Opening the Door to Forgiveness

The part of us that opens the door to forgive others opens the door to forgiveness.


I recently wrote about how our wounds provide a model for how we relate to God and understand Him, the hurts we receive from others. That post was inspired by Tim Keller who said, “The way we distribute mercy says a lot about how we relate to God.” Because God forgives us as we forgive others (Luke 11:4), our forgiveness is tied into how we see God, understand Him and relate to Him.

The two keys are 1) how we understand God’s love and 2) how we understand our own sinfulness. Both of these perspectives are measured best by the cross, by the example of God shedding all of His power and privilege to become human, and being found in human form, submitting Himself to His own plan by sacrificing Himself on the cross for our sake. (Phil. 2) We can understand our own sinfulness in relation to the cost of redemption – the life of God’s son (God in the flesh); and we can measure God’s love by the same standard.

God loved us to much that He gave His life, the human life He took on and sacrificed for us. By the same token, the extreme cost of the life of Jesus is the a measure of the depth of our sin. We have been forgiven much!

Our understanding of the greatness of God’s love for us, and the great depth of our sin, helps us in understanding why we need to forgive others. If God loved us so much, we are free to love and compelled to love others by the same measure. In more mundane terms, if our sin was so great that Christ had to die for us to redeem us, we can certainly forgive the lesser sins others have committed against us.

In fact, to bring this home, we can only be forgiven to the extent (by the measure) that we forgive others. Our forgiveness and our forgiveness toward others is inextricably linked. Perhaps this is because Jesus and the Father (and the Spirit) are one, and Jesus calls us to be one with them (Him). (John 17:21) We can’t be one with God if we harbor unforgiveness toward others!

In some sense, then, forgiveness is formulaic. Jesus has stated for us a kind of “law of forgiveness” kind of like a law of physics. He is telling us, “This is how it works.” How do we, then, go from intellectual ascent and academic understanding to real life? I like the way NT Wright puts it when he says that the bit (part) of us that opens the door to forgive others opens the door to forgiveness.

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The Danger of Triumphalism in the Church


Marcelo Gleiser, a Brazilian physicist and astronomer and currently Professor of Physics and Astronomy at Dartmouth College, won the Templeton Prize for his outstanding contributions to “affirming life’s spiritual dimension”.[1] He is an agnostic, but he isn’t hostile to religion or faith. He maintains an open mind, stating:

“Atheism is inconsistent with the scientific method….

“Atheism is a belief in non-belief. So you categorically deny something you have no evidence against.

“I’ll keep an open mind because I understand that human knowledge is limited.”[2]

In listening to Gleiser recently on a podcast[3], I was reminded of another gentleman I listened to recently. Dr. Soong Chan-Rah, an evangelical professor of church growth and evangelism at North Park Theological Seminary in Chicago. On first glance, these two gentlemen might seem like odd companions in my thoughts, but they inspire this blog piece.

Gleiser grew up in Brazil. His mother died when he was 6. He described that her death led him into a dark time in his life. He was Jewish and lived in a conservative Jewish community, but it wasn’t Judaism that led him out of the darkness that threatened to undo him as a young boy. It was science.

Gleiser was drawn by the wonder of science and scientific discovery. His interest in science was sparked by the gift of an autographed photo of Albert Einstein from his uncle. It became his “altar”, and it led him to become fascinated with the “exploration of the mysterious”. He left the darkness of his teenage years with a purposeful decision to engage the mysteries of the world to find answers.

Though Gleiser reveres science, and even speaks of it in terms like an idol, he isn’t hostile to faith, and he is humble enough to make room for the possibility of God and spiritual reality. Hearing him talk about the limits of science and possibilities of faith from “outside the fold” can be instructive. Dr. Soon Chan-Rah doesn’t come from the outside of faith, but he also introduces a perspective that is outside the framework of typical American evangelicalism.

