Monday, September 18, 2017


Privilege: a special right, advantage, or immunity granted or available only to a particular person or group of people.  

Now, this is the standard definition of privilege that most folks agree upon.  It is the standard to which we adhere to in normal conversation.  When someone says, "You have privilege," we immediately think, "I have an advantage over someone else."

But according to those who like to redefine things, privilege has a different connotation.  

So, privilege is not a special right or advantage, but is instead the idea that you do not have a particular life experience and cannot understand what another is going through.  And, of course, you will "likely" underestimate just how bad the problem really is because, since you haven't gone through it, you really, really just don't get it.

If this is the case, then "privilege" ideology is simply a reiteration of placing one's experience as the highest form of knowledge possible.  Same song.  Another, tiring verse.

There are two problems with this approach that I can see.  

First, every, single, bloody person has different problems.  No one shares every single experience alike.  Therefore, it logically follows, given the proposed definition, that EVERYONE has privilege.  How?  Well, given my particular situation: if you are not a white, male, heterosexual, rural, Lutheran, pastor who is married to a vertically-challenged, Italian, heterosexual female Spanish teacher who, together have two adopted, bi-racial daughters, and then a naturally born son--with all the trials and problems that such dynamics create, then when you address me about things I am going through, then you are a person of privilege.  You can't possibly know share this experience with me.  You can't possibly share the problems that I have.  You don't have that experience.  You have privilege!!!

Taken to its logical conclusions, the definition is quite meaningless!

But that perhaps is not the worst of the problem.  For by essentially limiting authority to personal experience, it is also quite possible that one exaggerates ones problems beyond the scope of reality.  Saying that should get me in a bit of trouble, but frankly, I don't care.   It's simply the truth.  (Caveat: there are obviously some problems that are tremendous.  When you are diagnosed with terminal brain cancer, that is a gigantic problem.)  For instance, as the father of a "tween" daughter, at least once a week, I hear the dreaded words, "You just don't get it!"

Well, in a way, my daughter is right.  I don't fully get the "tween" angst problems of today.  There weren't cell phones and the technology of today during my time.  Athletics wasn't quite the booming business that it is today.  Her school is a bigger school than I went to.  And, of course, she is a she.  I am a he.  And she is bi-racial and I am white.   I don't get it--on one level.  

But taking a step back and looking at a bigger picture, I darn sure do get it.  I darn sure can see what is going on, and I can tell my daughter with conviction that these problems that she is experiencing are minor.  They aren't life-threatening.  They are not a threat to her person and being.  There is a much larger world that she will experience, and the trials and tribulations she is experiencing now will seem like minuscule things in the future.  Learning to cope with these small things will give her confidence to deal with the bigger things later.  Learning to put things in proper perspective now will help her put things in proper perspective later.  Learning to look at the big picture now will help her get away from myopia in the future.  Although she might think that her world is crashing down around her and that all hope is lost, it is my job to remind her that there is a very big world out there and that what is happening to her right now will only have as much bearing on her future as she allows.  Allowing her to dwell in her limited experience will only harm her.

Allowing anyone to dwell in his or her limited experience will only harm him or her.  For experience is not the be all and end all of knowledge.  There is a vast array of knowledge that does not come from experience, and oftentimes that knowledge is much more reliable than our limited experience.  

If you want to talk about privilege, then let's do so under the standard definition.  We can easily talk about how some folks have advantages that others do not.  We can easily talk about ways to improve the lot for those who indeed are disadvantaged.  But let's not go changing definitions to suit our own purposes.  You don't have that privilege.

Thursday, September 7, 2017

The Amazing (In)Capability of Interpretation

I find myself in the unenviable position of defending someone whose theology I simply cannot stand.

Just down the road from the congregation that I serve stands the United State's largest church: Lakewood Church pastored by Joel Osteen.

Joel is a preacher of the prosperity gospel.  It is not the Gospel--it is a very warped version of what you will find in the Bible and in the New Testament.  In my estimation, this "gospel" does much more harm than good.

But that is a topic for another discussion.  What I would like to speak to at this moment is the response first given by Lakewood Church in regards to the severe flooding experienced in Houston during Hurricane Harvey.

During the heaviest flooding, Lakewood released the following statement, "Dear Houstonians! Lakewood Church is inaccessible due to severe flooding. We want to help make sure you are safe. Please see the list below for safe shelters around our city, and please share this with those in need!"

The post went on to list numerous for people to gather.

Of course, in the internet, multi-media, instant communication world we live in, someone went to "fact-check" Lakewood's statement.  Pictures were posted showing that the facility itself was accessible.  

Lakewood then took severe heat for failing to open its doors as a shelter.  Intense heat.  In the eyes of many, their reputation is now damaged irreparably.  

However, not all the facts were known.  Here is why Lakewood Church's statement is accurate, although not as clear as it could have been.

In his sermon this past Sunday, Joel Osteen laid out several more facts:

1. The facility had been flooded back in 2001 and had five feet of water in it.  Therefore, the church installed flood gates to prevent such a thing from happening again.

2. During the severe flooding, the water had risen to within a foot of the top of those flood gates.  At the time, no one knew whether or not the water would rise any higher.  (...due to severe flooding.)

3. Rather than take a chance and have people start moving in only to be flooded out by the water breaching the flood gates, the church decided to play it safe rather than sorry.  (Lakewood Church is inaccessible...)

4. As soon as the water began receding, the church opened its doors.

Now, interestingly enough, one must ask--which interpretation is correct?  Those who "fact-checked" by posting photos from outdoors?  The interpretation that I just set forward?

Well, honestly, they both are--depending what you mean by inaccessible.  If you mean getting to the facility, then those photos from the outdoors showing that you could get to the parking lot are correct.  If you mean by inaccessible that the church can't be used as a shelter until safety is ensured, then the church's statement is correct.

