Grace Emerges

Monday, May 28, 2012

The Performance Driven Life: What on Earth am I Here For?

by Brad Duncan

According to common wisdom in the evangelical mainstream, the purpose of my life is to perform and achieve. Here are some things on my performance do-list:

#1: Worship that Pleases God
I am called to at the same time be best friends with God and to sing and dance for his/her pleasure.  God will be pleased with my devotion and sincerity.  God needs me to promote his/her goodness in a hurting world by throwing a big party inside a church building, and by performing ritual readings and recitations in a closet inside my house.

#2: Build the Church
I am called to unite with other like-minded believers and assemble weekly performances that demonstrate God's amazing goodness on a stage with music and unidirectional communication.  We Christians are to unite in opinion and actions, by not listening to each other's needs or questions but by focusing our attention on the stage and following the leader behind the microphone.

#3. Become like Christ
I am called to become like Christ in conformity with how our church has traditionally become like Christ.  Not become like Christ in a more literal sense like being a total rebel, accepting people that don't fit in, breaking down barriers, loving enemies and rejecting the religious status-quo.  Rather I am called to Become like Christ-ians, by rejecting the correct list of sins that are still relevant enough to apply today, by forming a non-diverse group of well-behaving believers, by enforcing correct behavior using social norms, and by helping God out with judging the world.

#4. Serving God
I am called to serve God, accepting my assignment, finding my unique instrument for performing in the orchestra of the kingdom, diligently using the gifts that God gave me, thinking like a servant, and overcoming my own weakness so that I can perform my duties well.  God will be pleased with my performance and tell me in heaven that I was a good and faithful servant.  I will earn spiritual rewards based on the number of people I reached and the quality of my performance.

#5. Become a World-Class Christian with a Mission
I am called to spread the word that performance-based Christianity can bring freedom and joy to the hurting masses of the world.  I should balance my life and live with purpose so that I simultaneously live my family and work life and at the same time drive everything to the greater good of building a bigger kingdom for my God.  I should spread the word that God loves the world and just wants us to love on another - and then I should remind everyone of the exceptions and performance requirements that come with God's unconditional love.

May you all be filled with joy, peace and freedom!  And may you all perform to the best of your ability!

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Not So Random Ramblings: Free From and Free to

This is also great.  Someone that worked through some of the same questions that I did:

Not So Random Ramblings: Free From and Free to

 Almost one year ago, I graduated with my bachelor’s degree in church vocations from Martin Methodist College in Pulaski, TN, and started Asbury seminary last fall.  I am in my second semester.  I take 3 classes at a time, and this semester I am taking them all online, but I will have to travel to the Kentucky campus for about 1/3 of my classes.  My goal is to be an ordained elder in full connection, which I figure, could be by the time my youngest starts college in 5 years!

I began to feel the pull toward ministry in the mid 1990’s, but did not get the “official Call” until 1999.  It wasn’t until 2004 that I was given the push to actively pursuing my education.  Up until that point, I was content and happy being a full-time wife and mom to our four kids.  I often joke about not knowing what I wanted to be until I was 30!

  This has been a very long process for me and I often wondered if I would ever make it, but during this time, I have learned that I need to be patient with God and trust his timing.  When I look back to when he first called me, I can’t imagine why he did, because I was such a different person then.  I have since realized that there was a lot I needed to learn and change before He could fully use me.  God’s timing is always perfect.

I have been following Christ, for most of my life, but what I didn’t realize until about 4 years ago is that I was just like this group of Jewish Christians, called Judaizers that Paul warned the Galatians about in his letter to them.  These Christian Judaizers were people who combined a commitment to Christianity with following certain Jewish practices to varying degrees.  They followed some dietary laws, and other Jewish customs.  They saw no contradictions in how they lived or had any issue with blurring the lines between Christian practice and Jewish practice. In other words, we could say that they lived a belief system more than they lived a life of faith because their life of so called faith was based on what they did more than on the grace of Christ. 

The reason for Paul’s letter to the Galatians was because a group of Judaizers had infiltrated the church in Galatia that Paul had founded and they were trying to not only undermine Paul’s authority there, but also to persuade those Christians there that circumcision was requiredto be “right with God.”  They were telling the people that a certain set of beliefs and practices were the only way to correctly serve God. Paul writes to dissuade them and remind them of what he taught them when he was there. Listen as I read Galatians 5:1-6 and 13-16 from the New Century Version of the Bible.

