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Rev. Matthew Fox Shares About Finding Peace in Life's Challenges

I had the pleasure of recently interviewing author Matthew Fox, and I took the opportunity to tap into his pastoral side and asked a few personal questions. One of the questions I asked had to do with all the struggles and challenges we human beings face in life, and some of the ways that we might find more peace in it all. His response was very insightful and I wanted to share it here in this clip.  I hope you enjoy it.

Interview with Defrocked Pastor Frank Schaefer about LGBTQ’s and the Church

Pastor Frank Schaefer
I recently had an opportunity to catch up with Frank Schaefer, who is the prolific United Methodist pastor who was very publicly defrocked (fired and stripped of his credentials) for officiating the wedding ceremony of his gay son.  He has since been “refrocked” and is serving at a UMC in Isla Vista, CA – and he is continuing to speak about what he learned through his experience.  I asked Frank four key questions about what the future might have in store for our LGBTQ brothers and sisters in the Church, and his wisdom and vision were palpable.  We won’t go much into Frank’s back-story here, but you can learn more from his book Defrocked or by watching this video which nicely recaps his experience in three minutes or so. 

Goats, Banks, Corporations, and Politicians

For the past few months I have been taking my kids to visit a new herd of goats at a nearby farm, which they have grown very fond of. The goats love carrots and apples - and if you know kids at all, you will know that kids love goats! Throughout the day in the life of this particular herd of goats, families with kids will show up to feed them, and over time these goats have taught me an important lesson about society and politics in watching them with the kids.  

Violence Is Not The Answer

Twisted Gun Non Violence
Like my recent post titled Why I Love ISIS and Osama bin Laden; the subject of loving enemies and non-violence tends to fall a bit flat when it goes against our mainstream angst. Sure, lot's of people talk about peace, but it's often very conditional.  So, because I'm not a very politically correct blogger, I am going to post this anyway. 

7 "At Some Points" of Progressive Christianity

A few years ago I took a shot at articulating my evolving and progressing reasons for remaining a Christian (without it being focused around what I no longer believed).  As part of that process I crafted 7 "At Some Points" of Progressive Christianity, and found it harder than I thought it would be.  

Sure, it’s easy for conservative Christians to do, as they can just go to the majority of Christian churches in America and copy their belief statements, which are often derived verbatim from ancient creeds that were developed by the councils of Nicaea and Chalcedon between the years 325 and 451 CE  –  or influenced by the fundamentalist movement of the 20th century. But most people reading this will know that much of the theology of those statements has become outdated or insufficient – which means that to the degree that keeping the label of Christianity is important (which I will address in Part 4 of this series) we need some new models of articulation. 

Hey Vice President Pence, Let 'em Eat Cake!

Here's why I think one of Vice President Pence's bills while Governer of Indiana, called the Religious Freedom Reform Act, is the exact opposite of how Jesus would have handled things.

"As Jesus was walking along, he saw a man called Matthew sitting at the tax booth; and he said to him, “Follow me.” And Matthew got up and followed him.

Why I Love ISIS Members and Osama bin Laden

Osama bin Laden ISIS

Ok, first things first, this headline is not click-bait, it is real.  I grew up in New York.  Both my father and grandfather were in the construction business and worked on the twin towers with their own bare hands.  I have an uncle who is a detective that was stationed at the WTC Port Authority station, and also a cousin who worked in Tower 2.  Both my uncle and cousin survived, but when those buildings fell, I felt pure hate for those who did it.  I admit it, I felt pure – unfettered - unadulterated hate for those murderers.  I cannot imagine how the poor souls felt who actually did lose their loved ones that dark day.  I think all human beings of conscience felt absolutely horrified at seeing how misguided and indoctrinated other human beings can become.

The Parable of the Window Shade

I have a couple windows in my sitting room (actual pic there btw).  Sometimes in the morning I get up early and hang out in that room for a bit to read or write, and I open the shade on the right to let a little light in.

Often times I don’t even bother opening the larger shade on the left because the smaller window on the right seems to let as much light in as when they’re both opened, and the smaller one certainly transmits more light than if I only open the large one instead.