There is no doubt that the church's statement regarding inaccessibility could have been more clearly worded.  There is no doubt that more explanation could have been included in that statement that might have prevented the social media backlash that ensued.

However, I also think that there are those who used this as a "gotcha" moment for Lakewood and Joel Osteen.  I think there was some intentional desire to paint Joel and the church in a bad light, and given whatever particular bias you have, you were going to have that bias influence how you viewed the situation.

As more of the facts have been presented, I think how the church handled itself is exactly how I would have handled it.  Given how high the water was rising and the inability to know how high it would rise, I wouldn't have wanted to bring people in unless I knew whether or no the flood gates would be breached.  

But would I have chosen the same words to inform?  Would I have worded things differently?  

I don't know.  Sometimes what looks like an innocuous statement turns friends into enemies, and when we don't agree on the definitions of words, the likelihood of such things happening rises.  When we refuse to give people the benefit of the doubt, firestorms arise.  When our biases creep up, it's easy to fan the flames (do you know how hard it is for me to actually defend Lakewood Church???).  

What I do know is this--sometimes we benefit by waiting.  Sometimes we benefit by listening.  Sometimes we need to see how facts emerge before offering our own critiques or criticisms.  We are limited in that we will never know all the facts, but that is no excuse for jumping in and offering our own interpretations before more information is on the table.

Sunday, September 3, 2017

Lakewood, Joel Osteen, and Hurricane Harvey

I have spent quite a bit of time thinking about the social media backlash against Lakewood Community Church and its unwillingness to open its doors to displaced people due to the flooding caused by Hurricane Harvey.  And, believe it or not, I have no desire to bash Lakewood in the least.  I am well aware of Jesus' statement: take care of the log in your own eye before you try to pluck out the speck in your neighbor's eye.  For all the disagreement I have with Joel Osteen's theology, I want to see no church harmed.

And this is why I want to write this post.

It's because I believe that what happened at Lakewood can teach the church an invaluable lesson, and it's not simply about opening your doors during a disaster.

For you see, Lakewood is a church of nearly 40,000 members.  I would be willing to bet a substantial portion of my paycheck that thousands of those members, even the vast majority of those members were not idle during the events of Harvey.  I would be willing to bet--even though I cannot substantiate it--that thousands of those members were helping neighbors, were donating food, were making sure folks were rescued, and now are giving to relief efforts, joining in clean up crews, and working to care for their flooded neighbors.

But, little of that will matter in the public perception.  Lakewood will be remembered as the giant church that refused to open its doors to its neighbors until it was shamed into doing so.


Because, a church is not simply judged by what its members do, but a church is also judged by what it does as a whole.

It doesn't matter if you think it's right or wrong; just or unjust--every congregation has its own personality; its own range of actions; its own public perception, and it is judged as a whole by the surrounding society.

Individual members might be the nicest folks in the community, but if someone worships on a Sunday morning and does not feel welcomed, the church will be judged as unfriendly.

Individual members might be involved in all sorts of ministries outside the life of the congregation, but if the church isn't reaching out into its community, it will be seen as uncaring.

Individual members might be giving to all sorts of charities outside the congregation, but if folks aren't giving to the congregation and the congregation is not giving of its monies, the congregation will be seen as stingy.

Individual members might be reading all sorts of devotionals and educational materials outside the congregation, but if very few attend Bible studies within the church, the congregation will be seen as refusing to grow spiritually.

This is the lesson the church must learn from Lakewood.  Not only does it matter what individual members involve themselves in.  It also matters what kind of public witness we offer as a whole.

An internet meme made its way around after this whole fiasco that said, "God didn't ask you what Joel Osteen did.  He asked you what you did."  And that's is most certainly true.  But God isn't the only one watching.  The rest of society is, and they are watching what kind of witness our churches and congregations as a whole are offering.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Hatred is an Appropriate Christian Response

9 Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good--Romans 12:9

God is love.  Yes.
Christianity preaches love.  Yes.
Christianity is all about love.  Yes.
Christianity gets rid of hate.  No.

Folks who say this do not understand Christianity.  Neither do they understand love.   Hatred is an absolute part of Christianity, and it is vitally necessary in living an active, public, Christian life.

The recent events in Charlottesville, Virginia bring this to light.  There were several hundred neo-Nazi, white supremacists marching.  They had come from all over the country.  Residents from Charlottesville didn't want them there.  They didn't desire their town to be making headlines, but social media gives us a platform to organize and bring together people from all over--a platform which was non-existent only a couple of decades ago.  So, in the big picture of things several hundred white supremacists in a nation of over 300 million is a minuscule, minuscule percentage of the population.

Yet, what they stand for...

Is deserving of hate.

Yes, a Christian is to hate what these people stand for.  A Christian is to hate their ideology.  A Christian is to burn with hatred toward it--because a Christian is full of love.

That might sound like an oxymoron.  But it isn't.

If you have genuine love...
If you have been claimed by the good news of Jesus Christ...
If you no longer live for yourself but live your life for God...

You love what God loves.
You hate what God hates.

Yes.  God hates.  If you don't believe it, you need to read and re-read your Bible and stop having your own presuppositions regarding God.  You need to allow God to reveal Himself to you and stop making God into your own image.  If you allow God's revelation of Himself to the world to stand, you will see that God unequivocally hates, abhors, is horrified by our failure to live in a right relationship with Him and with one another.  In short, God hates sin.  Absolutely hates it.  His wrath burns hot against it.

