When we defend the Bible, but refuse to read it (by Jayson Bradley)


Columnist George Will tells and interesting story about the battle of Dunkirk in WWII. The German army was bearing down on more than 300,000 allied forces trapped against the ocean. On the evening of May 25, the commander of the British sent this simple, three-word message to London, “BUT-IF-NOT.”

It was immediately recognized as an allusion to the book of Daniel. When faced with execution for not worshiping an idol, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego responded by saying, “Our God who we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and He will deliver us out of thine hand, O king. But if not, be it known unto thee, O king, that we will not serve thy gods . . .” (Daniel 3:17)

These three words were instantly recognized as words of faith . . . and acceptance. These trapped troops were praying for deliverance, but not willing to surrender if it didn’t come. The British responded with an evacuation that included destroyers, passenger ferries, hospital ships, and even fishing vessels. In nine days, 338,226 men were rescued in what has been called the Miracle of Dunkirk.

What’s amazing was that Britain’s biblical literacy in 1940 was strong enough that the import of these three words was immediately recognized. In less than 75 years, things in Britain have changed dramatically. In a recent study of biblical literacy in the UK it was found that:

  • Nearly 30% of adults don’t know that Adam and Eve, David and Goliath, or the good Samaritan are Bible stories.
  • 46% don’t recognize the story of Noah’s Ark as biblical.
  • 54% thought the Hunger Games had a biblical storyline.
  • Dan Brown’s DaVinci Code was recognized as a biblical story by 46% of adults.
  • 27% thought Superman might be a biblical character.

Things stateside aren’t that much better.

In a country where people constantly talk about their reverence for the Bible, not many are reading it. Surveys of American biblical literacy reveal that:

  • Less than 50% of adults can name the four gospels.
  • 60% of adults can name 5 of the 10 commandments.
  • 82% of Americans believe “God helps those who help themselves” is a Bible verse.
  • 12% of adults believe Joan of Arc was Noah’s wife.

What is the church doing to combat this phenomenon? How are we championing an understanding of the book that we’re passionate about defending? There was a time when Sunday school was the church’s answer to biblical education, but it’s getting harder and harder to find church plants that include a Sunday school program or regular, in-depth Bible studies as part of their discipleship strategy.

Many churches offer small groups, which can be a powerful and effective way to grow a sense of community, but often fail to include deep scriptural discussion.

Rescuing the Bible from obscurity

There’s no question that the church needs to find ways to champion and encourage Bible study again. But how? Can we recognize the obstacles? And if so, can we find strategies to overcome them?

I think so.

1. Get people reading again.

Sadly if it isn’t coming through the average person’s Facebook news feed, it’s not getting read. According to the Pew Research Center, only 8% of Americans hadn’t read a single book in 1972. Since 2012, the number of non-book-readers has jumped to 23%—not one print book, ebook, or audiobook.

The church needs to be encouraging people to read as a discipline—particularly Bible reading. The same Pew Research Center study found that about 50% of American adults owned a tablet or e-reader, and over two-thirds of them own a smartphone.

There are so many amazing apps available to help people rediscover the scriptures, many of them absolutely free. Some offer so many helpful tools that people download them and are so overwhelmed that they never use them.

Why not hold a two-week class on some of the apps available? Or maybe find a Bible app that your church loves and work them into the life of the church, including a class on how to get the most out of them?

2. Encourage people to get more involved in kids ministry.

One way to get people into their Bibles is to put them into a position where they need to teach. Kids ministry is a great place to start. And let’s face it, our kids need to have a good grasp of Scripture too.

I don’t know of many churches that don’t have someone working hard just to recruit people to teach our children. It’s a challenge that most of us have experienced. What if your church had a drive to get everyone to spend some time teaching children?

It doesn’t need to be difficult or overwhelming. There is no lack of free lessons to help teachers get the job done, as well as many other places to find great curriculum.  

3. Start a Sunday school equivalent.

Okay, maybe your church isn’t able to set aside time in the morning for Sunday school, but is there another time to when people can gather to study? Can your church host Bible-related classes one night a week? Is there someone who can bring a class into their home? A coffee shop?

If you think people get overwhelmed teaching kids, try asking them to teach other adults. You might have to bust out the smelling salts to revive them. The idea that they have to have all the answers about every biblical mystery can fill the most well-read Christian with dread.

But here’s a secret that I’ve seen reinforced time and time again: creating a culture of people interested in reading Scripture is caught as much as it’s taught. There is something that seems to happen organically when people begin reading the Bible together. They grow in their enthusiasm, and the people around them start to get interested too.

Leading a class doesn’t have to be overwhelming. There are plenty of books and curriculums available—leaders can even create their own lessons quite easily.

Don’t just defend it; read it.

Millar Burrows, biblical scholar and leading authority on the Dead Sea Scrolls, once said, “What we really need, after all, is not to defend the Bible but to understand it.” This couldn’t be more true.

