Hell (part 1). . .

This post has been brewing for a while now. To be honest, I haven’t reached a comfortable landing point just yet, but I think I’m getting close. In fact, by the time I finish writing on this topic, I’ll probably reach a stance. I realize that I might end up receiving a decent amount of angry or frustrated responses to this post (and its follow-ups), so I’m going to maintain at least some irenicism and civility, but don’t be surprised if a bit of sarcasm peeks through (I’m from New Jersey, after all).

Hell. It’s an admittedly difficult topic to cover given the incredible lack of experience most people have on the subject (given the fact that most people who have offered any thoughts on the subject are either alive or were alive when they offered their thoughts).

If you’re at all familiar with Evangelical Christianity (a faction I’ve grown less convinced I’m even a part of anymore), you’ve probably heard of the concept of “eternal conscious torment” (henceforth, “ECT”), even if you might not realize it had a name. The idea of ECT is that the unrighteous will suffer unending punishment after they die in a non-figurative “Lake of Fire,” or colloquially, Hell.

In this post, I want to discuss the concept from an epistemological standpoint, addressing Scripture, history, and Christian philosophy. In a follow-up post (or maybe two), I’ll approach it from a spiritual perspective before finishing with some closing thoughts.

If you’ve followed my blog since at least 2011 (and I do apologize for my complete lack of writing the past couple years. Life took several major turns recently), you might recall that I alluded to an affirmation of the standard Evangelical view of the “doctrine of Hell,” as held by my former colleagues in the “Young, Restless, Reformed” camps. Since leaving that camp and its affiliated churches and organizations, I’ve come to a different place in my beliefs on Hell.

The first thing I want to mention is that the word Hell is an incredibly incomplete and insufficient word that doesn’t come close to describing what the Bible describes. It’s so insufficient that many scholars and theologians think it does more harm than good and that it should be wiped from theological language altogether.

There are, in fact, no fewer than nine words in the Bible that get turned into the English word hell. We’ll look at a few of them, but before we do, let’s examine the English word for a moment. The word hell actually derives from an ancient Proto-Germanic word that meant “to cover up.” According to most etymological studies, the word was a means by which Norse mythology regarding the afterlife/underworld entered Christian theology. To be honest, our evangelical concept of hell has more in common with the Norse idea of Niflheim, where Loki’s daughter ruled over the unrighteous dead, than it does with early Christian ideas about the afterlife. I tend to agree with the aforementioned biblical scholars. The word hell is unhelpful in its vagueness and is so connected to a pagan concept that it sheds almost no light on the biblical concepts whatsoever.

For our first biblical word, let’s take a look at the Hebrew word Sheol. The Christian Old Testament was originally written in Hebrew, so it’s probably best to start there since the Christian faith is, at its foundation, a derivative of the Jewish faith. Sheol in Hebrew is a reference to “the grave,” and depending on the context, is often synonymous with death, destruction, the earth (as being buried), the sea (as being a deep, dark place), or the pit. To the ancient Jewish mindset, sheol is a dark, morbid word that connotes inactivity, stagnation, and a lack of memory and awareness. Click here for Scripture references to Sheol.

Second, the Greek word Hades. The Christian New Testament was written in Aramaic and Greek, and while we might look at Greek mythology as espousing pagan concepts, we can’t ignore the fact that a good chunk of the Bible was written in Greek to people who spoke Greek in a culture that believed Greek things about the universe. The idea of Hades was not foreign to St. Paul’s audience, so it’s not surprising that he, along with other New Testament writers, would use the word to convey an idea. The Greco-Roman concept of hades most closely resembles the ancient Hebrew concept of sheol, relating a very similar image of “the grave,” or a state of being dead. Very rarely does it portray the idea of punishment in the afterlife; it’s most commonly used in the previously mentioned context. Click here for Scripture references to Hades.

Third, the Greek word Geenna (Latin, Gehenna). King Jesus used the word Gehenna as a symbolic reference to the Valley of Hinnom, a region southwest of Jerusalem where, according to the prophet Jeremiah, the unrighteous kings of Judah sacrificed children to the pagan god Moloch. It’s also likely to be the location of a mythological event during the reign of King Hezekiah when the legendary Messenger of YHWH slaughtered 185,000 Assyrian soldiers in King Sennacherib’s army. See 2 Kings 19:35-37.

The Valley of Hinnom is also traditionally known as the place that the prophet Isaiah refers to in the final chapter of his book (“they that go out” is a reference to leaving Jerusalem and entering the valley). This place is where dead bodies were cremated by an all-consuming fire and undying worms. Ancient Aramaic translations of Isaiah’s book explicitly refer to the Valley of Hinnom, leading the majority of scholars to believe that Jesus confirms this traditional view of the Valley of Hinnom as a place filled with fire and maggots. Click here for Scripture passages referencing Gehenna***

As I mentioned, there are at least nine different terms throughout Scripture that end up translated as “hell” in English, but I won’t go into all of them here. Others such as Matthew Hartke, Benjamin L. Corey, and Mark Edward have done much more work and research than I could have done. I would encourage you to dig into this a bit deeper, particularly Edward’s works. And don’t forget to check out Surprised by Hope by N.T. Wright. (Really, anything by Tom Wright is vital for Christians to read. He is, after all, the C.S. Lewis of our generation.)

Let’s transition to a more philosophical approach to the subject matter. Over the 26 years or so that I’ve been a Christian, attended Christian day school, studied theology as part of my admittedly non-theological degree program at a “Bible-based” university, and worked both part-time and full-time as a minister in “Bible-teaching” churches (I mention this not to brag, but to address some who have sent me messages calling into question my knowledge of the Bible), I’ve observed a few key themes across the narrative of Scripture. The one I’ll touch on here is that of God’s work as reconciliatory/restorative rather than conciliatory/debt-cancelling.

Scripture’s overarching narrative paints God’s salvific work as restorative; in other words, God is mending the fractured relationship between himself and the world, which includes the work of mending the fractures in the world itself (between the world and the world).

If death (another word translated into hell) and hades are the two great enemies of God’s people and the antithesis of his restorative work, then the idea of ECT is actually detrimental to that work. We have a future where evil and the satan win and where God loses.

