Wednesday, April 25, 2007

A Question Following the Article in Relevant Magazine Online


The following letter was sent with a touch of concern. It was sent by e-mail after the writer read the article "Beyond the Pall", which was published in Relevant Magazine. The concerns listed in the article are not uncommon for people who are reading about someone who is actively making friends with the Neo-Pagan community, and sharing the love of Christ. I asked if I could respond to the e-mail openly on my blog, and he said yes. The writer will remain anonymous, because I offered to post it that way, and it was accepted on those terms.

The questioning e-mail will be in italics, and my response in plain text.


hi pastor phil,

my name is P... and i just finished reading your article on relevant magazine's website. i also looked at some of the stuff you wrote on your blog, but not much.

first, to begin, i just want to let you know that i am not writing this email out of judgement or contempt or anything, and i really really hope that i don't appear that way. really, i just want to share my thoughts and hear yours, nothing more.

i've just been really confused by what you wrote about. i understand your point, about how self-seeking pastors and corrupt leaders of super duper churches are not men of God (I also read what you wrote about redefining "heresy," and i would agree to an extent.) I'm just a bit confused cause the article does seem to lean another way also... that the practicing Satanist, was, well, respected by God.

Again, I do not want to be on the offensive or anything, I just want to understand your view better (not to make judgements, but just for my own understanding). I completely agree with you about your criticism of the really selfish and corrupt church leaders who everybody naively admires, yet, the article also offers praise to the Satanist.

This is what I have been struggling with in my personal search for truth. And this has been very troubling for me: the overwhelming message of love of Jesus vs. the nature of God. I mean, yes, Jesus said lots of things about loving people nomatter what, yet, he was also surprisingly ascerbic when dealing with the devil and evil. I mean, the first and greatest commandment is to love God, and I'm just very confused as to how a "selfish" God would honor a man who practiced voodoo and followed Satan.



The point of the article was not to say that one person was respected by God, and another disrespected, but rather to show the strange contrast from our human perspective. A dark individual who was respected by other people for the help he offered them was contrasted with a supposedly good man who has a growing evil reputation for hurting those around him. I simply ended the article with a question asking what God, Who sees into the heart, might see which we do not.

The same man who died was far more complex than could be described by the short story. I had known him for many years. We sat up late at night and discussed Heaven and Hell, we saw The Passion together, his story of being abused by Christian churches was outlined by a letter in this post. I have heard him describe himself as someone who loved Jesus, and disliked Christianity.

I understand the concern you have about God respecting, or honoring someone who lives in disobedience to Him, but I suppose I might look at the issue from a different angle than you are seeing it. I do not think that God respects one person over any other person, for the simple fact that all of us are messed-up, broken individuals.

Now I am not quite sure what you mean by a "selfish God," but it seems to me that the God I serve would give His Son for those who had rejected Him. It also seems that He loves that person as much as He loves anyone else. I would expect that He would want me to do the same. This would be the fulfillment of the command at the end of Matthew 5, "You have heard that it was said, 'You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you...."

I see the anger of Jesus focused on hypocritical religious leaders. Do you think perhaps that He might feel the same way today? I tend to think so, and the reason I believe this is because our lack of compassion and understanding gives creedance to people's biases against Christianity. They see Jesus as loving toward the sinner, the sick, and the broken; and angry toward the hypocrites who thought that they could define righteousness by their own terms. I sometimes wonder if perhaps the non-Christian world understands the anger of God better than the Christian world does. They are mad at hypocrites, and accepting of sinners. Whereas we often are mad at sinners, and accepting of hypocrites.

By the way, it may be of interest for you to know that LeVeyan Satanism is most often a form of atheistic hedonism, and Satan is viewed as a personification of self, or the natural forces of the universe, and not as a literal being to be worshiped.

I mean, paul and other new testament writers also say a lot about Satan and pagans and they are definitely not supportive. I don't think I'm sayiing that you were "supportive" of Satanists, but it seems as if you are saying that the Satanist priest was a better man than the selfish pastor. Like, yes, the pastor is hypocritical and everything, but again, I just don't see how God would tolerate honoring a Satanist. The Old Testament is all about how God hates evil and the drastic measures that he goes to. There are many really serious passages in the New Testament about those that reject Christ and follow Satan. I just feel like, in a sense, you are saying that it's ok.

