The Awkward Middle Way

Christy Lynne Wood (1)

When my friend Rachel invited me over to her family’s fall harvest party I had no idea I’d be running into people from my past. Or that there would be an awkward stare down over the bonfire.

Although Rachel and I had both grown up under the influence of the same cultic organization, her family had been on the fringe and missed a lot of the craziness I experienced. Still, we had a bunch of mutual friends. Something I unfortunately forgot. I hadn’t seen these people in at least five years and let’s just say a lot had changed. For me that is; they looked exactly the same from their blue jean jumpers and tennis shoes, to the rolled curl of bangs across their foreheads. It was kind of surreal.

Maybe no one would recognize me. Maybe they would just think I was a worldly soul in need of conversion.

Rachel couldn’t let that happen. I was warming myself by the bonfire when I realized that I knew the woman directly across from me. She didn’t notice me until my dear friend announced, “You remember Christy Mills don’t you?”

Her icy glare swept from from the tips of my jeaned legs to the top of my short hair. I’ve never felt so judged and condemned in my life, but I managed a sheepish smile, “Hello, Mrs. So-n-so. How are you?”

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Sometimes I still feel like I am getting glared at – only this time it’s from two sides of the bonfire. Maybe you do too. We don’t fit in with traditional conservative Christians but we don’t fit with the more progressive groups either. Welcome to the awkward middle way.

I imagine David Bennett, author of A War of Loves: The Unexpected Story of a Gay Activist Discovering Jesus feels this way too. Despite his book being absolutely amazing, (seriously, go on Amazon and buy it) David has gotten flack from both sides. The conservatives are upset because he calls himself a gay Christian and identifies as LGBTQ and the progressives are upset because he affirms an Orthodox Christian view of marriage and sexuality and is choosing to be celibate. He can’t win. And yet, there are many people who have joined David in the middle way and are celebrating his journey with him.

Guys, we are great at choosing sides, but what if truth is actually found in tension?

My church talks a lot about tension theology. That’s the idea that we need to hold onto two seemingly opposing truths to have an accurate understanding of reality. We have to embrace the paradox. I’ll never forget the story our pastor told us about trying to put up a trampoline.

Someone gave his family a used trampoline and he decided to surprise the kids by setting it up. Because it was used, it didn’t come with any instructions. However, my pastor managed to get the frame together and started connecting the springs. But the more springs he connected, the harder it got. Although one side was hooked up, the other side wasn’t even close to connecting. “This trampoline is too small,” he thought to himself. No matter how hard he pulled, my pastor couldn’t get the second side of springs to reach.

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Eventually, he took all the springs off and just connected one. Then he walked around to the opposite side, pulled and connected one. After hooking on a spring in each of the four directions, my pastor was able to get all of the springs to stretch and reach. This is the same with tension theology.

Is God holy and just or loving and merciful? He’s both. Predestination or free will? It’s both. Is God three or one? He’s both. See how this goes? It doesn’t always makes sense to our finite minds, but that’s just it. We are the creation not the Creator. It’s okay if we don’t understand it all. In fact, if we can explain everything about God, then our god probably isn’t the Real One. There is much truth that needs to be held in tension.

I heard the phrase Via Media from my good friend, Alexis. Yes, the same friend who talks theology with me over bagels and coffee. Via Media, or the Middle Way was first used religiously by Anglicans to refer to the Church of England as a middle way between the extremes of Roman Catholicism and Puritanism.

I guess people have always been good at extremes.

I love the Via Media because it’s where I seem to fit best these days. I’m just muddling around somewhere in-between the extremes of the right and left: religiously, politically, socially, etc. I refuse to compromise my orthodox view of the Bible and Christianity. But I also refuse to go along with the religious traditions of cultural evangelicalism. I want to passionately love the people God has created, and I want to hold to the actual truth of His Word at the same time. It’s an awkward place, and kind of messy, and I definitely might get stuff wrong, but I’m okay with that. It’s not that I’m compromising, I’m just choosing to hold truths in tension.

I want to dialogue with people who are different than me. I want to learn from people I disagree with. I want to hold my perspective with an open hand. While at the same time continuing to believe in a very big, very real, incredibly amazing God who knows it all. Grace and truth, that is the goal in my pursuit of the awkward middle way. I want to hold tightly to truth in one hand and grace in the other. I want to be like Jesus.

It’s been amazing to find more middle way muddlers lately. Sometimes this journey can be lonely. But together we can be a tribe, a family. Figuring this out together in humility. Giving plenty of grace. Understanding that it’s not really us vs. them and rarely is anything actually black and white. We might get glares from both sides of the bonfire, but that’s okay because Jesus got a lot of glares too.

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You can listen to my corresponding podcast on any of these listening platforms. It’s Episode #15 The Awkward Middle Way.

