Matt W Cook

writer.former fundamentalist.christianly fellow

On Abuse and Hell

I’ve heard it said that teaching your children that Hell is real is a kind of child abuse. That jarred me. Billions of people believe in Hell—most of the disagreement is just over who has to go there.

But I can see how belief in Hell can be hurtful.

It teaches that the most loving being in the universe is still cruel enough to hurt you forever.

Stop. Don’t throw down your easy reply about the holiness of God just yet. Let it sink in that the Author of love is willing to pour eternal misery on you.

What kind of love is learnt from a Father like this?

Of course, if Hell is real and the go-to place for those of us who can’t muster belief, then not telling people about Hell is abusive.

Praise be, then, that it’s not a Biblical concept in the first place.

Christianly Book Review: Life at the End of Us Vs Them by Marcus Peter Rempel

images“The warnings I offer here do not come out of a superior religion but out of a failed religion

Marcus Peter Rempel’s book, “Life at the End of Us vs Them,” is a seriously thought-provoking view of Christianity and its place in our “strange, endtime world.” Drawing on René Girard and Ivan Illich, Rempel presents a view of the Cross that necessarily undermines any power structure that would try to build on it.

The crucifixion of Christ, he argues, is not best seen as a judicial act of substitutionary atonement. Instead, it is something like God identifying with the most marginalized individuals, the most hated outcasts, the people who society crucifies. “It is by taking on the viewpoint of those it marginalizes that Cross-formed culture comes to be accurately mapped, and more justly remade” (13). Rempel takes this understanding, and applies it to his relationships with “those who are his other: women, queer folk, refugees, Muslims, atheists, and Indigenous people.”

Here’s what I like about this view of the Cross: it reminds you of everything at once. It reminds you that you are part of the system that crucifies innocents. At the same time, it offers to forgive you. And it bids you pick up your cross, and follow in that way of looking at the world–that the “least of these” is, somehow, the Christ. It shifts the view from Us-Them to I-Thou. Frankly, it reminds us that Jesus never meant to convert the world. Yes, he meant for his Way to go out into all the world, but not to colonize it. Not to become the oppressor.

The Cross will always glare accusingly at any system or person that tries to use it as a tool of oppression. It undermines all sacred violence. It perpetually strips the sacred cloth from the temple, showing it to be empty. The violence we thought we did in God’s name was actually against his own son. All persecution persecutes the Christ. Christianity as a religion, Rempel argues, has failed insofar as it has been complicit in violence.

At least, that’s how it could work. From what I read on the Internets, I don’t see a reconciliation between Church and the vulnerable anytime soon. If it’s possible, though, for follows of Christ to sit with the very marginalized instead of always being seen beside the oppression, this book gives clues on how it will be done.

I heartily recommend this book to people who want to take the Bible seriously and are troubled by the dissonance between Church and Christ. If you believe that substitutionary atonement is the only correct way of understanding the Cross, you will probably balk at a lot of what Rempel has to say. Consider, though, that both Scripture and Church have cast the Cross in different lights to glean fresh insights from that wonderful tragic event. Rempel offers a light that the Church today would do well to meditate on, even if she can’t swallow the whole thing.

A Christian and Two Ex-Believers in a Pink Room

Ruth and I sat down with P.J. Tremblay, A.K.A. P’Jamz. We all met at Bible college a couple life-times ago. We had a great conversation about the faith and losing it and keeping it and how we can all start to speak the same language.

P’Jamz recently released his an LP, Foibles & Fiction. Songs like Proud and Odd One Out candidly talk about the fallout from losing faith. Go to his Audio4n6 Site to check him out and buy his album.

 

Sit in on our conversation on the Audio4n6 channel. There’s a lot here, and it’s been split up into convenient little chapters:

Part 1 — How we all got to Bible college

Part 2 talks about evangelism and missions

Part 3 — the uses and abuses of Christianity

Part 4 talks about what it takes to be successful at religion

Part 5 — how if religions don’t change, they don’t endure

Part 6 makes Ruth choke on water

Part 7 — childlike curiosity

Part 8 reminds us there are a few things to keep

Part 9 — the power religion can provide

Part 10 talks about how hard it sometimes is to talk about this stuff

Conversation with Derek Webb

Derek Webb’s music has been important to me since 1999. Songs like Not the Land and Wedding Dress provided vocabulary for aspects of my spiritual journey that other believing artists wouldn’t touch. Faith My Eyes and Lover were soothing anthems during my missionary days. His most recent album, Fingers Crossed, is a tale of spiritual and marital divorce. It’s about losing faith and family. It’s sad and beautiful and if you’ve ever lost faith go listen to Goodbye, for Now and cry a bit.

I sat down with Derek last week at before his house show in Buffalo. We had a great conversation about his music, what’s left over after faith is gone, and the time he nearly killed RC Sproul. Watch the video below, or at Youtube where there are handy chapter divisions in the description.

Go buy Derek’s music and tickets to his few remaining house shows at derekwebb.com

A Knee-Jerk Reaction to the Statement on Social Justice and the Gospel

I made the mistake of skimming the Statement on Social Justice and the Gospel while I was setting up for a completely different video. If you ever wanted to hear me in angry preacher mode, here’s your chance.