Bart Ehrman with Stephen Colbert

This is a funny interview of Bart Ehrman by Stephen Colbert on the Colbert Report.  It's definitely worth the 6 minutes to check it out.   If you don't know Bart, he is a scholar who went to Wheaton College to pursue the evangelical ministry, but through his study there, and his subsequent Ph.D studies at Princeton, he ended up writing multiple best selling books about the many errors and contradictions in the Bible.  I find his scholarship to be excellent.

I'm a Gay Christian! (sort of...)

progressive Christian Cross
It’s official:  I am here to proclaim openly that I am a happy Christian!  What?  Did you think I meant something other than happy when I said I was gay?  Oh… you thought I liked guys? You mean the word gay has evolved and changed its common meaning over the past fifty years? Well no, I’m not gay in that way (not that there would be anything wrong with that). I was a child of the 80's and the earliest use of the word gay that I ever heard was in the intro to the The Flinstones and the lyrics to The Most Wonderful Time of the Year by Andy Williams. But perhaps there are some of you who are reading this right now who’ve never heard the word gay used in any other context?  In which case, let’s talk about another word that has evolved its meaning over the last fifty years: Christian.

Love Love Love is All We Need

Love Is All We NeedAs much as I like rolling up my sleeves and looking deeply at a subject, I also very much appreciate images that can do the work of a thousand words, so I try to create some sharable memes.   I don't post them all on the blog, so if you're not already following the facebook page be sure to like (and follow) it to see them all.

A big focus is the messages of peace and love that Jesus and others demonstrated by their examples.  So I created this image to help spread the word that love truly is all we need.

False Evolution vs True Evolution

A (creationist) friend shared this image on facebook today, and I found it troubling, as if it has to be an either-or type of thing.  Like someone cannot agree with evolution and be a humble follower of Jesus.

The Progressive Christianity Index (PCI)

Welcome.  This project is designed to promote awareness and understanding about the various types of people who classify themselves as "progressive Christians" and participate in "progressive Christian" communities.  All voter data on the associated surveys is completely anonymous and completed in partnership with Survey Monkey.

Do You See Jesus?

I wanted to share a little back-story on this image, as I think the chain of events around how I found it, and why I created it as a text over, tells as story of its own.

Now to those of you who know my theology, you will know that I don't literally go for the heaven / hell  and king / throne imagery in this parable - but I don't want to get into a big exegesis about that in this post.  What I do want to get into though is the points Jesus is making.  He's making two points (1) love ain't about intellectual beliefs  (2) if we want to "believe in Jesus" we do that by serving "the least of our brothers and sisters."  That's how we show that we "believe" (properly translated as agree) in what Jesus was saying...

Here's the Bible parable I'm talking about:

What God Isn't

what God isntWhile writing this months column on prayer for ProgressiveChristianity.Org (which you can check out here if you would like) I got inspired to create the latest meme.   What do you think?

If you would like to comment and share you can click here for the Facebook post

What Are James Fowlers Stages of Faith?

James W Fowler Stages of FaithJames Fowler was a Professor of Theology at Emory University, and a United Methodist Minister.  He published the following "Stages of Faith" in his book called Stages of Faith: The Psychology of Human Development and the Quest for Meaning, which became very popular in the 1980's and remains influential to this day.

Over the past few months I've heard a number of people mention Fowler's stages in casual conversation, and I thought it might be useful to share them with anyone who may not be familiar with them - or to serve as a reminder for those who may have heard it in the past but haven't looked back at them in some time.  Similar to the stages of grief we might reference after the loss of a loved one, these "stages of faith" by Fowler can help us make sense of our life - and our spiritual path.   They're also helpful to focus us on where we are and what we might be looking for next.   I highly suggest everyone take an honest inventory and put some thought into how we progress, and if we are currently engaged in any communities or practices that are helping us move forward.

You've Heard It Said, But Jesus Says

Jesus You've Heard it Said
When I was 20 yrs old and had been away from the church for some time, I began to consider going back again.  There was a lot in the Bible that confused me or turned me off, but I was able to shelf that stuff as non-gating at that time, because there were a few specific things that made getting back into Christian community seem like a better decision than staying away.  One of those things that drew me back into Christian community was the "you've heard it said" statements by Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount.  

Is Ray Comfort Right About Evolution?