Track with me for a moment. God creates the world and says it’s good. Humanity’s choice to rebel against God releases the satan into the world along with all its evils, the most destructive of which are death and hades. But God still loves the world and all humanity in it, so he sets out to rescue them. He chooses a nation through which he will reveal himself to the world, but they fail him. He doesn’t give up on them, but he decides to take matters into his own hands and enters the world he loves as a human and as a Jew. He succumbs to the satan that has been destroying the world he loves and allows the enemy to overtake him in order to show the world just how much he loves her. But good will not be overcome by evil, and in a sudden twist of events, he delivers a blow to death by rising from the grave and then calls on humanity to announce and usher in the kingdom he has inaugurated.

But if humanity at large is defeated by death and hades as ECT unintentionally asserts, how can God be victorious?

As this post has gone on for quite some time now, I’m going to end here and continue these thoughts in part 2. For now, I want us to consider the implications of ECT and its compatibility (read: incompatibility) with a restorative view of God’s work. If God is by very nature love, how is the idea that the vast majority of people over the course of human history are experiencing torment consciously forever and ever compatible with that characterization of God? Did St. John use the wrong word when he wrote, “God is love”? Should he have written, “God is wrath,” instead?

Or, as the 19th-century author Thomas Allin put it in his book Christ Triumphant:

“God is not anger, though he can be angry; God is not vengeance, though he does avenge. These are attributes; love is essence. Therefore, God is unchangeably love. Therefore, in judgment he is love, in wrath he is love, in vengeance he is love — ‘love first, and last, and midst, and without end’.”

Stay tuned for more on this topic. I’m far from finished.

*** I completely forgot to include this paragraph when I initially published this post.

Just be. . .

I’ve been thinking lately about the nature of our relationship with God, and I’ve been fascinated by the way our theology should inform how we relate to God. The free-grace theists (Arminians, Open Theists, Pentecostals, etc.) have a theology that should lead them to treat the relationship with God as something of a dance or a two-way relationship. God makes a move and then we respond. The determinists (Calvinists, Puritans, Dutch Reformed, etc.) have a theology that should lead them to treat the relationship with God as purely one-sided. God does all the work; he makes a move towards us and then causes us to respond to him by putting the thought into our minds and the desire into our hearts long before we were ever conceived.

Ironically though, one of the things I’ve noticed in both free-grace theists and determinists is that their praxis is inconsistent with their theology. I’ve noticed it in my own life, and while it was much more pronounced when I was a determinist, it still shows up now that I’m a free-grace theist. It’s the constant grind to work on my relationship with God and to view him as wholly “other.” In other words, I’m here doing all this work to make sure that my relationship with God is solid (or perhaps more accurately, that it feels solid), and God is out there somewhere saying, “I told you how to please me. I wrote it in that book you carry around with you. Now, quit screwing around and make me happy.”

So I slave away. I abstain from this activity, I stay away from those people, I refrain from drinking that drink.

But what if our relationship with God is more dynamic than that? What if he’s not out there somewhere issuing commands? What if he’s right here, holding my hand, whispering in my ear, writing me letters? What if he’s telling me to stop worrying about the relationship so much and just enjoy the fact that I’m in one with him?

What if all this concern I have about damaging my relationship with God is just me stressing out about nothing? Somehow I get the feeling that if I were to start pulling away from God, he would start pulling me closer to him. If I begin to drift, he’ll do his part to let me know that I’m drifting and, if it’s in my power to go back to him, he’ll provide me a way to return. If it’s not, he’ll step in and pull me back anyway.

Not that I won’t play my part in the relationship, but not for the sake of the relationship but simply because I want to get to know God more, I want to hear his voice, experience his presence, enjoy his laughter.

But I need to stop working so hard. I need to just be.

An emotional God. . .

Bob Enyart, in a debate with James White, discussed the attributes of God. You may have heard of them: impassibility, immutability, omnipotence, omnipresence, and omniscience. These are some of the most common character traits attributed to God. However, I don’t think any of these attributes have true scriptural backing, and actually create dissonance with God’s self-revelatory act of incarnation.

These attributes are known as the “Omnis” and the “Ims.” These statements about God are quantitative and answer questions about “How much?” or “How little?” (“How much power?” “How little change?”) Let’s start by looking at each “Omni” and “Im.”

Omniscience: God knows everything. Why not get things started with a bang? I believe that God knows everything that can be known, but as the future is not among that which can be known, God doesn’t know it.

I realize this is a strong and controversial assertion; however, it invites some analysis. My first reason for this belief is that King Jesus himself makes a statement that seems odd if he indeed knew the future: “Nobody knows when that day or hour will come, not the angels in heaven and not the Son.”

The second reason is God’s love. Love is responsive. It evolves, grows, and changes based on the interaction between the lover and the object loved. While the interests, plans, and goals remain the same, the “how” changes and shifts. I believe that God’s foreknowledge operates in a similar way. He knows the endgame and is working towards that end. The endgame is a world that is reconciled. How he gets it to that point can shift and change.

In Jeremiah 18, God tells the prophet to visit a potter and watch him in action. The point of this image is often lost in theological studies. God is not saying that the potter has complete authoritative control over the clay and that the clay must submit to the potter.

If you’ve ever taken a pottery class, you’ll know that clay is a stubborn thing and you often end up with something quite different from your original vision. If you set out to make a vase, you’ll get a vase, but getting the clay to that point requires you to be patient and willing to allow the clay to force you to change your approach multiple times as you mold it.

Which brings me to the next attribute.

Immutability: God never changes. I understand that this brings comfort, but it flies in the face of so much that we see in the Bible. How many times have we seen God repent, change his mind, promise to change his mind about something, etc.? In one scene God says that his creation is good. A few chapters later, God decides to wipe out humanity because he regrets creating them.

God is about to destroy the nation of Israel when Moses speaks up and asks God to stay his hand. God tells Assyria that he is going to destroy them unless they change their ways, in which case he won’t bring about the destruction he has planned.

One example after another of God changing. And then the ultimate change—he became a man named Jesus.

You might wonder how you can trust a God who is as capricious as this. The Bible doesn’t say that all those revelations of God are the final authority on who God is. That’s Jesus, and last I checked, he’s pretty trustworthy.

Omnipresence: God is everywhere. Fair enough. But I would rather interpret this as God’s presence is in all places felt. As C. S. Lewis posits, hell is the absence of God’s presence, which is what people who end up there wanted to begin with: to be away from God’s presence.

