The transaction

Three men explain the “Doctrine of Imputation” on the DVD entitled the “Biggest Question.” They tell viewers that the infinite debt each of us owes before becoming a Christian is eliminated once we receive God’s gift of Jesus. In fact, not only is the debt paid, but lots of extra credit is deposited into our accounts.

However, to receive the bonus of endless funds, an actual transaction must take place. If this transaction is not performed “rightly,” they tell viewers, we won’t get “Jesus goodness.” It’s quite likely, they explain, that we’ve been taught the wrong way. For example, people might have encouraged us to “ask Jesus into your heart.” They tell us we cannot “ask” Jesus or “make” him our “lord and savior.” Jesus already is these things. The idea of “accepting” this fact is nearer to the proper characterization of the transaction, but even this is not accurate because we don’t accept Jesus so much as he accepts us.

To help us understand, the hosts provide an analogy. Imagine you want to belong to a country club. You don’t just walk up to the front doors and announce: “I accept you as my country club!” You don’t call up the management and ask meekly, “Will you be my country club?” No, you fill out the application and provide the proper information. You submit a request for admittance. You let the country club review the materials and accept you.

After you’ve been accepted, you can then “come to Jesus.” But even this must be done “rightly.” Your motivation should never be gifts. You must seek the giver of the gifts. If the country club analogy was still in play, I suppose this would mean your request to join would not be accompanied by an expectation of access to the amenities the club offers. Golf? Tennis? Bonus!

As the instructions grow more complicated, I question my ability to pull off this transaction. I picture the distance between Jesus and me as a field scattered with land mines. I don’t know what’s less reliable: the map I’m being offered or my ability to read it. Either way, I’m anticipating flying shrapnel.

Thankfully, according to this thesis, there’s reason for hope. In a sense, the more I screw up, the better off I am—as long as I recognize my own ineptitude. The men assure me that what the divine has to offer is not something I can earn; nor is it something I can fail to earn. They assure me that believing I have anything to do with the acquisition of “Jesus goodness” is self-righteous, as is feeling superior. Apparently, the absolute worst thing I can do is believe I’m even just a tiny bit less wretched than anyone else. How this works with their assurance that once I embrace the Doctrine of Imputation, I no longer have to feel “lacking in goodness,” I’m not sure. To embrace my badness or not to embrace my badness—that is the question.

I watch the DVD twice. The first time I’m wide-eyed at all the fancy terms and the nuanced explanations and the banking metaphors. My second viewing, I struggle to grasp the meaning behind what they tell me, especially since all three of them seem confident in their interpretation. That’s when something troubling occurs to me: isn’t such certainty a form of superiority? If you think you know the right way of forming a relationship with Jesus, doesn’t that implicitly give you an edge, however slight, over the rest of wretched humanity?

49 thoughts on “The transaction

  1. This must be where they got that phrase: You’re damned if you do and you’re damned if you don’t!
    Thanks, Corinna.

  2. Corinna, as usual, you’re absolutely correct in your assessment – your judgment is astute!
    I’ve checked my accounts – I’m not broke. You know what they say, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!”
    Guess I’ll just stick to the Hokey Pokey Club – you know, the one where you “get yourself turned around!”
    ha, ha, ha. . . .hope the merry miners are having a good Sunday!

  3. Talk about being stuck between a rock and a hard place. I’m glad it doesn’t have to be a concern of mine because I was born good and have always been good. Now that’s superiority for you wretched ones. Please………..Try to keep up. 🙂
    Imagine a whole religious movement based on making people believe they are not now nor were they ever, good and chances are that even with Jesus they will never be good enough. I ask again: Where is the grace in that??

  4. Hmmmm, I dunno…. Old Testament God loved to create contracts (AKA covenants), as if He’s the Ultimate lawyer of Contract Law.

    The Old Testament IS written in a language of covenants (theological term for ‘contract’), where God often enters into contracts with mankind and agrees to bless those who offer sacrifices to Him and follow the terms of the contract to a tee, thus engaging in ‘quid pro quo’ behavior (“I’ll do this for you, if you do that for me”).

    It started when Adam and Eve were blessed by God with the ‘Edenic Covenant’, which applied ONLY AS LONG as they didn’t the violate the ONLY term demanded in the contract: “don’t eat the forbidden fruit”. They broke it, and all “h e double hockey sticks” broke out.

    God’s love for contracts continues with Noah and the Flood, where God promised to allow Noah and his family survive IF Noah promised to build the Ark and load it full of animals. Once that ‘performance contract’ was successfully completed, God blessed Noah and family with the newly-drafted Noahic Covenant, a more-complex contract that had many more terms to it (although it was an unbreakable contract, unlike the Edenic Covenant):

    1) for the first time in human existence, God handed down a “no bloodshed” (murder/manslaughter) law, and gave mankind the blessing of being able to live under a system of laws with God promising to hold murderers accountable for their crimes (it wasn’t like that BEFORE the Flood: oops). In exchange, Noah incurred the OBLIGATION to enforce the new “no bloodshed” law, after having been ‘deputized’ by God in Genesis 9:6.

    2) God also blessed mankind by extending their dietary range to include meat, but made them promise NOT to eat animal blood with the flesh (Gene 9:5)

    As with contract law today, something of tangible value (‘consideration’) has to exchange hands between the parties in order for the agreement to be binding: that’s what the animal sacrifice in Genesis 8 was all about, an offering to God in order to secure the contract, making it enforceable.