Jesus Fish with Legs
From my years in the church I still have a number of fundamentalist friends who swear that evolution is just some unfounded and outlandish theory to distract us from God.  To them evolution is a threat to all things sacred, because if God did not create us specifically as human beings, and deem us special as compared to other flora and fauna on earth, then maybe their entire worldview is in jeopardy.  If we're just really smart monkeys, or even really really smart slime evolved over millions of years through the brutal process of natural selection, that changes their outlook on God (and hence some dig in their heels with creationism, while others throw anything metaphysical out the window and become Atheists).

I specifically created this blog post to offer a resource for you to simply send to anyone you know who is confused about the evolution vs. creationism debate.

Do Fundamentalists Own Christianity?


Jesse Dooleyby Jesse Dooley

fundamentalist Christian question markThere seems to be two opposing positions that plead for absolute membership. One is fundamentalism, specifically Christian fundamentalism.  The other is atheism, specifically anti-Christian atheism.

I have lived on both sides of the aisle. As a young teenager, I was introduced to a brand of Christianity that most Americans would recognize. It was a Christianity that believed it was the only true way to God. A few distinctive characteristics from my personal experiences with Christian fundamentalism include belief in Biblical inerrancy and infallibility, young earth creationism, and Dominionism.

So why do I still identify myself as a Christian if I don’t hold to such views anymore? 

Are Naked Pastors the Future of the Church? A Case Study on David Hayward

When was the last time you were naked?   No, I mean really naked?   I’m not talking about clothes here, I’m talking about your spirit?  I ask this unusual question because today I am excited to share a case study on David Hayward, aka “The Naked Pastor.” His well known cartoons are almost always in black & white, but his pastoral journey has been anything but.  And today we’re going to take a closer look at his journey as a model for the future Church, which he was gracious enough to agree to.
David was has been a pastor for 30+ years, and is also a talented cartoonist.  He can say with one cartoon what I often struggle to say in a thousand words, and that’s how I came to find his blog.  And yes I left the word was struck above on purpose, because to me he is probably doing more pastoring now than he ever did from a pulpit.  But as much as I like his cartoons, this post really has nothing to do with that, and it’s not a biography about David either.  Today I want to take a look at why a guy like David, who is full of talent, commitment, and creativity tends to get pushed out of a pastoral role in today’s Churches.  And to also take a look at how Christianity can (and must) evolve to not only tolerate someone like David, but fully embrace him!  And this isn’t just about David, it’s about the thousands of  Christian leaders who share his story (perhaps you?)

Welcome: Here's What You Must Believe.

what progressive christians believe
Out of curiosity I recently looked at the websites of the ten closest churches to my house and read their "what we believe" statements.  As it turns out, every single one was pretty-much verbatim.  So given that the belief statement made everything so clear and simple within their communities, I wanted to join the trend here at Christian Evolution and announce that we've created our own what we believe statement I hope this makes it crystal clear to you what you believe...

7 Solid Gold Bible Verses

Jesus 101 Bible Verses
5 Points of Jesus 101
In this post I want to share seven solid gold Bible verses that I've collected over years while mining the Bible.  There are many more obviously, but for this post I've settled on 7 as a good biblical type of number ... (I figured 40 might challenge too many folks ADD :-)  Like any gold mining though, I had to learn how to separate the rocks from the gold in order to find riches, and it has been worth it.  So grab a hard-hat and come check it out.

Love Is The Solution

Love is the solution

Do you want to make a major positive impact in this world?  Do you appreciate the message of love from Jesus, but not necessarily all the ambiguous conditions and pre-requisites that some folks add to it?  Well there's good news...we can in good conscience follow a philosophy which is much less about what we believe, and much more about how we believe.

When Jesus spoke of "belief" he used words that translated in Greek to the word πιστεύω (pisteuō) and from the Hebrew word אָמַן ('aman) - and these words had a bit of a different meaning from what we understand today when we use the word "believe."  To Jesus, belief meant to trust, commit to, or be steadfast in.  In other words, to Jesus belief was action related, and not merely an intellectual agreement. 

Jesus once said in a parable:

Could Paul Distinguish Sexual Immorality from Homosexuality?

Could Paul Distinguish SEXual Immorality and HomoSEXuality?