The church doesn’t need people who simply venerate Scripture, she needs people who are so familiar with it that they can’t help but live by it. It’s time to make that a priority again.

e33c314673cdfa6616b6c5d89d3439bcJayson D. Bradley is a God-botherer, writer, audiophile, musician, social media consultant and strategist. You can find him at JaysonDBradley.com and on Facebook.


Image credit: Patrick Feller on Flickr

How my daughter is teaching me to pray again



I suck at prayer.

I know how to do it. Like many Christians, I know the Lord’s Prayer by heart—in both King James and New International Versions. I’m fluent in the evangelical, freestyle form of prayer, and I’m increasingly conversant in the more liturgical collects of my new(ish) spiritual home, the Anglican tradition.

But outside of church and putting my daughter to bed at night, I pray very little. And I’m not sure how much weight those bedtime prayers carry; most are little more than a laundry list of people and things we want God to bless.

Often when I tell someone I’ll keep them in my prayers, I whisper one under my breath right then and there—just so I (technically) haven’t broken my promise when I fail to pray for them later.

The older I get, the harder it is to pray—or maybe the easier it’s become not to pray.

Maybe as we get older—and as uncertainty mingles with our once-childlike faith—it becomes harder to pray to a God who might not even be there, as that voice in the back of our head reminds us.

Maybe all those self-absorbed prayers of my youth—God, help me find a spouse. Help me find a job. Help me do this. Give me that.—have lost whatever fleeting therapeutic power they once held.

For whatever reason, I don’t pray as much as I used to.

But lately, my daughter is helping me learn to pray again—by reminding me how very little control I actually have at any given moment.

Nothing dramatic has happened… well, not in the grand scheme of things. Like a million other kids, she started kindergarten this fall. That first day, we dressed her in her uniform (thank God for school uniforms—now there’s a genuine prayer), took the obligatory “first day of school” pictures, and sent her on her way.

Just like that.

For the first time in her young life, she spends most of her waking hours apart from us—beyond our ability to carefully orchestrate her life, to filter what she’s exposed to, to regulate how she spends her time.

To put it another way, we’ve lost the illusion of control.

Which is what got me praying again. Normally, I’m too busy trying to write the script to my own life. When I feel things slipping out of control, my first instinct is to tighten my grip, to maintain the illusion.

But there is no illusion to maintain this time. I’m not in control.

I can’t determine how my daughter turns out or what kind of experience she has at school. I can’t ensure she befriends the “right” people—the ones who treat her and others with kindness. I can’t protect her from every bad experience or influence.

I am so not in control.

So I find myself praying while she’s at school. Praying that God will go with her throughout the day. Praying that she will be unfailingly kind—especially to those on the margins. That she will be strong and outspoken. That she’ll be accepted for who she is and that she will accept others for who they are, too.

I find that our bedtime prayers are changing as well. We still ask God to bless the same laundry list of friends and loved ones each night. But we also pray about what kind of person she’ll become. We pray for refugees from Syria. We pray about things great and small.

Prayer is still a spiritual discipline I’m not very good at. Those lingering doubts in the corners of my mind still cause me to wonder if there’s anyone listening on the other end.

But the more I come to grips with my lack of control, the more inclined I am to pray. Prayer settles me, at least for a moment or two. I don’t get any of that illusory control back. But when I pray, I find it just a bit easier to live with my lack of control. I find it easier to let go—even if it’s just for a minute.

Image: Gadini on Pixabay

Why do evangelicals like Trump? Because he’s one of us.


Donald J. Trump the leading choice for president among evangelical voters right now. This isn’t going down well with some of the gatekeepers—and for good reason.

Russell Moore, head of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, summed up nicely the problem with Trump:

He’s an unrepentant serial adulterer who has abandoned two wives for other women. He’s someone who has spoken in vulgar and harsh terms about women, as well as in ugly and hateful ways about immigrants and other minorities. I don’t think this is someone who represents the values that evangelicals in this country aspire to.

Moore is right. Yet for now at least, a plurality of evangelicals want just such a man—a serial adulterer who disparages women, immigrants, and minorities—to be their next president.

A lot can change between now and the first primaries. But how did so many evangelicals come to support a man whose values are so very far from theirs?

Maybe it’s because they’re not as far apart as we think.

You see, Donald Trump is a living, breathing, blustering manifestation of our culture’s addiction to outrage.

We live to be outraged, and Christians are no exception. In fact, we’re often the worst offenders.

We’re addicted to outrage because, as Tim Kreider observed, it feels good to be angry. “Somatically it feels a lot like the first rush of an opiate,” he wrote.

Outrage is a means of coping with our fears—rational or otherwise. We’re afraid of those who are different from us. We fear the loss of our cultural dominance. So we turn to outrage because it’s cathartic.

Not surprisingly, rage-filled posts spread more rapidly on social media than any other kind of content. Posts conveying other emotions, such as joy, trail far behind, according to a 2013 study.

Outrage isn’t always bad. It can be a healthy response to real injustice. But like any drug, it can be toxic. We use outrage to dehumanize those we don’t like. Conservatives use it to demonize Muslim refugees; progressives use it to hillbilly-shame Kim Davis.