    (The narrative of the Flood is jumbled, as it contains two accounts blended from the Yahwist and Priestly sources).

    Oh, good luck taking God to court for His ‘failure to perform’ his end of a covenant: that’s where the “I’m making a contract with God” analogy falls flat on its face, as there’s no higher court to appeal to in order to seek justice since the differential in power is too great, Hence, it’s more like an ‘offer you cannot refuse’, as humans have no leverage at all…..

    Of course, Christian theology is rooted in ancient Hebrew concepts of entering covenants, but Christianity has taken the analogy past the level of absurdity, since they claim that God is basically paying back a debt owed to Himself by giving Himself a loan in the body of Christ. It makes no sense…. Jesus is supposed to represent a “perfect” blood sacrifice which lasts for all time to cover up everyone’s sins which was inherited from the fall of Adam (Edenic Covenant), but you benefit only IF you accept the deal. Otherwise, you’re still on the hook for Adam’s sins.

    Jews laugh at the concept, instead choosing to see YHWH as a God of mercy who forgives the sins of mortals. The Jews had no choice BUT to modify their beliefs after the Temple was destroyed in 70 CE, and they didn’t have a place to offer animals sacrifices to atone for their sins. Instead, they now believe that other actions (eg studying the torah) serves the same role that an animal sacrifice once filled.

  5. Since we’re talking about covenants/contracts, I have to quote the one I live by. I don’t know why Jason and his cohorts don’t know about this one, but it seems pretty plain to me.

    “Behold, the days are coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah [which, since Jesus came, is now all people, not just the Jews] — not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant which they broke, though I was a husband to them. But this is the covenant that I will make the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put my law in their minds, and write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. No more shall every man teach his neighbor, and every man his brother, saying ‘Know the Lord,’ for they all shall know me, from the least of them to the greatest of them, says the Lord. For I will forgive their iniquity and their sin I will remember no more.” (Jeremiah 31:31-34)

    What this says to me (and this is my interpretation, I could be wrong) is that after Jesus, the old contracts were null & void. There’s a new one now in effect, where, as Tim likes to remind us from Romans 1, “what may be known of God is manifest in them, for God has shown it to them.” We all know God, whatever way that works for each of us to describe it. From the illiterate to the scholar, from the Down’s syndrome to the Mensa IQ, from Shelley to Dave 😉 — all have the truth within. Jeremiah’s words here seem to X out the superiority Corinna mentions above.

    Jeremiah also seems to say here that we don’t need anybody to teach us the Doctrine of Imputation (ahem). God has forgiven and forgotten our sin. Without our jumping through any hoops? Without our applying to join the club by wallowing in our unworthiness to join the club? Without taking a college course to study the way to God? Apparently so, at least that’s what it looks like to me.

    I realize many of my merry miner friends don’t necessarily use the Bible as their Owner’s Manual, which is ok by me, I’m just pointing out what I think is a major flaw in Jason’s approach, using the same source he’s using.

  6. Hi Guys. I get to contemplate this one while getting ready for a family birthday party. My 3 year old neice is coming and our house is far from baby-proof. I need all the prayers and good thoughts you can send! If I survive, I’ll update later. See ya!

  7. I really have but one comment to make. I apologize in advance of the onslaught that I expect from this that I will not be able to respond to any further comments. The week is about to kick back in and my schedule is far too hectic… here we go…

    Ok, so certainty doesn’t equal superiority any more than uncertainty equals inferiority. Plus, the very heart of the Gospel message teaches that those who believe themselves to be superior need to be humbled before God from whom comes all knowledge, wisdom, etc..

    Thanks again for the thoughts Corinna!

  8. Jason and others,
    I feel no need to create any onslaught after reading Corinna’s blog. I think she did a fine job of assessing the situation. Merrill

  9. What amazes me in all this, Corinna et al (there’s Al again…) is that, whether you feel you have understood them correctly or not, what you have related in your post tells me that these people have complicated the simplicity that is in Christ. I certainly can’t say, even after the interactions on this blog, that I know Corinna that well. But this I DO know, that she is a person of above average intelligence, well able to understand their message and its nuances. If anyone says to you that you did not understand what they presented, then the onus is on them to make it clear. They have not made it clear–or, what they HAVE made clear is certainly not the gospel.

    “Accepting” is certainly a valid way of expressing a person’s response to the gospel message. One of the most quoted Bible verses explaining salvation is from John chapter 1, verse 12, which says that, “Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become the children of God” (NIV). The second clause makes clear what he meant by ‘receive’ (a synonym for ‘accept’): ‘believed in his name.’ The New Testament, I think, makes clear that this “believe” is not just a mental assent to facts but trust and reliance. The words ‘believe’ or ‘faith’ are in much dispute in certain Christian circles. I like to use the words trust and rely, because they imply that what you trust in will affect your life. Trusting is something we do in relationship to some one–not some abstract being out there beyond space and time.

    Trust is simple, something we humans are all well capable of–but there has to be a basis for the trust. The 12 disciples didn’t just magically believe in Jesus when he came out to the seashore to call them. They grew in their faith over time as they got to know him…and it took awhile, with lots of false starts. I’m not sure that Jesus ever explained to them the “doctrine of imputation.” Their relationship and devotion to him was not a transaction that they made in order to go to heaven one day. Their relationship and devotion came from understanding more and more who he was and how trustworthy he was….and is.

