Why do we start with “original sin” when the Bible starts with “original good”?
There’s more than one way to tell a story. Theology has its jargon. It often starts with original sin, the result of the fall. These aren’t phrases from Scripture, though Paul does say that one person got us into trouble and one person can get us out (Romans 5:12; 1 Corinthians 15:21).
I love the Christological focus at the heart of everything Paul writes, but Genesis doesn’t use our theological language for Adam’s story. It doesn’t start with original sin. In fact, the first three chapters don’t mention sin at all. It talks about good. A lot. Fifteen times.
Genesis starts with original good. What would change if we told our story this way?
Let’s see how Genesis inspires us to understand the good world and our place in it.
Continue reading “Original good (Genesis 1–4)”
Does this sound odd to you?
Genesis 40:1 (a literal translation)
After these things, it transpired that the cupbearer of the king of Egypt and his baker sinned against their lord, the king of Egypt.
We speak of sinning against God, but in Hebrew, you can sin (ḥā·ṭāʾ) against others too. It got me wondering whether our understanding of sin matches what the Bible says.
I was taught that ḥā·ṭāʾ means “to miss the mark.” That’s in the lexicons (HALOT, 305). But dig deeper and it doesn’t hold up. The 16-volume Theological Dictionary of the Old Testament says:
Continue reading “Why sin is not “missing the mark” (Genesis 40:1)”
Who makes God happy? The sinners? The righteous? What do you think?
Jesus answered that question with three stories. We love the parables: the lost sheep, the lost coin, the lost (prodigal) son. But did we hear the answer he gave?
Continue reading “Who makes God happy? (podcast) (Luke 15)”
The founder of Hillsong in moral trouble.
Australian media are reporting that Brian Houston (Hillsong founder) committed ‘indiscretions’ towards two women, quoting a statement from Phil Dooley (current leader) to Hillsong staff this morning. While Brian isn’t the first church leader to face allegations like these, he is well known in the Australian church and in other parts of the world.
Continue reading “Brian Houston’s scandal”
“Jesus Barabbas? Or Jesus called Christ?” What’s your response to Pilate’s question?
The governor was not convinced Jesus had done anything deserving death (27:23). He knew it was out of self-interest that the leaders had handed him over (27:18). He moved to pacify the crowd by offering a prisoner release, giving them the choice.
It seems both men were named Jesus (though this detail is omitted from some ancient manuscripts of Matthew). Pilate offered the people this choice (27:17):
Who do you want me to release to you?
– Jesus son of Abba (Bar-Abbas), or
– Jesus called anointed leader (Christ)?
Jesus was a relatively common name, meaning The Lord saves (compare Matthew 1:21). It’s the Hebrew name Joshua. But these two Jesuses have radically different views on how to save God’s people.
Continue reading “Which Jesus do you want? (Matthew 27:15–26)”
Not just what to think but how to think on a controversial topic.
My first degree (B Th) was from a Bible college in the American Mid-West. One of the things I wasn’t prepared for was how many church people owned guns and said they would use them to protect themselves.
Guns are a big topic in the US, so it’s refreshing to see some good scholars engaging this debate. Two professors from Fuller Theological Seminary have collated the work of seven others in a new book called God and Guns: The Bible Against American Gun Culture published by Westminster John Knox Press in November 2021.
Now another NT scholar is blogging his responses. Ben Witherington III is someone I consult regularly (most recently 2 days ago). His understanding of how rhetoric functioned in the social setting of the New Testament is second to none. That’s why it was such a thrill to tour Israel with him back in 2014.
So, if you’re interested in how some good American Bible scholars think about this topic, Ben’s blog posts are your way in:
Continue reading “God and Guns”
How could Jesus be tried and condemned for the sin of blasphemy?
“Speak against me, and you speak against God!” That kind of manipulation is common from cults to Catholicism, from micromanagers to megachurches. That’s what motivated Caiaphas to tear his garments at Jesus’ trial with the accusation, He blasphemed! (26:65)
Continue reading “Why was Jesus accused of blasphemy? (Matthew 26:59–66)”
As Zechariah calls the exiles home, he sees two explanations of why they went to Babylon.