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The Theology of Me

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Once a month or so my friend, Alexis, and I meet for breakfast. I don’t have many friends who are up for deep theological conversations at 8am, so Alexis is pretty special. We drink coffee, eat bagels, and ponder God. She’s a decade or so younger than me and her perspective on life is refreshing. Alexis was the one who inspired this blog post and corresponding podcast episode when she mentioned a double-sided theology of God.

We are both taking night classes at our church. I’m taking a Bible Study Methods class (which I’ve been consistently talking about on my Facebook page), and Alexis is taking a Theology class. “In order to have an accurate view of God,” Alexis began, “we must believe in His transcendence and immanence.”

Those are big words and I had to look them up.

Transcendence means that God is above us in every way. He is hidden and we can never know Him fully here on earth. But immanence means that God is also with us. He has revealed a portion of Himself to us and He is able to be known.

One of these beliefs about God without the other creates a god that is out of balance. This theology quickly becomes more about me than anything else.

My brain started to spin. How else we have created a Theology of Me within our versions of Christianity?

Maybe it’s because we can’t see God and don’t have daily physical interactions with Him. Or maybe it’s because we are naturally His enemies. But for whatever reason, we humans are constantly misrepresenting the very Real and Living God of the Universe. And we are pathetically good at extremes

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Jumping to a side comes naturally with a black and white or us vs. them mentality. But I think truth is found in tension, in the Awkward Middle Way (that I’ll be talking more about next time), as we hold onto two seemingly opposing truths.

Here is what I see happening in modern Western Christianity.

There are two extreme versions and neither is accurate. One group focuses on God’s love and goodness (as defined by their own opinions). Their god is nice but he is also kind of wimpy. He cares more about people’s happiness and other positive emotions than he does about what they do or don’t do.

The Bible becomes irrelevant as people pick and choose the parts that seem good to them. Somehow, they seem to believe that they are more advanced than the original authors of Scripture or even God himself. Salvation is vague if even necessary at all.

This kind of theology might seem good because it is kind and loving and hopeful, but people are the real gods here and it’s actually a Theology of Me.

The other side holds tightly to truth (as defined by their opinions). They focus on God’s power and rules. Their god is holy and just, but he’s also kind of a manipulative narcissist. He demands correct behavior and good people who are afraid of him.

The Bible becomes a rule book filled with dos and don’ts. Rather than seeing the Bible as the story of God and people, they see it as a recipe box filled with formulas to get desired results. Salvation is often fear based and focuses on behavior.

This version of unbalanced theology might seem like it’s about God, but if you look closely, it’s actually not. I perform. I follow the rules. I get blessings and success because I am a good person. Under the guise of “righteousness,” it’s still a Theology of Me.

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The Living God is either real or He’s not.

And if He is real, then we must accept that He is unlike us, above us, and incomprehensible to us. However, He has also chosen to be with us, and He allows Himself to be known and experienced by us.

When God is God instead of us, we get to live in this beautiful place of tension and mystery. It’s not all going to make sense because He is so much more than we are. But this amazing Living Being wants an actual relationship with us. We have the capacity to know Him. Our relationship with the Real God is not going to be one where we get to call the shots. But it’s one where our questions and doubts are welcome.

In this place of tension, we find a God who is just and holy, but filled with grace and love. He is all-powerful and yet allows us to choose to reject Him. The Bible becomes His revelation to us. I love this next quote.

“The Bible amounts to baby talk, because God is so much more than He can communicate, but the Bible remains true knowledge because God is not different or other than what we see there” Dr. Mike Wittmer.

Salvation is a needed gift from God to us because we could never get back to Him by ourselves, but the only behavior it is based on is the sacrificial behavior of Jesus Christ.

Making ourselves the gods comes naturally as we create gods in our image. But if the Living God is real, and I believe He is, then it’s not our job to create Him, but instead to find Him.

Whichever side of the Theology of Me you find yourself on, I hope that you will stop to consider the possibility of a tension filled Living God who is both far above us and near enough to be known.

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You can listen to my corresponding podcast on any of these listening platforms. It’s Episode #14 The Theology of Me.

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I’m Just Here for the Broken Ones

Christy Lynne Wood

My grandpa loved burnt cookies. That last pan that got forgotten in the oven, the extra crispy ones with the hard brown edges that no one else wanted to eat, those were his favorites. When my grandparents came to visit, he always had the same question for my mom. “Got any burnt cookies?”

At first I thought he was joking or just trying to make my mom feel better if she’d burnt any. But as I grew up, I realized that my grandpa was actually serious. One of thirteen siblings, his mom was just a little busy and burnt cookies were often the result. Strangely, Grandpa not only got used to burnt cookies, he actually preferred them. I recently learned that various relatives would burn a pan for him on purpose. Good old Grandpa!

It makes me think of Jesus. As people, especially in our virtual world of social media, we value having it together. It’s important that we are looking good, behaving well, or at least pretending. But while He was on earth, Jesus seemed to prefer the broken ones, choosing to make rejected people His closest friends. He was always pursuing the outcasts and the obvious sinners. I think He was a little bit like my grandpa.