This post is Part II in a series on morality, and this installment uses the topic of LGBT for a muse.  I don't plan to go into depth specifically on the issue of homosexuality, as I have already done that in this post.   Instead, this time I want to take a specific swat at delineating the biblical topics of homosexuality from sexual immorality - as I think the two are often tossed into the same bucket which causes a lot of confusion.

In Paul's letter to the Galatians, which most scholars accept as authentic, Paul writes the following as he tee's up his Fruit of the Spirit doctrine: 

"Now the works of the flesh are these;  adultery [sexual unfaithfulness], fornication [sexual immorality], uncleanness, lasciviousness [unbridled sensuality],  idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies, envyings, murders, drunkenness, and revellings [orgies]…"   

Wait?  Did Paul accidentally forget homosexuality in his magna carta of sins?  No, of course not.  While it's clear that Paul has real issues with sexual morality, he does not comment here on the issue of two people of the same sex in a loving and committed relationship.  This is because:

Are Progressive Christians Losing Morality?

Moral Compass
A recent article by blogger Chad Holtz from UMC Holiness suggested that the "progressive Christian movement" is lacking morality and holiness.  In his article he recalls his early progressive days at conferences noticing no difference in progressive Christians and the rest of the world - including drinking, crude language, and looser sexual standards.  He even recounts hanging around the camp-fire outside the Patheos RV (famous for making “Patheos Punch”) late into the night during progressive Christian conferences, and how that "reminded him of his Navy days where nothing was edited, nor sacred..."   I'm not saying he's wrong, but it also got me to wondering if he's he's right?  Are folks in the amorphous "progressive Christian" grouping prone to redefine morality?  And if so, is that a problem?  And how do we actually define what's moral and what is not?

The Book of John (Lennon)

John Lennon Thinking about GodI play a bit of guitar in my spare time, and the other day I came across a nice fingerstyle arrangement of the song Imagine by John Lennon.  I'd heard the song about a thousand times before on the radio, but I never thought to learn it on guitar until this cool arrangement came my way.  And the process really made me think...

As I was practicing the arrangement I was also singing along with it, and while singing it, the words hit me in a way that they never had prior, and that's what I want to discuss with you today.

Love is God

Love Target BullseyeWe humans often talk about God.

Collectively we have gone through stages of understanding God over time, from mythic views, to literal views, to scientific views - and there's some truth to be found in all of those expressions.

Paul's role in Christianity?

Saint Paul of Tarsus Painting
Recently I was having a theological conversation with a friend, and he was referring to Paul's writings as part of making his case (he said that the doctrine of Original Sin is a fact because Paul said so).  Finally I asked him why he thinks anything Paul says must be authoritative in the first place?  Why wouldn't Paul's opinion be fallible like any other pastor or theologian over the course of time?  And in response, as I have noticed before in similar conversations with others, he acted like I was crazy to even suggest such an idea. 

Should some Progressive Christians call themselves Jesusists instead?

Progressive Christian
I recently received some direct feedback asking why I (or anyone with similar views as me) felt the need to keep the word "Christian" in my religious designation. They asked "why not just call myself something different all together to avoid confusion, and keep the word Christian sacred for people who believe all of the cornerstone creeds of Christianity?" He referenced my manifesto: Am I a Christian? where I say that I don't require bible inerrancy, virgin birth, a trinitiarian God, fulfilled prophecies, or a literal resurrection, to identify with Christianity ... And he asked why not just call myself a "Jesusist" or something totally different to remove any ambiguity?  

Tablet Found About Early Mesopotamian Ark

Mesopotamian Ark Tablet
An article on the Fox News website about a newly discovered tablet (clay, not i) recently caught my eye.   It didn't catch my eye because of the coolness of the actual discovery, but rather because of the title of the Fox News article, which was worded: "Ancient Tablet Reveals New Details About Noah's Ark Prototype."  Now I'm not sure if anything in that title jumps out at you, but it certainly jumped out at me...  A Noak's Ark Prototype?

So I proceeded to read the article (which was sent to me by a "fundamentalist" friend following a discussion we had about my thoughts about Noah's Ark being the ancient Semitic cultures bid at re-purposing much older Mesopotamian Ark story, as a method to share their theological insights).

Comedian Rainn Wilson on Oprah's Super Soul Sunday? Discussing God? Yes!