  10. It’s the kind of Christianity that Pastor Jason represents that I find so irksome because it really does so many injustices to the life and times of Jesus. I find no fault with the Jesus story nor how it gets represented by people who simply take it to heart and find a spiritual support system for themselves that makes the relationship with Jesus a comfort. Yes, if asked, they are happy to share what it is that makes the relationship so meaningful to them but they don’t bombard you with it in the belief that they can some how shock you into believing. “My God, man! Don’t you realize that Jesus shed his blood for you and there’s just no greater gift!” and here comes the scripture…”For God so loved the world…….” As if we had never heard it before. We have heard it before…….in gentler voice hundreds of times. Instead of hearing the gentle whisper of grace within they, for some reason I haven’t yet understood, get taken in by the showmanship and bombarding voice of those who would once again pounce on the need for sinners to repent to the point where even those who believe they are the deepest of believers get tweaked by some element of doubt in their goodness for already being a believer. There is no winning from such voices. You will never be good enough. You will forever be striving for your salvation. What in the world will you do when you arrive in the kingdom and you no longer have to think that way. Jesus came, did his thing, you believed, you got saved and here you are. Now what?? Supposing, all along, you had been taught instead that your real work should have been to learn how to live in the kingdom as if it was already a part of your consciousness and you had, instead found the revelation behind the words that he came “so that you could live life more abundantly” and the passing from this life to the next was simply a smooth transition from one state of grace to another. Ah….”the peace of God that excels all thought.”

  11. This way of describing why Jesus died is actually a reduction of the cross. Approaching why Jesus died from this angle narrows its meaning and it seems like you are buying an insurance policy or something. We need to see the broader picture.

    In the New Testament Jesus’ death on the cross is portrayed as a disgrace and a scandal. It was embarrassing to believe in him – How could God’s Messiah die at the hands of the very people he came to get rid of? The scandal is that the Messiah is not king but a dead man. We miss this “edginess” in the 21st Century. The cross is like an electric chair. Imagine hanging that around your neck!

    So why did Jesus die? Was it “for me?” The Bible explains, “The Messiah died for our sins according to the Scriptures.” That goes back to Israel’s story. It’s a story where people struggle to love God and one another, where there’s evil, violence, oppression, and bondage. And God’s on a mission to restore his world which he proclaimed as good. The Bible says, “God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself.” So it’s ultimately God’s story and God’s action: God coming to die. Jesus’ death is explained by many metaphors coming from both Old and New Testaments. All need to be considered together. Here are some:

    He died to justify us (because we break the 10 Commandments)
    He died to redeem us (we are enslaved–Jesus was setting people free.)
    He died for personal relationships (to reconcile us to God)
    He died for a permanent sacrifice (he was perfect; no more are needed)
    He died in battle (triumphing over evil through the resurrection, which overturned the world’s death sentence)

    He is ushering in a kingdom in which we have been given new hearts and the Spirit of God through whom we live differently, blessing the world.

    Each aspect is very humbling for us because they all suggest we have a need before God. We want to believe we are good enough, that it is all within us already, but the truth is, something is wrong and God is offering a way to restore us. I don’t believe the need is to “embrace your badness.” The Bible doesn’t define the problem as, “You are all bad.” It says “all have turned away.” There’s a big difference.

    Perhaps the reason you feel these people have a sense of superiority is that they are using one image to describe something that is far richer in meaning than that. Media-driven (DVD) productions have a way of making a sort of “sound bite” of things, “i.e., okay, that’s our twenty minutes, now let’s go on to the commercial (or pass the offering plate, whatever…)

    I can’t wait until you get to Judaism. I think it will explain a lot.

    • Hi Ginger–

      I didn’t see your post before I wrote my diatribe below, but your summed it up perfectly. I keep asking myself, if we are so unworthy, why would God offer His own Son as a sacrifice for us?

    • Hi Ginger and Tim:
      I want to thank you both for what you said above and below this, including your ‘diatribe’, Tim. I appreciate so much what I’ve been reading from you and all the others….it’s helped me to sort out and perhaps begin to systematize what I’ve been thinking the past couple years. I actually was ‘brainstorming’ a few dichotomies today between what is commonly emphasized in Christianity and what I’ve been thinking and reading in the Gospels. I’m just one person, and there is great danger (seriously) in one person coming up with his own system. An example of what I’m thinking would be: emphasis on getting a ticket to heaven vs. following Jesus, an emphasis on ‘getting saved’ vs. living in the kingdom (two ways of saying the same thing). I suppose I’ll share more as time passes. I hope to spend some time this week thinking more about this. It’s really nice having two months off from school…I don’t have to be up by a specific time so I get better sleep, and I can spend my morning thinking and reading–a genuine treat!! 🙂

      • Walt, I think that your dichotomous thinking is a sensible way to sort out the differences in basic Christian philosophy that we have been reading about. As a non-Christian, maybe I shouldn’t have an opinion on this, and which way I hope you are leaning, but it seems to me that “following Jesus” and “living in the kingdom” brings you into what I would describe as being actively Christian…….bringing your values into your daily life. Using all your energy and time on getting your ticket to heaven through Salvation seems to me to to be focused on your self instead of the bigger picture…….I will be interested in hearing from you as time elapses. Hardly any journey is a straight line…..we need opportunities to pull into a roadside park to give ourselves time to look at new ideas or old ideas in new ways, and to integrate them into our belief systems and our actions. I will be watching to see how your “systemizing” is going. Merrill

