Monthly Archives: April 2011

Judging 2 (aka I’ma tell ya how ta live)

So I had a post that generated discussion.  Weird.  Judgment 1 looked at a situation specific to one pastor judging another for perceived heresy, but judgement and judgmentalness is a common theme both among Christians that I talk to and people of other faiths or non-faiths that I talk to about Christians.  The word “hypocrite” gets thrown around much more often than “heretic” and the perception is of a people that think they’re Better-thans, Always-rights, and… well… jerks.  This is what people think of those living in the shadow of the Humble King.  Apparently we suck.


A lot of Christians find confusion between passages that say “do not judge lest ye shall be judged,” and others that say “expel the immoral brother,” or show Jesus tearing someone a new one for being a giant douche. As Christians are we called to judge people? Scripture seems to imply it, but it also says we shouldn’t? What’s up with that?

The balance that I’ve found comes in understanding the difference between a constructive judgment and a coercive judgement. A constructive judgement seeks to hold someone accountable to the standards that they profess to hold, while a coercive judgment tries to hold them to YOUR standard.  When Paul said that apart from the Law there was no sin, he’s giving a nod to this.  You can’t judge someone for failing to live up to a benchmark they’ve never subscribed to.  It’s jumping the cue.  It’s the cart before the horse.  It’s arrogance.  It’s destructive.

“Mehwahwahwah, the Gospel is offensive, Aaron, wah wah,” some people are saying.  Maybe.  Maybe it’s the way you present it.  The Gospel is Good News.  Start with Good News.  First people need to accept the Gospel.  Then they need to accept the standard.  Then you can constructively encourage them in their desire to keep it.  Well, quite honestly, first they need to accept you, but that’s another post.

“Follow my example as I follow the example of Christ,”  Paul said.  We should all aspire to that, so here it is:  Whenever Jesus is getting judgy, he’s always holding someone up to the standard they’ve set for themselves.  I want to quickly take a look at three examples of Jesus dealing with people who’s actions didn’t meet with his approval:

1. Pharisees
These were the world-class, always-right, religious jerkasses.  They  had hundreds of rules about the Right Way to go about faith and liked people to see them Doing It Right.  They were constantly calling out Jesus for preaching a faith with more grace than theirs, or living in ways “not consistent” with their faith, or hanging out with people who didn’t follow the rules.  Jesus called them Sons of Ghenna.  He ripped into them for keeping nitpicky rules and missing the big ones, the heart of what God wanted from them.

2. The woman caught in adultery
There was this Jewish woman (a member of Jesus’ religion) who was caught by the above jerkasses in the act of adultery.  Under Jewish Law, that was a capital crime, and she could be killed by being bludgeoned to death with large rocks.  The religious people brought her to Jesus thinking that they could put him in a catch 22 with the situation.  Jesus says fine, but you can only throw the first rock if you haven’t screwed up sometime in your life (sinned).  They all disappeared, and Jesus told her he didn’t condemn her.  Huge grace.  Mind blowing intervention.  It didn’t stop there, though.  Jesus told her to “go and leave your life of sin.”  He called what she had done sin!  He held her to the standard of her faith.  The difference was that his correction was gentle and full of grace.  He didn’t make “sin” okay.  He called her to a better life, and he did it without berating her, calling her names, or threatening her with death and the fires of hell to follow it.

3. The Samaritan woman at the well
At one point, Jesus arrives at a town well  in the heat of the day.  No one comes to the town well in the heat of the day.  It sucks.  It’s hot and crappy.  No one wants to carry huge jugs of water when it’s 40 degrees C outside.  Yet here comes this Samaritan woman (not Jewish, in fact, despised by Jews).  She’s willing to brave the heat of the day so she won’t have to talk to people.  Her conscience is bothering her, or at least she’s expecting condemnation.  Shock #1 – Jesus talks to her.  Jesus, a religious leader, a Jewish man, talks to a Samaritan woman.  Shock #2 – in the course of conversation he points out that she’s had multiple husbands and is living with a man who isn’t her husband.  Shock #3 – He leaves it at that.  He doesn’t tell her to go leave the dude she’s shacking up with.  He doesn’t call her a slut.  He reveals himself as the gracious messiah, and she runs off in joy to tell everyone she knows.  This is the woman that Jesus choses to be his representative to the Gentiles.  I’m sure the rest took care of itself in time.

So here we are:  People who believe we are in possession of “the Truth”.  How do we live with that?  How do we live out our beliefs in the presence of people who don’t believe what we do?  How do we deal with people who believe that they have “the Truth” but it’s different from what we believe “the Truth” is?  The fact is, among Christians, we do have the responsibility to call into question actions that don’t line up with the faith we profess, if only to “keep the name of God from being blasphemed among the Gentiles”.  Sometimes that may mean having a frank discussion about theology.  Sometimes that might mean pointing out to someone that they’re being a judgmental douchebag.  Some people might want to point out that it’s inappropriate to call someone a douchebag.  I’d point out that Douchebag is a much less harsh thing to call someone than Son of Ghenna, but that’s neither here nor there.  I’d expect (and regularly receive) the same correction, whether I’m happy to hear it or not.  The thing of it is that, unlike Jesus, we don’t have the license to always be right.  There are things that are veiled.  There is definitely some Black and White in the Christian faith, but in between is the Greyce we live most of our lives in.

