“If you have two loaves of bread, sell one and buy a lily.” – Chinese proverb

 

I don’t remember who said it, nor do I have an exact quote, but the idea is something like this: The world is a reflection of the state of the Body of Christ.  A 1986 (!) article Frank Viola posted on his blog reminds me of that concept.  I was taught from an early age, in a fundamental-turned-evangelical church climate, that the world will get worse and worse, that Jesus will rescue all the Christians just before the #@!* hits the fan, and everyone left behind will get what they deserve.

I suspect that this point-by-point future-predicting theology may not be entirely accurate and that God intends to establish His Kingdom in the same way yeast works through dough, that is, consuming very little energy and multiplying in a slow and steady manner that mimics human respiration in a repeating cycle of oxidation and reduction.  It happens quietly, almost imperceptibly.  Someone might be inclined to question whether the yeast is actually working at all.  In unnaturally leavened bread, which rises very rapidly, the enzymes in the dough are destroyed. Consequently, the habitual consumption of unnaturally leavened bread is partly to blame for the current obesity epidemic, it is a contributing factor in candida and anemia, and may be responsible for a host of additional health problems.  But, hey, it sure does come in a flashy package, complete with misleading phrases like “enriched” or “multi-grain”.

From a spiritual point of view, this is very interesting: the yeast DIES as the dough is baked, and when the yeast dies, the little air pockets in the bread stop expanding, resulting in the bread’s pleasant texture and taste.  Perhaps the body of Christ needs to die to its own idea of Ecclesia in order to function in the world the way Jesus described.  He said that the reign of Heaven “is like the yeast a woman used in making bread. Even though she put only a little yeast in three measures of flour it permeated every part of the dough..”  It seems to me that believers (myself included, for over a decade, at least) have been unnaturally killing the dough.

On a more positive note, the reign of God might work in the same way God Himself works: After we learn Who God is not, it is much easier to learn Who God is.   I learned, through my own long season of spiritual obesity and spiritual health problems, who the church (Ecclesia) is not.  It is not a building, programs, rigid claims on orthodoxy/heresy, hierarchy, etc.  I’m still discovering who the church (Ecclesia) is.  I’m not the only one who makes this observation.  A blog entitled, “Organized Religion is Dying” by Tyler Jones represents the mindset of a slew of Christians around the globe, who notice that organized religion doesn’t play the central role in culture that it once did.  He suggests, “Let’s host a funeral”, because this just might be a blessing in disguise.

The blog begins to move in the wrong direction when Jones writes, “legalism is dead” and “we have nothing to fear”.  Why?  Because legalism is most certainly not dead.  It is as active as unnatural leaven.  That’s part of the reason WHY fewer and fewer people in their 20s and 30s attend any church at all.  When Jones writes “we” have nothing to fear, he is correct, so long as “we” refers to “followers of Christ.”  If every church in the world folded, the followers of Christ would still be followers of Christ with nothing to fear.  The reign of God is firmly established, and it would, of course, continue to expand. To my surprise, Jones concludes the blog by suggesting that we plant “thousands of new churches” and revitalize “hordes of existing churches.”

If the death of organized religion is a blessing, why the hell would we want to keep it alive?  Sure, it can make the dough rise in a manner that people notice, but what if God’s not making quick-rise bread?  What if God intends to leave His ministers of reconciliation right here on this Earth for a very long time, to reconcile the world to Himself?  What if He plans on letting His reign work through this three-measures-of-flour-world until His reign permeates through every part of the dough?

Jones writes:

Churches that live, teach, and believe the Gospel are prevailing; not even the gates of Hell can stand against gospel-centered churches! [...] Someday, we will look back on this period of history and realize we witnessed an amazing transformation. We will have watched as thousands of churches closed due to the fact that the core of their existence was based on legalism instead of the Cross of Christ.

I have a lot to say about that (especially the gates of Hell bit), but that’s another blog for another day.  For now, it will suffice to conclude that eventually, just as believers have chosen to abandon abusive, legalistic environments, they will also choose to abandon abusive, legalistic doctrines like eternal torment in Hell.  They will recognize that a gospel-centered church, should be, according to the definition of “gospel”, a Good-News-centered church.  And when believers discover that the gospel-centered claim is a farce, when they finally let it sink in that the gates of Hell, according to orthodox doctrine, stand against not only the church, but Jesus Christ Himself, then there will be another mass exodus.