Screen Shot 2015-09-17 at 8.55.32 AM

We use outrage to delineate the boundaries of our tribe—who’s in, who’s out. As one writer put it, our communities are increasingly “defined by an ‘us’ and a reflexive exclusion of ‘them.’ ”

Christians have been doing outrage for years. We’ve spent decades nursing a persecution mindset and a culture-war mentality. We claim to be outraged by all sorts of injustices—some real, some not—but mostly we’re angry and fearful at the loss of our cultural dominance.

So we treat those who are different as enemies… by which I don’t mean we love them like Jesus actually told us to.

We look upon “outsiders” with suspicion, fear, and contempt.

In sermons and in blog posts, we cultivate a siege mentality among the faithful because, as it turns out, making people angry and afraid is a very effective way to build a platform.

But there are consequences.

When you teach people to be outraged all the time, they might end up voting for someone who is the personification of a YouTube comment section.

To those who are shocked and unsettled by Trump’s resonance among evangelicals, what else did you expect?

Donald Trump is exactly the kind of candidate we deserve. He is a reflection of us.

His popularity is an indictment of our addiction to outrage. It’s an indictment of our culture-war mentality.

All these years, when we should have been encouraging Christians to love and serve their neighbors, instead we told them to prepare for battle.

When we should have been opening our doors to let outsiders in, instead we built walls to keep the world out.

Is it any wonder, then, that a man who promises to build an even bigger wall—the self-aggrandizing mogul who preys upon our fear and outrage—is the most popular candidate?

I can’t think of many good things that can come from Trump’s candidacy, no matter how long it lasts. Whether he makes it to the finish line or flames out tomorrow, his presence in the race hasn’t exactly elevated our political discourse, which was already hovering around junior-high-cafeteria levels.

But maybe there is one good thing about Trump’s popularity. Maybe it will prompt us to look in the mirror, to look at ourselves and how we treat others. Maybe seeing all this venom and bile spill from someone else’s lips will cause us to reconsider all the harsh and dehumanizing language that we use.

There is, after all, one thing worse than voting for Donald Trump. And that is being Donald Trump.

But we can renounce our addiction to outrage. We can jump off this train and stop demonizing those we disagree with—or those we just don’t understand. Instead of building bigger walls, we can welcome others into our communities—and maybe learn something from their perspectives and experiences. We can lay down our fear. We can listen to the apostle John for a change and drive out fear with love.

This won’t be easy. As Daniel Kirk recently observed, “The disease [fear] keeps us from the medicine [love].” But we can try all the same.

Love is the antidote to the Donald Trump in each of us.

Photo: Gage Skidmore on Flickr

For you were refugees…


Do not mistreat or oppress a refugee, for you were refugees in Egypt.
— Exodus 22

Yeah, I know. In your Bible and in mine, it says “foreigner,” not “refugee.”

That won’t get us off the hook.

The Bible is the story of refugees. It’s the story of those who were displaced. It’s the story of a family who sought shelter in Egypt when famine decimated their land.

They weren’t just “foreigners” or “migrants.”

They were refugees.

When the crisis was over, when they were settled comfortably in their homes, they were told to remember what it was like—and to extend hospitality to other refugees.

Centuries later, the children of Abraham became refugees again when their homes were razed and their loves ones cut down by war. Exiled to a faraway land, they were the ones to whom God said, “I know the plans I have for you, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you a hope and a future.”

God wants to prosper refugees.

God wants to give refugees hope and a future.

If you’re a Christian, you don’t have the luxury of not caring about the greatest refugee crisis since World War II.

We don’t have the luxury of looking away when drowned children’s bodies wash up on a beach.

We don’t get to treat refugees like an invading force. We don’t get to call them a “swarm.” We don’t get to call them “migrants,” either—as if they casually decided one day it’d be fun to live in our country for a change. Euphemisms won’t shield us from our responsibility to act.

It’s been too convenient to misname it as a migrant crisis, because it suggests these people are voluntarily fleeing, whereas in fact, if you’ve been barrel-bombed out of your home three times, life and limb demand that you flee.
—David Milliband, IRC

If you’re a Christian, you don’t get to prioritize your own comfort and security over compassion for someone else.

You just don’t.



Aylan Kurdi and Galip, who died trying to reach Greece

I get that throwing the doors open might not have been enough to save Aylan Kurdi and his brother Galip. The present crisis requires countries do more than just liberalize their asylum policies.

But some of us have been using the need for “long-term solutions” as an excuse for doing nothing—or not doing enough.

My own country, the United States, has taken in maybe 1,500 Syrian refugees.

Britain has granted asylum to 5,000 or so.

Canada has welcomed about 1,000. Aylan and Galip were not among them.

We have to do better.


The sad thing is, some of us care more about a clerk in Kentucky going to jail because she defied a court order than we care about children washing up dead on a beach.

Some of us are so worked up about imaginary persecution that we don’t even notice the real thing when it terrorizes, uproots, and kills the innocent.

My brothers and sisters, this should not be.