The New Testament writers did say a lot about Pagans. In fact, all the Gentile world was Pagan. Paul became "as a Jew" when with the Jews, and "as without the law" when he was with those who were without the law (i.e. Pagans). What the New Testament has to say about Pagans is found in Paul's advice on eating meat offered to idols, and the celebrating of holydays. Otherwise, it was a fact of life that Christians were sitting down with good old fashioned Pagans at meals, and even during Pagan celebrations, because that was the way of life in the Roman Empire.

or maybe there is a really fine line between showing unconditional love to whomever seeks it and actually approving of an alternate world view?

Now this I think highlights the difference in how we think. I do not believe that there is a fine line between showing unconditional love, and approving of an alternate worldview. I must love unconditionally, and I must desire truth fully. It is not either/or. When I love unconditionally, I do not assume that every moment requires that I rebuke someone for their sin. I do not think that loving unconditionally allows me to disrespect anyone, and for heaven's sake not after they have died! The post written by another Christian friend of my Witch friend who died, outlines the unbelievable abuse which many Pagans have received at the hands of the church. I will not be another abuser, but I choose to be an outreached hand of love to a group of people who are often feared, and miosunderstood by the church.

What many people do not realize is that while they sit on the sidelines critiquing my relationships with the Pagan community, I have shared the love of Jesus, and the beliefs of Christendom thousands of times to a people group which most Christians will never do anything more than rebuke - and that's only if they are exceptionally bold.


thanks in advance for your response, i've sent way too many emails that have not been responded too.

- P...


You're welcome. I am hoping that there will be a growing number of people who overcome their fear of those in the occult, and just learn to treat them with the same respect which we give to every other person.

gwyn dy fyd,
Phil

18 comments:

David said...

Hey Phil,
Good response.
Two quickies:
One is that I think it comes down to grace. You have the grace to reach the fringe.
My concern, is that those without the grace are either not listening to the Spirit to give them the grace, or are judging those who do have it without recognizing what it is, or both.

The same thing happened to Jesus.

Two, is that your story continues to be an inspiration to me. As Revolution moves forward I want to begin to be incarnational to the Goth, Gay, and 'Spiritual' culture here.

Thanks for helping pave the way. :-)

Adam Gonnerman said...

Phil,

This is complicated, or at least feels that way. In my teen years I dabbled in the New Age and took a course by mail in Wicca. Very quickly I found it to be a dead end, and by age 17 I had decided to commit my life to Christ, at which point I left the Catholic Church.

Though I definitely see the error and darkness in neo-paganism, those who practice it do not cease being human (though they do mar the image of God in themselves as of us have done when we've rebelled against God). They do not become utterly incapable of good and are certainly within the reach of God's grace.

It's funny how witchcraft and the dark arts are made out to be far worse than hypocrisy. I'd say the honest witch has a better chance at repenance than the self-deceived hypocrite.

Still, like I said, it's complicated.

Justin said...

"Love the Lord your God with all your heart mind soul and spirit, and love your neighbor as yourself."

neither of the men contrasted had both of these.

I think God saw and sees still alot to be done with both beyond the pall, but still hope for both as well, and equal value

Justin said...

or at least in life He did...but yeah

Pastor Phil said...

David,

Anyway that we can find to create a bridge to one another in ministry would be cool. Definitely keep abreast of your story as it opens up to the alternative spirituality culture in Fort Collins.

Agent B said...

Man, this is good stuff. Great response.

I'm still amazed at the parallels in your friendship of the witch crowd & dissing by the church, and my friendship of the poverty crowd & dissing by the church.

Witch crowd/poverty crowd:

I think the difference in these two is that the church is immediately repelled from the witch crowd (for the reasons you often state).

But the church (for the most part, mainly US suburbia, etc) seemingly embraces the poverty culture at first. Or at least gives the poverty culture some lip service. But after a while, the church sees that the poverty culture is not willing to change their ways and become "like them" or something. Thus, the poor get shunned, etc.

Many more thoughts on that. I expect you to be fairly busy during the May 4-6 weekend. But if there's time to get away for coffee, let me know.