--For I the Lord love justice,  I hate robbery and wrongdoing.  (Isaiah 61:8)

--Yet I persistently sent to you all my servants the prophets, saying, ‘I beg you not to do this abominable thing that I hate!’  (Jeremiah 44:4)

--I hate, I despise your festivals, and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies. (Amos 5:21) not devise evil in your hearts against one another, and love no false oath; for all these are things that I hate, says the Lord.  (Zechariah 8:17)

--For I hate divorce, says the Lord, the God of Israel, and covering one’s garment with violence, says the Lord of hosts. So take heed to yourselves and do not be faithless. (Malachi 2:16)

--For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and wickedness of those who by their wickedness suppress the truth. (Romans 1:18)

--Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes on those who are disobedient. (Ephesians 5:6)

And it must.  It must.  If God does not become outraged at murder, what kind of God is that?  If God does not erupt at injustice, what kind of God is that?  If God smells roses when people are allowed to die of famine, what kind of God is that?  An uncaring God.  An unloving God.  And God is not unloving.  God's great love leads God to hate.

But God does not hate individuals.  God does not hate people.  He has great love for them.  He wants them all to turn to Him.  He will give them every opportunity to come to Him; to renounce sin, the devil, and all his empty promises.  It breaks God's heart each and every time a man or woman made in God's image walks away from Him.  But God loves them enough to let them go.  And He also hates it.  He wants to see no one walk that dark path.

And neither do we.
We love what God loves.
We hate what God hates.

We love those who are created in the image of God.  We desire them to come to God.  Even those neo-Nazi/white supremacists.  Yes.  Even them.  We want those neo-Nazi/white supremacists to come to God for the sake of their repentance, forgiveness, and new life in the Gospel.

But we hate what they stand for.  We hate their ideology.  We hate their sin.  For the idea of racial superiority is not supported by the Gospel.  The idea of racial intolerance is not supported by the Gospel.  The idea of domination by one particular group over another is not supported by the Gospel.  God has made it clear in Jesus that there is neither Jew nor Greek (no ethnicity); there is neither slave nor free (no social status); no male or female (no gender) for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.  All have been clothed with Christ.  Such distinctions have disappeared for those called and claimed in the Gospel.  (Galatians 3)  We cling to this because it is good.

And we hate anything that is contrary to this.

Because in order for Christians to love what is from God, we must also hate what is not.

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Correcting the Wrong to Do the Right

I have never worn contact lenses.  Never.  Ever.  There is something about sticking a foreign object into my eye that I find completely objectionable and revolting.

So, I have absolutely no experience what-so-ever when it comes to popping those things in and taking them out.

This background is important given that my oldest daughter has now started trying to wear contact lenses.  She wants to play volleyball, and it's easier to have her in contacts than to buy a pair of sports glasses.

This morning, I walked in on her trying to put those things in.  And she was crying.  She was having great difficulty getting the lenses to stick to her eye.  I could see the frustration on her face.  She had been trying for about half an hour.

I hugged her and told her to walk away for a few minutes.  She got up and sat on the couch and watched television.  I sat down beside her and said, "Sometimes, when you are getting too frustrated, you've got to walk away and come back in a little bit."  She calmed down.

I looked up on my phone "contact lenses not sticking" and discovered that your finger needs to be dry because those things stick to wet surfaces and not dry ones.  I informed my daughter of this, and we went back to try again.

I thought we were in for a quick success story because she got the first one in in only three attempts.

But then came the second one.  One.  Two.  Three.  Four.  Five.  Six.  Seven.  Eight tries.  All unsuccessful.  She was working on the eye opposite of me, so I moved around to watch what was going on.  Immediately, I saw the problem.  She was blinking just before getting the lens to her eyeball.

"You are blinking right before you get the lens in," I said.  "You've got to concentrate on holding your eye open."

"YOU'RE NOT HELPING!!"  She retorted.

"You've got to know what you are doing wrong so that you can correct it," I replied.  "Concentrate on keeping your eye open.  Stop crying.  Settle down.  You can do it."

First try.  Unsuccessful.

"You can do it.  Just concentrate."

Second try.  Bingo!

"I told you you could do it."

"Thank you, Daddy."

Several things occurred to me as I thought about this little event in my life this morning.

First, you have to know what you are doing wrong, and sometimes you cannot see it.  Blinking is like breathing.  It's involuntary, and you don't even think about it when you are doing it.  My daughter couldn't see it when she was blinking right before that lens hit her eye.  She needed to be told what she was doing wrong.

Second, no one really likes being told what they are doing wrong.  My daughter's reaction was typical.  It's the way I react as well.  I don't like being told that I am doing something wrong.  Most of the time I think the same thing my daughter said, "You're not being helpful."

Third, if you take the response personally, you will make the situation worse.  Yelling at my daughter after her response would have been counter-productive.  There would have been no movement forward.  She would have been more tense.  I would have been more tense.  It would have taken forever to get those lenses in.  Calmness but firmness was required.   "You've got to know what you are doing wrong so that you can do it right."  Explanation.  Compassion.  Deep breath.  Move forward. 

Fourth, if you are going to get someone to change, you can't just tell someone they are wrong.  You've got to be supportive and encourage them as they try to do right.  I could have kept telling my daughter to keep her eye open.  Don't blink.  That would have made her even more tense.  It would have made her more anxious and upset.  I did tell her to do that, but at the very same moment, I offered her words of encouragement.  Love.  Relaxation.  She knew what she needed to do, but having me continue to point the finger without giving her space would not have been helpful.  In theological terms, she needed Law and Gospel.

Fifth, thankfulness comes.  You are not going to get any thanks right away for trying to correct the wrong.  You will most likely get push back to begin with.  But sticking to your position; offering support and encouragement even in the face of initial reaction; just staying until there is success; and then offering congratulations, will bring about joyful thanksgiving.

I think there is a theological lesson here somewhere about God's work to correct our wrong by showing us firmness, compassion, and love.  And I think there is a lesson about our response as well.