And when the dust settles, there’s the church, there’s the steeple, open the doors, where are the people?  Don’t assume that they are no longer viable as ministers of reconciliation in the reign of God.  They are being a “blessing in disguise”, yeast that accomplishes its purpose in God’s time and God’s way, no need for a flashy package or misleading phrases.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard the phrase, “Rob Bell’s gospel.”  But I can tell you I’ve heard it too much.

The good news of our Savior is the gospel of Jesus Christ, not the gospel of Rob Bell. Bell doesn’t exclusively OWN the good news, he hasn’t pulled a strange “new” gospel out of his ass, like some kind of fruity psycho-spiritual inventor. I know that the subject of semantics may seem petty, but if we examine the phrase “Rob Bell’s gospel”, we’ll find that it isn’t petty at all.

It reminds me of a time I did a consumer survey, a few months prior to Subway’s ad slogan, “Eat Fresh”. The surveyor asked me, “What do you think about when I say, ‘Subway: Eat Fresh’?”

I replied, “I think that Subway has fresh food.”

Then she asked, “What do you think about other fast food restaurants when I say, ‘Subway: Eat Fresh’?”

I replied, “I think that the other restaurants have old, stale food,” even though the slogan never actually addresses other restaurants. Words can be used as weapons, and in the case of Subway, the weapon is subtle – subconscious manipulation.

Likewise, in choosing and arranging words just so, “Rob Bell’s gospel” implies that it is a different gospel than the gospel of Jesus Christ. And since I believe that popular culture is actually a step closer to the revelation of Jesus Christ, the gospel-as-God-intends, it is important to be aware of propaganda techniques that serve to undermine the validity of Bell’s observations regarding our need to rethink this Hell thing – rethink it in the light of the glory of the Savior of the world.

Consequently, if Bell’s message is the revelation of Jesus Christ, then it is, by definition, the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Perhaps people who use the phrase, “Rob Bell’s gospel” do not intend to be subversive, but as Confucius says, “Real knowledge is to know the extent of one’s ignorance.”  So now that one knows, it would be best to only use the phrase if one intends to imply that Bell preaches “good news to you different from what [the apostles] did proclaim to you.”  But, please don’t put on a pretense of impartiality and employ that phrase.  To do so is to be a hypocrite, and hypocrisy is the one negative character quality that Jesus spent quite of bit of time forcefully and publicly denouncing.

It would be better to simply say, “Rob Bell’s Heresy.”  That way, people clearly know where one stands.  Hey, it’s ugly, but it’s honest.  The reason a lot of people are not so bold with the H-word is that they fear being viewed as dogmatic or tyrannical.  But what if that is what they actually are?  It would be better to have the heart exposed to the light than to keep it hidden away.  At least in being exposed to the light, one might be more inclined to heed the words of Christ, “First clean the inside of the cup [...] that the outside also may be clean.”

 

*PS to regular readers – Lately, I’ve been getting burned out on reviewing Chan’s book, Erasing Hell.  I’ve also been inspired by Frank Viola’s blogging style, tips, subject matter, etc.  So, I’ll continue the Chan series, but I’ll break it up a bit with some blog ideas I’ve had on the shelf for quite some time now.  Thanks for reading!  And remember your comments (pro or con) are always welcomed and encouraged.

I just finished reading George Orwell’s novel Nineteen Eighty-Four, a haunting portrayal of extreme government.  The description inside the front cover is as follows:

To Winston Smith, a young man who works in the Ministry of Truth, come two people who transform his life completely.  One is Julia, who he meets after she hands him a slip reading, “I love you.”  The other is O’Brien, who tells him, “We shall meet in the place where there is no darkness.”  The way in which Winston is betrayed by the one and, against his own desires and instincts, ultimately betrays the other, makes a story of mounting drama and suspense. [...] IN the final section of the novel George Orwell spells out, for the first time in literature, how the spirit of every man living may be broken in Room 101, and how he can be made to avow – and believe – that black is white, two plus two equals five, and evil is good.