Dr. Chan-Rah didn’t tell his story in the talk I listened to, but he is obviously Asian by descent. I bring that up only because it suggests he has a perspective that isn’t colored wholly by the fabric of western civilization.  I think it is vitally important that we hear from outside perspectives, lest we never question the assumptions we take for granted – the extra-biblical (and maybe unbiblical) influences that creep in with our cultural environment that go unquestioned.

Dr. Chan-Rah spoke about the noticeable influence of lamentations in the Old Testament, and the conspicuous lack of lamentations exhibited in American evangelical culture. For an example, about forty percent (40%) of the Psalms might be characterized as lamentations. Whereas, only about twenty percent (20%) of the songs in modern American hymnals might contain some form of lament, and those songs often go unsung in our church services. As for contemporary Christian music, we might be hard pressed to find more than five (5) songs out of the top one hundred (100) containing any form of lament.

Whether the math is exactly right, the point is clear. We don’t engage in lament in our American evangelical culture to the same degree as reflected in the Scripture. Chan-Rah attributed that cultural characteristic with several things, including the sense of triumphalism that has permeated our culture. That observation is what brings me to write this blog piece. Please allow me to explain.

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Grabbing Hold of the New Testament without Letting Go of the Old

Is there a disconnect in the way God is revealed in the Old Testament as compared to the New Testament?


I have been listening to the podcast, Ask NT Wright Anything, with host, Justin Brierley, out of the UK. It’s good to get other perspectives on any topic, as we tend to be blind to the particular bents and biases and ways of thinking that we have, not realizing that there are other ways of viewing things.

One amazing thing about Scripture is that it has been translated into over 300 languages, hundreds of more translations than any other book of any type. Though the combination of writings making up the Bible were written over a period of about 1500 years by about 40 Ancient Near Eastern authors from one concentrated area in the world, it has found universal acceptance and application, even today, nearly 2000 years after the last writing.

From Afghanistan to Zimbabwe, Australia to the West Indies, Canada to Papua New Guinea, the Congo to Russia, and El Salvador to Mongolia, the Bible has found an audience of devotees who consider it the Word of God. The Bible has resonated with virtually every people group in the world.

In western civilization, and the American version of it, in particular, we can be pretty provincial in our understanding, for all the sophistication we think we have. We have developed certain blind spots, and we get hung up in certain ruts that we don’t even realize are obstacles to a more nuanced, balanced and (perhaps) accurate understanding.

For instance, the prosperity gospel is uniquely western, and particularly American. The prosperity gospel isn’t preached in Pakistan, Sudan, Honduras or Haiti. It shouldn’t take much thought to realize the reason why. Our America view of the gospel, God and the Bible can be (and is) influenced by our cultural bents. Without the balance of other views, we can tend toward the heretical.

Another example of our cultural bent is our western and American view of the Old Testament and “the God of the Old Testament”. Most non-westerners don’t have the issues we have with “the wrath of God” and some of the passages of the Old Testament that seem unsavory to the modern sensibilities of Americans.

This doesn’t necessarily make the rest of the world “right”, but we have to realize that our views may not be perfectly “right” either. We can all benefit by views of people who have different cultural backgrounds.

American, for instance, have gotten hung up on things like the “inerrancy of Scripture” and a “fundamentalist”, literalistic view of the Bible. NT Wright talks about this often in his interviews with Justin Brierley. He notes that Americans tend to trip over details and miss “the story”.

NT Wright was recently speaking of the issues that some people have with the Old Testament, fixating on whether it is historically and factually true in every detail. In doing so, we may might never get to the story, and the meaning of the story, which is the whole point! We get stuck in a rut asking whether it is true in every detail, and, “If we can’t be sure that it is true on every point, can we really trust it?”

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Inerrancy and the Spirit of the Age

The concept of inerrancy was developed by Christian rationalists in response to atheistic rationalism. It isn’t in the Bible.


When I was in college, I was one thesis away from being a religion major. I took the thesis class, did the research and even wrote the paper. I just didn’t turn it in.

