- by Nathan Jennings
From Heresy Hunter to Heretic: A Modern Tale of an Ancient Apostle
Imagine you are a Christian at a university and you are walking on campus and as you are walking you hear someone talking to a group of 'non-believers'. And not just 'non-believers' but a group of known highly educated intellectuals. Some of these people are Buddhist, some Hindu, some Deist, others Wiccan, others Atheist etc. What you hear angers you to the core!
"He can't say that to them!" you think to yourself. "That's not true, they haven't even accepted Jesus as their Lord and savior!" You want to scream it out loud but you hold it in. "What a heretic!" you say as you walk away, angry at someone making such claims to "non-believers".
What was this person saying that caused such anger?
First you have to realize the guy that was causing all the fuss was a Christian himself. At one time he was considered the "best" kind of Christian too. He followed all the rules. Went to church every Sunday and Wednesday. Was a Sunday school teacher and itinerant preacher who graduated at the top of his class in seminary at Liberty University. Wrote books that were number one sellers on the christian charts. He knew his Bible inside and out and took every word literally and at face value. Spoke in tongues, but only in the correct setting. Tithed exactly 10% every week. Taught that God was love BUT he was also just and would punish the wicked and non believers in everlasting torment when they died. He loved to start out sermons with the popular "If you die tonight, do you know where you will go?!".
Every revival wanted to hire him as a guest speaker. Just as important as his religious beliefs, he held tightly to his guns, his flag and and his freedom, for they are all one in the same. He longed for the day Jesus would either come back and wipe out the wicked, or for the day he died so he could spend eternity in paradise for living such a godly life. He was certain where he was going.
But this guy changed.
One day, as he was on an evangelical crusade to protest against some illegal immigrant Muslims, probably terrorists, and LGBTQ affirming Christians (if you can even call them that), he claims he had a vision. Rumor is he went blind for 3 days. He actually kind of disappeared from the spotlight for a few years. Then out of nowhere he comes out preaching this non-violent, enemy-loving Jesus - totally different than what he preached before. He no longer looked at the Bible the same and viewed Jesus as the only accurate revelation of God's character. No longer did he persecute and speak against other religions. Which brings us back to the beginning, what you heard him say were provocative things that you've been taught only apply to “believers”. Things like: "You may not know it but at times we worship the same God, and in Him we all live and move and have our being, just like our favorite poets say, we are all his children..." and "God is Father of all humanity and in all of creation."
He proclaimed that since Jesus died for all, all humanity died with him. He said that the earth was headed towards restoration not doom and that in the end, all things would be restored. His message was so scandalous and obscure that many Christians dismissed him and even tweeted things like #farewellheretic.
A popular Christian book chain took his books off the shelf. But through all the criticism, there were those that believed his message of grace for all, and a more Christlike God. Communities were formed that started looking a lot less like rule-oriented religious institutions but more like those that followed the Beatitudes. Proclaiming grace and peace to all, showing acts of kindness to strangers, mercy to the wicked and non-violence in place of violent retaliation. All were invited to join in the revolution. No one was excluded. Rich, poor, gay, straight, convicts, homeless etc.
All were equally loved and did community together, announcing to the world, through a message of love and peace, that the kingdom of God was here.
Nathan is a Husband, Father and aspiring Jesus follower. Nathan was raised Mormon, turned agnostic, to fundamentalist evangelical, to a sojourner following grace wherever it leads. Nathan says, "We live in a pluristic world and to be able to transcend former assertions and still include those in different places without passing judgment is something I aspire to do everyday. I love writing about theology, the Divine and the universal question "why"." Nathan's hope is to continue the conversation of being human - using the language of the faith tradition he knows and loves. He currently resides in Texas, U.S.A.
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