Some of the concepts in this book strike me as very similar to my experience with each institutional church I’ve attended.  This is a quote from the book and an explanation on how it relates to the institutional church.

War is peace.  Freedom is slavery.  Ignorance is strength.

In this blog, I will address the first portion, “War is peace,” and only briefly address the word war in its most common usage, that is, military combat.  If you would like to read further on the subject, I found a very balanced look at this kind of war as it relates to the institutional church by Dennis Hinks called, “The Christian Attitude Toward War.”  My opinion on the matter at this time is dissonant and fluctuating somewhere between absolute pacifism and a defensive stand against immediate attack (with no pre-emptive activity).  I am grateful for the attitude in which people enlist and serve in the military, the selfless concern to accomplish the goal of making this world a better place, but I don’t think that the military system in its current state is accomplishing that goal.  In fact, I think it is accomplishing the opposite.  Regardless of my opinion, I can tell you that spiritually-based military activity such as holy wars, Islamic Jihad, the militarization of Christians, etc. may be frowned upon by the institutional church, but every church I have attended has made a point to display the American flag and have ceremonies to honor soldiers, which I see as a way of solidifying the idea that “if you attend this church, this is how ‘we’ feel about war”.  And I have never heard any serious discussion about whether believers ought to use guns and bombs in any circumstance.  If someone were to openly declare a totally passive, anti-military view, he or she would likely be frowned upon and seen as “other” by the consenting majority.

The type of war that I would like to address is the war between institutional church and the institutional church.  No, that’s not a typo.  You did read it correctly, that is, the war between the institutional church and the institutional church.  At first, I began to describe this war as the institutional church versus the non-institutional church, but then I realized that this description is not accurate.  There are many so-called non-institutional home-churches, where the hierarchical system still stands; it’s just a Shrinky-Dink version of the mega-church.

Tony Morgan, Pastor of Ministries at West Ridge Church near Atlanta wrote a blog called “The Church: Our Greatest Evangelistic Enemy?” that says, “Every time Christians step inside a church, it can remove them from the place where they have the greatest impact for God’s Kingdom—the world. It’s sad, but I wonder if we’ve inadvertently designed our ministries to isolate Christians from the places where God really wants us to be.”  Morgan sees the problem as geographical or social isolation.  While this most certainly is a problem, it is not the problem.  The problem is found in the question he asks in the title, “The Church: Our Greatest Evangelistic Enemy?”

Let’s look at the word “evangelistic.”  It is composed of a few parts: evangel + ist + ic.  We all have this cartoonish idea about an evangelist, based on our experiences with proselytism, in which a man in a three piece suit with big hair and a booming voice tells you and all the other who were bribed into the big tent with free barbecue that if you don’t-ah repent-ah and accept Jeeeezusss as your personal Savior-uh, you will go to Hell-ah.  But, seriously, what is an evangelist?  Our English word “evangelist” comes from the Greek word “euangelistes” which literally means “bringer of good news.”  In this sense, every believer ought to be an evangelist, because we possess the “evangelion” or “good news.”  The greatest evangelistic enemy is not that believers segregate themselves but that their screwed-up version of the evangel demands segregation.

This is where the “war” portion of this blog begins to take shape.  This idea that “we’ve inadvertently designed our ministries to isolate Christians from the places where God really wants us to be” should be reworded as, “we design our ministries to isolate Christians who intend to be who God really wants us to be.”  What should we be?  Evangelists!  How can someone be a true evangelist, if they possess the “good news” that says God intends to eternally torment you if you don’t believe that He wants to save you from the His own plan to eternally torment you?  The war is the institutional church versus the institutional church.  The system propagates the system.  The result is spiritual impotence, or as Jesus described it, “You nullify the word of God by your tradition that you have handed down.”

The way that the institutional church as a body (not His body) handles this idea that Jesus is the Savior of all mankind is to label it heresy and treat it as a threat.  Since threats cause commotion, they seek to reestablish “peace” by ridding the system of “heresy” in what they consider spiritual warfare.  All the while they have no idea that they have declared war against their own body.  The so-called heresy could be compared to the white blood cells in the human body, which eliminate infectious disease.  Often, a high white blood cell count is accompanied by fever.  The institutional church panics at the fever, and filled with fear, they seek to eliminate the white blood cells from the body in order to return the body to its former state, not knowing that in doing so, they are destroying the thing the body needs most.  People say of a body in a casket, “He/she looks so peaceful.”  In the institutional church “War is peace.”