  12. Hi Folks.

    Wow, where to start with this one? I think all of you who’ve posted before—from Dave to Jason—raised interesting points. Maybe the best place to start is Walt’s observation about the nature of “the transaction”. As presented on the DVD, it’s so complicated even Corrina has trouble getting her head around it. Let’s put Jesus’ ministry in historical context; he was an itinerant preacher who reached out to the most marginalized people in a rather obscure frontier area of the Roman Empire. Historians estimate, at best, five to ten percent of the empire’s entire population was literate; so it’s safe to assume a tiny fraction of the people Jesus met were even basically literate. Would it make sense for Him to preach the complicated message Corrina describes? Absolutely not! One of the reasons the scribes and officials hated Him so much was that he blew all of the rules away and got to the essence of the relationship between God and His people: “Love God with all your heart, mind, and soul, and love your neighbor as yourself”. Jesus’s message is remarkable for its dearth of rule-giving.

    Second, as Shelley and Dave pointed out, the DVD reduces the intimate relationship between man and God to the legalese of a contract. Gone is the vivid poetry of the Song of Songs or the lively debate between Job and God. It’s been reduced to “if you do A, B, and C, you fit the bill and will be allowed into Heaven. Again, it’s all about salvation after this life, with practically no mention of bringing His kingdom to the here and now. At the Last Supper, Jesus said “I am a New Covenant”, not “Here’s a contract, sign on the dotted line.” The word “contract” defines a legal agreement; offer and acceptance, a meeting of minds. It also implies the agreement is between two equal parties. “Covenant’s” meaning is much deeper and personal. It’s a solemn promise that someone will do something for someone else. Jesus offers Himself as a sacrifice for us, along with the promise of eternal joy for His people. I agree with Jason in this point; there is nothing we do that makes us “worthy” of God’s grace. It is freely given. Where I disagree is when that somehow gets interpreted to mean, since we’re not worthy, we must be so totally unworthy (depraved) so as not to be worth much at all.

    This is also where, I believe, the argument collapses on itself. First, they say God’s grace is unearned and un-earnable, so that just doing good works is insufficient (fair enough—even Hitler was nice to his dog). All we need to do is recognize and accept His grace. Sounds simple, right? But then they say it has to be accepted and recognized in the “right” way. Huh? So if you have to “do” the acceptance of Jesus’ grace “right”, how is that different than relying on works and the law for salvation? And who defines the “right” way?

    In my recollection, Jesus consistently condemned only one group—the Pharisees. Why? Because they placed the rules—the old law—above faith. A transactional view of faith does the same thing. Belief, trueness of heart, and loving one’s neighbor isn’t enough—you have to know the dance and get the steps right. This “rules-first” approach is one of the big reasons we left Roman Catholicism almost 10 years ago, especially, since, much like the Pharisees, the Roman church’s leaders talked a good game but failed miserably as shepherds of their flock.

    There is also a difference between “certainty” and arrogance or presumption. There is nothing wrong with being certain of God’s grace towards us. The Episcopal Book of Common Prayer’s funeral rite contains the phrase “in the sure and certain hope of the resurrection.” Certainty is one of the gifts of firm belief. But certainty can easily become arrogance: “If I’m so certain I’m saved, I can be also certain when others, who think differently, aren’t.” That’s arrogance, another sin Jesus consistently condemned. Just because I’m certain I’m on the right path doesn’t mean it’s the only path, and that others won’t get their travelers to the same place.

    I need to stop before I pop a cork or bore everyone to death. But the transactional view reminds me of a scene from the Purgatory section of the Divine Comedy. (For the purpose of the story, it makes no different if you believe in Purgatory). As he travels through Purgatory, Dante encounters the spirit of a dead prince, who in life was well-known for his ferocity in battle. When Dante asks the prince how he got into Purgatory, and is therefore destined for eternal salvation, instead of hell, the prince explains that as he lay dying on the battlefield from a mortal wound, he shed a single tear of regret for the violence in his life. That single tear was enough for God to build on, and bring him to salvation. There are no complicated rules, so transaction; just faith and the fact God knows our hearts.

    • “That’s arrogance, another sin Jesus consistently condemned. Just because I’m certain I’m on the right path doesn’t mean it’s the only path, and that others won’t get their travelers to the same place.”

      I seem to remember something about Jesus going on a vandalism spree, overturning the tables of those who converted money into the local currency needed by those pilgrims visiting the Temple in Jerusalem from out-of-town. Who do you have to be related to, in order to act as righteously-indignant as Jesus did? Seems pretty arrogant to me, esp if you consider that Jesus was just a deluded human with a Messiah Complex.

      Such anarchistic acts and the whole animal sacrifice thing aside, the signs of prior syncretism with Indian philosophies in Jesus’ life are unmistakable, pointing to asceticism: 40 days of fasting to cleanse one’s soul (which begs the question: why would a “perfect being” need to cleanse their soul?), vow of poverty (which he REPEATEDLY mentioned, saying that someone who wants to follow him must give their worldly possessions to the poor), renouncing the fleshly body over the spiritual soul, talking about “the path”, etc. All of that stuff had existed AT LEAST 600 yrs before Jesus was born, and thanks to wandering Vedic initiates who had to wander in foreign lands as part of the process (and thanks to the Persian Empire, which also helped with the cultural diffusion by making India a part of their Empire), it was known about in Palestine. Heck, Daniel’s description of King Nebuchadnezzar’s “going mad” sounds a lot like observing the actions of Indian asceticism, which included living off the land by grazing in a field while naked. Didn’t Jesus say that the wild birds don’t worry about where their next meal is coming from, as well? In 600 years, we went from Daniel’s rant against asceticism to Jesus’ embrace of the principles.