This is an example of where these ontological statements don’t contradict scripture. However, I want to take a quick moment and say that we should be careful in our approach to scripture. Taking a statement about God’s ontology and then imposing that on the Bible isn’t a good practice. For example, if we say that God is immutable, and then come across verses that contradict that statement, we end up either tossing those verses or, as is a common practice, reinterpreting those verses to fit immutability. In other words, we might say that a verse is using that image of God changing as a way to describe something else because it couldn’t possibly mean that God changes.

Omnipotence: God is all-powerful. Dietrich Bonhoeffer once said, “God allows himself to be edged out of the world and onto the cross. God is weak and powerless in the world, and that is exactly the way, the only way, in which he can be with us and help us.”

Bonhoeffer’s statement seems ridiculous, contradictory even. How could God be powerless? Wouldn’t that make him “un-God”? The thing about God is that he is constantly running up against our preconceived notions of him. His kingdom is one that is contrary to what the world’s system looks like, and what we might expect of God will likely be quite the opposite of what God actually is.

After all, he died on a cross. Could there be anything more ungodlike than that?

Impassibility: God does not experience any emotions. I’m sorry, what? Didn’t Jesus weep when he saw the people around him mourning Lazarus’s death? Didn’t God grieve over Israel’s rebellion? If these are mere anthropomorphisms, how can we trust any description of God in the Bible? Didn’t the psalmist write about God’s laughter?

Why is emotion so important? Because for God to be relatable, he would have to experience what we experience. How can we expect to relate to a God who has no concept of what we feel?

* * *
Now, don’t get me wrong, I don’t deny that any of these statements about God can ring true at various points. But I just don’t believe they’re attributive or ontological. They might be descriptive of how he could function in certain scenarios, but these quantitative statements put God into a box (while, ironically, intending to keep him out of a box).

But I believe God is dynamic. While he can certainly possess all knowledge, perhaps he chooses not to. He is clearly quite powerful, but maybe he sets that power aside. He may not be governed by emotions, but what if he chooses to experience them just as we do?

I think, in our desire to keep God awe-inspiring, we actually make him unattainable. The narrative of the Bible, however, is the story of a God who desires to be known.

Enyart posits a different set of attributes to describe God: living, personal, relational, good, and loving. Not only are these attributes more in line with who God reveals himself to be in Scripture, but they serve to draw us toward him and paint a picture of a God who is truly worthy of our praise, love, and trust.

If King Jesus is indeed the final and complete revelation of who God is, I am far less inclined to describe him as possessing the “omnis” and the “ims,” and I am far more inclined to call him, as St. John did, the God who is love.

How should I read the Bible? . . .

I realize that, given the way I described Scripture in my last post, I’ve probably created more questions than answers. One of those questions is likely something along the lines of, “If I shouldn’t read the Bible in the ways described by Christian Smith in his book, The Bible Made Impossible, how then should I read the Bible? How can Scripture help to cultivate a robust faith if I can’t get some simple spiritual truths out of each passage I read?”

Rather than offer a step-by-step process or a particular hermeneutic, let me start with sharing what the Bible self-evidently is over and against what it clearly is not.

The Bible is a collection of books written by myriad authors over a long period of time. It’s not a singular book, so we can’t expect the Bible to be perfectly cohesive and inerrant. A common response to this assertion would go something like this: “But wouldn’t the fact that God was the one behind it provide perfect coherence and inerrancy?” The problem with this line of thought is that it assumes that God was trying to communicate with us as opposed to communicating with the pre- and post-exilic nation of Israel. As Peter Enns asserts in his book, The Bible Tells Me So, we, as twenty-first-century, post-enlightenment westerners have extremely different notions of truth, and we value completely different things in our documentation of historic and current events. We can’t assume that, just because we think things should match up nicely, the ancient Israelites wanted that too. They likely didn’t, as evidenced by the lack of coherence found in the accounts of Israel’s history in the books of Samuel-Kings and the books of the Chronicles.

The Bible is Israel’s story, not ours. While there’s certainly plenty of evidence that Israel’s story is universal, it’s still Israel’s story, and the Bible must be viewed in light of Jewish tradition and through Jewish interpretive lenses. King Jesus, while often wrongly viewed and interpreted outside his context, was completely a part of first-century Jewish culture. We often think of Jesus as someone who overturned the Jewish law (and, by extension, mistakenly believe that Judaism was/is a religion of legalism and that Jesus came to introduce a system of grace over and against the previous system of Jewish law), but by his own admission, King Jesus did not “come to abolish the law, but to fulfill it.”

This is evidenced by his handling of Jewish customs. Both St. Matthew and St. Mark tell a story of King Jesus healing a leper (St. Luke records a similar story that differs in several notable ways, but the detail I’m referring to here remains the same). In both accounts King Jesus tells the leper to present himself to the priest and offer a gift “as Moses commanded.” He remains faithful to Jewish tradition and law.

In other cases, King Jesus blatantly challenges the law with statements like, “the Son of Man is lord over the Sabbath.” And in yet more instances, King Jesus takes the law and makes it even more strict: “You’ve heard it said, ‘Don’t commit murder, and all who commit murder will be in danger of judgment.’ But I say to you that everyone who is angry with their brother or sister will be in danger of judgment.”

The sorts of interpretive methods that King Jesus employed were not uncommon for Jewish teachers of his day. Yet they’re completely out of place in today’s world. Simply put, King Jesus was very much a first-century Jew. A noteworthy and rascally one, no doubt, but a first-century Jew nonetheless.

After the stories of Israel’s national heritage as described by the pre- and post-exilic Israelites and climax of that story as told to us by the four Evangelists (St. Matthew, St. Mark, St. Luke, and St. John), we have yet another section of the Bible to contend with: the letters. I like to think of these as analyses of Israel’s story in light its culmination in King Jesus’s incarnation, death, and resurrection. St. Paul spent much of his time giving his thoughts on the matter. Bear in mind that his primary concern was how the story of King Jesus changed the trajectory of Israel’s story from insular to cosmic. Essentially, in the eyes of St. Paul, what King Jesus did was invite the other nations into Israel’s national story. When read through this lens, St. Paul’s writings take on a whole new meaning. Instead of a discourse on personal salvation (which is how most Evangelicals tend to read St. Paul) which would give off an air of exclusivity (some are saved, others are not), St. Paul’s letters become a treatise on national identity which then becomes invitational (you’re a part of this kingdom, now let’s do kingdom stuff).