This photo originally appeared on the August 1979 cover of World Vision magazine. In this full frame version, the woman clapping with the scarf over her head in the upper right corner is Vinh's mother. To her immediate right is Vinh's older sister holding one of his younger brothers. ©1979 Kenny Waters/World Vision

© 1979 Kenny Waters/World Vision

Almost four decades ago, millions fled Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos. Many took to the sea in flimsy boats, hoping to find refuge somewhere, anywhere. One of them was my friend Cat-Dan. She was three months old when her parents decided they had to get out. You can read her story here.

Thousands of refugees died at sea—perhaps as many as 400,000. The world tried to ignore their plight, just as we’ve tried to ignore those fleeing Syria.

Countries tried shutting their borders. They tried cutting their asylum quotas. Back then, refugees were left to drift at sea; today they’re left to suffocate in the back of a lorry.

Eventually the world saw what was happening, thanks in part to efforts like World Vision’s Operation Seasweep.

There was an outcry, and world leaders were shamed into action. The United States wound up taking 1.4 million refugees. And you know what? They made our country better.

It’s time we were shamed into action again.


There are many ways you can help Syrian refugees. You can support NGOs like World Vision and the International Rescue Committee who are working directly with displaced Syrian families.

You can support the Migrant Offshore Aid Station as they work to save refugees at sea.

You can buy some of my friend Kurt’s artworkFor September, he’s donating everything he earns to help Syrian refugees.


© Kurt Rahn

You can demand more from your government. You can sign this White House petition calling on the U.S. to resettle 65,000 Syrian refugees. (That’s the number proposed by the International Rescue Committee.)

We can do 65,000. We might even become a better country for it.


As Christians, our story is a refugee story. Never forget that. Never look away. Never fail to show compassion to the refugees in our world.

Photo by Freedom House on Flickr

Even the dogs (guest post)

This week in churches all over the world, we’ll hear Jesus call someone of a different race a dog. The Syrophonecian woman appears in the Lectionary this Sunday for the second time in just over a year.

She came to us last year in a reading from Matthew, just as tensions in Ferguson were boiling over. Now she comes to us again, this time from Mark. Still confronting us. Still challenging us. Still laying bare our prejudices.

She has the audacity to keep shouting when the disciples tell her to be quiet. She will not protest on their terms. She will not submit to their notion of respectability. She resists their attempts to control and dismiss her.

The Syrophonecian woman forces us to think about how we treat the “outsiders” in our world today. As we reject the dignity of others in the name of God, as we close our borders and our hearts to refugees from the same part of the world this woman called home, as we try to silence the voices of those who dare to tell us that “black lives matter”— she is there. Still watching. Still waiting. Still exposing our prejudice.

Below is a homily that one of my friends, the Rev. Daniel Brereton, shared on his blog last year. Daniel is an Anglican priest in Toronto and, frankly, he’s one of the best reasons to be on Twitter. His sermon has stayed with me over the past year, so I asked him if I could share it here. May it challenge us to think about who we’ve silenced—through our actions or mere apathy—who we dismiss as “outsiders,” and whether we’re willing to make room for them at the table, just as God made room for us…


Who was she, I wonder? This annoyingly tenacious, desperate woman, with such quick wit and—as Jesus himself points out—such great faith? 

She has no name. She’s not an individual—at least, the disciples aren’t looking at her that way.  She’s just a label, a representative of an outside and despised group.  Easily ignored and easily dismissed… until she refuses to be.

And that’s when this woman becomes a problem. It’s always a problem for the dominant culture when people who differ refuse to stay quietly on the margins, especially when what they say—what they are—offends, challenges, or chastens our prized sense of superiority.

This woman, whoever she was, not only appears in different gospels, but she appears in every age, in every culture, in different guises. You can still see her today: a hand outstretched, trembling with fear at being reviled, or with anger at being mocked, or weariness at being continually silenced. She still seeks a blessing, and she is still told to go away. She is no longer a Canaanite, but she is a Christian being persecuted in Iraq, a Palestinian killed in Gaza, a gay person beaten and arrested in Russia, a black person in Ferguson apparently so threatening to the authorities that the police brought out tanks and tear gas.

All because she still won’t shut up and go away.  

Demanding to be heard and seen causes problems, for those doing the shouting and for those who just want them to be quiet and go away. But according to today’s gospel, this steadfast refusal to be silenced also opens the door to healing, not only for the woman’s daughter, nor even just for the woman herself but perhaps most for the disciples, whose vision of God’s kingdom is suddenly expanded, however tightly closed they’ve closed their eyes.

That’s the blessing. But first, the problem: 

The woman is a Gentile, so she is automatically “unclean” according to all the religious rules. She is also unaccompanied—no husband, no father, no brother. Any woman who approached a man without a male escort could only be judged as one kind of woman.

Yet driven by concern for her daughter, she strides right up to a man from a people who have despised her and condemned her all her life and implores his help. And then Jesus—our Jesus, the Good Shepherd, the Prince of Peace—calls this woman a “dog.” 