      But WHY did people become ascetics?

      When it comes right down to it, the motivation is for SELFISH reasons: ascetics were hoping to gain something that not everyone cannot attain thus making it rare and more desirable, hoping to liberate their soul to escape the cycle of birth/death (and who said, “many will seek to enter Heaven, but few will find, as the path is narrow”)? It’s the same psychological dynamic that drives people to buy lottery tickets when the odds of winning are astronomically-low: they’re going to be “the one”, an appeal to their narcissism of being blessed. Whether it’s Ponce DeLeon’s fountain of eternal youth, Jesus’ triumph over death via resurrection, or finding the “secret path” to Heaven.

      It’s the oldest scam in the book, selling people magic beans, except worse; the ones selling their products are claiming to KNOW the secret to allow everyone’s “souls” to climb the spiritual bean-stock to Heaven.

      Jesus didn’t invent the spiritual ponzi scheme (and in my book, Paul bears the blame for exporting Christianity to Gentiles, when Jesus repeatedly said he came to redeem his fellow Jews; Paul took the belief international, even before Nigerians could ever imagine the possibility of e-mail that allowed them to scam foreigners). The spiritual con has existed for 1,000’s of years before Jesus came along, and it’ll likely persist for 1,000’s of years in the future. It’s an old pipe dream that’s very much alive in 2013, driven by everyone’s dream of conquering death.

      It would be interesting to witness the IMMENSE moral dilemma that results once science cracks the secret of death (or at least, extends lifespans to those mythologized in the Bible, eg Methuselah), since it’ll open a HUGE can of ethical and theological issues which will place Christians in a bind: do they seek life-extending treatments, knowing that it actually forestalls their attempted entry into Heaven? Do they die earlier than necessary (which could be seen as a sin in-and-of itself), hoping they can avoid sinning later in live?

      JWs have been wrestling with the issue for decades now, due to their misreading of Genesis 9:5-6 that led them to develop their odd blood doctrine. I wrote an article (Does Jehovah’s Witnesses Blood Policy Reflect They Understand Noah’s Flood?) about the issue on my blog, for anyone who’s interested:


  13. Frank: “Supposing, all along, you had been taught instead that your real work should have been to learn how to live in the kingdom as if it was already a part of your consciousness and you had, instead found the revelation behind the words that he came “so that you could live life more abundantly” and the passing from this life to the next was simply a smooth transition from one state of grace to another.”

    Yes, I sure wish I had been taught that! I have been trying to unlearn the performance-based stuff and learn what Frank says above, and it goes away with difficulty. Tim says it well: “So if you have to “do” the acceptance of Jesus’ grace “right”, how is that different than relying on works and the law for salvation? And who defines the “right” way?” Yep, exactly!

    Walt talks about trusting and relying on God; Tim reminds me that God knows my heart. All these reminders are good for my soul.

  14. Last week I found myself uttering the sentence, “I never questioned my salvation until I started watching/listening to Wretched.” In their zeal to convert those they believe are “false converts,” they sow many seeds of doubt. The narrow prescriptive is well illustrated with the landmine example.
    Perhaps it’s just as simple as Acts 16: 30-31.

    • Hi Dutch, As I watched the DVD and other Wretched videos, I wondered if they were crafting the ideas in such a way and making the language more complicated so that we would NEED them to unlock the meaning and “do it right.” If that’s the case, it seems to be the opposite of what Jesus would want and makes me sad.

      • Corinna, the narrow ‘perspective’ makes ME sad!! In fact, I have a difficult time finding anything positive or valuable about the whole ‘kit ‘n kaboodle’. . if I can’t find the ‘feel good’ in something I can’t really imagine what the point would be. However, as I’m discovering, many people aren’t like me – good thing, eh??

  15. Good Morning, All, and welcome to Dutch!

    While reading Corrina’s post and everyone’s replies, I was reminded of a post on Corrina’s last entry, “The Biggest Question”. In a reply to homewithin, Pastor Jason said, “I am firm in my belief as you are firm in yours. Your belief is not invalid because it is different than mine, but one of us is wrong and one is right or we are both wrong, but we can’t both be right. That’s subjective truth and there is no such thing.” In that statement, I see the essence of the exclusionary view of Jason’s beliefs. For me to be right, you have to be wrong. In his world view, “different” and “wrong” are synonymous. What if, just maybe, both Jason and Shelley are right? God wants us to be united in faith, but that’s not the same as united in approach. I, for one, am tired of people belaboring the differences between us: Primitive Baptists think Roman Catholics are Papist lemmings; mainstream denominations think evangelicals and fundamentalists are right-wing nut jobs, and Roman Catholics think everyone else is the equivalent of your embarrassing second cousin who just doesn’t seem to “get” it.

    God wants the same thing for all of us, to “gather all nations to Him”. But he created us as individuals. To demand we all follow the same narrowly-defined path (a path defined by people who choose to interpret the Bible in a certain way), denies the individuality He created in us. I think He lays out the path that’s best for each of us to find Him, and then lets us decide whether or not we follow that path. Somebody else’s path many not be the one I’d choose, but, really, its about where we all want to be at journey’s end, isn’t it?