Monday, July 31, 2017

A Lasting Legacy

I just had a wonderful meeting with a representative of the Lutheran Foundation of the Southwest.  We talked about the future.  Not the future of me and my family, mind you, but the future of the congregation at which I serve.

She wanted to talk about endowment planning.

I'm all for it.

I've seen how positive such endowments can be as congregations think about what they will be like years into the future.

How can a camp ministry be funded?
How can local ministries receive extra benevolence?
How can technology improvements be made?
How can scholarships be funded?
How can a congregation make sure such things be taken care of well into the future?

Endowment funds can help us look to the future to ensure a lasting legacy.

Perhaps one day we will see one here.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Saving a Life

Yesterday, I saved a little girl's life.  Literally.

We were at a birthday swim party, and one of the little girls headed into the pool.  She had permission to swim, but didn't think about getting her swim vest on.  Without any hesitation, she jumped into the pool, and unfortunately, she didn't jump straight into the shallowest part.

Fortunately, I was watching the kids swimming, and I saw her go in.  She yelled, "I can't swim on my own."
I was out of my chair almost immediately.

I saw this little girl trying to tread water.  I watched her go under several times as I headed toward the pool.  I stopped and hesitated at poolside for just a moment thinking about shoes and cell phone, but seeing her continue to sink under, I simply jumped in.

It was only in waist deep water for me, but I am sure that for this little girl, it seemed like the inky depths.  I grabbed her and lifted her out of the water.  I put her on the steps, and she ran out to those around her.

I was shaken.

Those around were shaken.

The kids recovered much faster than the adults, and in minutes, this little girl was swimming once again--this time with her swim vest on.

I was pretty much shot for the rest of the time there.  The adrenaline surge followed by the worry over cell phone (It still works, by the way.  Thank you, Otter box.)  wiped me out emotionally and physically.

As we left the party, the girls' mom said, "Thank you for saving my little girl's life."

And I didn't know how to respond.

I mean, I wasn't gloating at all.  But the words, "It was nothing.  Anyone would have done it," sounded so trite and cheap as well.  It wasn't nothing.  It was definitely something.  Something big.  But it also was something I would do again--even if it did destroy my phone, shoes, or whatever--something anyone should do if they see someone in trouble like that.

I don't know how I feel about the entire situation just yet.  I've never actually saved anyone before.   It's exhilarating and humbling at the same time.  A weird mixture that I'm not exactly sure how to reconcile.

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Mile Wide. Inch Deep.

Saw an article promoting travel to the Middle East as a way to heal faith that "is a mile wide but an inch deep."

First time I've heard that description.

Is there such a thing as this type of faith?

Is travel really the cure?


Friday, June 16, 2017

A Response to Dr. David Lose: Rejecting a False God

It is a sad reality that the theology of the church not only must defend itself against attacks from those on the outside, but it also must defend itself from attacks from within.  In the postmodern world in which  we live, the church has become more and more lax in dealing with such attacks preferring to live and let live.  Gone are the days when heretics would be punched in the face (#Athanasius).  Well, we might not want to return to that state of argument, but an unwillingness to defend against certain thoughts might end up being worse as more and more unorthodox thought gets pushed into the church culture, resulting in fewer and fewer people knowing the reality of the Christian faith and what it proclaims.

Recently, I was made aware of a post by a former president of a seminary in my own denomination: the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.  The post was titled: Is God Angry with You: A Good Friday Reflection, and it was written by Dr. David Lose who was President of The Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia.  Dr. Lose’s article deals with the atonement--a Christian term that means being made right with God.  The nature of how we are made right with God has been a matter of debate in the church from time to time, and Lose does his best to discredit one of the dominant theories: penal-substitutionary atonement.  Unfortunately, Lose does very little in the way of engaging those who ascribe to the theory, and he acts as if the questions he raises have no answers.  In this blog post, I will delve into Lose’s questions, offer answers, and also rebut much of the theology Lose seems to embrace.

It is unfortunate that I have to do such a thing, but I love the church of which I am a part.  And I heartily believe that the path to which Lose subscribes actually does more harm than good and will lead to a continued decline in membership and ministry in the ELCA.  I believe that a theological grounding based in substitutionary atonement is one of the factors to which we should return to reverse that trend.  I will begin with Lose’s first question.

“Why should one person’s punishment--even if that person is the Son of God--count for all the others?”

The answer is: Because all sin is ultimately against God.  Lose doesn’t seem to hold this view.  Later in the article, he says this:

“First, it appeals to a crude sense of justice achieved through retributive violence. Theologians defending penal substitution almost always invite us to imagine that if our house were broken into, or if someone we loved were murdered, we’d want justice — that is, that the offender would be punished. But this argument assumes God can’t transcend our own moral limitations. Just because we may cry for justice and vengeance when we are wronged doesn’t mean God will.”

It seems to me, there is a hidden assumption in Lose’s thought: that justice is a human construct.  “If someone breaks into our house WE (emphasis mine) want justice.” But most theologians do not believe that justice is a human construct.  We believe that God initiates justice, and that justice is deeply embedded not only in human experience but also within nature.  This video shows an experiment with monkeys dealing with inequity; it seems to hint that the concept of justice isn’t just a human one.

St. Paul writes about justice being a part of the very fabric of creation in the early chapters of the book of Romans.  “20Ever since the creation of the world his eternal power and divine nature, invisible though they are, have been understood and seen through the things he has made.”  Paul unabashedly believes that we can come to know that there are laws of justice and fairness that should govern us, and those laws are put in place by the Law Giver: God.

Which leads us to say: If justice originates with God and not with humanity, then God is bound to uphold His laws of fairness.  If God does not uphold His laws fairly and equitably, God is not just and is certainly not worthy of worship.  And it is a fact of reality that the vast majority of people on earth NEVER experience justice.  The millions killed by the Khmer Rouge; the millions killed by Stalin and Lenin; the millions killed by Hitler and the Nazis never will receive any form of justice what-so-ever, and they are just the tip of the iceberg in regards to human history.  But in Lose’s theological construct, none of these folks ever receive justice.  What then, does that say about Lose’s God?  