Now that shocks us. But it wouldn’t have shocked anyone else standing within ear shot. “Dog” was a term commonly used as a label for anyone not Jewish. The Jews were God’s chosen people. Encouraged by the Pharisees, most believed this identity obligated them to honour that status with laws and customs that rigidly set them apart. Jesus fully accepted this. Israel is set apart by God.

Where Jesus differed from the Pharisees was not in the belief that Israel had been set apart, but in his idea of what Israel had been set apart for. For Jesus, Israel was set apart not to hold itself aloof from the world nor to condemn it but to show the world, through its own experience, that their God was a God who was more pleased with pure hearts than with pure sacrifices; their God was a God who remained loyally committed to his people, even when they betrayed him; their God was a God who provided for them out of loving concern, not simply as a reward for good behaviour.  Their God would send the Messiah to bring all nations under his just and loving rule. 

Yet the only person there who seems to really believe this is not a disciple, but a dog.

Jesus calls her a dog to show that from the perspective of his religion, she’s an outsider. From the perspective of his kingdom, though, she’s the only one there who is actually inside it. Which begs the question for us: are we in Jesus’ kingdom? Or just part of a religion?

It is no coincidence that Matthew places his version of the story immediately after the feeding of the 5,000. In that story, the disciples want Jesus to send the hungry people away to feed themselves and Jesus tells the disciples bluntly: No. YOU give them something to eat.  

So the disciples have seen the generosity of God with their own eyes—that there is plenty to go around, that all can be fed for the asking. And now, confronted with someone who is asking, their response is still, “Send her away.” How slow, how blind, how hard of heart the followers of Jesus could be! How slow, blind and hard of heart many of us still are!

Then again, Jesus himself comes across as rather hardhearted in this passage. After the woman calls him “Son of David”—a title that indicates her belief that Jesus is the Messiah—he reminds her that the Messiah has come only for the lost sheep of Israel.  At this point the woman could have slunk quietly away, or screamed in outrage at Jesus. She refuses to sacrifice her dignity in either way. She’s come this far. She isn’t going back now. So she kneels at his feet. Its not passive submission I see here, but faith—in Jesus and in herself.

I always thought she simply ignored Jesus’ words. “I don’t care if I’m not an Israelite sheep—help me anyway!” But I wonder. Perhaps what she was actually saying was, “Can’t you see that I AM a lost sheep? Maybe Israel is more than just a plot of land. maybe God’s chosen includes more than just a few tribes. Maybe the kingdom is less about the right genetic code and more about the right relationship with God. And if it is—and if you are the Messiah—then help me!”  

I wonder if at that moment, Jesus thought, “Finally! Someone gets it.” 

Which is why I don’t think that the harsh sounding question that follows is really meant for the woman at all. Many argue that Jesus is struggling with his own prejudices—that this is a moment of revelation for him, in which he realizes his ministry is in fact to more than just Israel. I don’t agree. I think that while Jesus, being human, must have grown in wisdom and understanding just like anyone, he was also God. So I don’t believe Jesus held the same prejudices. Prior to this he had already healed two Gentiles, so I don’t think he saw this woman as a dog. I do believe that his disciples did, however—and that’s the problem.  

Jesus is speaking to the woman, but he’s really asking the disciples: Is it fair to take the children’s food and feed it to the dogs?  

I believe that when Jesus asks the question, the answer he wants—the answer he’s looking for—is, Lord, we’ve been with you long enough to know that in your kingdom, we are all God’s children. She is no ‘dog’ but our sister.”   

Sadly I think Jesus is still waiting for his followers to give him that answer.

This woman, who has finally found the courage to speak, is not about to wait for a bunch of men who have called her a dog her entire life to decide whether she’s worthy or not.  She knows she is, because she, unlike Jesus’ own disciples, seems to understand who it is she’s talking to. So she says: Even the dogs get to eat the crumbs that fall from the master’s table.

So much lies behind these words. It is not just a witty retort but a profound challenge:

You guys keep saying that your God is Lord of the world. Are you telling me that your God is any less generous than earthly masters? Is your God really deaf to the cry of a mother, because of her religion or blind to a child’s suffering because of its skin colour? Is your God really so prejudiced as to justify cruelty towards anyone because of who they are? 

Does your God really call human beings “dogs”? Or is that just you?   

It’s not just the woman’s quick wit that impresses Jesus—her ability to cleverly turn a phrase. It’s her understanding and acceptance of God’s great generosity, something the disciples themselves are still struggling with.

“Woman, great is your faith,” Jesus says. And her daughter was healed instantly. After all, that’s why she’s there, putting up with all this name calling and theological debating.

That’s often the way it works, isn’t it?  

When it’s only ourselves suffering, we can stay silent. We can justify keeping our heads down and our mouths shut. But when staying silent threatens someone or something we love, suddenly we find the courage to speak. To protest. To challenge even those who claim to speak for God. For the sake of our children and grandchildren and generations yet to be born. As many do today on behalf of all those still excluded by racism, sexism, homophobia, or economic injustice—the Canaanite women and men and teenagers and children that we, in our own fear and prejudices, still want to silence. 