Read Zechariah 5.
Zechariah began with God’s promise that he would return to reign over his people if they returned to him from Babylon (1:3). Like a married couple getting together after a separation, it’s important that they don’t just repeat the mistakes of the past. They need to learn from their ancestors’ mistakes (1:2-6).
God promised he would restore his leaders for the community, the high priest and the Davidic king. They would lead God’s people to rebuild the temple where God would be present among them and lead his people (Zechariah 2–4).
But why did God send them into exile in the first place? That’s what the two visions of Zechariah 5 address.
Continue reading “Why exile? (Zechariah 5)”
Ask why Jesus died on the cross, and people usually tell me he died in my place, to forgive me for my sins. Shortly we’ll be looking at the explanation Jesus gave at his last supper, but listen to how Matthew introduces the passion narrative, Jesus’ looming death:
Continue reading “Why did Jesus die? (Matthew 26:1-5)”
What do you see when you look at people?
When you look at people, what do you see? Original sin, or original kingdom?
Since at least the fourth century, theologians have described the essential human state as original sin. Adam and Eve lost their pure identity and become corrupt, so the children they produced received their corrupted nature. Their children passed on this corrupted nature, so every human is already corrupted at birth. On this view, the whole of humanity is corrupt: conceived in sin, sinful by nature at birth, forever doomed, unless God does a work of grace to change an individual’s status.
But that doesn’t match what Jesus saw in people. The disciples thought people were pestering Jesus, so they stepped in to triage and divert the less significant ones: the children. Jesus said they were seeing the children the wrong way. Literally translated, Jesus described the children like this: The kingdom of heaven is such (Matthew 19:14).
That’s a very different view of what it means to be human.
Continue reading “Original kingdom, or original sin? (Matthew 19:14)”
Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!
Prophets see things. When John the Baptizer saw Jesus approaching, he saw “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29).
Did you see that? If I hear Scripture as a story about me, I may substitute a message that Jesus takes away my sins. That’s not what John said.
Imagine a world where sin has gone — where the Lamb has taken away the sin of the world. What’s it like? What do you see? Continue reading “Hope for the world (John 1:29)”
What God is doing is effective: it will transform the world.
You might think it’s always off, but Eurovision really is off this year (2020).
That didn’t stop a Dutch team using a computer to generate a new Eurovision song. They fed it input from previous Eurovision hits and from social commentary site Reddit. Reportedly, it wrote a song “that crescendos as a robotic voice urges listeners to ‘kill the government, kill the system.’”
Artificial Intelligence (AI) doesn’t create those ideas. It reflects what people say. There must be quite a few anarchists reacting to the oppression and systemic injustice in the world for AI to produce that song.
Unfortunately, many of us in church don’t think of sin like that. I think of sin as my faults, the ones for which I need forgiveness, because that’s how I get saved. We lose the world-transforming power of the gospel when we reduce it to a story about me and how I can get my forgiveness. Sin isn’t just a problem in each individual. It’s the oppressive power that dominates the world, causing all the wars, all the social devastation, all the problems the anarchists react to.
Jesus acknowledged the oppressive power of sin, but offered a very different solution. The problem with “kill the government, kill the system” is that it adds fuel to the fire, feeding the cycle of violence. Jesus’ radical idea was to replace the cycle of violence (the power of sin) with God’s reign.
Jesus took no sword to Caesar. He took the cross from Caesar. Continue reading “Solving the world’s problems”
So what’s it like at your place during the lockdown? Too quiet? Too noisy? Bored kids? Angry adults? Binged the whole series already? Missing friends? Missing income?
The goal is to keep safe at home, but home is not a safe place for everyone. Our tensions are stretched by fear. If your place is fine, spare a thought for those who are struggling. One in four Australian women has experienced physical or sexual violence by an intimate partner. For men it’s about one third that rate. So, if your church has 200 adults, 33 of them will have experienced partner violence. Know who are they are? How are they doing? Continue reading “Supporting families during lockdown”
How you love tells us how you use power.