I love imagining Jesus coming in with outstretched hands and a smile, “I’m just here for the broken ones.”

I’m just here for the broken ones.

We’re all broken. Some of us are just better at hiding it than others. The tax collectors and prostitutes that Jesus befriended weren’t any worse sinners than the Pharisees. Sin isn’t just outward behaviors.

We desperately need a bigger understanding of a lot of things. I think religious Christians often see sin as merely behaviors they need to avoid. Somehow the goal has become outward goodness and our real issues get shoved under the rug and into the closet. Guilt and shame keep them there and as a result many church people never get to fully comprehend grace.

Religion_ I’m too much of a mess. Gotta get it together before I come to God.

Sin isn’t just behavior. It’s the deep self-centeredness that colors everything. It’s in our thoughts, and attitudes, and the motives of our hearts. We cannot get rid of it by ourselves. But we don’t have to!

God doesn’t want good people.

How’s that for a crazy thought? God does not value human effort at goodness. It is utterly impossible for us ever to be good enough on our own. And pride stops grace.

But this is why the gospel is good news. Jesus loves broken people, messed up ones, and total failures. And those are the kinds of people who love Him back. Because they know they need Him, because they know they can’t do it on their own. Because they come humbly to the cross and accept His free gift of forgiveness.

When we are broken, then we are able to be healed. When we are lost, then we are able to be found. When we are a total sinner, then we are able to experience forgiveness. In humility we find abundant grace, and mercy, and love.

Let’s stop trying to cover up our messes. Let’s just be burnt cookies!

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Maybe We Just Weren’t That Special

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“God has big plans for you,” they said.

“You are special; you’ve been chosen,” they declared.

“You are the generation who is going to change the world.”

Our young hearts, full of dreams and hopes, burned with the flame of inspiration. We could do anything through Christ. We were going to change the world!

Twenty or so years later, we are half way through our lives. The world hasn’t been changed. If anything it’s more screwed up than it ever was. Many of us never did anything special and still feel a lingering guilt for conforming to the world. Some of us tried and failed. Maybe it was a quiet failure or possibly a more glorious burning out, but the pain and confusion are still there. Guilt, shame, and disillusionment, we are familiar with these demons. Doubt and questions have long replaced our naive enthusiasm.

If you resonate with any of what I just said, then this blog post is for you. Disillusionment sucks. It really hurts and we can easily start second-guessing so many other things we once believed.

But can I throw out an idea? Maybe we didn’t fail our calling or purpose. Maybe we just weren’t that special to begin with. Maybe we were never supposed to change the world.

 For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope” Jeremiah 29:11 (ESV).

Recognize this verse? Maybe it’s one of the verses they used to try and motivate you to be awesome and do big things. I’ll be honest, I’ve used it myself as a well-meaning youth leader trying to encourage the next generation. It’s an exciting verse full of possibility. But the problem is that when we use it alone, ripped from it’s context, Jeremiah 29:11 loses it’s richness and depth.

It’s not really a promise about doing amazing things and changing the world.

The LORD is talking to Jeremiah about His people Israel that He sent into exile because they refused to obey Him. Torn from their homes and communities and away from their families, they had been taken into captivity in a strange land. The LORD tells them in verses four through ten that they are going to be in this place of captivity for seventy years. Not good news. But He wants them to accept it, settle down, marry and have children, and seek the peace of the places where they have been exiled. God assures them that even in this place of captivity, He has plans for them and that He will give them a future and a hope. This brokenness is not the end.

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It actually gets even better. In verses twelve through fourteen, the LORD tells His people that when they seek Him in this broken place, they will find Him. God assures His people that He wants to be found.

In it’s actual context, Jeremiah 29:11 is not exactly the, dream big and go do awesome stuff because God has a great future for you pep talk, is it? It’s more of a life is broken and it’s not gonna go the way you want, but make the best of it and seek Me because I want you to find Me encouragement.

Guess what, friends? We can’t change the world. And we aren’t supposed to.

“…aspire to live quietly, and to mind your own affairs, and to work with your hands, as we instructed you, so that you may walk properly before outsiders and be dependent on no one” 1 Thessalonians 4:11-12.

Live quietly; mind your own business. It seems like this passage is encouraging obscurity and simple faithfulness rather than awesomeness.

“For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” Ephesians 2:10.

Paul doesn’t say “big works” or “famous works” or “successful works”. He just says good ones. And we know that most good works are simple, small, and unnoticed.

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If you ever sat in a youth group meeting, or a conference, or at a chapel service at camp and listened to a well-meaning leader tell you that you were special, the chosen ones, or the generation that would change the world…

If you ever went to Bible college full of dreams and “the plans that God had for you” only to be completely disillusioned…

If you have served in Christian ministry, fought with blood, sweat, and tears, and gave it your all, only to be burned out, or maybe even burned by the people you were trying to reach…

Please hear me.

You have not failed. You are not a failure, or a washout, or a reject. This is not a one chance thing. God is not done with you. Those are all lies that you need to reject!