The other night I was looking through my DVR to find some stuff to delete (in order to make some room for new episodes of Parenthood and Downton Abbey ... don't judge! :-)  While doing so, I noticed that my wife had a bunch of Oprah's Super Soul Sunday's stored up (which if you're not aware of Super Soul Sunday, its basically an interview between Oprah and a guest about a spiritual topic, and it airs every Sunday morning).   So I opened it up with the intention to delete a few episodes, and I noticed one of the titles was a discussion with Rainn Wilson who plays Dwight on NBC's huge hit The Office.

Now I'm going to admit something here and probably render myself pretty much irrelevant to a huge cross section of American cool people, but I have never once watched The Office, even though no less than a trillion people have told me that I absolutely HAVE to watch it!

So I began to wonder just what a comedian, who plays a super-nerd, in a show about working in an office, could possibly have up his sleeve to enlighten Oprah about?  And my curiosity got the best of me, so I clicked on the episode to see what was up ... And to my delight, it was very interesting!

Is Bishop Spong a Heretic or a Hero? Or Both?

Bishop John Shelby Jack Spong Speaking Preaching a Sermon Heretic Hero

Here's the question of the day:  Is Bishop Jack Spong a Heretic?  Or is Jack Spong a hero?  Or perhaps is he both?

For those who don't know who Bishop John Shelby "Jack" Spong is, he's a retired Episcopal Bishop of Newark, New Jersey.  He still preaches in churches and writes lots of books on Christian subjects. And he still says the traditional Christian creeds and wears his clerical vestments with pride. But when he discusses Christian theological subjects, many folks become bewildered by his controversial positions when compared to many American mainline traditional interpretations. Some people call Bishop Spong a Christian, others a heretic, and others call him an atheist.   Given all the controversy that surrounds him, Bishop Spong has articulated his thoughts into "12 points" (or theses) and they're listed below.   Can you come to a conclusion of your own based on just these points?   

What is Progressive Christianity?

Progressive ChristianToday we examine "Progressive" Christianity.  In particular, what is "Progressive Christianity"?  Including what that term is most widely understood to mean today, how that label is evolving, and how we can still build a community around it.  As well as what it might imply to situate one's self amongst "Progressive Christians" in today's growing post-modern context.  We will also be exploring whether there can be any "hope" in progressive ideas about Christianity.  As well as why it can be nice to have progressive communities around to help facilitate conversation with others of similar mind, background, and experience. 

Don't Worry About Tomorrow -- Money

Money StarToday I want to have a look at Matthew 6:34 where Jesus says "Don't worry about tomorrow...for each day has enough trouble of it's own."  And I want to look specifically as it relates to our relationships with money and fear.  If I can make this connection effectively, it will illustrate that generosity with money can be one of the best antidotes to fear that exists.  It will also highlight that the way we handle our money can have a direct correlation to the amount of peace we can have in our lives - but as typical with teachings of Jesus, not always in the way we might think.

To Be First ... Be Last -> Mark 9:35

Sometimes in studying the Bible we focus on deep exegesis, which can be a lot like putting a rose under a microscope, in the sense that the microscope helps us understand it on a much deeper level.  But looking at a rose that closely can also take away a lot of it's natural sense of beauty.  With that in mind, today I want to take a broad look at one of my favorite Bible verses, which is Mark 9:35  "whoever wants to be first must be last of all, and servant of all."

Who was Legion the Demon?

Demon Legion Jesus Cast OutAs part of our series on Bible inerrancy, today I wanted to look at an interesting story about a demon called Legion, who is mentioned in both Mark and Luke's Gospels.  In particular, we'll look at five elements of the story which can enlighten the conversation on inerrancy (and on casting out demons)...

Where did the event occur?
For starters let's explore the geography.  In Mark 5 the original story refers to this event occurring in a region called Gerasenes, which is miles away from the sea of Galilee.  However, hundreds of years later, the writers of the King James Version of the Bible noticed this, and changed it to the "town of Gadarenes" so it would make more sense.  Then later versions changed it back as they assumed ambiguity is better than getting caught in a bit of outright revisionist history.

Does God Give Signs When We Ask? A real world example.