That God is diminished immensely--just like Lose’s Jesus is diminished.  Because it’s not just the “Son of God” who is receiving the punishment as Lose would have us believe.  Jesus, in orthodox Christian belief, is the second person of the Trinity, God incarnate.  Therefore, it is not some lesser being than God receiving punishment.  It is God taking the punishment that was deserved for us.  The christology that Lose is embodying is a lower christology that does not give Jesus the proper status accorded to him by the orthodox Christian faith.  If Jesus is God, then He can pay the price for all sins.  (More on that later.)

Part #2: “Doesn’t that essentially negate the idea of personal responsibility?  If Jesus endured punishment for all sins that have been or ever will be committed, why wouldn’t we be motivated to sin all the more knowing the penalty has already been paid?”

Lose acts as if this criticism hasn’t been around since the inception of Christianity.  It is a criticism Paul deals with at length in the book of Romans.  It is a criticism that Luther had to deal with during the Reformation.  

But before we even address that, let’s push Lose’s own theology to its conclusion:

“Rather, threatened by the wild, uncontrollable, and unconditional love and forgiveness of God Jesus proclaimed, the political and religious authorities put Jesus to death to quash the hope he created and retain their power.  But God vindicated Jesus’ message by raising him from the dead (something notoriously under-emphasized by substitution theologians), demonstrating that such self-giving love is more powerful than hate and that God’s promise of life is stronger than death. From this point of view, God in Jesus joins us in absolute solidarity by taking on our lot and our life, even to the point of death, and at the same time promises that death does not have the last word; that, in the end, life and love win. No wrath, no anger, no horrendous punishment or logic-bending substitution schemes necessary.”

So, wild, uncontrollable, and unconditional love and forgiveness does not posit the same problem as knowing the penalty has already been paid for every wrong and sin?  Actually, it does, but with much deeper ramifications because there are absolutely no consequences to any of our actions--well, at least if we can get away with whatever wrong we commit.  Penal substitutionary atonement admits the guilt and admits that there are consequences to breaking the law of God. It admits that we are guilty and deserve punishment rather than love.  It admits that punishment must be doled out in order for there to be justice.  But God in his wisdom takes that punishment for us giving us precisely what we do not deserve.  

But now, we must move on to why we do not seek to sin.  St. Paul covers this thoroughly in the book of Romans chapter 6.  First, he uses some ancient thought about having a representative.  For those who know the story of David and Goliath, this should make some sense.  In this story, the Israelite army and the Philistine army faced off against one another.  Day after day, the Philistine champion, Goliath came forward and challenged the Israelites, but no Israelite soldier would come to face him.  Why?

It was more than simply that Goliath was a monster of a man and the odds were that the Israelite soldier would die--for Goliath was the Philistine representative.  He was speaking for the entire Philistine nation.  He was challenging Israel to send a similar representative.  These two representatives would face off.  Whichever individual representative won would win for the entire nation.  Whatever happened to the individual happened for the entire nation.  If the representative won, the nation won.  If the representative lost, the nation lost.  David eventually comes forward to carry the day for the Israelites.

Paul uses similar thought at the beginning of Romans 6 to show that when we trust in what Jesus has accomplished through his substitutionary atonement, Jesus becomes our representative.  Therefore, what happens to Jesus, happens to us.  We die with Jesus.  We are raised with Jesus, and the life we now live, we live in a similar fashion to Jesus.  And Paul is explicit in what kind of life that entails, “The death he died, he died to sin, once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God. 11So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.” --Romans 6:10-11.  We now live for God.  Now, if you live for God, what kind of life do you seek to live?  Do you seek to sin?  Absolutely not.  This is Paul’s first response to whether or not you desire to sin.
Paul continues his train of thought by invoking a change in obedience.  For before one comes to faith in Jesus, one is a “slave” to sin.  David Foster Wallace in his speech to Kenyon College articulates this very well:

Everybody worships.  The only choice we get is what to worship, and the compelling reason to maybe choosing some sort of God or spiritual type thing to worship is that pretty much anything else you worship will eat you alive.  If you choose to worship money and things, if they are where you tap real meaning in life, then you will never have enough, never feel you have enough.  Worship your body and beauty and sexual allure, and you will always feel ugly, and when time and age starts showing you will die a thousand million deaths before they finally grieve you.  Worship power and you will end up feeling weak and afraid and you will need ever more power over others to numb you to your own fear. Worship your intellect being seen as smart and you will end up feeling stupid, a fraud always on the verge of being found out.  But the insidious thing about these forms of worship is they are unconscious.  They are default settings.

Wallace’s shows that we serve--are enslaved to--our deepest heart’s desire.  When God becomes our deepest heart’s desire, we now seek Him and His will.  “17But thanks be to God that you, having once been slaves of sin, have become obedient from the heart to the form of teaching to which you were entrusted, 18and that you, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness.”  Again, if you are seeking to serve God, do you want to sin?  Absolutely not.  For a theologian of Lose’s status, the failure to articulate this argument from Scripture is rather stunning.

Part 3: “Second, can you really call it forgiveness if someone else had to pay? If I fall behind on my mortgage payments and the bank wants to foreclose, but someone else steps forward to pay my balance, the bank hasn’t actually forgiven me anything; it just found someone else to pay. Forgiveness is releasing someone’s debt, not distributing it to another.”