What if you were just on the wrong train? We try so hard to make a difference as though  in our own efforts we can change people. But guess what? No program, or church, or sermon, or camp, or mission agency, or youth pastor, or any other kind of human effort can change anyone.

Human religion might be able to control behavior for a while, but the power to transform hearts belongs to only One – the Holy Spirit of Jesus Christ.

So if we aren’t capable of changing the world (and aren’t even supposed to be), what should we be doing?

Getting to know Jesus.

“He has told you, O man, what is good: and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God” Micah 6:8.

There is only one person that we can actually change. Ourselves. And even that actual change has to come from Jesus! But we can chose to seek Him by developing habits that bring Him into the front of our mind and lives. We can search the Scriptures to find Who He truly is. We can learn to listen to the quiet whisper of His Spirit.

We can live faithful, simple lives that dig deep into the people around us. We can serve and love and give. We can use the gifts that God has given us without demanding results. Our lives might not be magnificent, world changing, or even Instagram worthy. But these are the real kinds of plans that God has for us in the middle of our broken world. These are the good works that He has prepared for us before hand. This is the humble way of Jesus. Let’s follow in the obscure steps of our Savior.

“Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant” Philippians 2:5-7.

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My Podcast is Here!

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Creating, editing, and  actually launching a podcast are intimidating things. When I first bought my microphone last October, I never suspected that it would sit unused on my desk for the next six months. Yeah… I’m not great at doing uncomfortable things.

Obedience. It’s hard, frightening, and sometime yucky. But it’s also good. Obedience takes us past our own abilities and out of our comfort zones. It allows the Holy Spirit to become real in our lives.

After realizing that publishing my book was going nowhere, I began to pray about what to do next. Every time I asked, God gave me a one word answer, “podcast.” I was initially excited about podcasting (hence the unused microphone) but actually following through with one made me second guess my abilities. Fortunately there is this wonderful thing called Google which helped me to discover a brilliant step-by-step blog post on how to successfully create and launch a podcast.

It took me two-plus hours to initially record five minutes of episode one. And that first episode was so terrible that I ended up re-recording it so I guess now it’s technically episode eleven. LOL

But here we are. The first four episodes of Looking for the Real God have been released and are available for listening or downloading on:

You will also notice a new Podcast Page on my menu with a direct link. Episode five will be coming next week and I plan on releasing one a week after that. I currently have ten episodes recorded. The first five tell my story while asking questions about religious Christianity across the board. And the next five episodes poke holes in some common lies we often believe about God and ourselves. After that, I have a lot of directions I might go.

I imagine that my podcast will continue to follow a similar theme to my blog as I ask questions and try to figure out more about this crazy, big, amazing God that I know is real and far more than the silly Christianese we often experience in His place.

I’d love to hear any subject suggestions or any other platforms you’d like to listen to my podcast on. Also, if you want a follow up episode on anything you feel needs more explanation or questions. Basically, I’d love your feedback. 🙂 Thanks for being a part of my journey!

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Irony and Apostasy: Finding a Solid Faith

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There is something amazingly ironic about a Christian songwriter and an Evangelical poster-boy announcing they are leaving the faith, and then the lead singer of a Christian rock band nailing the world with the truth. John Cooper, lead singer of the band, Skillet, went viral over the past few days with his bold and honest Facebook post.

Skillet. There was a time when I was pretty sure a Christian rock band like this actually worshiped the devil. Haha! Now I find myself shaking my head and smiling, because this is exactly how the Real Jesus works.

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“What in God’s name is happening in Christianity?” John Cooper asked. ” More and more of our outspoken leaders or influencers who were once “faces” of the faith are falling away. And at the same time they are being very vocal and bold about it. Shockingly they still want to influence others (for what purpose?) as they announce that they are leaving the faith.”

John Cooper has tattoos, sings in a rock band, and wears eyeliner! That’s enough to give many conservative Christians a stroke. But he also stepped up passionately to defend the faith and the God that he loves. I can’t even begin to describe my glee. (Make sure you read his full statement that I linked above if you haven’t already.) This is the Real God…He uses people that don’t fall into the “good Christian” category all the time.

People rarely get this animated about a religion or a belief system. But they do feel this passionately about Someone they know personally. And I think that’s the difference.

People can fall away from a set of rules or beliefs, but if you have encountered the Living Person of Jesus Christ, it’s a different story. It’s really hard to walk away from Jesus; I know that from experience.

SO, WHAT DO WE DO?

I believe that a vibrant Christian faith needs a mix of two things. It needs a balanced mix of truth and experience. If either one of those gets out of wack, we run into problems. Someone once told me that I’m a practical mystic and I kind of like that.

On one side people can get so focused on knowledge, apologetics, and information that their faith is purely intellectual. I’ve heard it said that people who are argued into the faith can just as easily be argued out of it. Knowledge is good; Christian education is necessary. But if that’s all we have, then we are missing something vitally important. Someone.

