerging in current theology, a trend toward a non-toxic gospel. It's the Good News that really is good news!

Here are some frequently asked questions (FAQs) about the non-toxic gospel. The thoughts and opinions are expressly my own, but I also speak for a resonating truth that is rising up across many different groups of thinkers and believers.

Q. What is the gospel?
A. The word "gospel" means good news, and the "gospels" refers to the 4 books of the Bible that describe the life of Christ, the one who is (and brought) the good news. The good news is that a savior has come who is God him/herself. God's kingdom has come, and s/he has left us with the ongoing help of the Holy Spirit as God living within us.

The good news as described in these books does not mean the judgment of God, a new law to keep, or a test of faith, works or goodness. So, we should not expect Jesus or Saint Peter to be at the "pearly gates" stopping inadequate followers from coming to God after their life is over on Earth. That would hardly be good news for the unaccepted.

Q. Why do so many people think the gospel means the judgment of mankind?
A.The toxic tradition of the gospel arises from a carry-over religious mind-set that was held by the overly-religious Pharisees in the time of Jesus. Jesus used many of his teachings to explain to these religious leaders that they were not doing God any favors by trying to please God with religious acts, and that in fact they were committing injustice to everyday people by creating a system of elitism. Jesus directly opposed elitism and the division of people into "good" and "bad" lots. When people judge each other because they are trying to sort out who is good enough to be accepted by God, they are the ones going against God. Jesus said to "judge not, if you don't want to be judged yourself!"

Q. But isn't God still our judge, deciding if we have pleased him/her at the end of life?
A. Yes to the first part, and No to the second part. When Jesus taught that no man or religious system had authority over mankind, Jesus instead taught that God alone had authority to judge, and that he himself was God and also had this authority. With this authority, Jesus claimed all the Earth as his "kingdom of God". He replaced all previous systems of pleasing God with his own authority. So, yes, we are subject to the judgment of God, and the authority over the spiritual realm that only s/he possesses.

But what does God require? Since Jesus came to reverse all the previous systems of pleasing God through religious acts, there is no longer any test to pass. Jesus did not set up a new test, like a standard of faith, a minimum set of beliefs, a requirement to adhere to certain ideals, or a magic ticket that is claimed by reciting a certain prayer. Jesus came to destroy that stuff, not to create more of it!

So, No, God does not judge whether we pleased him/her  at the end of our life, as an evaluation of whether or not we can spend eternity with him/her . In his/her full authority, God chose to set things up a different way.

Q. What's replaces the system of judgment? Doesn't God's acceptance of us still come with strings attached?
A. Jesus came to introduce an era of Grace. Grace is not clearly defined, but broadly means a loving gift, or a gift-giving nature driven by love. The word gift is used when defining Grace, because a true gift means something of value that is NOT earned but is freely given. In other words, no strings attached. There's no such thing as conditional grace. Grace points to the unconditional love of God towards his/her children. There's no such thing as judgmental unconditional love! God elected to come to Earth and bring this gift that we certainly did not deserve, but in God's authority (described above) s/he chose to set us into right relationship with him/herself.

A more pointed question is this: does the gift (Grace) come with a curse? For those that do not accept the gift, is a curse implied for that person? In other words, the gift is free and unearned, but if we DON'T take it, then are we doomed, condemned? No, there is no such thing as unconditional love that much be accepted under compulsion. Such a gift would be no gift at all, but rather like a threat wrapped in a bow. An offer to choose between slavery and death, packaged as sacrificial love and outstretched arms! If God offered such a deal to us, we would be compelled into whatever s/he demanded out of fear of refusing him/her . How can we degrade God's sacrificial love by appending to it a threat of doom if we don't accept it?

Q. What is the kingdom of God?
A. When Jesus came, he brought a new era of God him/herself invading the space of mankind. We also call this invasion the "incarnation". Jesus became man. Then he gave us the Holy Spirit which continues to work in people's lives today. This is what Jesus referred to numerous times as the "kingdom of God" or "kingdom of heaven." The intersection between God and mankind, established on Earth. If you don't believe me, look around at how faith in God is so pervasive in the world. If you include Muslims and Jews, and other religions who seek God, faith in the God that created the universe is extensively held. Indeed the kingdom has come, and continues to come as more people relate to God.