Fortunately, in the war between the institutional church and the institutional church, the casualties are actually the survivors, the conquerers who have been called out since the foundation of the earth to inherit age-abiding life.  No institution can destroy His body and His life.  This life is not one which seeks to exclude those who are not included but to reconcile those who are not included.  Jesus, the Great Physician, has purposed it.  Operating according to His will, as Ministers of Reconciliation, we cannot fail to accomplish the purpose for which we were created.  Peace is knowing that the victory over sin and death was accomplished over two-thousand years ago, and in some mysterious way that we may someday understand, it was accomplished before the foundation of the world.

I’ll address “Freedom is slavery” and “Ignorance is strength” at another time.

Yesterday, Mark Drisoll, the pastor who describes himself as, “a nobody trying to tell everybody about Somebody” (The Washington Post), posted a blog called, “Westboro Baptist Church, This False Prophet and His Blind Lemmings Welcome You to Our Whore House for God’s Grace and Free Donuts.”  In this blog, he says of Westboro Baptist Church,

Doctrinally, they are extreme five-point Calvinists, or what I like to call Crazy Calvinists. They basically believe the underlying message of the Bible is one of God’s hatred and wrath against humankind, and that the Bible is properly interpreted through that filter. Therefore, they believe all mentions of God’s love in the Bible are in reference to God’s Christian elect and not applicable in any way to others outside God’s elect—pretty much a cosmic game of Duck, Duck, Damned.

I’m a fan of God’s grace, as well as free donuts, and I, too, loath the idea of “Duck, Duck, Damned.”  I recognize that Mark Driscoll is very passionate about God and truth and righteousness.  His concern with distancing his ministry from the Westboro Baptist Church philosophy and practices is understandable.  I really like it that he uses blunt language, such as calling the gathering of MarsHillians a “whorehouse” implying that we are all equally in need of God’s grace and that he focuses on this grace (with a side of donuts) in contrast to the message of hate the tiny Westboro Baptist Church so boisterously proclaims.  However, if one takes a close look at the theology of Westboro Baptist Church and the theology of Driscoll’s Mars Hill Church, one will discover that Driscoll’s disgust for Westboro, who he calls “More of a dysfunctional family of religious lawyers than a church” appears to be a classic case of psychological projection.

This idea that psychological projection is taking place is not simply a case of me using personal judgment against the motives of Driscoll and his flock, it is evidenced in Driscoll’s own words, as I will demonstrate shortly.  Although I could go into great detail about how deep the layers of avoidance can go (perhaps I’ll do a blog series later), this blog focuses on one particular idea – that Westboro openly displays the very same demons that live in the Mars Hill closets.  Of course, Driscoll would disagree with this idea and use one particular so-called difference in theology as his defense, that is, the “L” in Calvinism’s TULIP, an acronym used to describe the five basic tenets of Calvinism.

The Calvinism of Westboro is the classic five point TULIP, and the Calvinism of Mars Hill is a modified version of this.  The point where Driscoll would claim they differ is limited atonement.  The Mars Hill website’s statement of faith, “What We Believe” doesn’t expound on the matter to which I refer, but recommends, “you can reference the Gospel Coalition Confessional Statement for further detail of our beliefs.”  There, readers can see how Westboro and Mars Hill are not so theologically different after all.  Instead of elaborating on this difference in my own words, I’ll let Driscoll do it for me by referring you to his sermon notes on “unlimited limited atonement” (no, that isn’t a typo, he seriously believes in unlimited yet limited atonement, what I see as a futile exercise in cognitive dissonance).  In this document, Driscoll says,

Simply, by dying for everyone, Jesus purchased everyone as His possession and He then applies His forgiveness to the elect by grace and applies His wrath to the non-elect.  Objectively, Jesus’ death was sufficient to save anyone, and subjectively, only efficient to save those who repent of their sin and trust in Him.