But on the other side, there are people who are caught up in emotional experience without any knowledge of the Bible, theology, or the historical Christian faith. If this is the case, then our spirituality is based on feelings without any solid ground to stand on. One good wind storm and our faith is shattered.

The answer is found in combination. If you make an effort to learn how to read the Bible in a responsible way, how to understand and apply Scripture, and become familiar with the core tenets of the faith… But you also recognize that God is a Spiritual Being who wants to be active in our lives and you are open to that reality… Boom!

Welcome to the amazing, ridiculous, often backwards Kingdom of Jesus Christ. It’s pretty great in here. 

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There’s a bit of panic among some Christians right now as they watch all these prominent leaders publicly walking away from the faith. But I’m not worried. It’s causing us to have some really great conversations. It’s making us think. It’s giving us an opportunity to reevaluate our Christian faith and what it means to us. Sounds like something the Spirit might be actually be behind…

And the people who have walked away? Their story isn’t over yet. They probably needed to leave their religious Christianity and their impostor Jesus, so that they can eventually find the Real One. God continually pursues people, and if we stop resisting Him and start seeking, we will find Him.

“Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will hear you. You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart” Jeremiah 29:12-13.

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Why I am Still a Christian

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Somewhere in the course of a six hour excursion to Urgent Care on Saturday, in the middle of our less-than-fantastic camping trip, I came across an article on Facebook. It talked about how Joshua Harris, author of the infamous I Kissed Dating Good-bye, announced he was also saying good-bye to his Christian faith. There has been a lot of faith deconstruction going on lately. And if you’ve read other blog posts of mine, you will know that I don’t necessarily think that’s a bad thing. But this one has rocked me.

And the more I’ve looked at articles, checked out blog posts, and read Josh Harris’s own words over on his Instagram, the more broken I feel. I’m going to try to make this blog post cohesive, but there is a lot on my heart, so I hope you will bear with me.

Josh Harris grew up in a very similar environment to me. In many ways we were peers although we never met. We experienced the same rules and formulas, an abundance of fear-based beliefs, and felt an unfortunate amount of pride because “we were special.” He has mentioned all of this over the last few years as he renounced the book he wrote and the beliefs he once held.

Deconstruction is healthy. There is a lot of religious Christianity filled with rules and formulas and twisted truth that many of us need to ditch. But I wish there was a safe, grace-filled place for people to deconstruct with hope. (If they want to.)

It often feels like when people are going through deconstruction the only place to safely land is in liberal Progressive Christianity or agnostic/atheistic worldviews. People who hold these views seem to be much better at encouraging and championing deconstruction than most traditional Christians. Traditional Christians tend to be afraid of questions and lost faith. Too often they are quick to condemn, label, or hand out useless Christianese answers.

Why can’t we just be kind to one another? Encourage questions? Be okay with doubt? Give grace? Try to understand where people are coming from? Let them have the time they need to heal?

I am devastated by the horrible things people who call themselves Christians have said to and about Josh Harris via blog posts and comments. These were public, so I can’t even imagine what he has received privately. Seriously people, being told hundreds of times that “you were never really a believer” by self-righteous, religious Christians will not encourage anyone to rethink Jesus. It makes me so angry I just want to punch something through my tears.

If God is real (and I absolutely believe He is), then He is not diminished by our doubts. He is not angered by our questions. If anything, as our Creator, He is the one who understands us the most. He is big enough and loving enough to handle them all.

If you are someone who is questioning, doubting, or walking away, I don’t want you to feel condemnation from me. But I also don’t want you to think that the only option is to reject everything you’ve ever believed. (However, if you need to leave it all for a while, I get that too.) There is a tricky, messy, sometimes confusing, middle way.

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People have asked me why I am still a Christian after coming out of my cultic sub-culture of Christianity. It’s a good question, and one I have been rethinking yet again the last couple of days.

Honestly, the decade I spent in my fundamental, legalistic version of Christianity isn’t the only time I have been hurt by Christians. I have a very clear and more recent memory of falling off of my bed, sobbing, wanting to die, and wondering if anything I believed was even real. I know what it is to be wounded by religion. But here I am championing our search for the Real God while holding on to historical Christian beliefs. Why?

I have a lot of reasons 🙂 but here are my top three.

  1. Two-thousand years of Christian history. I’ve loved listening to all of the smart people talk on Alisa Childer’s podcast the last few months. From scientists, to philosophers, to New Testament scholars, these people have serious intellectual reasons to believe in God, Jesus Christ, and the historical creeds of our faith. It’s ridiculously encouraging.
  2. Jesus. Both as a historical figure, and the man I believe was also God, Jesus is crazy amazing. If the Real God could love us enough to come as a person we could relate to, both to save us and to show us a glimpse of His heart, well, that’s a God I want to know. In the middle of man-made, religious Christianity, Jesus gives me hope. The more I understand about Him culturally and historically, the more I am blown away. He is nothing like we expect God to be and I love that about Him!
  3. Finally, I’ve met a Real and Living Presence. Probably more than anything else, this is why I’m still a Christian. For me to walk away from the faith, I’d have to walk away from a Being that I know and love. And I just can’t do that.