A while back a friend and I were discussing the Book of Acts in the Bible. And we were specifically talking about all the signs and wonders that were recorded shortly after the time of Pentecost.  My friend had made a statement about how much easier believing in the power of Jesus would be if Jesus would give signs when we asked like the Bible claims that he did to his original followers.  For example: 

What Can a Donkey Teach us About Christianity?

Today I want to explore an interesting truth about the Bible and modern day Christianity, via a scripture lesson from a donkey.   (Well...not directly from a donkey, because donkey's don't actually talk... (or do they? Num 22:28

Bible Donkey Zechariah Jesus

OK, maybe some folks do believe that donkey's talk, but for today's purposes we are going to discuss a non-talking donkey.

Is Religion Good for Society?

A recent Gallup Poll highlighted a trend that most Americans (77%) believe that religion is losing it's influence in American society, but overall Americans still think that Religion is a positive thing for society (to the tune of 75%). 

This brings up an interesting question.   If America is 77% self identified as Christian (and 85% religious of some type), and 75% of society thinks that more religion would be good for America, why is church attendance declining?  And why is religion's influence in America decreasing?

Numerous study averages show that about 20% of Americans regularly attend a church.  But interestingly, that number is steadily declining on a track to become only 10% by 2050.

Did God Dictate the Jewish Law to Moses?

Hammurabi Law Code of Hammarabi I'll never forget the first time that I heard there was an ancient law code which was recorded three hundred years before the law of Moses was recorded in the Bible.  And in addition to the similar tones, styles, and penal prescriptions of these two theocratic law codes, they both contained the famous "eye for an eye" saying.

Similar to the story of Noah's Ark, this story of Moses taking dictation from God to record Israel's law code is an example of ancient Bible writers borrowing earlier pagan ideas and overlaying their own unique slant to them.  This concept took me a while to digest when I was first introduced to it, but these facts shouldn't cause anyone any strife.  Rather they can offer a deeper and honest understanding about how Bible stories were developed, and liberate anyone who may feel that these words were literally spoken by the God of the Old Testament into the ear of Moses.  Let's look a bit deeper:

Why Do Christians Think Homosexuality Is Wrong?

Why do Christians think Homosexuality is wrong

Today I want to take a deeper look at the western civilizations continuing struggle with homosexuality.  This struggle exists within many religious groups, but we're going to focus on the Bible and Christianity here, as it is the common-denominator behind much of the western civilization's anti-gay sentiment...

There have been a number of surveys conducted about why many right-wing Christian's identify themselves as being against homosexuality, and while answers vary around the theme of "family values," the root cause is that most conservative Christians believe that they are justified (and even being obedient) to their Bible based beliefs.  These beliefs are primarily fueled by verses like Leviticus 20:13, which states: 

Exploring for the Narrow Road Which Leads to Life

Christian Cross with Question Mark

In an earlier post titled Am I a Christian I explored whether my evolving understandings of Christianity (or lack thereof) "qualified" me to be called a Christian by today's mainstream standards.  In this post I'm asking about this idea from a different perspective...while exploring for the narrow road which leads to life.

In Matthew 7:14 Jesus is recorded as saying "small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it."   Now to put that in perspective, today there are ~2 Billion self professed Christians on this planet, which is roughly 1/3rd of the world's population... But Jesus said only a few find life.  Could Jesus possibly have meant 1 in 3 when he said a few?  I mean, at best "a few" is 3 of 100 right? ;-)

Later in Matthew's Gospel Jesus is recorded as saying "not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father."  This verse, along with the previous verse, make me wonder if perhaps there are a large quantity of professed Christians who erroneously think they're good-to-go?  Because Jesus obviously cared more about what we do than what we say or believe (after all, the Bible says even the demons confess and believe in Jesus).

Now for the piece de resistance...  Using some very official theological math, if 33% of the world's population confess to be Christian (which equates to roughly 2,000,000,000 people) but only "a few" will find life, this means that roughly 1,940,000,000 Christians in this generation are barking up the wrong tree (give or take a few million for standard margin of error of course). 

So what's a Christian to do?  Who better to ask than a lawyer:

In Luke 10-25 an expert in the law asked Jesus "what shall I do to inherit eternal life?"  Jesus did something rare for him, and gave the politically correct answer of "What is written in the law?"  In Matthew 19:16 someone asked Jesus the same question and Jesus answered in the same way, "keep the commandments."