 Paul says to them:
 1 We have freedom now, because Christ made us free.  So stand strong.  Do not change and go back into the slavery of the law.  Listen, I, Paul tell you that if you go back to the law by being circumcised, Christ does you no good. Again, I warn every man: If you allow yourselves to be circumcised, you must follow all the law.  If you try to be made right with God through the law, your life with Christ is over—you have left God's grace.  But we have the true hope that comes from being made right with God, and by the Spirit we wait eagerly for this hope. When we are in Christ Jesus, it is not important if we are circumcised or not. The important thing is faith—the kind of faith that works through love.
13 My brothers and sisters, God called you to be free, but do not use your freedom as an excuse to do what pleases your sinful self. Serve each other with love.  The whole law is made complete in this one command: "Love your neighbor as you love yourself.” If you go on hurting each other and tearing each other apart, be careful, or you will completely destroy each other.  So I tell you:  Live by following the Spirit. Then you will not do what your sinful selves want. 


Peace Theology: Jesus' Teaching on Salvation

If you're in for a good long article, this is amazing.  Obviously knowledgeable but also easy to follow.  Many of my previously stated thoughts on salvation are echoed here, and quite a few more..

Peace Theology: Jesus' Teaching on Salvation

Ted Grimsrud—London, 9/09
The story told in the gospels places itself squarely in the heart of the traditions of Israel.  Jesus presents himself in this story as embodying the promises of Yahweh to his forebears—from Abraham and Sarah on down through Moses, Elijah, and the later prophets.  So, contrary to soteriologies that follow the logic of retribution, for Jesus the Old Testament’s salvation story remains fully valid.  He does not tell a different story, but proclaims the truth of the old story.
The stories of Jesus’ birth make clear the continuity of the story of Jesus with the story of the Old Testament. The angel Gabriel speaks to Mary, telling her she will bear a son to be named Jesus. He will be called “Son of the Most High,” echoing language used of Israel’s kings, and will, in fact, receive the throne of David.  Jesus “will reign over the house of Jacob forever.”  Mary’s song of response, the Magnificat, teams with allusions to the Old Testament salvation story.  Mary’s words echo those of Hannah, the mother of the great prophet and judge, Samuel. In speaking of God exalting the lowly and scattering the proud, she repeats images from the Exodus and numerous of the Psalms.
Mary concludes by making the connection explicit: “The Lord has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy, according to the promise he made to our ancestors, to Abraham and his descendants forever.”  Salvation here, as with the Old Testament story, is an act of God’s pure mercy, given strictly as a gift in continuity with God’s call of Abraham. The salvation Jesus brings is of a piece with the salvation Yahweh brought of old.
There is no hint here that something has to happen to God to make salvation possible. Godinitiates reconciliation.  God unilaterally declares that salvation has come and is available to all with ears to hear the good news.  The birth of Jesus is not presented as in any way linked with the logic of retribution.  The birth story contains no hints of a new approach to satisfy God’s aggrieved holiness or to balance the scales of justice with ultimate innocent sacrifice.  The story points only to God’s initiating mercy and forgiveness.

Friday, May 18, 2012

I think I may stop using the word "Salvation"

I like the word "Freedom" better and it means the same thing, does it not? Other possible synonyms: Rescue, Release, Liberation, Liberty, even Equality if you think about it. Any other ideas? 

"Salvation" is so often used to mean "Conformity", "Similarity", "Right Thinking", and "Law Following", so I may stop using that word.

The American founding fathers built the whole concept of our country and laws on Freedom. It's a functional concept. It guides proper thinking about how to treat others. Certainly not perfect, but it's the right idea. It works in relationships too. Have you ever tried to Save someone in a relationship? That's usually not very healthy and can end badly. Have you ever tried to liberate someone? Give them freedom? That works much better :)

People appreciate it when you encourage them to be themselves instead of pressuring them to be something else.

What does our gospel do? Save people or liberate them?

Which came first, FAITH or FREEDOM ?

I don't know.  The story of "how" FAITH comes about in each person is unique.  But what I do know is that my FREEDOM allows me to have FAITH, it gives me space to believe, to doubt, to trust, to depend on God, to wonder about God's mysteries.  FREEDOM doesn't tell me what to think, it tells me to listen and observe, and then to believe what my heart it telling me.  It's a beautiful thing.

Whether FAITH or FREEDOM was first born in my spirit, FREEDOM is what keeps the FAITH growing.  Don't accept a FAITH that is purely prescribed by others.  Grow FAITH in the fertile soil of your own soul.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Three Concepts that Changed the World

by Brad Duncan

GOSPEL: there is good news, brought by God, through deliberate and immediate intervention with the course of human events.  The good news is complete, and completely good.