As you can see, the statement got me all worked up. This is my unprepared response, so take it with whatever grains of salt you need. I may say more on the statement if I can bring myself to get into John MacArthur’s headspace.

If you’re a believer, read the statement for yourself and ask if these affirmations and denials are what the gospel is about, or if the church is inventing gnats to strain from their camel pie.

An Anxious Evangelist

I am anxious. Especially around other people. You should see me at Costco. Actually, you shouldn’t. And if you do, stay out of my way because I may have a panic attack or run you down in a frantic attempt to escape. I dread nothing more than encounters with others.

In college I became an evangelist. My first time handing out tracts I almost passed out. It never got easier, but I kept doing it anyway. Sketchboard Evangelism. Open air preaching. Intentional friendships with shopkeepers and strangers in Ontario and Sindh with an eye to sharing my great and glorious salvation. Absolutely terrifying. But there was a script / story / drama that gave me the power to rise above myself:

“They shall not hurt nor destroy in all my holy mountain: for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the LORD, as the waters cover the sea.” Isaiah 11:9

The fear didn’t hold be back because I believed Christ was the only one who could heal the nations, and if the knowledge of him filled the earth, all hurt would end. My own anxiety was nothing compare to the eternal weight of glory that was promised. It helped me do difficult, powerful things.

I still want to work for a story that brings healing.
But the script is no longer simple.
I don’t think a single way is possible.
The gods, being greater than us, are not likely jealous.

I do, though, miss the script that made me do the things I “knew” I couldn’t do.

The problem is diplomacy is all your troops freeze in panic

I’m speaking, of course, of the skill in Heroes of Might and Magic 3.

When you are good at diplomacy, troops that would otherwise attack your army, may join it instead, “For greater glory.”

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Sound great? It is!

Near the beginning of the game, without spending a single gold, you can have a horde from every tongue and tribe and nation. Crusaders and dragons and dwarves and liches, all part of one glorious host.

But they generally do poorer than they should in actual combat. Soldiers tend to freeze in panic, and even when you win there are more losses than their needs to be. Troops from other cities tend not to love each other, and everyone hates the undead. Morale drops. Everyone starts to wonder what they’re even fighting for.

There are reasons for this.

The game’s campaign details bitter struggles between the nations. If you want this horde from every tongue and tribe, you to give them something higher than history to bind them together. Remind them why they joined you in the first place: Greater Glory.

A year of living christianly with Ruth

I invite Ruth the Christian to join me in my year of living christianly. We sat down to talk about spirituality and how our past informs our present–but then my microphone stopped working and most of our talk was lost.

I present the remnants: Chasing the sun, burying birds, and making sure your daughters get educated.

A Sub-Cosmic Quest

Part of the power of the christianly life is the belief that it’s a quest that cannot fail. I was part of the company of the arbitrarily beloved, tasked to the Kingdom of God, and indiscriminately inviting everyone to the journey,

From Destruction to Glory
Death to Life
Hate to Love
Self to God

What’s the big story I’m trying to cast now? Can the year of living christianly reach for something beyond an experiment? I probably can’t cast the path as the high-fantastical cosmic quest it was, but it’s still a quest.

To cultivate the spiritual fruit–
from love to self-control–
against such that there can be no law.

To deny the spirit of fear,
and accept
the spirit of love and of power and of a sound mind.

To work toward an impossible kingdom
where wolf can dwell with lamb,
children lead lions and cattle,
and no one has to preach because we already know.

And maybe even to figure something out about that peace that passes understanding these old traditions keep talking about.

Unaltering Love–Happy Birthday Ruth

Sonnet 116 William Shakespeare
Let me not to the marriage of true minds
admit impediments.

They say that you tend to be with someone similar to yourself. I suppose it’s true most of the time. We’re pretty narcissistic people, so we seek ourselves in the people we love.

                     Love is not love
which alters when it alteration finds,
or bends with the remover to remove:

They say unless two agree, they cannot walk together. And that if they start to disagree, they probably are going to have to go off in different directions. Alteration, they imply, alters love.

O, no! It is an ever-fixed mark,
that looks on tempests and is never shaken;

Ruth and I have changed. A lot. I’m not the person she married. I have different goals, different convictions, a different sense of morality. Different ways to love.

It is the star to every wandering bark,
who's worth's unknown, although his height be taken.

We change each other and change by each other’s changes. Our love isn’t based on our personality traits. The thing that holds us together is not ourselves. It’s a kind of transcendent love.

Love's not Time's fool, though rosy lips and cheeks
within his bending sickle's compass come;

For about 123 days of the summer, Ruth and I are the same age. Tomorrow she’s older than me again. We’re in the midst of so much change, but we still love.

Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks,
But bears it out even to the edge of doom.

It does not matter how much we grow. It doesn’t matter how much we change. It doesn’t matter that we aren’t the people we married. Love that alters with alteration is not our kind of love.

If this be error, and upon me prov'd
I never writ, nor no man ever loved.

Happy birthday Ruth. I love you forever.
Love
Matt