Judge me with a gracious heart.  Call me out on stuff because you love me and want to see my life become better.  Respect that I’m living as best as I know how.  Understand that I have reasons, well-thought and considered, for believing what I do.  I’ll do the same for you, and maybe something more productive will happen than throwing stones.

Hell Loses? Rob Loses? (Judgement 1)

This post is taken from a response to a question a Facebook friend asked.  Now that the furor has settled somewhat in the Love Wins war dance, I feel like maybe I can post this without being run up the flagpole and dropped on top of it.

The question was:my pastor friend is very outspoken about Rob Bell. Very anti-Rob. Commenting about Rob’s comment “there is no literal hell”  …  My pastor friend says “he said it” – [I say] there’s no proof.   My pastor friend appears to want to “get” Rob.  “Call out the brother”.   Do you think that is judging? I mean, who says the pastor friend has all of his facts straight?

This is the kind of stuff available for those that desire to judge Rob Bell (Note the red and black theme and scary-ass picture that looks like a wolf tearing the head off a sheep):

My response:

It’s a tough call. I think that your pastor friend is probably acting out of good conscience, if a bit of hubris. Rob is slippery. He’s a master wordsmith that speaks and writes at a level we should all aspire to. We just don’t tend to notice because he does it so naturally. People get suspicious of him on those grounds, though, and read carefully between the lines, hence the “no proof”.

Please keep in mind that I haven’t read the book, but it really comes down to how you define a “literal hell”. “Literally,” hell just means “covered up,” referring to the unknowable afterdeath ( Any other meaning has been read into it connotatively.

To say that Rob doesn’t believe in a “literal” hell is wrong. The excerpts I’ve seen from the book clearly point to a physical/spiritual place that the soul enters after death. He is even clear that within that place, there is the possibility of separation from God, or being gathered into his presence. Up to there, we’re completely orthodox.

The separation starts to come on three fronts, the first being the nature of the separation from God, the second being criteria for admission into his presence, the third being the nature of eternity. The biggest thing people seem to be bent out of shape on is the criteria for admission, as Rob seems to be willing to lower the bar more than most evangelical Christians.

It’s the first and third point, though, that get him in trouble in the “literal” debate. First, most evangelicals equate “hell” with “Ghenna” or “Tartarus”. Rob rightly questions whether when Jesus said “Ghenna” he was referring to a state of punishment after death, and in what I believe is a hermenutically sound way. Other people disagree. Ghenna was a proper, physical place, with spiritual connotations of national judgement, refuse, and destruction. There is a very real possibility that Jesus’ audience would have understood it in those tones, and we get our understanding through reading alternate mythology back into it. In the Greek mythological system, Hades (the underworld) was a divided one. Tartarus was the only section that carried punishment for the deeds of life. In the Greek NT, there is a definite distinction, since Hades is used most of the time (and does not connote punishment although we tend to read it that way), and only ONCE is Tartarus used (in connection with the devil, not humanity). I like to keep original intent and understanding in mind as much as possible. Rob seems to land on the side that there is no place of eternal torture of unbelievers after death, but a self-chosen refusal to enter into God’s grace. That’s not the “literal” hell that most people understand (fire and pitchforks and lava and bad goatees).

On the third point, Rob suggests that separation from God or the choice to dwell in his presence is a modern reality – that eternity isn’t as separate from now as we like to make it. People alive are “literally” in hell while they are broken from relationship with their creator God. Once again, this isn’t the “literal” hellfire and brimstone Hell that has become accepted tradition.

All that is a long winded answer to a question you didn’t ask though…

Is he judging? Yes. He’s judging on the criteria and “facts” that he understands and was taught. Who says that all his “facts” are straight… realistically, they’re judged the same way the Christian church has decided theological “facts” for the past 2000 years: debate, consensus, and politics. The biggest problem is that they’re arguing semantics without agreeing on definitions. Your pastor friend is right, Rob does say that “there is no literal hell” (or at least “there might not be a literal hell”) as your pastor friend would define “literal hell”.

People who have a problem with what Rob is saying now seem to have always had a problem with Rob, mostly because the Grace he preaches is wider than they like. Now they feel like they have something they can pin him down on; a line of orthodoxy that they can place him on the other side of that would discredit all he’s said up to that point (because if he’s wrong on one point, he’s clearly unreliable, heretical, and wrong on the rest of the things they disagree with).

The judging began long before the “literal hell” debate. Is he in a place to judge? I can’t judge that without judging his heart. Is the judgement coming from a place of anger or bitterness at having his beliefs challenged? Is it coming from arrogance, or the desire to maintain the comfort of his own position? That’s bad judgement. Is it coming from an honest desire to correct a brother on an error in theology? Is he open to discourse on the issue? Is he saying it because he cares about Rob Bell? That’s the kind of judgement we’re called to.

I apparently have too much time on my hands :D😀