My Struggle With Ideology

My mentor often calls me “academic.” At first, I was rather confused by his statement, because I have relatively little formal education compared to the academics I know of. I don’t even have college degree; I have a little bit of college and now a pastoral studies program. I was really under the impression that I was not academic, but then I listened to how I talked. While my mentor sounds like a regular pastor, and uses a plain, common English in his ministry, I obsess over ideological details that only have relevance in academia. I obsess over political and economic labels, Bible translation philosophy, and other such things. I speak in a way that just simply confuses people outside of my isolated online groups.

I remember when I was once having a conversation with a co-worker of mine. People know that I am studying to be a pastor, and so religion always gets worked into conversation at least once a day. My co-worker, who grew up in a fundamentalist Pentecostal military household, was making comments concerning some very bad theology. For example, he was talking about the rapture and the end times as an event in the near future. He is mostly a cultural Christian, but when he does mention anything more theological, this is where he goes. I tried to correct him and the costumer he was talking to. I tried to explain to them the history of the rapture and the rise of dispensationalism. I simply confused them. I could have explained the same ideas in plain English rather than throwing around theological isms.  Continue reading

I’m Not Post-Evangelical

John_Wesley_by_William_HamiltonA lot of people who come into the Anabaptist and progressive Christian groups I am also a part of claim to be “post-evangelical.” I do not share that trait. I am a convinced evangelical Christian. Ever since I first committed my life to Christ I was an evangelical, and as I continue in my studies, I find myself becoming more evangelical everyday. However, I think I should explain what I mean by the word “evangelical” here.

First, there is the original Christian meaning associated with the term “evangelical.” Basically, as Christians, we believe in the good news (evangel) of Jesus Christ, but that is even based upon a previous Roman understanding of the term, which referred to the good news of a military victory. In a way, all Christians are evangelicals (or at least evangelistic), but I am an evangelical in a few other senses of the word.

It is not so common in the English-speaking world, but in many places, any church relating to the Protestant Reformation is called “evangelical”. Luther’s church is called the Evangelical Church, and the non-state churches are called “evangelical free churches.” In many parts of the world today, when someone says evangelical, they could just as easily say Protestant. I am also an evangelical in this sense of the word, but that is not what people often mean by “evangelical” in the English-speaking world. Continue reading

On Hobby Lobby OR Christian Capitalist Logic

Originally posted on the Jesus Event:

Since the Supreme Court recently supported Hobby Lobby’s prerogative to forbid providing their employees access to “Plan B” and IUDs, I’ve become increasingly frustrated with the rhetoric of the Christian company. First of all, I applaud the fact that Hobby Lobby–or any company–wishes to do business “in a manner consistent with Biblical principles.” Too few companies give their entire workforce a day off and too few corporations seem interested in ethical business practices consistent with the way of Jesus. As a pro-life advocate, I also applaud the fact that Hobby Lobby refused to pay for what they believed was an abortifacient (a drug which causes the abortion of a pregnancy) and as an Anabaptist, I’m especially inspired by the fact that Hobby Lobby was willing to endure immense fines and disciplines by the government in response to this decision. But the more I read about the reality of Hobby Lobby’s…

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I Want To Be a Jesus Hippie

The early church was like a hippie commune, but without all the sex. (Mark Van Steenwyk, The Unkingdom of God, pg. 155)

My brother Micael Grenholm is a “Jesus hippie”. He just posted a blog that explains a little bit more about why he sees himself that way. I strongly recommend reading it, because it gives a short and accurate description of the Jesus Movement.

I like reading Miceal’s blog. I find that I relate to him a lot, and we come from a similar religious background. Both of us have a Christian faith that is rooted in pacifism and community of goods (communism), both of us became Christians through evangelical and charismatic churches, and both of us now identify as Anabaptist and are part of MennoNerds. I consider myself part of that long tradition of revival in the church that Micael describes:

When we look at the early Christians, we see that they were pacifistscommunists and charismatics. These three ingredients are resurrected over and over again in church history, among the monks and nuns, among the Waldensians and Anabaptists, among the Pentecostals and Jesus Hippies. They’re all part of the biblical movement that wants to combine non-violence, community of goods and signs and wonders.

What I do not often talk about is that I have another connection with Micael: I am deeply shaped by the Jesus Movement, but a different branch of it.  Continue reading

Gay Marriage Is Not Against Biblical Authority

I am uncompromisingly pro-gay marriage and I am unapologetic in my affirmation of LGBT equality. This is one issue that I refuse to compromise on, and because of this, it has gotten me in trouble in the past. One church that it did get me in trouble with was my local Presbyterian Church USA congregation. The congregation and presbytery I was a part of were and are socially conservative, but I was a flaming liberal. Naturally, I found myself in some serious disagreement, and it didn’t help that I was a universalist, pacifist, and straight up commie-pinko. While the local Presbyterian community did not appear very welcoming, I am happy to see that the PCUSA has recently become fully LGBT-affirming at the national level.

Now that this has happened however, I am seeing the same old arguments from my conservative brethren that I have heard over and over again. It happens whenever any Christian denomination becomes welcoming and affirming, and I see the battle lines being drawn in the Mennonite Church as well. This is especially the case in Pittsburgh, because Pittsburgh Mennonite Church just became officially LGBT-affirming, and even lost their pastor because of it. I remember mentioning my uncompromising position on this issue to the local Mennonite conference minister as well, and I think I saw her cringe. If I remember correctly, she said that might be a problem at some point, but whatever.  Continue reading

When Will the Poor Be Blessed?