Driscoll’s theology (like his free donuts) has a hole in the middle.  Some people see that hole and attempt to figure out why it is there.  Driscoll’s response to this criticism is to offer additional reading material along with a few insults, which I believe is evidence of that psychological projection I referred to earlier.  Driscoll considers anyone who would disagree with his unlimited yet limited take on atonement, “…young, nitpicking, theologically geeky, Calvinist crazy-makers who are like a rock in my shoe…”

The TULIP of Calvinism was modified, not because it is inaccurate, but because it is inadequate.  People fail to recognize that atonement is only limited in this age.  The real sticky subject here is really not the limited or unlimited atonement, it is the negative implications on God’s character that result from these ideas.  If atonement is always limited, this means Jesus didn’t die for everyone, only some, and that all those for whom He did not die were cursed to eternal torment in Hell before they were even born.  God created them knowing full well there was absolutely no hope for them.  This makes God look very, very evil for creating them in the first place.  If atonement is ultimately unlimited, this means that Jesus actually did die for everyone, and that His sinless life, death, and resurrection was sufficient to save everyone.  Since the religious traditions of men dictate that not everyone will be saved and that we must do what Driscoll refers to as “your job”, that is, repent and believe, this view is not accepted by modified Calvinists.  The biblical doctrine of unlimited atonement must be somehow limited to account for all those who supposedly burn in Hell for eternity.  However, if we understand that atonement is ultimately unlimited and that the reason it appears to be limited is that not everyone repents and believes in this age, then there is no need to perform theological gymnastics.  Those who God has appointed, enabled, and motivated to repent and believe in this age do so, not because they performed their job, but because God in His Sovereignty has made it so.  This does not negate the work of Christ for all those who don’t – it postpones the results of His perfect work until the appointed time.

1 Timothy 2:3-6 For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior; Who will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth. For there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus; Who gave himself a ransom for all, to be testified in due time.

Driscoll avoids the inclusive view altogether, and here’s how – he lumps any and all people who call themselves universalists together with Pelagians and states (inaccurately), “Universalism contradicts the clear teachings of scripture on human sinfulness…” and “the heresy of universalism [is] we are all sinless in Adam.”  I have no idea where Driscoll gets his information.  That certainly is not what I believe.  He then dismisses the inclusive view altogether, as if he actually addressed the idea in the first place and then found it inaccurate.  He says, “This leaves three remaining options for Christians regarding the question of whom Jesus died for.”  Oh really?  Is Driscoll saying that those who take the above named passage to mean what it says it means are not to be included in the group defined by Driscoll as “Christians”?  And he calls Westboro religious lawyers… Anyway, I believe that I have explored this idea enough to return to the topic at hand, the difference between Westboro and Mars Hill.

Westboro puts its theology on large picket signs and strategically places its people in the most public way possible, while Mars Hill contains its hate within the church walls.  For example, the typical Westboro messages are “God hates you” and “God hates fags” and the like.  Here is what Driscoll teaches to his flock and anyone else who shows up on a Sunday,

God hates you… God can’t even look at us because he is so disgusted… You have been told that God is loving, gracious, merciful, kind, compassionate, wonderful, and good… That is a lie… God looks down and says “I hate you, you are my enemy, and I will crush you.”

Granted, that is not all Driscoll teaches; he gives the typical “offer” for people to do their “job” along with it.  And as long as people comply, then everything he just said about God is no longer true.  But for those who do not comply, the Westboro-type condemnation still sticks and will stick for eternity unless you do something about it.  To the person who subscribes to Driscoll’s theology, Jesus perfect life, death, and resurrection are “only efficient to save” some; in an “objective” sense God loves you, but in a “subjective” sense He hates you.   Mars Hill may not create picket signs and show up at funerals shouting their condemnation, but it exists in their minds by implication.  Considering this, let’s remember God declared He “does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.”  God sees the heart of the average sign-toting Westboroan and the average Mars Hillian and sees the same doctrine there – “God hates you.”

 

Elvis Costello asks an important question in one of his songs.  Here are the lyrics:

Is this not a pretty tale? Is this not a riddle?
A bow shoots arrows through the air, a bow drags notes from a fiddle
But who is the beau of a young girl’s heart that a king may send to battle?