  16. I’m an old guy and a magician, conjuror, entertainer. First off, I pray constantly and my prayers almost always consist of “Thank You.” But, lately I have begun to think of magic as a metaphor for my feelings of religion as it applies to me. Examples: I live in southern California and most of my male acquaintances are scientific and engineering leaders. Performing a conjuring illusion for most of them challenges their world. Magic for them is a puzzle that must be solved. Instantly and vocally. Solutions are presented with such certainty as to dismiss the problem. Which places me in a peculiar position, because usually they’re wrong. Oh, they may have presented “A” solution, but not “THE” solution. And I can not divulge the actual method because of the magician’s code of ethics, and also the attendant bad taste of my publicly proving them wrong. I also imagine for some of them the location of “A” solution is sufficient; “The problem is solved, what’s the problem?” Contrast this experience with a contact I made performing for a group of first-graders. I asked, “Do you know what a magician is?” And a little girl in front immediately said, “A magician is someone who helps us pretend.” God yelled “Hello” so loud in my ear I almost fell speechless. And then He poked me in the ribs as the little girl next to her said, “You can’t be a magician, you don’t have a hat!” I have begun to see the magic in life as “miracles” and stopped trying to figure out which shell the pea is under. Now I try to share my feelings with those whose “pretends” become feelings of “belief.” But at the same time, in consideration for others, I wear a hat.

    • Hi Phil,

      Welcome aboard!

      I remember hearing from some magician (maybe it was atheist Penn Jillette?) a few years ago that engineers are easier to fool with magic tricks, since they’re so busy trying to figure out the trick that they’re actually more susceptible to misdirection. It’s called “pattern interrupt”, and they’re so busy trying to figure out, that their brain gets cognitively vapor-locked.

      Of course, neuroscience is very interested in studying magic tricks, as magicians are exploiting known perceptual human vulnerabilities. Apollo Robbins is a Las Vegas pick-pocket who works corporate events, and he’s worked with neuroscientists so they can study the tricks of the trade. Here’s a New Yorker article on the guy:

      There’s videos up on YouTube of Apollo Robbins; particularly recommended is the one he produced for Scientific American examining the perceptual science underlying magic tricks.

      The fact is though, that magic isn’t really “magical”, but magicians create the impression of supernatural events: it’s an ILLUSION, not reality. In fact, magic tricks point to how non-supernatural phenomena often explain supernatural events: that’s why Penn and Teller actually SHOW the secrets behind the magic tricks. So while there may have been a “magicians code” in the past, it’s long been discarded by even mainstream TV shows (FOX’S “Breaking the Magician’s Code: Magic’s Biggest Secrets Finally Revealed”).

      Your experience with the children is telling, as children haven’t had the time to develop social filters that keep them from blunting out what adults shy away from saying: that child’s insightful comment that a “magician is someone who helps us pretend” would obviously apply to spiritual leaders, as well. The uniform of a magician is paralleled by the garb of a priest: you can’t tell the role without a uniform!

      However, I can’t say I agree with this:

      “I have begun to see the magic in life as “miracles” and stopped trying to figure out which shell the pea is under. Now I try to share my feelings with those whose “pretends” become feelings of “belief.” But at the same time, in consideration for others, I wear a hat.”

      The problem is that people’s perceptual vulnerabilities can be exploited by pickpockets, just like religious desires can be exploited, as well.

      I don’t have any problems with people who deep-down have a strong-enough sense of their own ego and are able to keep a touch with reality to know that while there’s many benefits to being a believer (social group, comfort, some form of morality, etc), they’re able to keep their own moral sense intact so they won’t fall for the Jim Jones types in Guyana, Heaven’s Gate cult, David Koresh, or the like.

      The problem is that some people in our society DO have great difficulty discerning reality from make-believe, esp those prone to psychological disorders (manic-depression, schizophrenia, voice-hearers, etc). For them, imagining spirit beings battling in a life-and-death struggle over control of the Universe becomes a horrifying scenario, where they’re literally tortured by their own overactive imaginations and drawn to it like a moth to a fire. Worse, the Bible is often interpreted in a manner to invite (if not FORCE) the reader to become involved in the storyline, under threat of facing an eternity in Hell.

      Some (like JWs, whom are my family members) WILL DIE rather than receive a life-saving blood transfusion, thinking that they’re going to be resurrected in the New System™. Although it’s their RIGHT (via the Constitutionally-guaranteed freedom of worship) to sacrifice their lives in the name of a role-playing fantasy game, that’s taking religious belief too far.


      • Dave, the magic and the miracles part bothered me, too…….illusion or magic has nothing to do with miracles from my thinking…..people who are illusionists know exactly what they are doing. It is their intention to fool all the people possible. So I can understand illusion, but I cannot seem to untangle this part of the metaphor where all of a sudden “the magic in life”…..which would be?…..turns into some divine manifestation. And I agree with you, Dave, that many….maybe most people have trouble telling the difference between magic or make believe and reality. And maybe that is the point……trying to get people to think that magical illusions are actually reality……Sometimes magicians and preachers are not too far apart in that endeavor.

        • Merrill, a lot of people buy into the “magical thinking” aspect of religion. If they didn’t, then 95% of televangelists would be out of a job. While it can lead, as Dave says, to a Waco or Jonestown, it also damages ordinary people who expect God to pull miracles out of a hat if they say just the right prayer or have just a little more faith. When it doesn’t work, they blame God, or worse, blame themselves for lacking the “right” kind of faith. God doesn’t exempt us from life’s trials. Jesus said God knows when even a sparrow falls. But fall it does. God’s not a magician, nor a short-order cook; he doesn’t conjure miracles on order. William Edelen wrote an excellent piece on this kind of thinking a few weeks ago on his blog, Toward the Mystery.