So, how then should I read the Bible? Before I go there, let me quickly address one way to not to read the Bible. Don’t read the Bible as a manual for a good Christian life. You’ll probably fall into one of two categories. The first: extremely confused and frustrated about all the various contradictions. (Check out this post for an incredible, nearly exhaustive, tool for finding the various contradictions in Scripture. It’s mind-blowing!) The second: ignorant (whether willfully or otherwise) of these contradictions and adherent to some things in the Bible at the direct expense of others.

Okay, finally, to answer the question: how should I read the Bible?

Think of the Bible as a collection of books that tells a story. Each book (or section of books) has a theme within that story that it’s trying to address. The Christian Old Testament tells the story of Israel’s national origins. The Pentateuch (Jewish Torah) shows us what Israel is supposed to look like. The books of Samuel-Kings tell the story of Israel’s incorporation from the perspective of a nation in exile asking the questions, “What happened to us? I thought God promised to be with us no matter what, and now we’ve been dragged out of our homeland and are stuck in Babylon! What gives? What did we do to deserve this?” The books of the Chronicles tell the same story, but from a different perspective. The Chronicles were written around 200 years after Samuel-Kings and are meant to address the questions, “Where is God? After all these years, are we still his people? Will God ever fix this mess we’ve gotten into?”

Let’s skip ahead a bit to the next major plot point. The four accounts of the Gospel.

Here we have the culmination of Israel’s story. The big finish, if you will. Everything reaches its completion in the story of King Jesus (which is probably why there are four books to tell the tale). I won’t go into why these four books have such glaring discrepancies between them, but suffice it to say that there are four unique intentions, audiences, and goals that the Evangelists each have in crafting their stories of Israel’s Messiah.

Finally, we have the letters. Mostly written by St. Paul, the letters look back on Israel’s story and analyze it given the massive event that had just taken place: the arrival of Israel’s Messiah. This analysis led St. Paul to believe that Israel’s story was a universal one, and he spent much of his time inviting non-Israelites (called Gentiles in the Bible) into Israel’s story and then writing to them about how and why they were now a part of said story.

So what does this mean for my devotions? It means that as you read the Bible, keep these things in mind. Ask yourself some of these questions. What part of the story am I reading? Is it inviting me into the story? Is it describing to me what a messy life of faith might look like?

One final thought: The Bible never shows us the ideal life of faith (probably because there isn’t one). It doesn’t tell us how to live a good “biblical” lifestyle. Instead, I believe it describes to us just how broken and inconsistent a life of faith can be. It shows us how Noah got drunk and fell into depression. It shows us how Abraham lied his way through tough spots. It shows us how David gave into his baser desires and lost control of his family.

And it shows us that despite all of this, God still loved them, and they (however brokenly or imperfectly) returned that love in some way, shape, or form.

That’s how I would read the Bible.

The problem with biblicism. . .

Lately a thought has been repeatedly entering the front of my mind, and I want to put it to words to see how it feels outside my head (that phrase seems weird, but it’s an accurate description of how I approach new or different ideas).

I think Christians—Protestants and Evangelicals in particular, but mainliners and Catholics as well—have been putting God in a box called the Bible. What do I mean by that? I’ll allow someone much smarter than I am to provide you an explanation. The following is an excerpt from Addison Hodges Hart’s excellent book Strangers and Pilgrims Once More: Being Disciples of Jesus in a Post-Christendom World:

The Bible is not the Koran, and Christians (and Jews) are not Muslims. We do not read the Bible as “a book,” for example, but as a collection of books. The Bible is better described as a library. Nor do Christians receive the Bible as the Word of God. That may come as a surprise to some, especially since we are often referred to—wrongly—as “people of the book.” But, we are not; and the Word of God is not a book. For us, the Word of God is God himself. We call him, in theological language, “the Son of God” and “the Second Person of the Trinity.” We say of him that he “became flesh and dwelt among us.” In other words, for Christians, the Word of God is Jesus. He alone “defines” for us fully the character of God; he is the divine writ small, in fleshly, human terms we can see, “read,” understand, and follow in our lives. We could not know the divine in its uncreated being, but we could know it in Christ.

While Hart’s language is certainly provocative (probably intentionally so), I believe his point is valid.

I heard an analogy recently that stood out to me (I don’t remember where I heard it, otherwise I’d reference it here; if you happen to know or be the origin of the analogy, let me know so I can reference him/her/you). God is like an ocean, and the Bible is like a collection of poems, pictures, and recordings of the ocean. Nothing anyone can write or capture about the ocean can accurately describe what it is to actually see it, explore it, or be engulfed in it.

To be sure, the analogy is lacking; however, the point that it makes shouldn’t be missed. While the Bible is inspired by God, it is still a collection of poems, letters, and stories written by people in particular times and settings. It doesn’t even come close to fully or accurately describing the whole personality of God.

This is why biblicism is such a dangerous thing. Although it is considered an “orthodox” practice, I believe Christians should abstain from it.

Biblicism, as defined by Christian Smith, a leading sociologist and professor at the University of Notre Dame, is an approach to Scripture that emphasizes “the Bible’s exclusive authority, infallibility, clarity, self-sufficiency, internal consistency, self-evident meaning, and universal applicability.”

You might read that and say, “That’s absolutely the truth!” But please consider the passage I quoted earlier from Strangers and Pilgrims Once More. The Bible is not our holy book. The Bible is a collection of books that tell the story of God’s interaction with mankind.

Smith provides in his book, The Bible Made Impossible: Why Biblicism Is Not a Truly Evangelical Reading of Scripture, ten assumptions that proponents of biblicism often make. You don’t have to be guilty of all of these assumptions to be a biblicist either. Each of these assumptions individually are symptomatic of biblicism.

  1. Divine Writing: The details of the Bible’s words are identical with God’s very own words.
  2. Total Representation: The Bible represents all of God’s communication to humanity and is the exclusive means of divine communication.
  3. Complete Coverage: The Bible contains the divine will for every issue relevant to Christian life and belief.
  4. Democratic Perspicuity: Every “reasonably intelligent person” can read the Bible and properly understand “the plain meaning of the text.”
  5. Commonsense Hermeneutics: Biblical texts are to be read in their most obvious sense, as the author intended them, and this may or may not involve a consideration of their literary, cultural, and historical contexts.
  6. Solo (not Sola) Scriptura: The significance of any biblical text can be understood on its own, apart from any creed, confession, or larger theological hermeneutical framework. In other words, theological formulations are built directly and entirely out of the Bible alone.
  7. Internal Harmony: All relevant biblical passages on any given subject fit together into a single, internally consistent account of correct and incorrect beliefs and practices.
  8. Universal Applicability: What the biblical writers taught at any point in history remains universally valid for all Christians unless revoked by subsequent biblical teaching.
  9. Inductive Method: All matters of Christian belief and practice can be learned through careful study of the Bible.
  10. Handbook Model: “The Bible teaches doctrine and morals with every affirmation that it makes, so that together those affirmations comprise something like a handbook … for Christian belief and living, a compendium of divine and therefore inerrant teachings on a full array of subjects–including science, economics, health, politics, and romance”

(Summary of Smith’s ten assumptions taken from the blog Earliest Christianity.)