So, while I’m willing to question the traditions, the formulas, the silly Christianese phrases, and the many terrible ways we use the Bible, I choose to do it through the lens of a very Real God. A God that I definitely don’t always understand, but Who I believe is good, and loving, and on the side of the people He created.

Speaking of this, I’m launching my new podcast in just four weeks! It’s been a long and slightly terrifying process. But it’s nearly together, and I’m excited to share it with you and whoever else finds it and wants to join me in looking for the Real God.

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I’ll warn you, if you are someone who wants to deconstruct without God or without picking through the broken pieces of religious Christianity, then this podcast probably isn’t for you. But if you find a longing in your heart for more, if you have hope that God is real, then please come along for the ride!

And, Josh Harris, if for some reason you find this post and read this far, I want you to know that I get it. You have a lot of religious crap to unpack and sometimes that’s easier to do by just dropping everything. Sometimes the God we think is real needs to die, so that the REAL God can be. It’s okay to wonder, and question, and doubt. If God exists, He is big enough and loving enough to handle it all. I’m sorry for the terrible things people who call themselves Christians have said to you. I love that you have hope as you begin this new journey, and I hope that you eventually find yourself at a place where you can begin to search for God again.

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What if Salvation is More Like an Ambulance Ride?

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It started with a podcast. I’ve been mentioning Alisa Childers on my Facebook page and blog for a couple of months now. Her podcast and its interviews of various incredibly-smart-Christians has been rocking my brain. And I love it.

My husband, who also started listening to Alisa Childers, found this particular two-part series first. Consistent with his systematic approach to life, my husband started at the beginning and has been slowly working his way through the episodes in numerical order. My approach is more haphazard. Basically I just scroll through the options, see what sounds interesting, and listen to that.

Anyway, my husband asked if I’d listened to the podcasts on Molinism yet. He went on to say that he didn’t really like these episodes because they were complicated and confusing. He also didn’t think he agreed with the guest who seemed to say that everyone was saved unless they rejected Jesus.

What in the world was Molinism? I’d never heard of that before. I expected it to be some strange cult that Alisa and her guest were refuting, but my husband said that they appeared to agree with the theology. I skeptically checked out the podcasts the next day.

And I’ve been thinking and processing ever since.

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Photo credit: Wikipedia

Molinism refers to the teachings and theology of Luis de Molina, a Jesuit priest and scholar from Spain who lived in the 1500s. Molina was part of the Reformation, but unlike more well-known reformers such as Luther and Calvin, Luis de Molina chose to stay within the Catholic Church and try to reform it from the inside out. His attempts didn’t work since the Church rejected his teachings.

Molina attempted to reconcile the Scriptures that talk about free will with the Scriptures that also talk about the sovereignty of God. Rather than reject the idea of human free will, like John Calvin, Luis de Molina saw the opportunity for both. He suggested the concept of Middle Knowledge: that God not only knows everything that has and will happen, He also knows all of the “what ifs” that lie in-between. To put it in more modern terms, God knows all of the different timeline possibilities (thank you Avengers). Therefore, God is still sovereign and totally in control, but in at least some instances, He allows humans to choose. This concept is known as Libertarian Free Will.

This intense theological thinking definitely boggles my mind and I know it’s an intellectual stretch from some of my other blog posts. But, I really believe that wondering about theology is good for us! Paul told the Philippians to, “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling” (Philippians 2:12-13).

As I skeptically listened to the podcast episodes, Alisa and her guest, Tim Stratton, starting discussing analogies regarding salvation. They agreed that salvation is totally the work of God and tried to explain what little part we play in it. Alisa suggested that salvation is like a sick person going to the doctor and being given medicine. It’s their choice to take the medicine or not. But Tim wanted to take it a bit farther and this is where I’ve been stuck ever since.

He roughly quoted author Kenneth Keathley’s  Ambulatory Model of Overcoming Grace. I know this because after I heard the episode, I looked it up. Here is the blog post on Tim Stratton’s website called FreeThinkingMinistries.com.

And here is Kenneth Keathley’s model in his own words.

“Imagine waking up to find you are being transported by an ambulance to the emergency room. It is clearly evident that your condition requires serious medical help. If you do nothing, you will be delivered to the hospital. However, if for whatever reason you demand to be let out, the driver will comply. He may express regret and give warnings, but he will still let you go. You receive no credit for being taken to the hospital, but you incur the blame for refusing the services of the ambulance.”

Tim Stratton, after discussing this ambulance model said these words that have embedded themselves in my brain ever since, “If you do nothing, they will save you.”

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My brain struggled to reconcile this new idea with the theology I’d always been taught. But my heart resonated with a God who was this big and loving. I cried my way through the rest of the podcast.