          • Tim, Thanks for the heads-up on William Edelen….I also get his blog on Sunday Morning, and very much enjoy Edelen’s point of view. Reading the one you mentioned again reminded me of the year we lived in McLean, VA, and the only place I could find to send my two children to day care/pre-school was through a Babtist(sp) Church; I knew that they had a chapel program for the students, but thought that this might be a good experience for my un-churched children. Imagine my astonishment, however, when my 4 year old son came home one Friday afternoon informing me that they always prayed for the Washington Redskins to win; apparently this was the coach’s home church, and the Staff determined they were going to put God on his side the following Sunday. My son and I did have a little discussion about how this prayer for a football team might not be so appropriate. To me, it seems a travesty to mislead children who do not yet have the reasoning ability of their own to judge whether this was what prayer was really meant to be. I am not certain how I feel about prayer…..but I do know that it shouldn’t be mis-used. Merrill

  17. Frank, I knew you would love that one!

    Welcome, Phil…..if you are an old guy, you should fit right in with some of the rest of us! It is good to have a new voice. However….don’t you hate that word?….any way, even though I am the queen of the Metaphor, and I really find the individual parts of your writing quite delightful in their comparisons, I just can’t quite pull the meaning together in terms of what we have been talking about.

    So I have a choice. I can wait until someone else comes on and explains it in their perspective…And Frank. ” Bravo, Bravo” gave me no clues at all!!!….or I can pretend that I totally understand…..The Emperor’s New Clothes comes to mind! Of course, you aren’t running around naked…..and I don’t have to pretend that you aren’t! Or I can just admit that I don’t really get it. But perhaps someone can point me in the right direction? I would be happy with A solution right now……but would be even happier, knowing exactly what you intended, Phil.

    I am usually good with pretends and hats and having fun….so give me another chance!

    • Merrill, one of the things that instantly grabbed me was Phil’s statement, ” Magic for them is a puzzle that must be solved.” I think you could also substitute “God” in there for “Magic” and it would be true of many folks who either a)won’t believe unless they have “figured it out” (even if they’re wrong) or b)will believe as long as their solution is THE solution. I was delighted by Phil’s post because it reminded me to stop trying to figure it out and ENJOY THE MAGIC!!!!!

    • Hi Merrill, My interpretation of what Phil is saying is that he’s comfortable with the unknown and doesn’t necessarily need to know “the solution” or answer to everything. He’s okay with ambiguity and he shares this with others who may feel inclined to reach for a more concrete explanation for things. But he does so politely, with some of the social graces to which others may be accostumed. I don’t know if that’s “right” or “wrong” — but that’s what I got from it.

      • Thank you, Corinna. I think that’s exactly what I meant. I’l take a bit if time and consider expansion of some of the areas.

      • Corinna……and Phil. I will go back and re-read the posting once again with this in mind. Phil, I am hoping you will stick around! MET

  18. An interesting question for adherents to the transactional faith model. Soon after Mother Theresa died, the Roman Catholic church released some of her private writings. As some of us may recall, the writings included entries about how, for long periods, she did not feel God’s presence in her life. In fact, she said the feeling God’s nearness was the exception rather than the rule. It should be noted she never doubted God’s existence, but she did not feel His personal presence in her daily life. So, to a transactional person, was Jesus rejecting her “application”, or was she not using the correct approach? Does it mean all of the good she did helping people (most of other faiths) was of less value in His eyes because she didn’t have the right “feelings”?

    • I’ve been watching the discussions for some time. It takes me a while to define my own thoughts for several reasons, and I don’t want to ramble meaninglessly. First, there might be some value in a bit of background from which you may be able to establish some base lines for my views.

      Magic has been a lifetime hobby of mine. Paid most of my undergraduate expenses performing. Looking back it seems life has also been somewhat of a hobby for me. Income producing activities have varied from radio announcer to college professor to motion picture sound mixer and I deeply enjoyed each and every moment spent in each. I loved the opportunity to learn about all the disciplines; I had no motivation to advance to upper levels in any of them. The “bloom where you are planted” idea was inside me long before I ever heard the proposition. I experienced satisfaction.

      At the basis of my being I feel I am incredibly lucky, or graced. I am unaware of my mortality. I understand intellectually that the reaper is coming. At 83 he may even be statistically overdue. To the best of my internal searches I am not repressing fear or anxiety. The thought just doesn’t occur to me unless I consciously invite it in order to do some necessary planning. Probably another related aberration is my failure to consider a misfortune as some levied punishment or some happy incident as a reward. And I realize that through all this and in spite of all this I consider myself a Christian. I also realize that to many devout Christians my life must seem a blasphemy. To others I may have oversimplified my life so far as to make it valueless. And of course it is to them anyway. With much effort and a lot of clumsiness I can try to communicate how my life and God and Christ have combined meaningfully. How that can impact someone else’s life in a positive way depends, I think, on all the variables.

      Helping people pretend is to me akin to the biblical parables and metaphors. In actively and temporarily suspending disbelief we can sometimes feel closer to deep truths. I think I can get more from fictional Willy Loman than I can ever realize from a “realty show” Apprentice.