Do we, the disciples of Jesus today, respond any differently from those in the gospel passage? How do we keep in mind that there is enough feast to go around? How do we expand the seating to allow for even more to sit at God’s table?   

Perhaps it begins with remembering that we—God’s people, the body of Christ, the one, holy, catholic and apostolic church—are also Gentiles. And that, brothers and sisters, makes us dogs as well. Dogs to whom God has given far more than crumbs, but seats at the table. Dogs who get to partake in the whole meal. Dogs who are loved, and welcomed and nourished by God because, as it turns out, we aren’t dogs at all, but God’s children.  

And if God has made space at his table for dogs like us, who wouldn’t God make room for?


CFETheNUEAEkaTK.jpg-largeThe Rev. Daniel Brereton is an Anglican priest in Toronto. This sermon originally appeared on his blog. Follow him (no, really—do it now) on Twitter at @RevDaniel.

How to talk to your kids about hell


If you’re a parent and you’re not following Cindy Brandt’s series on raising kids un-fundamentalist, you should. Cindy explains her motivation for the series in her first post:

I am in desperate need of a robust discussion regarding how in the hell to talk to my kids about hell. In other, less eternally-damning words, how do those of us who have grown up evangelical and yet suffer some damaging effects of fundamentalist theology, do the delicate parenting dance of communicating the love of God to our children without transferring some of the harmful teachings we have internalized? 

As the parent of two young kids, one of whom is just starting to learn about God, I need that conversation too. I want to be able to nurture their faith without manipulation or coercion.

I don’t have all the answers, but I do have an idea for how to talk to your kids about hell:


Not just because the biblical doctrine of judgment is more complicated than most of us realize. (Though it is.)

Not because it’s hard to know what we’re even talking about when we use the word “hell.” (Though it is hard, since most Bibles use the same word for three different terms in the New Testament, each of which had a distinct meaning and origin.)

Not just because “eternal conscious torment,” the prevailing view among evangelicals, is hardly the only orthodox view and probably owes more to medieval literature than the Bible. (Though it isn’t and it does.)

You shouldn’t talk to your kids about hell because, as Cindy writes in her second post, kids don’t have “the emotional maturity and logical capability to process a belief in eternal punishment.”

Put another way, their brains aren’t done cooking yet. The young brain is like “soft, impressionable Play-Doh.” What we tell kids about God when they’re young will stay with them for years—even if they grow up to believe something very different.

Pediatric neurologist Marcel Kinsbourne writes:

What we experience contributes mightily to what we are and what we become… what people experience indeed changes their brain, for better and for worse.

Teaching our kids to believe in an angry, vengeful God affects who they grow up to be. In my experience, it tends to yield one of two outcomes. Either they grow up to be angry, vengeful Christians; or they grow up terrified of an angry, vengeful God, convinced they’ll incur his wrath over the slightest infraction.

In my case, it was both. One minute I could be arrogant and dismissive of those who believed differently than I did, the next moment convinced I was destined for wrath myself—that God couldn’t possibly love me, that God might not be loving at all.

My relationship with God (if you can call it that) was based on fear. And make no mistake: I was terrified.

I don’t want my kids to be terrified of God. Have a healthy respect for God? Sure. Reverence and awe? Absolutely. But my impression of Jesus is that he didn’t go around inflicting terror in kids’ hearts.

Which leads me to another reason we shouldn’t talk to our kids about hell: it makes for a terrible gospel.

I can hear the objections already. You’ve probably heard them too.

Truth is hard. We shouldn’t soft-pedal the gospel just because it might scare our kids.

We shouldn’t be afraid to talk about hell. After all, Jesus talked about hell more than he talked about heaven. (He didn’t, actually.)

I’m a firm believer that we shouldn’t soft-pedal, dumb down, or otherwise misrepresent the gospel to our kids. But what if “pray this prayer so you don’t go to hell when you die” IS a misrepresentation of the gospel?

The core of Jesus’ proclamation was not, “Follow me so you don’t go to hell.” It was, “The kingdom of heaven has come.” This is what he told his disciples to proclaim.

Not “you might end up somewhere very hot and very far from God” but “God is near.”

When the children came to Jesus, he didn’t preach them a sermon about hell. He didn’t warn them about God’s impending wrath. He put his arms around them. He blessed them. He said the kingdom already belonged to them.

Instead of talking to our kids about hell, let’s talk to them about God’s kingdom.

Instead of talking to our kids about some terrible place to avoid, let’s talk about what they get to be part of.  

By the way, this doesn’t just apply to kids. This should be the rule whenever we’re talking about the gospel with someone. Look at the great evangelistic sermons in Acts. How many of them mention hell?


If hell was so important, why did the apostles fail to mention it even once as they went from place to place, announcing the—what was it?—good news about Jesus?

If hell is such an indispensable part of our gospel, why was it so utterly absent from theirs?

So don’t talk to your kids about hell as you share the gospel with them. Don’t prey upon their fears just to get them to say a prayer. Instead, talk to them about the life God invites them to experience. Talk about the kingdom they get to be part of.