Language expresses culture. Abusive language rises in a culture of abuse. “F. you” is so common that we no longer hear it as a curse, wishing sexual abuse on someone.
Four-letter words are the language of power and humiliation — a graphic verbal image of the powerful forcing themselves on the humiliated. It’s a snapshot of what’s wrong with the world, the culture of injustice.
There’s a world of difference between genuine love and screwing people over. Continue reading “Sex and power (Ephesians 5:1–5)”
What we say reveals who we’re speaking for.
Want peace on earth? There’s a message that can deliver it. No, it’s not “Everybody try harder!” It’s the announcement that the hostilities are over because God has rescued humanity from the warring factions of evil, into the reign of his anointed. That’s the good news of salvation.
Words matter. Continue reading “The scent of your words (Ephesians 4:29 – 5:2)”
Jesus never called us to condemn the sin of the world, but he did call us to confront sin in the church.
Today the High Court of Australia overturned Cardinal Pell’s conviction.
Previously I said, “Let’s be cautious about assuming that you or I know better than the jury … Let’s await the outcome of the appeal.”
Now, let’s be cautious about assuming you or I know better than the high court judges who unanimously decided that the evidence should not have led to a conviction.
I’m devastated. When a church leader is exposed as a child-abuser, our nation has another reason to hate the church and despise our message.
Silence the excuses! It makes no difference whether you’re Catholic or Protestant. It won’t do to wonder if the courts got it wrong. A manager in the household of God has been found guilty of abusing the trust placed in them to care for the children in the family.
The nearest Jesus ever came to recommending capital punishment was this: Continue reading “The scandal of George Pell”
Yesterday Steve McAlpine posted on the scandals that keep recurring in our mega-churches. He wants to help us break the cycle by recognizing the shape abusive leadership takes:
The recurring central theme to these scandals is the manner in which a concerned, godly eldership is first enervated by an increasingly toxic church leader, then replaced by that church leader, before finally being excoriated publicly by that church leader, with the new leadership on stage leading the tomato throwing exercise. …
That’s the pattern. It’s that simple. You could throw it in with the seven or so Hollywood standard movie scripts that exist and it wouldn’t look out of place, so step-by-step, formulaic it is.
Why does this keep happening? Steve offers two suggestions, and I’d like to take this further. Continue reading “Those mega-church scandals”
If the gospel isn’t a message about personal guilt, why did Jesus commission his followers to announce “repentance for the forgiveness of sins in his name?”
My friend Tim Healy has responded with a great question. We’ve been emphasizing that the gospel of the kingdom is good news of the restoration of God’s kingship, liberation of the earth through his anointed ruler (Christ, our Lord). Over the last 2000 years, the Western church has veered towards a message about individual guilt. We need to recover the blazingly good news Jesus announced and enacted.
Here’s Tim’s question:
Continue reading “Forgiveness of sins (Luke 24:47)”
How does Jesus’ gospel differ from the way we present the gospel today?
Jesus announced good news. He was good news because he restored God’s kingship (Matthew 4:23; 9:35; 24:14). He was good news for those who’d missed out (11:5). He was good news for the whole world (26:13).
To announce the gospel is to announce Jesus — God’s anointed ruler (Christ), Son of the heavenly sovereign (Mark 1:1). The way Jesus told it, proclaiming the gospel sounds like this: “It’s time! God’s reign has arrived! Turn to his authority! Place your trust in the good news!” (Mark 1:14-15).
Unfortunately, that’s not the gospel presented by many Evangelical/Charismatic churches today. What passes for the gospel sounds more like the story of a naughty child.
It goes something like this: Continue reading “The naughty child story”
Ever worried you’ve committed the unpardonable sin?
You’re a baptized follower of Jesus, but you’ve blown it. Like, really blown it. Have you messed up your one chance to be saved? Have you committed the unpardonable sin? This question has troubled believers for 2000 years.
Are some sins unforgivable? How about these words from Jesus: Continue reading “What’s the unforgivable sin? (Matthew 12:30-32)”