Q. Does God love me? Or more to the point, why does God love me?
A. Our nature is such that God loves us. God loves humans. There is a special light in us that God recognizes as his/her own, because we were created in his/her image, and with such admirable potential and capacity (even if we often fail). Remember, God became human, and why would God become something s/he despises? As a human Jesus loved people of all types of faith, religious backgrounds, and ethnicities; a few outstanding examples are the Samaritan woman at the well, the Roman centurion, the turn-coat Jewish tax-collector, the harlot, and Nicodemus the Jewish religious leader. Whether they were of high or low status, whether their flaws were by choice or birth, Jesus loved them. He taught people to love using surprising lessons of loving neighbors, loving enemies, loving the little children that surrounded him, loving the outcasts and those that invited him to dinner. Why does God love you? Because you're one of his/her children, just like everyone else.

Q. What does God want? What's the deal?
A. Since God loves us and is making such a big deal about invading human spaces to bring his/her kingdom, do you think that what he wants is someone to test, evaluate and judge? Is that what you're looking for from those that you love? No, you want people that you love to respond to your love, hopefully loving you back, and bringing joy to both you and them through a relationship.

If we are not currently close to God, separated from him/her, maybe not even liking God, then what does God want? Groveling and fear? Is that what you are looking for from those that you love but are estranged from you? No, you want that person to be reconciled to you, brought back into a good relationship.

If we are currently in an unhealthy relationship with God where we expect him/her to do everything for us, while we do nothing in return, then what does God want? Or maybe the opposite spectrum of unhealthy relationship, where we work our fingers to the bone to please God and do everything we think he wants, while never really asking what would make him/her happy, then what does God want? If we are in an unhealthy relationship with God, s/he wants to bring his/her truth to us to see what he is really like and how to relate to him in a more healthy way. As Jesus said, "True worshipers will worship God in spirit and in truth". God wants to relate to us.

What does he want? Start relating. Stop doing anything else that is counter to relating. What is relating? It means an honest, truthful, sharing of two souls with each other. Intimacy, friendship, closeness, sacrificial love.

Q. Am I saved?
A. Yes. God came to save mankind. If you are mankind, God came to save you. Did Jesus succeed or fail at what he came to do? Certainly, he crushed death and evil under his feet, and brought his kingdom to Earth. He succeeded at liberating you! By definition you are saved.

Q. Does everyone have to love God?
A. No. Love is not slavery. God loves us, and gives us complete freedom to love God or not. No one is forced to do accept God. No one is punished for not accepting God. No one is forced to bow at God's feet for all eternity if they don't like him/her. While we really can't see or understand heaven while living on Earth, we do understand our spiritual nature by entering into a relationship with God, and we know that our spiritual nature will remain with God after this body dies. We know that even in that day, our freedom will remain, and we will relate to God because we choose to.

Q. Is God mad at me and the rest of humanity?
A. Maybe. The offer of Grace comes from God's disposition towards us: from unconditional love for his/her children. Just like a parent can be angry with his/her children, God can of course be angry with us, disappointed, longing for a different behavior or response. God is not ours to control; s/he makes his/her own choices, plans, and works to bring about his/her will (his/her desires and intentions). In the intersection between God and humanity, s/he has often revealed how his/her will is counter to the will of man. We should listen to God's truth, and listen to his/her correction and guidance. We should do what God wants instead of working against him/her.

Many people sense God's dissatisfaction with us, and decide that God will judge us, condemning us rather than accepting us, because of his/her unhappiness. On the contrary, as we love our children even when we are angry with them, we should not confuse God's Will, with God's Grace. God's Will is his/her intention for us, including what we should do, how we should change, what we should believe. God's Grace is an offer to us that comes to us without condition or threat of retaliation. These concepts are not foreign to us, it is already how we treat those that we love, especially our own children.