Who knows? If we do that instead, maybe they’ll stop fearing the world-to-come long enough to start changing this one.

* A few friends and commenters have observed that, given our cultural obsession with hell, it’s likely that many of us will have to talk about it with our kids—if nothing else, to answer their questions about what other people say. That’s true. The good news is, we have a choice how we talk about it. We don’t have to pass on fear-based religion to the next generation. We can seek to prevent unnecessary fear instead of cultivating it. 

Photo by Palo on Flickr

This is what the tortured, twisted logic of patriarchy looks like

The police as God intended, according to Piper—with one exception...

The police as God intended, according to Piper—with one exception

The other day, John Piper fielded a question about whether women should be police officers. His response highlights the tortured logic necessary to make patriarchy “work” in the real world.

Worth noting: the woman asking is a complementarian. She believes, like Piper, that men lead and women follow. Yet she feels drawn to police work and therefore conflicted—presumably because her job would require her to exercise authority over men on a regular basis. She even promised to quit if she gets married someday and her husband objects to her line of work.

Most complementarians don’t go so far as to prohibit women from working—though they often discourage married women from doing so, and some do indeed go farther. (I once had a pastor who said in a sermon he didn’t think women should ever work outside the home, even if they were single. We left that church shortly after.)

Piper himself accepts there are “thousands of possible roles” women can fill in society. But this creates a problem for patriarchy: what about the many roles which might require a woman to exercise authority over a man?

It’s not just police officers.

What about being a college professor? Or a guidance counselor? Or an author? Or a city planner? Or an HR specialist?

What about being a scientist who presents her research at a professional conference and therefore “teaches” men? What about being a financial advisor telling men how to invest their money?

This is where patriarchy ties itself in knots because, on the one hand, it wants us to believe the allegedly subordinate status of women is universally applicable and not limited to a certain sphere, like the church or home. As Piper says in his response to the aspiring cop:

At the heart of mature manhood is a sense of benevolent responsibility to lead, provide for, and protect women in ways appropriate to a man’s differing relationships. The postman won’t relate to the lady at the door the way a husband will, but he will be a man.

Leading—exercising authority over women—is “at the heart” of what it means to be a man, according to Piper. Yet even he must sense the extreme nature of this, because he immediately tries to qualify it so he can allow women to serve in at least some roles outside the home.

Piper concedes the folly of making a list of “acceptable” roles for women—not that others haven’t tried. Instead, he resorts to some breathtaking mental gymnastics in order to explain how a woman can exercise authority without really exercising authority:

If a woman’s job involves a good deal of directives toward men, they will need to be non-personal in general, or men and women won’t flourish in the long run in that relationship without compromising profound biblical and psychological issues. And conversely, if a woman’s relationship to a man is very personal, then the way she offers guidance and influence will need to be more non-directive.

According to Piper, a woman can exercise authority so long as it’s “non-directive” or “non-personal.”

He sees no problem with a woman designing traffic patterns, “deciding which streets are one-way, and therefore… controlling, in one sense, all the male drivers all day long,” because this kind of influence isn’t personal.

But if that same woman were to be a police officer standing on a street corner making sure those traffic patterns are followed? Then she would be violating Piper’s notion of manhood.

Now it’s personal, according to Piper. Now she’s offending a man’s “God-given sense of responsibility and leadership.” Now she’s controverting “God’s created order.”

How does that even make sense? How is that not an artificial distinction designed solely to maintain an unworkable system?

It’s funny, because complementarians like to accuse egalitarians of doing mental gymnastics in order to explain 1 Timothy 2:12—“I do not permit a woman to teach or assume authority over a man.” (There happen to be very good and, I think, convincing ways to interpret this passage from an egalitarian perspective. See here and here, for example.)

But what about the mental gymnastics necessary to maintain patriarchy, albeit in a slightly less terrible form?

Paul doesn’t say, “I do not permit a woman to assume authority over a man unless it’s non-direct or non-personal.” Piper has introduced an unfounded caveat to a text he claims to interpret more straightforwardly than the rest of us.

Piper says this is about being “submissive to the Bible,” but he can’t even follow his own rubric for interpreting it. (He also wants us to believe his is the counter-cultural view, something I addressed in a recent guest post on Jory Micah’s blog.)

Speaking of the Bible, if it’s wrong for a woman to exercise authority over a man, how do you explain the prophet Deborah instructing Barak—who was afraid to go into battle without her?

How do you explain Huldah instructing the high priest of Israel?

How do you explain women being the first to proclaim Jesus’ resurrection? (“He is has risen” is the foundation of all Christian teaching, after all.)


How do you explain Priscilla instructing Apollos in the way of God?

Deborah and Huldah were nothing if not directive. Mary Magdalene and Priscilla were nothing if not personal.

Authority is authority, whether it’s directive or not, whether it’s personal or not. And when it comes to the biblical narrative, steeped though it is in a patriarchal world, we see women exercising bold, prophetic authority—in accord with God’s created order, not against it.