Smith points out that biblicism isn’t a doctrine as we would understand it. Rather, it is a “constellation of interrelated assumptions and beliefs [that] informs and animates the outlooks and practices of major sectors of institutional and popular conservative American Protestantism, especially evangelicalism.”

Why do I contend that it’s dangerous?

First, it helps fuel major debates within Christianity due to something I may have alluded to in an earlier post: the problem of pervasive interpretive pluralism.

Interpretive pluralism is both the reason for and the result of debates such as the Calvinism vs. Free-Grace Theism debate and the Young-Earth Creationism vs. Evolutionary Creationism debate, to name a couple. It informs these debates in that each side interprets its backup passages differently. It flows out of these debates because each side approaches those passages through their own interpretive lens, thus leading to multiple interpretations.

This is one of the reasons that, when someone asks me for biblical support for my positions, I hesitate to give any. Not because I don’t know the Bible passages—after all, I was a fundamentalist for nearly 20 years, culminating in a bachelor’s degree from the “Fortress of Faith,” but because any “biblical support” I might offer could be interpreted seventeen different ways.

Second, biblicism creates confusion for Christians. It arbitrarily chooses which commands in Scripture to obey, and which to ignore, citing a form of “cultural relativism,” but never truly adhering to any criteria for applying it.

For example, in many biblicist circles, women aren’t permitted to be pastors, elders, or even to preach. Yet in the vast majority of those same circles, they ignore commands telling women that they aren’t allowed to wear jewelry or that they must wear head coverings.

This logical incoherence has led many to leave Christianity. The faith doesn’t make sense if the Bible is God’s complete and final revelation to humanity. God appears dualistic in Scripture: a loving and benevolent father on the one hand, and a genocidal, vindictive tyrant on the other. Why would God reveal himself this way?

Third, biblicism elevates the Bible to the level of deity. There’s a mantra I’m about to paraphrase that sheds light on this idolatry of the Bible: without the Bible, we cannot know God. But that statement borders on heresy. The Bible, as I’ve asserted before, is not God’s message to us. No, God’s message to us is King Jesus. The Bible is a library of people’s thoughts, experiences, and legends that all reveal what they saw when they encountered God.

So then how should a Christian approach Scripture? I believe there are a few ways; none of them are perfect, but none of them lead to the sorts of issues found in biblicism. I hope to look into some of them in an upcoming post. Until then, I would encourage you to take a look at any of the following books:

More on atonement. . .

I’ve recently found it a tad unusual that we Christians place the crucifixion of King Jesus at the center of our faith. Any cursory reading of the four Evangelists’ renditions of the gospel coupled with St. Paul’s writings on the matter should yield the conclusion that it’s the resurrection of King Jesus, not his death that should be central to our faith.

Admittedly, I’ve been guilty of centering my faith in Jesus on his death for almost my entire Christian life.

Recently, however, it’s become somewhat clear to me that God’s work in the world is reconciliatory, and that it manifests relationally rather than transactionally.

Here’s what I mean by that.

The foundation of a penal substitution theory of atonement is the idea that our offense to God creates a debt that we owe him. That debt demands payment, and thanks to King Jesus, we don’t have to pay that debt; rather, he pays it on our behalf. In other words, the debt we owe to God can be removed from our account and placed on King Jesus’ account. For example, let’s say I ran my car into someone else’s car. I don’t have the money to pay for the repairs, but a friend steps in to pay off my debt. In case you missed it, my benevolent friend plays the role of Jesus in this analogy.

Here’s the problem with that. Reconciliation has not actually taken place. The debt has been paid, yes, but God is not in the business of debt relief. He’s in the reconciliation business.

Let’s draw up another analogy. If I were to cheat on my wife (I’m unmarried, so this example falls a bit flat in reality, but I believe it works in theory), no one can come in and “pay my debt” to my wife. There’s no transaction that can repair and reconcile the broken relationship. There are only two things that can reconcile this relationship: my hypothetical wife’s forgiveness and my repentance. (Again, if you missed it, my hypothetical wife plays the role of God in this analogy.)

Throughout the Old Testament, God uses marriage metaphors to describe the broken relationship he has with Israel. He’s summoning his wife. He’s telling her that he forgives her and that their relationship can be restored if she would only repent.

But here’s where penal substitution theory does the most damage to a full understanding of the gospel. It minimizes King Jesus’ life and resurrection to little more than abstractions that exist in the story to support his death. His miracles and teachings are simply there to prove that he is the Son of God and thus someone worthy to pay our debt. His resurrection is simply there to show us how powerful he is.

But to the observer of King Jesus’ life, it was clear that he was doing something more than simply paying humanity’s debt. And that “more” isn’t just supplemental material. The point of King Jesus’ arrival on earth must not be missed or misplaced. It was to announce and usher in a new kingdom—a reversal, if you will, of the imperialism that had dominated Israel’s thinking for generations and was now dominating Israel herself through Roman rule.

Jesus was showing us that the kingdom of God was coming—rather, had already arrived—by way of his teachings and his miracles. At every turn, Jesus was upending the common power structure, both at a small scale in the way he treated children and at a larger scale in the way he treated law enforcement (the Pharisees).

His crucifixion, as crucial as it is to our faith, is not the bloody masterpiece that God had ordained would be the vehicle for our salvation (as proponents of penal substitution theory would have you believe). Rather, it was the necessary means to his ultimate inauguration as King. Trial by fire, perhaps. More fittingly, I believe, it was the stage for his final and most glorious act.

You see, to a Jewish mind, the resurrection is the culmination of Israel’s story. At the end of time, Jews—and indeed the whole world—would be raised to life again after death. No other belief system outside Judaism held to any idea that resembled resurrection. To be certain, some Greeks and Romans (and others, I would assume) held to some sort of afterlife, but resurrection was an ideology limited to Judaism, and then even a limited subset of Jews until the late-biblical to early-postbiblical periods. (Daniel, the latest of the biblical writers, was the first to exhibit a belief in resurrection. Earlier writings, such as the Psalms, denied such a doctrine.)