Blessed are you who are poor,
    for yours is the kingdom of God.
Blessed are you who hunger now,
    for you will be satisfied.
Blessed are you who weep now,
    for you will laugh.

— Jesus (Luke 6:20-21)

Growing up, these are some of the words that I heard that really drew me to Jesus. The struggles of the working class and the poor have always been important to me, in both faith and politics. It was in the late 90s that it started. During that time, I watched as my parents struggled and eventually ended up in bankruptcy. As my family was trying to rebuild, I watched as a dear friend of the family, a poor woman who helped raise me, struggled as well. I have mentioned on this blog before how she would take me with her to the Salvation Army, but in addition to that, I watched as she tried to help her alcoholic, disabled son (he was injured in a work-related accident). I watched as she tried to live off of a mix of minimum wage jobs, government assistance, and charity. Somehow, she managed to do all of this and help raise me, which I find amazing. She often calls me her “adopted son,” so obviously there is a great amount of love that motivated her throughout the years.

I grew up observing such things. I grew up seeing working and poor people try to retain a life that resembled the middle class, but just simply couldn’t keep up. When wages stagnate and even drop, when assistance programs are cut (both public and private), when basic education and experience (which are needed to get a good job) continues to become more costly, you just cannot keep up. It’s impossible. There is only so much money in your bank account, and so you can only pay for so much before there is nothing left. There are only so many hours in the week, and so you can only work so much.

Continue reading

Why I Love the Mennonites

menno-simons-1-sizedContinuing where my last post left off on why I love Jesus, I wanted to also express why I love the Anabaptist-Mennonite tradition I find myself a part of more each day.

I recently made a visit to one of the few Mennonite churches in my area—Pittsburgh Mennonite Church. The other congregation that I sometimes visit is in Scottdale. Since there are so few Mennonites in my area, I make visits when I can, but they are always a commute, either into the city or further into the country. Even though my visits are often few and far between, I consider myself part of the Mennonites. I love the Mennonites. I am constantly nagging them, and I am working on studying through them. Even my online associations are primarily Mennonite now.

My admiration for the Mennonite church comes with some context. A couple years ago, I was a convinced Presbyterian, and theologically I was a Calvinist in the tradition of people like Karl Barth, Jürgen Moltmann, or William Barclay. The churches I attended were conservative, but I was fine with that. What I was not fine with, however, was when they drifted towards fundamentalism and became increasingly anti-gay. Eventually, congregational and denominational struggles ruined the whole thing for me, and I found myself independent (which is just another way of saying “nondenominational”). Continue reading

Why I Love Jesus

I cannot really remember the first time I met Jesus. I know that I was little. I know that it was in a Jesus-hugging-a-dinosaur-750x1024Presbyterian church. I don’t know if it was seeing the stained glass windows with him on them, Sunday school, vacation Bible school, or some other church-related activity that I sometimes found myself in.

When we first met, we were strangers. I didn’t even understand what the “Son of God” was. In fact, I sometimes made the misunderstanding of confusing the Son and the Sun. I wasn’t really a big deal, however, since I was so little. My parents weren’t very interested in religion, so my exposure to Christianity growing up was minimal. It was from a dear friend that I think I first really met Jesus.

I think the first time that I was really able to hear about him was from my babysitter at the time. She is a friend of my family. She has known my father for nearly four decades, and she helped raise both my brother and me. She is poor, elderly, and working class. She was raised on a farm to Hungarian-American Roman Catholics and was forced out as a pregnant teenager. She started taking care of me when I was less than a month old, and nearly 21 years later, she is still a big part of my life.  Continue reading

The Power of Death

Forasmuch then as the children are partakers of flesh and blood, he also himself likewise took part of the same; that through death he might destroy him that had the power of death, that is, the devil; And deliver them who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage. (Hebrews 2:14-15 KJV)

On Sunday, my grandmother passed away unexpectedly. As I am sure you all know, the death of a loved one is a particularly difficult thing to go through. This is especially true for me because my grandmother was the matriarch of the family. She was even the one who first nudged me towards ministry and Christianity in general. Yesterday, we had our first memorial service for her, today is a special ceremony with the deacons from the church, and tomorrow is her funeral.

In all of the grief and loneliness a death can bring, I am finding something else as well. Yesterday, I watched as pretty much every branch of the family came together for the first time in God know’s how long, and despite the horrible situation, people were actually communing with one another, bringing up long lost memories, talking and laughing together. It was both a beautiful sight and an annoyance.

I find it amazing how death unites us. All over the world, people die, but that doesn’t mean so much. We hear about death, but it remains only a statistic. However, whenever a loved one dies, it produces a profound power that changes and unites (or divides) us. It is something that is very powerful.  Continue reading

What Are the Anabaptist Convictions?

As MennoNerds, we all have found certain distinctives of Anabaptism to be central in our expression of faith.  This article is part of a MennoNerds Synchro-Blog in the month of May on Anabaptism.

Whenever I am at work, sometimes a particular woman comes in. She is something right out of TBN, Cornerstone, or some other Christian television station. She is obviously a fundamentalist, and she hands out something similar to Chick tracts. One of the things I mentioned to her was my activity as a church planter. She asked what kind of church, and I said Mennonite. Sure, I am technically not a Mennonite, but I am close to it. I could say I am Anabaptist, but usually people understand Mennonite more.

However, she was not one of them. When I said Mennonite, the closest thing she could come up with was Messianic Jew, and after I tried to correct her, she thought Mennonites were a biblical tribe. (I guess “Mennonite” sounds like Hittite, Israelite, or something like that.) Continue reading