Photo by Dave Conner on Flickr

If you think patriarchy is countercultural…


This week I’m thrilled to be guest blogging for my friend Jory Micah. Jory is a Christian feminist committed to finding godly ways to challenge patriarchy. She was recently named one of the top 10 Christian female bloggers.

You can connect with Jory’s ministry on Facebook, or check out her blog.  


Judging by the reaction of some complementarians, you’d think Target just set off the apocalypse.

For proponents of patriarchy, removing gender-based labeling from toys is a Very Big Deal. According to the Council for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood (CBMW), the news is proof we live in a world gone mad, where “the very concept of gender is being neutralized.” It’s a sign that parents “are trying to outrun their gender identities” and, worse, are “dragging their children into their own dark labyrinths.”

And on it goes.

All because Target decided to stop telling girls and boys which toys they’re allowed to like.

Continue reading on Jory’s blog.

Two things to remember as you share your faith with your kids


If I could change just two things about the way we share our faith with our kids, I would reject more coercive methods in favor of those that cultivate their curiosity, and I would worry less about answering every question and focus more on simply telling the story well.

Less heavy-handed sales pitch, more invitation to explore. Less apologetics, more narrative. I’m increasingly convinced this is the way to engage ours kids’ hearts and imaginations with the gospel.

Recently, my publisher filmed a couple videos for my book, The Story of King Jesus, in which I talk more about these two points and how they can shape the way we pass on our faith…

1. Nurture their spiritual curiosity instead of force-feeding them answers.

2. Your job is not to have all the answers; it’s to tell them the story.

Learn more about The Story of King Jesus here.

Why you may want to check your beliefs

"For centuries, gay people  were thrown out of their families, thrown out of their churches. We were jailed. We had hormones inflicted on us. We went through unbelievable trauma in the 80s and 90s, in which 300,000 young people died. Where was the church?" –Andrew Sullivan

Evangelicals are starting to acknowledge the harm they’ve done to the LGBT community.

For example, at this year’s Q conference in Boston, Gabe Lyons told those gathered that the church ought to repent for how it’s treated gays and lesbians. Then he went a step further, offering a public apology to Andrew Sullivan (in response to the above quote).

Megachurch pastor David Whiting began a recent sermon on homosexuality apologizing for the “hatred, anger, dislike, and disdain” churches have shown to gay people. With visible remorse, he acknowledged that “Christians have gotten a reputation for being homophobic because many Christians are homophobic.”

Reflecting on the Supreme Court ruling that legalized same-sex marriage, Christianity Today editor Mark Galli called on evangelicals to repent of homophobia, fear, and prejudice.

Atlanta pastor Dewey Smith took heat for a recent sermon in which he compared the dehumanization of gays to the experience of blacks at the height of the slave trade. “We have done what the slave master did to us,” he told his parishioners.


What we’re seeing is more than just a “few bad apples” in the church. People are starting to realize this is more than just the sin of those who wave homophobic signs at funerals. The church’s woeful track record belongs to otherwise respectable evangelicals, not just the fundamentalist fringe.

Each person mentioned above maintains a traditional view of marriage. Each believes Scripture unequivocally prohibits same-sex intimacy.

With each apology or acknowledgement of wrongdoing, they went on to reaffirm their traditional beliefs, almost as if to say, “Please don’t judge our theology by our actions.”

Which should lead us to ask…

At what point does a widely acknowledged pattern of unloving behavior indicate something more than just the faulty application of your beliefs?

At what point is it no longer possible to separate a particular set of beliefs from its fruit?

What if our catastrophically misguided treatment of gays points to a deeper issue?

If your theology leads to behavior that is unloving or unkind, chances are there’s a problem with your theology.

Belief informs behavior. Your actions are shaped in part by your theology.

In which case, the ultimate test of any rule or doctrine is not, “Does it cohere intellectually?” but, “Does it encourage me to be more loving to others?”

If “love is the fulfillment of the law,” then any law which does not lead us to be more loving is not worth fulfilling.

For ages, Christians argued slavery was OK. They had Scripture on their side. They had history on their side. The inhumane treatment of blacks was proof enough they were wrong.

For ages, Christians argued women were inferior. They had Scripture on their side. They had history on their side. The degrading, humiliating treatment of women was proof enough they were wrong.

In both cases, a lack of love exposed a faulty belief system.

In the present debate over sexual ethics, it might matter less which side can line up the most proof texts or which side can make the best appeal to history. It might matter more which side proves itself to be the most loving, the most compassionate, and the most hospitable.

As Peter Enns wrote recently:

The best apologetic isn’t having a better intellectual system. The best apologetic is… how Christians live positively toward others. What difference this “belief system” makes in our global community.

We are the apologetic.

If you affirm the traditional view but lament the church’s treatment of gays and lesbians, you can resolve to be more loving. That in itself would be a good and holy thing.

But maybe we should go one step further and ask if there’s a connection between our convictions and the way we treat others—and then resolve to bring both into alignment with the Great Commandment.

Photo by Sancho McCann on Flickr