There are two things to say in response to Lose’s line of questioning. The first response is the following: Let’s say your child is running through the store despite your pleas to stop.  While running he knocks an item off the shelf and breaks it.  The child is responsible for the damages, and should pay for them.  Does the parent call the store manager and say, “My child was disobeying my orders and broke this product.  Kindly call the police and have him arrested so that he may pay his debt to your store and to society.”?  Any loving parent would do no such thing. Any loving parent would pay for the item incurring the debt for the child.  Is this forgiveness?  It absolutely is.  The cost of the item had to be paid.  The child would have to pay.  The store would have to pay. The parent would have to pay.  The damages had to be accounted for.  If a parent pays the damages for the child, the debt is forgiven.  It’s canceled.  It’s still forgiveness.  

We will use Lose’s own analogy of a bank and his mortgage to illustrate the second point.  Lose would have us believe that forgiveness is simply the bank “releasing” his debt, but that’s not exactly what happens, is it?  The bank used its money (or the money others put into it) and loaned it to Dr. Lose to buy his house.  If the bank forgives Dr. Lose’s debt, then the bank pays for Dr. Lose’s house!  The debt vanishes for Dr. Lose, but at great cost to the bank iteself!!!  

Forgiveness comes with a cost.  It always comes with a cost.  With financial debt, the cost is money.  If you forgive someone who has harmed you with words, you choose to bear the emotional cost and pain of that harm.  Dietrich Bonhoeffer makes this abundantly clear in his book The Cost of Discipleship: Above all, it is costly because it cost God the life of his Son: 'Ye were bought at a price', and what has cost God much cannot be cheap for us. Above all, it is grace because God did not reckon his Son too dear a price to pay for our life, but delivered him up for us. Costly grace is the Incarnation of God.  Lose would have us think that forgiveness is cheap, but that is far from the case.

I argued earlier that all sin is committed against God, therefore we are in debt to God for our failures to live up to His commands--which are written into the very fabric of creation.  Christian orthodox belief teaches that Jesus is the second person of the Trinity--that Jesus is God.  Lose actually diminishes Jesus’ role to a “third party.”  He is wrong in his assertion.  There is no third party payment (as in the case of the parent paying for his child’s breaking of the object in the store even though that is still forgiveness).  There is only a transaction between God and humanity.  There is only a transaction between Jesus and ourselves.  Therefore Lose’s argument fails on two counts: payment by a third party is indeed still forgiveness, and there isn’t even a third party to consider in penal substitutionary atonement.  

Part 4: “Third, what kind of picture of God does the penal-substitution theory construct? Anslem’s original theory, developed around the beginning of the second millenium, revolved around a feudal sense of honor and cosmic balance. The death of the innocent Son satisfies the divine right to recompense for the offense against God’s honor caused by human sin and restores balance to the moral universe. During the later middle ages the concern shifted from honor to justice and punishment, Jesus serving as something of a divine whipping boy. Later still, and now on North American soil, the theory has developed further to emphasize God’s wrath as motivation for repentance.”

It is often standard practice to take another’s position, caricature it, and then beat down the caricature.  Lose does so here.  Let me show you how by painting the picture of God that penal-substitution theory actually constructs, and I will use the book of Romans chapters 1-3 to do so.  Therefore, my argument is not my argument, it’s actually an argument promoted by one of the earliest apostles of Christianity: St. Paul.

God’s just and righteous law can be understood from observations in the natural world.  (Romans 1:19)
People have rejected that law and sinned (Romans 1:20-32)
Therefore, they are under God’s wrath.  (Romans 1:18)
God has also revealed His specific law to the Jewish people, but they have failed to follow it and are therefore under God’s wrath.  (Romans 2:1-3:8)
Therefore, none are righteous and all deserve condemnation (Romans 3:20)

Indeed, if God is the divine law giver, and all sins are actually committed against God, then we deserve God’s wrath and anger.  God is a God of justice, and justice must be served.
But why such severe punishment for menial sins?  Sins that we would consider almost harmless?  White lies?  Minor theft?  Impure thoughts?  The answer comes from the fact that we are dealing with an eternal time scale.  Any marksman will tell you that when you are sighting in a gun, you do not become satisfied with being off by only ¼ inch at 50 yards.  Why?  Because at 100 yards, you are much further off.  At 200 yards, you are inches off.  At 500 yards, you could be feet off.  As the distance progresses, the deviation becomes more and more pronounced.  On an eternal time scale, the deviation of those sins that we presume to be minor becomes enormous.  To ignore this would be reprehensible.

But penal substitutionary atonement doesn’t ignore it at all.  It acknowledges it and demands that the sin be accounted for.  And it is accounted for, but not by us.

For there is no distinction, 23since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God; 24they are now justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, 25whom God put forward as a sacrifice of atonement by his blood, effective through faith.  (Romans 3:22b-25a)  God atones for sin by taking on flesh and blood and substituting himself on our behalf.  He becomes the sacrifice to end all sacrifices.  

So, penal substitutionary atonement portrays God as one who is unrelenting in pursuit of justice--who demands that wrongs be righted and that people pay for their failure to adhere to justice.  It also portrays God as loving us so much that He is willing to die in our place--to suffer the consequences for our unjust actions when we least deserved it.  God loves us even when we are most unlovable.  Penal substitutionary atonement shows God to be both just and merciful--to be neither a uncaring tyrant who rules with an iron fist nor an it-doesn’t-matter-what-you-do-because-you-will-be-forgiven, permissive deity.  And we do not repent because we are frightened of God’s wrath.  We repent because we know that instead of receiving that wrath, we have been given mercy instead, and we long to please the God who was willing to die on our behalf.

Part 5  “In addition to these questions, the major problem with this understanding of God and the cross is that it enjoys relatively little support from the biblical witness. In particular, note that Jesus doesn’t wait until after his sacrifice on the cross to offer God’s forgiveness; in fact, it’s the very fact that Jesus goes all over the place announcing God’s forgiveness that riles up his opponents in the first place. Again and again, people take exception to Jesus’ declaration that “your sins are forgiven,” at various points questioning his authority or accusing him of blasphemy (Mark 2:1-12).”