Is this not a pretty tale? Is this not a riddle?
If red is the breast of soldier’s tunic, hung with a silver medal
And red is the thorn that protects the rose, a deeper red than the petal
How deep is the red our redeemer bled, the debt of our sins to settle?

How deep is the red our redeemer bled?
How deep is the red?

If you would like to have a listen, then go to this youtube video “How Deep is the Red” from the album “Secret, Profane, and Sugarcane”.

Just a the nature of wood really has nothing to do with the work of the cross, the color of blood has nothing to do with the fact that Jesus suffered a horrible death that He did not deserve.  Obviously, the effectiveness of Christ’s death is the issue here, the real question Costello asks in this song.  So how would you answer Costello?  Christ had one hell of a fight to win in order to redeem the world, to succeed as the Savior of the world.  Do you say He succeeded?

Musicians often declare the glory of God, accomplishing His amazing purposes, without even realizing it.  Johnny Cash’s candid manner of writing painfully honest music, his openness about his learning to walk in his spiritual life, and then his continued honesty about struggles in that walk put him in a unique position to put spiritual concepts back on the radar in certain circles where such ideas are usually avoided.  And all of this was much to the horror of those concerned with the pristine image of evangelicalism – Cash actually placed a large ad of himself giving the middle finger to music executives; he was authentic and fearless.

Christianity Today featured an article on Johnny Cash in which he explained his own spiritual awakening:

“I had drifted so far away from God and every stabilizing force in my life that I felt there was no hope.” He decided to crawl into Nickajack Cave on the Tennessee River, get lost, and die. “The absolute lack of light was appropriate,” he wrote. “My separation from Him, the deepest and most ravaging of the various kinds of loneliness I’d felt over the years, seemed finally complete.

“It wasn’t. I thought I’d left Him, but He hadn’t left me. I felt something very powerful start to happen to me, a sensation of utter peace, clarity, and sobriety…Then my mind started focusing on God. He didn’t speak to me—He never has, and I’ll be surprised if He ever does—but … I became conscious of a very clear, simple idea: I was not in charge of my own destiny. I was not in charge of my own death.”

Cash may not have understood what was happening to him, since he concluded that God had never spoken to him, but I think God did speak to him in a very personal way that day.  This is one way that God speaks to people, by making them conscious of ideas such as His Sovereignty and concern for us.  We are not in charge of our own destinies.  We may not even be in charge of our own journeys (I’m still trying to figure that one out).  Would God really trust us with something as important as salvation?  If He really loves us, won’t He do whatever it takes to rescue us from sin and death?  Won’t He do for everyone what He did for Cash, that is, never give up on us, never leave us?

The big roadblock used to be the covenant of the law – we, the human race, sucked at keeping God’s commands, and we knew it.  God had given us rules to follow, and promised all kinds of great things for us, if we followed the rules.  But we could not do it.  We like to be in charge and decide for ourselves what we should or should not do.  We became willing participants in the system of sin and death, hating the consequences, but participating in it all the same.  Some of us were really good at acting and convincing others of our righteousness, but inside we were as Jesus described, “full of bones of dead men, and of all uncleanness.”  This deal that God had made with us just wasn’t working out, because it depended on our faithfulness to Him, and we failed regularly and consistently.

Thankfully, God was using that old bargain as a teaching tool only, and not as the be-all-end-all of the human experience.  The new covenant, the Good News, is summed up Who God is and what God does, “we have seen and do testify, that the Father hath sent the Son – Savior of the world.”  This covenant does not depend on humanity’s ability to lead a sinless life.  It does not depend on humanity at all.  John explains to new believers, “My little children, these things I write to you, that ye may not sin: and if any one may sin, an advocate we have with the Father, Jesus Christ, a righteous one, and he – he is a propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only, but also for the whole world.”

Costello asks the question, but Cash answers it in the double whammy remakes of “Hurt” and “Personal Jesus” sending a clear message about his faith to anyone who cares to hear it.  I’ll tell you about these two songs shortly, but first I want to talk a bit about Trent Reznor, the original writer of “Hurt” who also wrote the song “Heresy” with the following lyrics:

he sewed his eyes shut because he is afraid to see
he tries to tell me what i put inside of me
he’s got the answers to ease my curiosity
he dreamed a god up and called it christianity
god is dead and no one cares
if there is a hell i’ll see you there
he flexed his muscles to keep his flock of sheep in line
he made a virus that would kill off all the swine
his perfect kingdom of killing, suffering and pain
demands devotion atrocities done in his name

drowning in his own hypocrisy
and if there is a hell, i will see you see you there

burning with your god in humility
will you die for this?