GRACE: there is acceptance, by God, of us.  We are God's masterpiece, individually and as the whole of humanity, and we are God's children in relationship with God.

FREEDOM:  there is liberation, by God, from judgment, fear, hate and sin, leading to hope, faith and transformation.  We are transformed into beings defined by love, compassion, equality, kindness and justice.

This gospel of grace and freedom is the answer to a hurting world.  It does not depend on an idealistic view that humanity has to be perfect, or that the world should be perfect.  What is "Good News" if not in contrast to the bad news we see around us.  What is "Grace" if not in contrast to our need for it.  What is "Freedom" if not liberation from those that would enslave us.  No, the gospel is our hope, most poignant when we need it the most.

Three concepts that changed the world: GOSPEL, GRACE, FREEDOM.  They work together to create the perfect hope for humanity.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Perfection -- Repost

"Perfection of self
without love for others
is not worth the effort." 
  -- Paul, I Corinthians 13

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Keep on Singing...

The Progressive kingdom of God is like a voice singing in the choir, but singing a different tune, loudly. Some may turn around and give harsh looks. Some may ignore and keep on singing. But they all notice. And the voice keeps on singing ... 

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Hello Evangelicals!

Hello mainstream evangelical Christians. 

You may be considering Progressive Christian (also called Emergent, Emerging, postmodern, or even heretical!) ideas yourself or wondering what they're all about. This article is to help bridge the gap, maybe provide some indication of where Progressive is different. Answer some questions.  Hope it helps!

My mission: bridge the gap and light the way!

I've been doing some research on the topic, and at the risk of gross over-generalizations on both sides, here are some ways that Progressive is different:

  1. Progressive seems like "anything goes" when it comes to basic theology.  This can be disconcerting!  But the reason why is that Progressive is about freedom to reconsider the nature of God in a way that is not prescribed by tradition and history.  Thinking for ourselves.  The way we understand, God is mysterious and cannot be pinned down with a systematic approach.  I think Progressive takes a more generous stance on any versions of belief in God and Jesus.  I do hear a lot of faith in the revelation of God from Progressives, not just vague mystery.  In other words, the role of the Holy Spirit and God-revealed truth is even more important for many Progressives.  But we're open to listening to even the most far-out ideas, without flinching, and without withholding love for that person.  At the same time, truth and theology are of huge importance to Progressives and are a continual hot topic of conversation.  This conversation is very Bible-based and seeks to discern the author intent, historical context, and what truth today can be gleaned from scripture.  So it's not really "anything goes" with respect to truth -- it's just that our view of God is a subject of open and continuing revelation -- not written in stone for all time.
  2. The reason this is possible, is that Progressive does not see a person's mental framework of beliefs and ideals (a person's "statement of faith") as being a gateway to finding God, to participating in the kingdom of God, or to meeting God in heaven.  What you believe is not a test, leading to a pass or fail grade.  Isn't this the unpleasant reality of most of our traditional Christian belief systems?: "You have to believe like me, or God won't accept you!".  Progressive discards this view of a picky God when it comes to examination of our faith.  For example, look at how Jesus commended or discarded faith.  If you gather the evidence it says that Jesus was impressed by child-like faith, but also did not require any particular type or amount of faith to accept people.  He even taught in the parable of the sheep and the goats that some people that had faith in Jesus would be on the WRONG track because they never opened their hearts to "the least of these".  Did you ever think about that?  Maybe faith is just "what I think", or "what I currently understand."  It's not a gateway to salvation or God's throne or grace.  Faith is just part of being a Christian. It's descriptive, not a prerequisite.  It's a growth process.  It leads to other things.
  3. Progressive does not mean passive!  Progressive is a bit zealous and in your face about things.  But not about faith itself (see points #1 and #2).  Progressive, like Jesus, tends to speak against the religious establishment because of how that establishment often defies the principles that Jesus tried so hard to teach us.  Principles like compassion, avoiding judgment, turning the other cheek, loving enemies, being peacemakers, replacing all legalism and religious elitism with "Love God.  Love Others."    Accepting sinners while lovingly encouraging them to find a better way to live.  Nine times out of ten (not a literal statistic!) when Jesus judged or criticized anyone in the gospels, it was to criticize people who sought to please God by stomping on others.  Even John the Baptist caught wind of this when the Pharisees came to be baptized.  Look -- we need to stand up for equality and grace.  If we see that people are being stomped on, we are going to be upset!  We are going to stand up for the little guy/girl.  Being a "church" should not be about privilege for those that belong, and exclusion of (or apathy toward) those that do not.  Have you ever heard someone say "I'm not prejudiced"?  ANYONE who says that is deluded.  We're all prejudiced.  We all have trouble seeing our fellow person as equals.  When we do notice the inequality, we need to stand up and do something about it.
  4. Progressive has different priorities.  Because of the diminished priority of "right beliefs", Progressive focuses on the priority of compassion.  When Jesus taught about the least of these, and the poor in spirit, etc., and when James talks about true religion being to care for "widows and orphans", Progressive sees this as the highest calling.  The Great Commission should be to spread THIS MESSAGE to the whole world  (and to act on it!), not the message that people need to believe a certain thing.  The kingdom of God, which John the Baptist and then Jesus declared, is an ever-growing kingdom of God's goodness reigning on Earth.  The Lord's Prayer is a prayer that God's kingdom would become reality and engulf us all.  The Great Commission is a call to carry the kingdom to the ends of the Earth.  The priority is not to indoctrinate - it is to liberate through love.
  5. Different perspective about sin.  Because of this change-up of priorities, Progressive puts a much higher priority on sins like Apathy, Inequality and Hatred than on, for instance, Sexual Sins.  Where Jesus was super clear on Apathy and Hatred, he had nothing at all to say about homosexuality, and little to say about anything else sexual.  The "sinfulness" of certain sexual behaviors is usually self-evident.  Marital unfaithfulness, child molestation, even pornography are vices that have clearly destructive effects.  That's why these things are wrong.  On the other hand, God is not offended by our sexuality.  God made us this way, and we should never use sexual morality as AN EXCUSE for discrimination or hatred.  Quick example: a man who cheats on his wife criticizes a homosexual, even to the point of making him/her feel unloved and ostracized.  Who is the sinner in that situation?  Come on Christians -- be rational and fair.  If it's wrong to judge and hate, then why do we gloss over that and then get incensed about homosexuality?  For the record, I will never tell a homosexual that he/she is sinning because of preference for a certain gender.  I don't get that.  I won't tell a transgender person that hates the body they were born in that they should just get over it. I haven't been there, and I don't know what it's like. Regardless of your view on this, however, look at the log in your own eye before picking on someone's gender preference!
  6. Speaking of different perspectives about sin and priorities, Progressives see negligence of the poor as a SIN!  Hunger, lack of medical care, tendency toward exploitation, no access to education or economic betterment, these are the most grievous sins of our age -- We, the church can organize ourselves to do something about it.  If we move away from other focus areas, we can work to make the world a better place.  Period!  Have you ever heard of social justice?  Have you ever heard of human trafficking?  What about institutionalized gender discrimination?  Do these things matter to you?  If so, maybe you're a Progressive in the making.
  7. Grace.  Progressive simplifies the meaning of grace to be God's unconditional outpouring of love on the undeserving.  It doesn't lead to the usual traditional contradiction, which goes something like this: "The Messiah came to save you, to free you from chains, to open the doors to your prison cell.  Now, God is so upset with you that if you refuse this one-time offer to be liberated, then forget it!  You're doomed and God will 'Unfriend' you for all eternity."  No, Grace is more like a Parent's love for his/her child.  The parent knows the child will screw up.  He/she expects it.  When the child does, maybe the parent is angry, but doesn't kick the kid out on the street and lock the door.  What kind of psychotic parent do we think that God is?  Why are we okay with contradiction?  Contradiction that says "I believe in Grace as God's unconditional love for me.  But I believe in Grace as God's doom for someone else."  Come-on.  Due to point #2 above, we can believe in a more gracious and generous Grace.  A Grace that's really Grace.  We can move past living with contradiction and believing in a God with a toxic personality.  Did Jesus ever display a toxic personality?  Didn't he exemplify Grace, in a way that really no one has ever been able to criticize?  There then.  Act like Jesus.  Believe in a God that acts like Jesus.

As I said, I hope this helps.  If you have questions, email me at and I'll provide references, scriptures, emotional support, whatever.  I'm also eager to revise my explanation and understanding if someone wants to set me straight!

If you want to read a lot more, look around at the archive of blog posts on this site ( and over on Facebook at Open Church Initiative.  I provide all kinds of expositions on Progressive.  If there's anything I can do to bridge the gap from traditional evangelicalism to Progressive -- I'm all about that.  Drop me a line.  Any may you find Freedom and Joy in your faith!

by Brad Duncan