I graduated with an English Literature major. I didn’t need the double major. I wasn’t satisfied with the product, so I didn’t turn the paper in.

I’ve recalled these things before, but I haven’t really addressed the subject of that thesis paper. It was biblical inerrancy.

I recall the religion major that fell short now, and the topic that derailed it, following some comments that NT (Tom) Wright made to Justin Brierley on the podcast, Ask NT Wright Anything (episode #8, I believe). I chose the topic, of course, but I felt I bit off more than I could chew.

It turns out that there may be another reason the topic was so difficult for me, a new believer at the time. NT Wright sheds some light on the subject.

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Where in the World is God?

Our western view of God, heaven and the earth may get in the way of understanding where in the world is God.


I have been listening with some relish to the new podcast, Ask NT Wright Anything, with Justin Brierley the host of Unbelievable! podcast fame. NT Wright is currently the Research Professor of New Testament and Early Christianity at St. Mary’s College in the University of St. Andrews in Scotland. (Wikipedia) He is a renowned scholar and prolific writer and speaker.

In listening to the first few episodes of the new podcast, I have become interested in NT Wright’s view the kingdom of God, the ascension and what it means that someday Jesus will “come again on the clouds”.  calls westerners “innate Epicureans” who believe that “heaven is a long way away”. Thus, when we think of something like the ascension of Jesus, we imagine him rising up to heaven far away where He “sits at the right hand of the Father”.

This image of Jesus in heaven far away seems to be suggested in the passages from which we have coined the term ascension. The Gospel of Luke describes it this way: “While [Jesus] was blessing them, He parted from them [left them] and was carried up [taken up] into heaven”. (Luke 24:51 (NASB/ESV)) In Acts, the description is that “He was lifted up while they were looking on [taken up before their very eyes], and a cloud hid him [received Him] from their sight [out of their sight].” (Acts 1:9 NASB/ESV)

In Luke, the phrase, “parted and was carried” is a translation of the one Greek word, diístēmi, meaning literally “to set apart, to intervene, make interval” and translated as carried, parted and/or passed.[i] In the Greek, it appears (to me) that some interpretation is apparent in the English verb tenses used: “He parted and was carried [taken]”. The first phrase conveys action on the part of Jesus, and the second phrase conveys some action asserted upon Jesus, presumably from the Father.

The phrase is inserted as the interpretation of a single word so who undertook the action is really not implicitly expressed. It’s an interpretation (it seems to me). Further, the descriptor, “up” is added. That descriptor is not inherent in the Greek word, diístēmi. Rather, it seems to be a common sense addition to connect with the word translated “heaven”, which is ouranós. But is that an accurate translation?

After hearing NT Wright, I think not. Our western worldview filter may be to blame, and removing this worldview filter opens up a more accurate view, perhaps, of what the kingdom of God is, the ascension, and the second coming of Jesus.

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Is the Story of Jesus a Story of Divine Vengeance or Love?

Many people interpret the story of Jesus as if God was looking for someone on whom to take out his vengeance, and His son got in the way – so that somehow makes it right.


NT Wright made a statement on Justin Brierley’s new podcast recently, Ask NT Wright Anything, that is worth repeating. He says that people read John 3:16 (“That God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son….”) this way: “that God so hated the world that he killed his only son.”

People, especially today, view God as an angry bully. They interpret the story of Jesus, Wright says, “as if God was looking for someone on whom to take out his vengeance, and His son got in the way – so that somehow makes it right”. But it doesn’t seem right to many people who interpret the story in this way. We recoil from a view of God, the cosmic bully.

Of course, many people who moralize about God are simply refusing to acknowledge God as God. They sit in judgment of God, or at least “the God of the Bible” that they as they perceive Him. At many who hold this view don’t even believe God exists. But, I don’t think that Wright is only talking about a skeptical view of God, though skeptics certainly make interpretation errors. Even believers wrestle with a muddled view of the story.

Continue reading “Is the Story of Jesus a Story of Divine Vengeance or Love?”