The resurrection of Jesus is a distinctly Jewish act. While it certainly had reverberations outside Judaism and into the Roman world, it had its greatest impact in Jewish theology. If the resurrection meant the end of all things, what then did it mean for only one man to be resurrected?

The answer lies within the existence of something called the Church. Resurrection is the beginning of our story—the Church’s story. Resurrection is the inauguration of the kingdom of God, a kingdom to which the Church bears witness. The King has taken his throne, and we, his ambassadors, have received our charge: reconcile this world to its King.

Resurrection serves as a message that God is no longer going to tolerate the savage, oppressive imperialism that our world thirsts for. Whereas penal substitutionary atonement theory places a violent act of retribution at the heart of the gospel, a resurrection-centered gospel, which St. Paul appears to adhere to, declares an end to violence and injustice and ushers in a kingdom where a loving, good, and just King sits on the throne.

As Scott J. Higgins, Director of Community Engagement at Baptist World Aid, puts it:

What if at the centre of the universe lay not an act of retribution but God’s declaration that he will break the cycle of violence and retribution by absorbing whatever evil we throw at him, forgiving and creating new life and a renewed world? Would it not change the way we frame faith, the way we speak of ourselves, the way we relate to God and engage with the world?

Stories. . .

I love stories.

I believe that stories are the most powerful ways to convey truths. To be honest though, I’m not very good at crafting stories. I enjoy writing, even creatively, but for some reason I haven’t been able to tap into that ever so elusive great story.

That’s not to say that I haven’t written any stories. During my undergraduate years I wrote numerous stories for my short-story writing, novel writing, and script writing classes.

Maybe I exhausted all my awesome story ideas in college. Or maybe I’m just a lazy writer.

But I digress.

I bring up stories because I’ve begun seeing Scripture as a story. Not as a divine rulebook by which Christians are supposed to structure their lives. Certainly not as a message that contains the cypher through which we can unlock the mysteries of the future.

It is a narrative. A story, if you will, of a God who is trying to break into human history and reveal to his creation just how much he loves us.

He speaks our languages, he steps into our worlds, and he endures our hardships. This is a God who yearns to know and be known by his creation. It’s a beautiful tale. It’s a wonderful, compelling, and powerful story.

But here’s where things start to get a bit messy. Very little of this story is historically accurate by our standards of accuracy.

I know. Let that settle for a bit. I realize I just screwed with your mind a bit. I probably made you uncomfortable, maybe even angry.

I’ll say it again because I probably live under the delusion that repeating myself will make you believe me more. Very little of this story is historically accurate by our standards of accuracy.

It’s important that we understand this fact because it will help us alleviate a lot of the weird tensions that exist when we read the Bible. For example, there are confounding and inexplicable discrepancies—contradictions, even—among the four accounts of the Gospel.

That’s not even mentioning the frightening notion that God ordered the slaughter of an entire race of people (the Canaanites) for no other apparent reason than that they were occupying territory that he wanted to give to Israel.

This is perfect justification for Richard Dawkins’ scathing rebuke of God. This “God of love” needlessly commits genocide multiple times throughout the Old Testament.

Christians have quite a few ways of reconciling this atrocity. I’ll just list a few. (I have to thank Peter Enns and his book The Bible Tells Me So: Why Defending Scripture Has Made Us Unable to Read It for most, if not all, of what’s in the next few paragraphs.)

One way Christians try to explain this is by appealing to God’s sovereignty. He’s God. We’re not. Stop questioning him.

But at the end of the day, is that really the kind of God you want to serve? Is that the kind of God you feel compelled to talk about? Is that good news to a dying world? Get under God’s good graces or he’ll be angry with you and send you to eternal damnation!

As Enns puts it, “This really isn’t a solution, anyway. It’s simply restating the problem: God orders his subjects to kill Canaanites. The question remains, “Why is God acting like Zeus or a fascist dictator?”

Enns continues, and so will we.

Another way Christians try to explain this is by comparing Canaanite slaughter to eternal damnation. Basically, why is killing Canaanites such a terrible thing when Jesus talks about throwing people into hell for all eternity?

Unfortunately, this doesn’t explain things either. As Enns and other scholars, writers, and theologians have pointed out, the modern Catholic and Evangelical idea of “hell” is rather outdated and has more in common with medieval notions of the afterlife than what Jesus was actually referring to.

Be that as it may, Jesus’ references to “hell” weren’t statements about “hell” at all. He was using the term Gehenna, which was a Greek word translated from the Hebrew phrase that means “Valley of Hinnom.”

The prophet Jeremiah (who’s my personal favorite prophet for some reason) talked about the Valley of Hinnom. Here’s what he had to say:

The people of Judah have done what displeases me, declares the Lord. They have corrupted the temple that bears my name by setting up their disgusting idols. They have built shrines at Topheth in the Ben-hinnom Valley to burn their sons and daughters in the fire, although I never commanded such a thing, nor did it ever cross my mind.

Did you catch that? The Valley of Hinnom was where the Israelites were sacrificing their children to foreign gods.

Later in that passage, Jeremiah pronounces judgment on those that committed child sacrifice. Their corpses would rot in the Valley of Hinnom.

Jesus knows his audience and uses this symbolism to describe what would happen to those who reject God’s Messiah. And that very thing happened less than a century after Jesus left this earth.

Anyway, we’re off topic now. In a nutshell, what Jesus was talking about when we think he’s talking about throwing people into hell is not at all what he’s really talking about.

Enns writes, “‘Hell’ doesn’t get God off the hook because it’s off topic.”

(There’s actually an incredibly beautiful story about Jesus’ interaction with the only “Canaanite” mentioned in the New Testament. It’s kind of relevant to this topic, but it will take us down a rabbit trail, so I’ll save it for another post.)

One final way (there are several more, but I’ll stop at three) that Christians try to justify Canaanite genocide (or any atrocity that’s attributed to God) is by saying something like, “We have to balance God’s darker side in Scripture with his merciful, gracious side.”

Umm. . . really? Would you say that about anyone else? Sure, your honor, that guy murdered people, but you have to balance that out with all the good he’s done. He donates to charity, cares for sick people, and recycles. In light of all that, can you really sentence him to a life in prison just for a few murders?