      I once made a rope knot vanish in the hands of a blind teenage girl. She placed her hands on mine and we tied a knot which untied inside her hand. She screamed, “I saw it vanish!” She realized she didn’t see, and she realized it was a trick, but for that moment we shared an emotional experience. Not everyone is equipped to handle such imagination. Some find the experience frightening and related to the underworld, believing it to be in total violation of natural law. Others find it offensive and manipulative of the weaker minded; perhaps it begs for legal regulation. One of my primary concerns as a performer is to try to make the material appropriate for and meaningful to a specific audience. I can turn water into wine. I can transform a stick into a serpent, but I would not want to do so for anyone who did not understand I was using a conjuring trick to demonstrate a greater idea. However, is it worth the risk to make the point for those who can understand at the risk of confusing one who misses the point? That question extends far beyond the matter here.

      I need to think some more.

  19. Thanks so much for sharing, Phil. I think you’re doing a fine job articulating your thoughts. I’ve found, on this blog, feelings make themselves clear regardless of writing style. Personally, I never much made the magic/underworld connection. I’m Christian as well, but I’m an educated man, and I can enjoy the illusion without needing to make a bogus connection to a sinister motive. There is more than enough real evil in this world—we don’t need to be making it up. I think your encounter with the blind girl is a great way of using your gift to bring joy to others. What more could anyone ask? I used to try to figure out how you guys pulled off your tricks (no, I’m not an engineer), but I now find it more enjoyable to relax and enjoy the skills that let you pull it off. To be honest, when I see a skilled magician (illusionist, if you will), I do feel a twinge of envy. If I tried what you do, the only thing in a knot would be my fingers!

  20. Welcome, Phil, to the band of merry (most of the time) miners! One of the things I love about this Blog is that someone like me – from the East Coast of Canada – can learn about and get to know others’ stories to the West Coast of the U.S.A and points in between. It’s an eclectic group! There’s a certain amount of mystery involved in conjuring up ‘earthly suits’ in our minds’ eyes. So I, for one, am glad to have the help of a magician. . .smile. . .again, welcome!
    P.S. I also like the story so far!

      • Hey TIm! She’s not here yet (it’s 11 a.m Wednesday) but we are expecting them shortly. . I’ll pass the message along. Hope all is well with you!

  21. Hello everyone! I am here at Carmen’s and it is a blast. David and I are enjoying the view from Carmen’s living room in her very, very beautiful village. I am ready to move to Canada!

    Tim, I am glad you enjoyed the book as much as I did. Lewis is one of those handful of people I wish I could go back in time and spend a day visiting. Or a lifetime. He is the first author who made me realize that I did not have to check my brain at the door when I entered the church doors.

    Hi Merrill and Walt, Dave and Ginger and everyone else on line. Phil, it is lovely to meet you. The blog this week is way too deep from me to even begin to contemplate after three days on the road. We left Charlotte, NC at 7am Sunday morning and arrived at Carmen’s in Nova Scotia at about 1pm today. I have enjoyed your comments, and as always, this will make me think about what I think about what I believe (does that make sense???)

    Take care and I will say hello again before I leave.

    Much love, in Christ
    Patti Witherspoon

    • Enjoy! Corinna is launching into some new territory on Judaism and Buddhism, so maybe there will be a different atmosphere here….or maybe there are some Jews and Buddhists who have been following but just haven’t commented.

      I also read Surprised by Joy. Lewis has had great impact on my life. One of the things that attracted me to his book Mere Christianity was the same thing: I knew I didn’t have to check my brain at the door. 🙂

    • Hi Patti: I hope you and Carmen are still having a good time, or perhaps you’ve left already?
      Just wanted you to know that your comment about C.S. Lewis–about not having to leave your brain at the door–inspired the title for the blog post I just put up today, which is primarily about the pastor who introduced me to Lewis, but it’s leading into my next post or two, which is about the impact of Mere Christianity and CS Lewis on my becoming a Christian. You can just click on my name above to link to it. Thanks. Say hi to Carmen! Cheers! 🙂

  22. Wow…

    The video sounds about as confusing as Calvinism… Wait, it probably is based on TULIP…
    I find it interesting that for an analogy that they would use a place and not a person. Are they implying that Jesus is like a place?

    Jesus has already chosen us. It is up to us to accept the gift he offers.

    A better analogy (I believe) would be:

    One day I got a letter in the mail saying that I have one a brand new car. Checking out the company and the offer I find out that I have indeed one a brand new car. The catch is, I have to go to the place in order to receive this free gift. If I simply walk into the doors with my ticket the car is mine, but if I lose the ticket or discard it or not show up, then I have forfeited the free car.

    Imputation is simply Jesus’ righteousness covering my unrighteousness. Another term often used is Impartation which is (also simply) the replacement of my actions with Jesus’ actions. I become like Jesus.

    So the first action is judicial and the second is transformational.

    I believe one can argue a some overlap but this is probably the easiest way to grasp these theological concepts (without the baggage of Calvinism’s deterministic theology).


    • Hi Jon,

      Welcome to the discussion.

      The Bible often uses places to represent groups of people who display a certain behavior (eg Sodom and Gomorrah is used as the archetype of sin), so the folks at the wretched church didn’t invent that kind of metaphorical usage: it’s derived from practices found in the Bible.

      PS people should be careful with those “you may have already won” offers everyone gets in the mail.  Some police department used that approach by mailing letters to the last-known addresses of those wanted for various crimes, telling them they had to come to some location and prove who they were before claiming their prize.  Once they did, they were placed under arrest, and the cops didn’t even have to chase them all over town.

      The old truism remains that if it seems too good to be true, it probably is….


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