The idea within this Molinistic view is that God’s grace and forgiveness is available to everyone. (Something I agree with.) We are able to resist God’s grace and reject Jesus. (Something I also agree with.) However, if we do not resist, God will bring us to the place where He saves us. (A new concept I am still wrestling with and yet find myself wanting to accept.)

If you do nothing, they will save you.

When I think about this Ambulance Model regarding personal salvation, I totally resonate with it. Waking up in an ambulance and allowing your EMT’s to take you to the hospital requires just a couple of minor things from you. First, you have to become aware that you are in trouble and need saving. And second, you have to recognize that these guys can save you. Then you have to let them. Is it just me, or does this just scream the Real Jesus?

It’s not Universalism, the idea that everyone goes to heaven no matter what, although I supposed people could take it that way. I am not a Universalist, nor do I intend to ever go there. I’m not saying that by doing nothing, or staying neutral, we will be saved. I still strongly believe Jesus’ words in John three.

“Whoever believes in him (Jesus) is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son” John 3:18.

Jesus death on the cross is the only way to be saved. But, too often God gets viewed as distant and angry. Religious Christianity says that we need to do the right things in order to appease Him. Salvation becomes something we attempt to achieve by a series of correct behaviors.

What if the Divine Trinity is more like a team of EMT’s? They not only want to save us, they are fully capable of doing it. All we have to do is agree that we need saving and let them save us. Just do nothing. 

“For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast” Ephesians 2:8-9.

As much as I adore this view of salvation, I also love this picture of sanctification. So much of our relationship, or rather our lack of a relationship, with God is based on resistance. Whether it’s lies we believe about Him or about ourselves, an idolatrous love of earthly things, or sin we refuse to let go of, it often feels impossible to change. But what if real life and healing is found in letting go? What if repentance is simply changing our mind and admitting that we need saving? If you do nothing, they will save you.

It’s also called surrender.

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Could the Real God be so big, and so powerful, and so full of love, grace, and forgiveness that if we do nothing He will save us? From sin? From lies? From ourselves?

“For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery” Galatians 5:1.

My guess is that when we stop resisting, He will come close. He will do the work He has wanted to do for a long time. We will be amazed at His love and mercy, and His indescribable beauty will cause us to love Him in return. Because we love Him, we will want to obey Him and through that obedience we will experience even deeper closeness. By doing nothing, we will find the life that is truly life.

Imagine that you are on that gurney in the back of the ambulance. What does it look like for you to lie still and let the Holy Team of EMT’s save you?

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Down the Rabbit Hole and Back Again

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I was surprised to read a week ago Thursday that Progressive Christian author, blogger, and speaker Rachel Held Evans had been in a medically induced coma for the past two weeks. And then I was even more shocked last Saturday to hear about her death.

I’ve been down a rabbit hole of thought and research ever since.

Rachel’s second book, Faith Untraveled, was one of three books I read eighteen months ago when I was trying to learn from people that I disagreed with while processing my own recent church hurt. Of the three books I read during that time, Rachel’s was the hardest for me. We were so similar in many ways. There were many paragraphs that I felt like I could have written myself. We saw problems within the mainstream evangelical church through almost parallel eyes. I loved her raw honesty and wit. But just as I would start to agree, we would both take an abrupt right angle turn and end up at polar opposite conclusions.

As I’ve read reviews and excerpts of Rachel’s more recent books over the past few days, I know that there isn’t much we would have agreed on theologically. And yet we both felt the emptiness of religious Christianity, and we both grieved the pain people have caused in the name of Jesus. Rachel was passionate, fierce even, with a strength that I recognize in myself. I think that’s probably why I was so irritated with her while she was alive. Our “truths” definitely did not align. And yet I can’t help but admire the intentional way she lived.

It’s easier to ignore people and ideas that we don’t agree with than to face them. As I’ve journeyed down this rabbit hole of progressive thought the past few days, I’ve just been faced with the overwhelming amount of people who have been terribly hurt by the church, by Christians. Well-meaning or not, people who claim the name of Jesus have left a trail of wounded in their dust. That’s not okay. The rabbit hole is exhausting and I feel overwhelmed and under-qualified to address the issues and lies and pain.

The pull of Progressive Christianity with it’s focus on love and relative truth is attractive. It’s inclusive and comfortable and happy. And if the only other option was Bible Thumpers who want to quote verses and force me to behave while ignoring my questions and doubts, then I’d become a Progressive too. But, as I’ve said so many times before, there aren’t only two options. The world is not black and white.

Despite everything humans have done to prove otherwise over the years, God is Real. He is more real than the chair I’m sitting in or the iced chai latte I’m drinking. I know because I’ve met Him and He has radically changed my life. I’ve met the Living Presence that is the Spirit of Jesus Christ. Jesus who came as a human being to show us the Father and the way back home. Not just by living a life we are supposed to emulate, but by being the Way, the Truth, and the Life. We aren’t going to find Him by finding our own truth. The truth is Jesus and we will only find the truth as we discover Him – not the other way around.