Here's what we do know...

Exploring the Differences Between the Gospels of Mark and John

Exploring the Differences Between the Gospels of Mark and John

Before diving right into the differences between the Gospels of Mark vs. John, I want to take a quick step back for some context. I want to reflect quickly on a story about three men who were blindfolded in order to illustrate a lesson. They were asked to try touching something to see if they could guess what it was just by the touch (it was an elephant). One man was led to feel the elephant's trunk, and he thought it was a fire hose. The next man was led to feel the elephant's leg, and he thought it was a tree trunk. The third man was led to feel the elephant's body, and he thought it was a wall. Then they all were able to take their blindfolds off to discover that it was the same elephant that they had felt, but each man experienced a different part of that elephant and came to different conclusion about it's identity.  

That analogy works great for spirituality too, as there are common denominators in all paths (from fundamental religious to atheist non-religious). And while they may have very different characteristics, they are all attempting to understand some of the same big ideas, and address the needs of humanity. 

But there are others who feel differently. For example, some feel that Jesus is the one and only way to a place called heaven, and that anyone who doesn't accept Jesus in this lifetime is going to burn in hell for eternity. They believe that somehow heaven will be enjoyable for them knowing that some of their loved one's and most of humanity are being torched in the basement below because they had the wrong beliefs.  

It's interesting that people can have access to the same texts, facts, and evidence, yet come to such different conclusions. But maybe all this confusion is not so surprising considering that even the writers of the four Biblical Gospels had their own take on things. A good illustration of this can be seen by contrasting the Gospel of Mark (which most scholars believe is the earliest gospel written) and the Gospel of John (which most scholars believe is the most recent gospel written).

For instance, in Mark's gospel of Jesus, it is recorded in chapter 4 verse 34 that in Jesus public ministry he never taught without using parables.   But conversely, John's biography of Jesus contains not one single parable. Similarly, in the earlier three gospels Jesus flat out refuses to do what we call "signs," but in the Gospel of John it's "signs" that are the key part of his ministry.

Now that may be somewhat of a minor issue to a reader who really wants to believe that both Mark and John were direct eye witness apostles of Jesus who were doing their best to just report the facts. This would be important to substantiate their claim that they both wrote fully inerrant and inspired biographies of Jesus, only from differing perspectives. But a larger gap occurs when we consider that Mark doesn't contain one single "I am" statement (i.e., where Jesus directly refers to himself as anything special) and Jesus is never publicly acknowledged as the son of God while he is walking the earth. In fact, those who pester Jesus about his identity in Mark get hushed up quickly by him; so much so that the phenomenon is commonly referred to as the "messianic secret."  

The Gospel of John however, is quite the opposite. Jesus is recorded as using seven bold "I am" statements, which today are used as the cornerstones of the entire belief structure of many followers. Our theological antennae always have to go up too when we start seeing seven of things, but that's another post for another day.  

So let's step back and recap - and then look at something they both agree on:

- In John we see a self confident Jesus who proclaims his immense importance and divinity a number of times in the first person, as well as his status as the exclusive path to heaven.  His role as teacher is minimized, and there's no use of parables. 

- In Mark, Jesus only teaches in parables, which hardly anyone understands, and neither he or any of his disciples publicly proclaim any divine importance.

Notably however, there are a couple things they both agree on, and that's the exclusion in their stories of the virgin birth. Neither of the gospels mention it. For that matter as an aside, neither does James, the brother of Jesus.  Paul, the key apostle of Jesus. Or Peter, the best friend of Jesus. 

The point here is when we look at the Bible and The Gospels Of Mark and John, the virtue of humility should be the result. It requires a lot of faith to argue that both Mark and John are inerrant accounts of the same infallible story. It takes a lot of work to claim that they are only told slightly differently due to the personality and style of the tellers without regard to their personal motives, audiences, and understandings of the situation. 

Therefore I would suggest the best policy when approaching anything to do with the subject of God (from evangelicals to atheists) is probably one of humility and graciousness. And we can have those discussions while jointly focusing on a common goal of making the world a better place for everyone to live, even if there are significant differences as we see in Mark and John's Gospels.

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by Christian Evolution