Is Calvinism Really That Bad?

o-CALVINISM-AMONG-SOUTHERN-BAPTIST-facebookWith all the news about Mark Driscoll lately, there has been a lot of talk about Calvinism, because Driscoll is one of the leading figures of what is called the “New Calvinism.” Before Driscoll, it seems like it was John Piper who was getting all the attention concerning this. Every day, it seems that there is a new blog that talks about how bad these people are, and how Calvinism is such a horrible example of Christian theology. Yesterday, I read one by Matthew Paul Turner that even takes the issue back to Jonathan Edwards. There is a lot of hate of Calvinists on the Internet it seems.

I am now Anabaptist, and I often attend Methodist churches and read Wesley. I am comfortably within the theological tradition of Arminianism, which is the intellectual rival to Calvinism. It’s safe to say that I don’t exactly agree with the Calvinist tradition. In fact, I used to be part of the Calvinism and old school conservative Presbyterianism. I even once attended an Acts 29 church, and some of my old churches treated the Westminster Confession like it was a lost book of the Bible. I have a lot of personal experience with Calvinism. I disagreed with it and went to the other side; however, I still deeply appreciate much of what Calvinism has to offer.  Continue reading

Rethinking My Choices in Bible Translation

bibleRecently, I have been reconsidering some of my previous choices in Bible translation. I always have a hard time settling on one specific translation, so I am always going back and forth. However, my “big three” have always been the NLT, NRSV, and NKJV. They were simply the ones that I liked, and so I stuck with them. I could also add the ESV to that list, because even though I am critical of it, I often use it as an alternative to the NRSV. Now, I am rethinking which translations I should use in studying, reading, and teaching the Bible.

There have been a few recent events in my life that are making me reconsider my preferences in Bible translations: 1. I have begun my studies through AMBS, and 2. I have become more active in church and ministry again. The former means that I want to use a translation that my instructors and texts also use, and the latter means I want to use a Bible that regular people (and especially unchurched people) can understand.

Finding a Bible that was best for my studies was pretty easy for me. The NRSV is one of my favorite translations, and a huge reason for that is its popularity among academics. When one considers the NRSV’s translation philosophies and published editions, it really appears to be the Bible for and by academics. The major study Bibles and commentaries rely upon the NRSV, and my texts from AMBS use the NRSV as the default. Sometimes, the RSV, ESV, or NASB are used here and there, but the NRSV is the current standard. Continue reading

Nonviolence in a Time of War #MennoNerdsOnISIS

This article is part of a Synchro-Blog by the MennoNerds to express responses to the violence in Iraq, specifically answering the question: How do non-violent, peace-making Christians respond to the violence in Iraq both by ISIS and by the nations attacking ISIS. Go to mennonerds.com/mennonerds-on-isis/ to read all the articles.

The news is always full of violence it seems, but currently, things have been a little bit different. We are no longer talking about terrorism or dictatorship, but rather cold hatred. We are witnessing ISIS attack Iraq and Syria, and the United States has also become involved in the bloodshed. One of the areas of this conflict that is getting the most press is the very violent persecution of Christians within ISIS-controlled territory. As Christians, we have to wonder about how we can do anything, and if we do something, what should be done?

Looking at such conflicts, our gut instinct tells us that some sort of self-defense is needed. As Americans, we often feel that groups like ISIS pose a national and international threat, and so our military needs to respond. As Christians, we feel that the genocidal persecution of Christians means that we need to join the military in their attempts to “liberate” them. It’s all under the idea of self-defense. We see others suffering horribly, and we want to return fire to defeat their oppressors. It’s a completely understandable reaction, but there are two major issues with it:
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On Those Radical Extremists

Jesus, criminal anarchist

Jesus, criminal anarchist

The news is always full of war and conflict it seems, and this is especially true when one considers recent events about Gaza, Syria, Iraq, or Ukraine. There is a saying attributed to Karl Barth that says we need to have a newspaper in one hand a Bible in the other. That is what I have been trying to do lately as I see all the stuff going on in the world.

Yesterday I was at a Bible study with my mentor, and we covered current events a little bit. The subject was on Israel’s divided kingdom, exile, and diaspora, and the events in Gaza, Syria, and Iraq definitely tie into all of that. This congregation was one of refugees and immigrants, and so all of this also directly applied to their lives. One story that I mentioned was that of the prophet Micaiah in 1 Kings 22. It’s a favorite of mine because of its anti-war implications. The kings of Israel and Judah wanted to invade Aram (Syria), and all the prophets supported them. Micaiah was the one prophet to teach against the war, and his prophecy of the king’s death proved to be correct. For me, it is a story that stands out in a time of war, which is often supported by American pastors.

While watching and reading the news about these current events, the issue always comes up about “radicals” and “extremists.” ISIS and Hamas are “radical” and “extremist” Muslims, or the Russian separatists in Ukraine are “radicals” and “extremists.” It is something that I see all the time, especially in American media, but it is simply wrong.  Continue reading

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