Q. Is God mad that people don't believe in Jesus?
A. Maybe. As in the previous question, God doesn't have to like people's beliefs. Many times, people believe in something which they call God or religion, and then they use that belief to hurt other people. This applies to Christians as well as anyone else. God, the author of all truth, surely hates all deceit, and hates corruption of truth into excuses to hate others or to gratify ourselves. God hates when we mix Grace with Judgment into a poisonous stew. So, surely God does not like the faith that some people have in the name of Jesus or in the name of God.

But, does God hate it when people believe in God but don't know Jesus? God knows people's hearts, and its possible that s/he doesn't mind so much. When people seek God, God responds. If they honor God, love  God and call out to God, I think s/he opens his/her spirit to them so they can understand his/her nature and enter into a relationship. Certainly without the truth that Jesus provides, those that love God but don't know Jesus are missing many details of the truth. But how can God refuse his/her children that love him/her? We love our children, even when their understanding is limited.

I think God is more pleased with these people, than with the ones that claim to know Jesus but don't act like it! If we have the benefit of knowing Jesus and all the truth that he brings to us, we have more responsibility to be changed by it. Remember Gandhi, who taught about peace and reconciliation, including reconciliation among those of different religions? Gandhi lived in a a time and place where people hated one another because of their faith. God loves Gandhi and how he fought injustice! I would bet that we'll meet him in heaven some day.

Q. What kind of faith is enough (or the right kind) to be accepted by God?
A. Jesus taught some interesting lessons about how faith, and how the kingdom of God itself, is like a small seed that produces a big plant. In fact, Jesus taught that no faith was too small for God to appreciate. He also taught that no faith was big enough that man could earn a right relationship with God. From zero to infinity, the size of a person's faith does not determine God's acceptance. Period! God uses faith and turns it into a desire to know the truth, a desire to relate to him/herself. But faith is not a test, a magic ticket to earn God's acceptance. A true gift cannot be earned, even with faith.

Q. What kind of faith do I need when I pray?
A. You only need the kind of faith that wants to respond to someone who loves you. If you can sense God's love for you, respond to it in kind. Embrace truth instead of hiding from it. No amount or standard of faith is required. No adherence to a set of beliefs. Just enough faith to respond.

Q [new!]. Do we have to call God Him, He, and Father instead of Her, She and Mother?
A.  Many people perceive God as having the best of masculine and feminine traits, analogous to the best ideal Earthly father or mother.  And God doesn't need gender like we do, for obvious reasons.  He/she is not offended by either set of pronouns.  

On the other hand, people have mixed experiences with their Earthly parents, and other Earthly examples during childhood.  And women in society have been marginalized throughout human history.  To show that God celebrates rather than marginalizes women, it is helpful not to categorize God as purely a Father, not a man, not a marginalizer of women.  By calling God Him/Her we celebrate God as the ideal parent and the lover of all mankind, with no bias toward men or women. 

And so that's why I fixed up the pronouns in this article.  I use these pronouns now to honor a bigger God, and in doing so I feel a sense of reverence in talking about my maker, who is beyond anything we can imagine on Earth, who is not male or female but created both.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Our Decision Engine: Capacity, Need and Opportunity

by Brad D.
Full-length article on how decision-making, need and opportunity collide, resulting in both  freedom and faith.
Capacity, Need and Opportunity
Logically we can separate the two concepts of capacity and opportunity.  God gives us free will, the capacity to make complex decisions that have spiritual implications.  But he does this because we need it and must have it to survive. This is because of the world we live in, which is filled with both good and bad things.  Our opportunity to make choices comes from the fact that we live with both good and evil in front of us, and we have to be very careful in how we step or disaster will result.  For instance when we drive a car, some very bad things could happen if we accidentally cross the wrong line, disregard the rules and signs, or ignore the other vehicles on the road.  We have the opportunity to fail!  Simply close your eyes for 3 seconds while driving and disaster will most certainly strike!  Yet our government lets us earn a license to operate a vehicle.  But this is also naturally why alcohol kills in car accidents -- it negates our capability to make good choices fast enough to operate a vehicle on the road.

The Responsibility to Decide

by Brad D.

Thoughts on how God has equipped us to make decisions and what that means about free will to choose a relationship with him.