This is quite a startling claim, and I personally wonder how it is that Lose can make such a claim.  It could be that Lose is appealing to a particular methodology of interpreting scripture that allows him to disregard certain parts of scripture in favor of others.  For instance, when I attended both college and seminary, I was taught that it was perfectly acceptable to take Jesus’ quotes throughout the gospels and decide (according to certain criteria which may or may not actually be accurate) which quotes were “really Jesus” and which quotes were “the author’s putting words into Jesus’ mouth.”  It was also appropriate to talk about “Paul’s theology”, “John’s theology”, “Peter’s theology,” and the like.  In so doing, one could lessen the authority of one author over another.

Now, when you approach scripture in this fashion, you can easily say, “ enjoys relatively little support from the biblical witness.”  In reality, there is quite a lot of support for substitutionary atonement all throughout the New Testament.  But, I will get to that in a minute.  Let me first deal with Lose’s claim in Mark 2:1-12.  Let’s look at this text:

When he (Jesus) returned to Capernaum after some days, it was reported that he was at home. 2So many gathered around that there was no longer room for them, not even in front of the door; and he was speaking the word to them. 3Then some people came, bringing to him a paralysed man, carried by four of them. 4And when they could not bring him to Jesus because of the crowd, they removed the roof above him; and after having dug through it, they let down the mat on which the paralytic lay.5When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, ‘Son, your sins are forgiven.’ 6Now some of the scribes were sitting there, questioning in their hearts, 7‘Why does this fellow speak in this way? It is blasphemy! Who can forgive sins but God alone?’ 8At once Jesus perceived in his spirit that they were discussing these questions among themselves; and he said to them, ‘Why do you raise such questions in your hearts? 9Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, “Your sins are forgiven”, or to say, “Stand up and take your mat and walk”? 10But so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins’—he said to the paralytic— 11‘I say to you, stand up, take your mat and go to your home.’12And he stood up, and immediately took the mat and went out before all of them; so that they were all amazed and glorified God, saying, ‘We have never seen anything like this!’

Let’s examine the reason the scribes question Jesus’ authority to offer forgiveness.  The reason the scribes have this in their hearts is because of a thread that runs through the prevailing culture of the day; a thread that said: the reason a person becomes sick, paralyzed, or has anything bad happen to them is a result of that person’s sin.  So, if a person did something wrong–broke a commandment, failed to offer a sacrifice, or what have you–then God would strike them with a malady.  God would put that person under His curse.  Because of this view, the scribes believed that the paralyzed man was under God’s curse.  They believed he was suffering as a consequence of his sin.  No man could remove that curse.  No man could bring that kind of forgiveness.  Only God could.  At the very least, Jesus is putting Himself as God’s spokesperson, and that was completely and utterly disrespectful for a man to do.  At the very worst, Jesus was blaspheming because he was presuming to be God and doing something only God could do.  

But Jesus knew the hearts of the scribes, and He knew this was a teachable moment.  Jesus turns to the scribes and asks, “Which is easier: to say your sins are forgiven or rise, take up your mat and walk?”  In reality the easiest thing to say was, “Your sins are forgiven.”  This actually could not be verified immediately.  No one could tell if God had indeed forgiven a person’s sin, so it was easy to say but hard to verify.  On the other hand, to say, “Rise, take up your mat, and walk,” was to take a troublesome risk.  If you were to say this, it could easily be verified.  If you were to say this and the person were not able to walk, then you would revealed as a fraud.  You would be shown to have no blessing or authorization of God.  And in reality, neither of these things are easy at all.  Both of these things are impossible for humans.  But both are quite easy for God.

Jesus brings this straight forward to the crowd when He then says, “But so that you will know that the Son of Man has the authority to forgive sins on earth,” turning toward the paralytic, “I say to you, rise, take up your mat and go home.”  And the man did.  Jesus shows that He indeed has both the power of forgiveness and the power to heal.  And everyone went away praising God and saying, “We have never seen anything like this.”

Now, what hadn’t the crowd seen before?  What cause them to rejoice so much?  From their perspective, they had never seen a man remove God’s curse from one who was afflicted.  They had never seen a man remove God’s punishment from someone who had sinned.  Such a thing was unheard of.  Jesus became the one who forgave, cured, and restored to wholeness.  And the orthodox Christian faith says, the reason he was able to do this is because Jesus was indeed God.  So now, the scribes either had to believe that Jesus was indeed God’s spokesperson or that Jesus was indeed God.  (There are several hints throughout the book that indicate that Mark is revealing the latter.) One wonders if Lose has this high of a christology here?  Most likely not.

And if Jesus is indeed being revealed as God, Jesus’ statement in Mark 10.45, “For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.” has some important connotations.   Let me simply quote Mark Edwards in the Pillar New Testament Commentary: The Gospel According to Mark:
The most distinctive role of the Son of Man, however, is his giving “his life as a ransom.”  In the language of the day, ransom referred to bail paid for prisoners of war and slaves, or release from jail. Both the Hebrew kipper and Greek lytron behind “ransom” mean “to cover over,” “atone for,” or “expiate.”  The thought of v.45 actually exceeds Isaiah’s Servant of the Lord, for Jesus is not a passive (and perhaps unknowing) instrument of Yahweh.  The initiative of his atoning work lies within himself as the Son of Man, who, in stark contrast to the power-mongers of v.42, freely offers his life as the ransom price for all (John 10:11; Rom 8:2-4).  As God’s own delegate, and through his suffering, death, and resurrection, Jesus freely and obediently offers his life as a substitute in behalf of humanity.  Jesus is supremely conscious of offering a payment to God that can be offered by no one else.  The ransom Jesus offers in his life is not contingent on something outside himself.  Origin (third century A.D.) would later develop the theory that the ransom of Jesus was necessitated by and paid to Satan.  Satan, however, is not mentioned in 8:33, and there he attempts to avert Jesus from suffering and death!  The death of the Son of Man on behalf of “the many” is a sacrifice of obedience to God’s will, a full expression of his love, and a full satisfaction of God’s justice. (pp. 327-328)

Edwards is not alone in his interpretation of this statement.  Agreeing with him are Craig A. Evans (Word Biblical Commentary); William L. Lane (The New International Commentary on the New Testament); Walter  Wessel (New Expositor’s Bible Commentary); and N.T. Wright (Mark for Everyone).  I am sure that there are more, but I have exhausted my commentaries.