Pastor Phil said...

Hey Adam,

Complicated is right! Then again that's why I'm bloging and writing about it. I have not had mentors who have taken these paths before. I figure I'll chart my course, and see if it helps someone else. You will probablly get the wrong turns and glorious discoveries all packaged together.

Pastor Phil said...

Justin,

I'm with you, and would hope to see redemption for both. Adam stated it well when he said that repentance might come easier to the honest Witch than to the hypocrite, but I certianly hope for both. I know that I for the moment am called to the Witch, and have to get there through the hypocrite - unfortunately.

Pastor Phil said...

Agent B,

We will hang out. There is no way you are getting out of here without face time. But I don't do coffee. Remember - you tried to exorcise me on that one. ;-)

I have observed a little of what you mean about the poverty culture and the dissing - so yes, more on that bro.

Agent B said...

But I don't do coffee. Remember - you tried to exorcise me on that one.

oh yeah. I forgot. You're one of those.

Pastor Phil said...

Someone's got to keep that ol' word of wisdom.

Jenelle said...

Phil, I think God may use you to train folks who desire to live missionally in European contexts. I admire you for pioneering out into lonely lands without even a mentor. Have you found any historical mentors through books and such?

Pastor Phil said...

Jenelle,
I would love to spend more time in Europe - that's heady thought you've put in my head.

Historical Mentors? Paul - a great minister to Pagans. I would say Patrick, but we really know so little about him, but what we surmise is the stuff I view as perfectly applicable to our situation. I do have a few friends across the globe who are doing similar ministry, and we keep in contact with one another.

carl said...

I must be honest and say that out of all the religions and philosophies satanism in all it's forms is the one I fully do not like and that's mildly put. I agree and realize that Jesus rebuked religious hypocrites more than those considered "unbelievers" but I must ask was there really an ancient equivilent to todays satanism? and how would Jesus of responded if there was? these are more rants than questions.

Still, God loves us all equally and calls me to love. Love than calls me to put aside my feelings and seperate the person from the practice. I imagine Jesus would have the same feelings as I do yet befriend unconditionally.

Anonymous said...

Great responses there Phil. I wonder if people sometimes get confused with God's 'wrath and hatred or sin' and with the love of Jesus who loved the sinner. Perhaps what they didn't understand was that you showed love and friendship to the 'sinner' and never once said you approved of the sin.

The closest I've ever heard you say anything that could, from a twisted perspective, suggest 'loving the sin' would be when you've suggested that Christians might learn a thing or two from Pagans. But the moment you begin to expand on that and point out things like steardship rather than 'dominion' as in domination and destruction of the earth and the suggestion that maybe the 'non-Christian world understands the anger of God better than the Christian world does' in terms of the abuse Pagans face from those who get mad at sinners and accept hypocrites, it becomes clear what you're saying. Perhaps some people can only absorb small soundbites at a time and judge on those.

There is a great deal of fear, earthly fear in people who focus on the wrath bit as an eqation to hating people. They believe God hates people who 'turn away' rather than God hating the act of turning away. That leads them to fear being considered (generally by their community more than by God) that they have 'turned away' somehow. I posted something over at John Smulo's blog the other day that people seemed to like. I think it has some relevance here too.

'Let Christ battle with the spirit. Befriend and love the flesh.' Or something like that. :)

BB

Mike

Justin said...

thanks for your reply, it allayed alot fo concerns I had with your article. I guess I just left it with a sense of universalism, or caring more about works than knowing Jesus...

But thanks, and honestly man, I think what you're doing is awesome and I will be praying for your ministry.

-Justin

philip said...

Hi there, not sure if you're going to get a notification because this was a pretty old post, but I just wanted to let you know that I no longer have the same concerns as I did when I wrote you that question. I was a senior in High School at the time, and I was only beginning to explore the ideas that you brought up. When I look back, I am very fortunate to have matured out of the super-religious and unknowingly arrogant, person that i was. I am now able to sympathize completely with your response to my immature concerns regarding your article.

- phil

Pastor Phil said...

Hi Phil,

Thanks so much for getting back on this. I was impressed by your concern then - even it was critical, and am impressed now as well. May grace continue to grow in you bro.

Phil