Notice that the major complaints in this song are not so far fetched.  The institutional church version of Christianity (what I call Churchianity) has a legacy of closed-mindedness on all kinds of issues ranging from its Dark Age Crusades to its insistence on geocentrism to its condoning slavery.  “Eyes sown shut” indeed!  The line, “if there’s a hell I’ll see you there” demonstrates how counterproductive the doctrine of eternal torment really is.  Most people who preach it think that those who hear will be afraid and turn to God, but the affect is opposite – they are accurately convinced that those who preach such things have “dreamed a god up and called it christianity.”  I say “accurately” because this version of God Who eternally torments the majority of mankind is “dreamed…up”, not real, and unfortunately this Jekyl and Hyde version of God is most often associated with or accompanied by the hijacked word, “Christianity.”  The Jekyl and Hyde version of God taught by orthodox Churchianity does far worse things than what Reznor describes in this song.  It is no wonder that Reznor views God as “drowning in his own hypocrisy” if God tells us to love unconditionally and forgive one another 70×7 times, yet He takes the majority of humanity and puts them in a place of unconditional NON-forgiveness with no hope of EVER knowing the love of God, instead experiencing eternal suffering as live trophies to the power of sin and death. No, I think in many cases Reznor is closer to the truth of Who God is and what God does than the average eternal-torment-believer.

Now that we’ve had a bit of background on Reznor, let’s take a look at Cash’s version of Reznor’s song in this award winning video, “Hurt“:

I hurt myself today, to see if I still feel
I focus on the pain, the only thing that’s real
The needle tears a hole, the old familiar sting
Try to kill it all away, but I remember everything

What have I become, my sweetest friend
Everyone I know, goes away in the end
And you could have it all, my empire of dirt
I will let you down, I will make you hurt

I wear this crown of thorns, upon my liar’s chair
Full of broken thoughts I cannot repair
Beneath the stains of time, the feelings disappear
You are someone else, I am still right here

If I could start again, a million miles away
I would keep myself, I would find a way

Reznor’s line, “I wear this crown of shit, upon my liar’s chair,” was changed by Cash to “I wear this crown of thorns, upon my liar’s chair,” clearly giving the song new meaning, one that identifies with Christ in a haunting theme of repentance instead of utter despair.  Reznor’s response to Cash’s remake of his song was, “…wow… tears welling, silence, goose-bumps… wow… that song isn’t mine anymore… It really made me think about how powerful music is as a medium and art form. I wrote some words and music in my bedroom as a way of staying sane, about a bleak and desperate place I was in, totally isolated and alone. [Somehow] that winds up reinterpreted by a music legend from a radically different era/genre and still retains sincerity and meaning…”

And Cash’s remake of Depeche Mode’s “Personal Jesus” (written by Martin Gore) on the same album has the same powerful effect.  He takes a song that Marilyn Manson covered with artistic intentions of your-personal-Jesus-is-whatever-makes-you-happy, and actually makes “Personal Jesus” about Jesus Christ:

Your own, personal, Jesus, someone to hear your prayers, someone who cares
Your own, personal, Jesus, someone to hear your prayers, someone who’s there
Feeling unknown and you’re all alone, flesh and bone, by the telephone,
lift up the receiver, i’ll make you a believer
Take second best, put me to the test, things on your chest,
you need to confess, i will deliver, you know i’m a forgiver
Reach out and touch faith, reach out and touch faith

The funny thing is, we don’t even have the ability to “reach out and touch faith” as spiritually dead people.  Only when Christ makes us alive can we have faith, and that faith is the “faith of Christ” not “faith in Christ” as it is commonly mistranslated in so many Bibles.  Christ makes alive, Christ gives faith, we love Him because He first loved us – all of us, you, me, Costello, Rezner, Gore, Manson, and Cash.