What it is helpful to see is that in the same book that Lose quotes to diminish the evidence for substitutionary atonement, we actually have very strong reference for substitutionary atonement.  Let’s add a few more scriptural references:

The book of Matthew follows Mark’s lead with ransom terminology: Matthew 20: 28just as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.’

John 1:29 The next day he saw Jesus coming towards him and declared, ‘Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!  (This is sacrificial atonement language par excellance.)

Romans 3:21 But now, irrespective of law, the righteousness of God has been disclosed, and is attested by the law and the prophets, 22the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ* for all who believe. For there is no distinction, 23since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God; 24they are now justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, 25whom God put forward as a sacrifice of atonement* by his blood, effective through faith.

Hebrews 2:14 Since, therefore, the children share flesh and blood, he himself likewise shared the same things, so that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, 15and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by the fear of death. 16For it is clear that he did not come to help angels, but the descendants of Abraham. 17Therefore he had to become like his brothers and sisters* in every respect, so that he might be a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make a sacrifice of atonement for the sins of the people.

1 John 2:1 My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous; 2and he is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.

1 John 4:7 Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. 8Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love. 9God’s love was revealed among us in this way: God sent his only Son into the world so that we might live through him. 10In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins.

1 Peter 1:18You know that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your ancestors, not with perishable things like silver or gold, 19but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without defect or blemish.

There is actually quite a bit of scriptural weight behind sacrificial atonement.  More than Lose seems to want to admit.

Part 6: “What’s at stake in this second concern, I think, is that the penal-substitution theory promotes the seductive illusion that we know just how God works and can therefore determine who enjoys God’s favor. The tricky thing about the God Jesus proclaimed, however, is that pretty much whenever you draw a line between who’s in and who’s out, you’ll find this God on the other side of the line. When Jesus came preaching and teaching that God’s love was boundless and then demonstrated it by socializing with those people the religious and political authorities knew were despised by God, they crucified him for daring to declare the unlovable beloved and the God-forsaken saved.”

I don’t know if Lose is joking here or what.  First, let’s look at what he says and then offer a bit of a response.  
Lose begins with this criticism: “penal substitution theory promotes the seductive illusion that we know just how God works and can therefore determine who enjoys God’s favor.”  Now, at first glance, this seems to indicate that we should approach how God operates with a sense of humility.   We should never be firm in how we believe God operates.  We can address this in a moment, but first let’s look at what Lose then does himself.

He states: “the God Jesus proclaimed is tricky because when you draw a line between who’s in and who’s out, this God is on the other side of the line.”  Wait a minute.  Did Lose just do what I think he did?  Yes.  As a matter of fact he did.  He essentially said: we know just how God works and we can determine who’s in and who’s out.  We know who’s in when we draw a line and say, “God’s on this side.”  We know then He is actually on the other side!  Therefore, Lose knows exactly how God operates!!  

How does he come to this conclusion?  He comes to this conclusion by appealing to the Jesus revealed in Scripture.  As Lose reads the gospels, he sees a Jesus who “came preaching and teaching that God’s love was boundless and then demonstrated it by socializing with those people the religious and political authorities knew were despised by God, they crucified him for daring to declare the unlovable beloved and the God-forsaken saved.”  I have no issue with Lose saying that Jesus did such things because the statement is absolutely true!!  But it is also incomplete.  Because Jesus drew lines.  Oh, you can take those sayings and teachings of Jesus away if you appeal to the type of interpretation methodology I described earlier, but if you take the gospels as they are written, then there is no doubt that Jesus drew lines of inclusion and exclusion.  Generally speaking, the lines of inclusion were drawn around those who knew they were sinful and humbly sought God’s forgiveness, and the lines of exclusion kept out those who were self-righteous and believed they had somehow earned God’s favor.  

And why in the world can we presume to know this?  Lose seems to indicate that knowledge of God is beyond our understanding (even though he doesn’t practice what he preaches).  Ah, but if God revealed His nature to us?  If God communicated with us?  If God spoke to us?  Then, wouldn’t it be reasonable for us to say, “God has shared with us how He acts toward us.  God has told us who is in and who is out.  We are not speaking on our own behalf, but are speaking on behalf of the one who came to earth and spoke His Word.”  

Most of us who subscribe to penal-substitutionary atonement believe that 1) Jesus was God, 2) that Jesus revealed God’s nature to us, and 3) we can be confident that the biblical writers captured what Jesus said and did with a high degree of certainty.  We do not arrogantly proclaim to know the mind of God, for that is a mystery we continually seek to enter into.  However, we believe that there are aspects of God’s nature that He has taken great pains to reveal to us.  Unfortunately, David Lose would seek to minimize parts of that revelation and emphasize those parts that make him most comfortable.  Therefore, he has actually constructed a god of his own making instead of being faithful to the God revealed in the pages of scripture.  I wish this were not the case as he is a leader in the denomination that I serve.  And indeed, if this is a god of Lose’s own making instead of the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, that god must be rejected.  We do not need any false gods in a declining church!