Here’s where things need to shift. (I promised in my previous post an avenue for reconciling “angry Old-Testament God” with “gracious New-Testament Jesus,” and I’m about to deliver, but I have a feeling you might not like it.)

Something we need to keep in mind when we read Scripture is that every word was written by someone who lived in a completely different world than we do and who spoke an entirely different language than we do.

And by language I don’t simply mean syntax, words, grammar, etc. I mean an entirely different way of communicating thoughts and ideas, prejudices and beliefs. The ancient Israelites did not recount events the way we do. They didn’t value the same things that we do.

In other words, it’s entirely likely (probable, in fact) that God never told the Israelites to slaughter the Canaanites.

The Israelites were an ancient tribal people who lived among other ancient peoples. All the nations surrounding them had epic origin tales, and Israel had to tell their story.

I won’t go into all the historical-archeological detail, but just understand this: while these events aren’t historically accurate by our standards of accuracy, they are still 100% true. The truth is in what these stories are trying to convey.

Here’s what I see when I read these stories. I see a God who allows his children to tell their stories. I see a God who allows his character to evolve through the pages of the Bible because his creation is evolving in its understanding of who he is.

And then Jesus steps onto the scene. God is no longer simply the centerpiece of Israel’s mythology and religion. He is no longer bound by ancient storytelling and oral traditions. No, God has stepped into the world and transcended mere language. God has become more than just part of Israel’s story. He has become a Man. And that Man has become our King.

Our good, wise, loving, self-sacrificing, and perfect. . . King.

What God is like. . .

I’ve occasionally been accused of making a big deal out of small things. For example, as was evident from my ebook, I made a fairly big deal out of the Calvinism-vs-non-Calvinism thing.

There’s a reason for my “soapboxing” though. It responds to the question, “What is God like?”

Is God angry, vengeful, and misogynistic? Is he genocidal and vindictive?

If we take descriptions of him seriously (particularly those that paint him as the kind of God that would randomly wipe out an entire race of people simply because they were occupying the territory that he wanted to give to his chosen race), do we come to the conclusion that he’s the kind of God that is so angry at his people, his Son has to appease that anger by sacrificing himself on humanity’s behalf?

How then can we say with confidence that “God is love”?

Is the God we trust to rescue us the same God who ordered the killing of the entire population of Canaan, including the women and children?

Can we trust God to rescue us if he is also in absolute control of everything, including those events that hurt us, destroy us, and even cause us to commit unspeakable atrocities?

I would submit that no, we don’t trust a God who ordered the slaughter of entire people groups. We don’t put our faith in a God who dictates and determines the evils that exist in the world.

I’ll wait for my next post to provide thoughts regarding how to reconcile what we see about God in the Christian Old Testament with the type of Man we see in Jesus. But for now, let’s just take a moment to look at what Jesus shows us about God.

We see a God who heals the sick.

We see a God who feeds the hungry.

We see a God who welcomes children.

We see a God who spends time with the broken and marginalized.

Jesus’ death wasn’t to appease the anger of his Father, it was to show us just how far God was willing to go in order to rescue his children from captivity.

Jesus’ outstretched arms call out to us as he breathes his last, “This is how much I love you.”

That’s the kind of God who rescues us.

That is what God is like.

He is worthy. . .

I saw that there was a scroll in the right hand of the one sitting on the throne. The scroll was written on the inside and the outside, and it was sealed with seven seals. I saw a strong angel announcing in a loud voice, “Does anybody deserve to open the scroll, to undo its seals?” And nobody in heaven or on the earth or under the earth could open the scroll or look at it. I burst into tears because it seemed that there was nobody who was worthy to open the scroll or look inside it. One of the elders, however, spoke to me. “Don’t cry,” he said. “Look! The lion from the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has won the victory! He can open the scroll and its seven seals.”

~ Revelation 5:1-5, TKNT

Then, in between the throne and the four living creatures and among the elders, I saw a Lamb, standing as if it had been slain. It had seven horns and seven eyes, which are God’s seven spirits, sent out into the whole earth. He came forward and took the scroll from the right hand of the one seated on the throne. When he took the scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb. Each held a harp and gold bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints. They took up a new song, saying,

“You are worthy to take the scroll
and open its seals,
because you were slain,
and by your blood
you purchased for God
persons from every tribe, language,
people, and nation.

You made them a kingdom and priests
to our God,
and they will rule on earth.”

~ Revelation 5:6-10, CEB

I think we’ve all said (or heard it said) at some point in our lives, “Jesus is worthy of my worship.” It’s a nice sentiment, but I sometimes find myself asking, “Why is he worthy of my worship?”

Is it simply because he is God, and that’s how it should be? We’re supposed to worship God, right? That’s just the way things are. We’re finite, and God is infinite. He’s infinitely powerful, infinitely just, and infinitely holy, so that in itself is motivation for worshiping him.

The book of Revelation is admittedly a very difficult book. And that’s okay. Apocalyptic literature is never easy to figure out, but I don’t think that means we shouldn’t wrestle with it. Here’s what I (and by “I,” I mean, “theologians and scholars that I currently agree with”) think is going on here.

First question: What’s the deal with this scroll? What is it and why is it so important?

Answer: There are a ton of ideas about what this scroll could be, and many of them contradict each other, but here’s where I land currently. All of Scripture is the story of God’s interaction with the world. He created a home in which to dwell and placed his children into the world to be its overseers. But these children decided to move in their own direction apart from the Creator’s design and sent this world—themselves included—into a tailspin. God set into motion a plan through which he would restore everything to its rightful relationship with him. The scroll in Revelation 5 appears to be God’s plan to redeem and restore his creation to its rightful state of perfection, even unbroken relationship with him.

Second question: Why can’t God the Father open the scroll and unveil this plan of restoration?

Answer: Each of the seals that hold the scroll shut appear to be part of a series of judgments that will purify the earth and eliminate the wickedness that runs rampant upon it. No one in the throne room seems to be capable or qualified to break the seals and purify the earth. No one, that is, except the Lamb (Jesus). Why is the Lamb qualified? The text says, “You are worthy to take the scroll and open its seals, because you were slain” (emphasis added). We can infer a few things from this qualifier. First, the Lamb entered the human condition. He suffered and died. That means that he can identify with us, and the judgments he pours out don’t come from someone who is detached from humanity, but someone who can sympathize and empathize with us in our plight. His purification of the earth is not arbitrary or unfeeling.