If we are created in God's image in the trinity of MIND, SOUL and SPIRIT, then we are capable of making decisions like God does every moment.  God equipped us with a balance of intellect, emotional connections with others, and perception of right and wrong, so that we can be given important responsibilities.  In society, in government, in our workplace, and in our family, we must operate and cooperate through endless decisions.  We initiate and react, we make commitments and break promises, we connect ourselves to others in relationships, and we chose how we will allocate our minutes on this earth, choosing a profession, a place to live, acquiring possessions, and having a family and a group of friends.  

Thursday, September 8, 2011

The Human Trinity

by Brad D.

The trinity of intellect, emotions and spirit makes us more like God than we know.  What are we?  What is man?  We are truly God's children, points of spiritual light that God cares enough about to seek a relationship with.

There are things we know about who we are, and things we can guess.  And when I say "know" I mean things that are pretty well known based on common experience and basic faith in the Bible's explanation of our origins.   And when I say "things we can guess", I mean things that are good topics of controversy and points which philosophers will find 100 different ways to explain. 

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Jesus the Revolutionary

by Brad D.

Jesus started a revolution.  A revolution against religious control, elitism and exploitation in many forms.  He had to do this in order to usher in a new age where God's acceptance through Grace could be revealed. 

Jesus' parable of the sheep and the goats, in Matthew 25:31-46, is often quoted and discussed when talking about the meaning of salvation, good works and hell, but actually reveals the core of revolutionary message.  In this parable, Jesus spoke to upset the conventional wisdom of the day perpetuated by the teachers of the law, and to assert his own authority to judge the nations as only God would have.  

The main characters in this parable are:

  • sheep: those that understood the truth
  • goats: those that thought they understood the truth but were mistaken
  • needy, under-privileged: those that Jesus had compassion for and wanted the sheep and goats to help in this life
  • Jesus: the revealer of the truth, the one with authority to judge the sheep and goats, and the one that loves the under-privileged

Friday, September 2, 2011

The Bible Made Impossible

The Bible Made Impossible: Why Biblicism Is Not a Truly Evangelical Reading of Scripture

by Christian Smith

The Bible Made Impossible: Why Biblicism Is Not a Truly Evangelical Reading of Scripture

Here is the publisher’s summary of Smith’s book:

Biblicism, an approach to the Bible common among some American evangelicals, emphasizes together the Bible’s exclusive authority, infallibility, clarity, self-sufficiency, internal consistency, self-evident meaning, and universal applicability. Acclaimed sociologist Christian Smith argues that this approach is misguided and unable to live up to its own claims. If evangelical biblicism worked as its proponents say it should, there would not be the vast variety of interpretive differences that biblicists themselves reach when they actually read and interpret the Bible.

Smith describes the assumptions, beliefs, and practices of evangelical biblicism and sets it in historical, sociological, and philosophical context. He explains why it is an impossible approach to the Bible as an authority and provides constructive alternative approaches to help evangelicals be more honest and faithful in reading the Bible. Far from challenging the inspiration and authority of Scripture, Smith critiques a particular rendering of it, encouraging evangelicals to seek a more responsible, coherent, and defensible approach to biblical authority.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Calling Open Minds: The Kingdom of God Needs You

by Brad D.

The kingdom of God needs open minds.  The kingdom of God, also called the kingdom of heaven or the church in the broadest sense of the word, is God's work on this planet.  Jesus calls believers to a great mission to spread his message and deliver freedom to all people.  To do this he's enlisting those with open minds to help with the cause.

 God is calling us all to step up, with open minds and hearts, with open spirits, to hear him calling and to bring change.  We just need to respond.

Calling Truth-Lovers: The kingdom of God needs people who love the truth.  The message that God has for today.  The point.  What the speakers recorded in the Bible would say to us today if they were standing here on the stage.  People who can hear the challenge in the words.  People who grapple with less-than-obvious meanings.  People who care about the harmful effects and missed opportunities, when we believe "easy" interpretations passed down by tradition instead of grappling with the hard concepts ourselves.  God is calling open minds!