In the time between when I started this blog post and today as I finish it, I stumbled across a podcast by Alisa Childers. She is a historical Christian who loves apologetics. I’ve been absolutely devouring her show. The incredibly intelligent people she interviews amaze me.

I would also identify these days as a historical Christian. All that means is that we believe in the historical view of Christianity passed down for the last 2000 years. We agree with the early creeds and views about the Bible, Jesus, salvation, and God Himself. This contrasts with the progressive view of Christianity which is more fluid and less literal.

I have no plans of becoming a apologist, and you probably won’t even notice in my blog posts or social media that I am listing to all of this intellectual stuff. But I feel like it’s a solid base for me to have as I work my way towards a podcast of my own.

I’m going to continue questioning ritual, tradition, and Christianese cliches. And I’m going to continue to point people back to the Real Jesus. People mess up the truth when they start putting in their own twists and spins on either side of the spectrum. My story is proof of that!

More than anything else, I long for you to know the Real Jesus. He exists and He wants to be found.

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The Nature of Worship

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But as I peered through the dimness at the crowd surrounding me, singing with closed eyes and raised hands, I felt a question flash through my mind. Are we really worshiping? Or are we simply being emotionally manipulated by well-meaning people?

I don’t mean to come across as cynical. I like singing. I enjoy a good musical worship service. But I also know that if we are going to develop a genuine relationship with the Real God, we must be grounded in truth.

Music is powerful. It has the potential to move us at a deep emotional level whether it’s secular or religious. But does worship automatically equal music? Those two words are often synonymous in the Christian culture. Or is worship something much bigger?

My brother led worship for years both on a traveling revival team and professionally at a church. He is a gifted musician and composer. One day he called me to talk about a book he was reading by Elizabeth Esther called Spiritual Sobriety. The premise of this book is that many of us are religious addicts looking for the next spiritual high rather than people who are actually connected to the real God.

I remember my brother telling me about planning  worship services. He said that looking back, he knows there was emotional manipulation involved. It was done with good intentions of getting people to have a worship experience, but it was manipulation none the less. As a musician, he knew that if they played this succession of songs with that chord and those beats, people would feel something. It was convicting to him.

What if much of our musical worship experiences are just that, emotional manipulation?

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If that is the case, it makes sense why we feel a high at retreats or conferences and then come back down to earth once we get home. Feelings are a beautiful thing created by God and they should not be discounted or ignored. However, we can’t live securely based on feelings alone. They are like shifting sand that moves with the waves under our feet. We need a rock to stand on. We need truth.

What is true worship?

Historically, people came to temples to worship their gods. Many also had shrines within their homes. They brought sacrifices to appease the gods and hopefully gain a desired outcome. This still happens around the world today. While music is often involved, it’s just a part of the worship experience. In the Old Testament, even Jehovah was worshiped in a temple with sacrifices. Worshipers came with offerings of animals, grain, and wine to gain forgiveness and blessings.

Jesus changed all of that. Through Jesus, God offered the ultimate sacrifice and appeased Himself. Now the Bible says that we are the temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 6:19). What does that mean? What does that look like? What do these truths do to the concept of worship?

The Westminster Shorter Catechism asks this question: What is the chief end of man? It then give this answer: The chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.

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What if real worship is just enjoying God?

Because of Jesus’ death and resurrection we have full and total access to God. Because God sacrificed Himself and no longer requires appeasement, we don’t have to go to a temple to worship. We are the temple and God lives within us when we trust in Jesus as our Savior. We are able to enjoy God everywhere and doing anything.

Can we worship God through music? Absolutely! But I can also worship Him driving in the car in silence, taking a walk through nature, eating at a favorite restaurant, serving in the church nursery, etc. The possibilities are endless. If worship is just enjoying God, then there is a lot to enjoy!

As Jesus talked to the Samaritan woman in John chapter four He said,

“The hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father…but the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and in truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship Him” John 4:21, 23.

When you feel tingles and tears as you worship corporately with powerful music and lights and raised hands, please realize that the same God is present with you when you feel numb and dead inside and cannot sing at all!

Strong emotion does not necessarily mean worship. Feeling emotion does not indicate God’s Presence. He is with us always whether we feel Him or not. And you can truly worship without intense feelings. Emotions can be fun, but facts and faith must come first. 

Guys, although the Real God is enormous and powerful, holy and passionate, and although He could come in a hurricane and sweep us off our feet, He is usually quiet and still. He is close, so close. He is a Living Presence that can sneak up and overwhelm you when you least expect it. (Like just now when I typed those words and then had to sit in silence with hands raised in surrender and tears dripping down my cheeks.)

 

 

As you worship corporately in church, or don’t, I hope you take some time to contemplate the nature of true worship. Music is just one way to enjoy the God who created us and loved us enough to be The Way Back. Emotions might come as you worship God, but they are a byproduct of worship and not the experience itself. I’d love to hear your thoughts as well as your favorite places and ways to worship God. 🙂

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