Second, he was motivated by love. John wrote that God is love, and what better way to show love than to give your life up for the object of your love? Jesus did that, and when he judges the earth, he is motivated by a self-giving love, the depths of which we cannot possibly fathom.

Third, death—and by extension, resurrection, particularly the resurrection of Jesus—is incredibly important. I’ve said this before, and I’ll say it again: the very thing that qualifies Christ is his self-sacrificing action on the cross. In his letter to the church in Philippi, Paul writes the following:

Adopt the attitude that was in Christ Jesus:

Though he was in the form of God,
he did not consider being equal with God something to exploit.
But he emptied himself
by taking the form of a slave
and by becoming like human beings.
When he found himself in the form of a human,
he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death,
even death on a cross.
Therefore, God highly honored him
and gave him a name above all names,
so that at the name of Jesus everyone
in heaven, on earth, and under the earth might bow
and every tongue confess that
Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

There’s a lot here, but we can infer that the operative principle when considering the Messiah’s worthiness is his incredibly humble attitude. Paul tells his audience that this attitude—this humility—is the attitude to adopt. This is why the Lamb is worthy to break the seals of the scroll and begin the process of purifying the earth and eliminating wickedness. This is why the Lamb is worthy to open the scrolls and set in motion the restoration of all things.

Because he is uniquely humble.

Third question: How does any of this change how I worship God?

Answer: Maybe it doesn’t. But I would submit that the reason we worship God should be brought into examination. The Greek word translated in 5:9 as “to take” (“You are worthy to take the scroll”) is the same word translated in 5:12 as “to receive” (“Worthy is the slaughtered Lamb to receive power, wealth, wisdom, and might, and honor, glory, and blessing”): λαβεῖν. The parallel shouldn’t be missed. The Lamb is worthy to take the scroll and open the seals in the same way that he is worthy to receive honor and glory. His humble, self-sacrificing death qualifies him.

This realization should change things. Think of the following exchange:

“Why do you worship Jesus?”

“I worship him because he is worthy.”

Where do you think it could go from there? I think we need to be cautious of an answer like this because it can quickly and subtly turn into something to the effect of, “I worship him for no reason that I am truly aware of or can accurately and/or succinctly articulate right now.” That can lead us to an artificial or unsustainable worship of Jesus that may last for a season, but that will falter because we can’t find a good reason to worship him.

Or consider this possible ensuing exchange:

“Why is he worthy?”

“Jesus is worthy because he is all-powerful, completely just, perfectly holy, and infinitely wise.”

Fair enough, but for starters, I think Scripture is far more explicit about why Jesus is worthy of our worship, and while those attributes are given in Scripture, I don’t think they’re used as motivation for worship (though I could be wrong about that; this is, after all, a blog and not a dissertation).

We become like that which we worship, and I believe that can be also be stated as this: we take on the attributes we hold most dear of that which we worship.

That’s why when we see people who obsess over God’s power, justice, and wrath, over and against God’s love, we often find people who are arrogant, dogmatic, and unloving. (Though ironically they often say things like, “I’m only saying this because I love you like Jesus loves you.” If you truly loved like Jesus loved, you’d be setting your agenda aside and laying your life down for the sake of that other person. . . but I digress.)

But when we see people who obsess over God’s love, we find people who always set aside their own comforts and ideologies for the sake of those around them. It’s almost as if they’ve taken ownership of the Messiah’s words: “As the Father sent me, so I am sending you.”

So why is Jesus worthy of my worship?

He is worthy because he was slain. He is worthy because he emptied himself. He is worthy because without his death on the cross, the scroll would remain closed, and the restoration of creation would be unattainable.

“But thanks be to God, who in the Messiah constantly leads us in a triumphal procession and through us spreads everywhere the fragrance of what it means to know him!”

Celebration. . .

Praise the Lord!
Sing to the Lord a new song;
sing God’s praise in the assembly of the faithful!
Let Israel celebrate its maker;
let Zion’s children rejoice in their king!
Let them praise God’s name with dance;
let them sing God’s praise with the drum and lyre!

I often feel more worshipful at a wedding than I do at a church gathering.

The dancing, the laughter, the sheer joy that exists in that environment. There’s almost the sense of God’s celebratory joy overwhelming the place when everyone hits the dance floor.

I’m not a big Chris Tomlin fan, but I can’t help but think of these words from his song:

I feel alive
I come alive
I am alive on God’s great dance floor

And then for some reason, when I’m at my church gathering, I don’t celebrate. I look around me, and I see few people celebrating. It’s as though people have been lulled into near mundanity.

I almost want to stand up and shout, “The universe’s Creator and King LOVES US. He died for us, but now he LIVES AND REIGNS VICTORIOUSLY! Let’s sing! Let’s dance! We have LIFE!

And I wonder if that’s on us. Maybe, as leaders, we need to change the culture a little.

I live and work in New Jersey. We wear our cynicism like a badge of honor and proudly display it wherever we go. But as Christians, we have an incredible joy that should spill out into everything that we do—especially our corporate worship response!

In many cases I think we’ve allowed our cynicism to infiltrate our worship. It could be our cynicism, it could be our pride, or it could be our unwillingness to be vulnerable. It could even be a combination of all three. I used to think (read: come up with the excuse) that this lack of expressiveness in worship response is an attempt at contextualization, but the more I thought about it, the more I felt like I was closing off a part of my heart when I sing words like, “Jesus Christ, you are my one desire. Lord, hear my only cry—to know you all my life,” and keep my hands in my pockets.

Yes, the area to the left of the Hudson River is known for its disenchantment, but I believe that as Christians, we shouldn’t be giving in to any of that. God himself rejoices over his people.

The LORD your God is with you. He is a hero who saves you. He happily rejoices over you, renews you with his love, and celebrates over you with shouts of joy.
~ Zephaniah 3:17 GWT

The Hebrew phrase translated “he happily rejoices over you. . . and celebrates” looks like this: יָגִ֥יל The word celebrate here literally means, “to spin around under the influence of violent emotion.” God is dancing over us!

So if that’s how God feels about us, shouldn’t we at least try to respond to him similarly?

I went to visit my brother’s church, and—say what you will about churches with 10,000+ attendees—there’s a celebratory atmosphere there that is pretty rare in churches. Here’s a video of my brother leading his congregation in one of my favorite new celebration worship songs.