The image of the cross was to change humanity, not a necessary transaction to change God—as if God needed changing! 

Richard Rohr’s article below challenges my default understanding of penal substitution as a necessity for salvation. The implications to our understanding of God are profound. I believe further examination is deserved.


A Nonviolent Atonement (At-One-Ment)
Wednesday, October 12, 2016



Jesus’ teachings seem to have been understood rather clearly during the first few hundred years after his death and resurrection. Values like nonparticipation in war, simple living, and love of enemies were common among his early followers. For example, the Didache, written around AD 90, calls readers to “share all things with your brother; and do not say that they are your own. For if you are sharers in what is imperishable, how much more in things which perish.” [1] At this time, Christianity was countercultural, untouched by empire, rationalization, and compromise.

However, when the imperial edict of AD 313 elevated Christianity to a privileged position in the Roman Empire, the church increasingly accepted, and even defended, the dominant social order, especially concerning war, money, and class. Morality became individualized and largely sexual. Formal Christianity slowly lost its free and alternative vantage point, which is probably why what we now call “religious life” began, and flourished, after 313. People went to the edges of the church and took vows of poverty, living in satellites that became “little churches,” without ever formally leaving the big church.

If you look at texts in the hundred years preceding 313, it was unthinkable that a Christian would fight in the army. The army was killing Christians; Christians

In the thirteenth century, the Franciscans and the Dominicans were the Catholic Church’s debating society, as it were. We invariably took opposing positions in the great debates in the universities of Paris, Cologne, Bologna, and Oxford. Both opinions usually passed the tests of orthodoxy, although one was preferred. The Franciscans often ended up presenting the minority position in those days. I share this bit of history to show that my understanding of the atonement theory is not heretical or new, but has very traditional and orthodox foundations. In the thirteenth century the Catholic Church seemed to be more broad-minded than it became later. Like the United States’ Supreme Court, it could have both a majority and a minority opinion, and the minority position was not kicked out! It was just not taught in most seminaries. However, the Franciscans and other groups taught the minority position.

Thomas Aquinas and the Dominicans agreed with the mainline position that some kind of debt had to be paid for human salvation. Many scriptures and the Jewish temple metaphors of sacrifice, price, propitiation, debt, and atonement do give this impression. But Franciscan teacher, Blessed John Duns Scotus (c. 1266-1308), who founded the theological chair at Oxford, said that Jesus wasn’t solving any problems by coming to earth and dying. Jesus wasn’t changing God’s mind about us; rather, Jesus was changing our minds about God. That, in a word, was our nonviolent at-one-ment theory. God did not need Jesus to die on the cross to decide to love humanity. God’s love was infinite from the first moment of creation; the cross was just Love’s dramatic portrayal in space and time.

Scotus built his argument on the pre-existent Cosmic Christ described in Colossians and Ephesians. Jesus is “the image of the invisible God” (Colossians 1:15) who came forward in a moment of time so we could look upon “the One we had pierced” (John 19:37) and see God’s unconditional love for us, in spite of our failings.

The image of the cross was to change humanity, not a necessary transaction to change God—as if God needed changing! Scotus concluded that Jesus’ death was not a “penal substitution” but a divine epiphany for all to see. Jesus was pure gift, and the idea of gift is much more transformative than any idea of necessity, price, or transaction. It shows that God is not violent, but loving. 

Duns Scotus firmly believed that God’s perfect freedom had to be maintained at all costs. If God “needed” or demanded a blood sacrifice to love God’s own creation, then God was not freely loving us. Once you say it, its inherent absurdity is obvious! Unfortunately, the mainstream “theory” led many people to dislike and mistrust “God the Father.” This undercut the mystical, transformative journey for most Christians.

Jesus was not changing the Father’s mind about us; he was changing our mind about God—and thus about one another too. If God and Jesus are not violent, punishing, torturing, or vindictive, then our excuse for the same is forever taken away from us. This is no small point! And, of course, if God is punitive and torturing, then we have full modeling and permission to do the same. Does this need much proof at this point in Christian history?

Jesus’ full journey revealed two major things: that salvation could have a positive and optimistic storyline, neither beginning nor ending with a cosmic problem; and even more that God was far different and far better than the whole history of violent religion had up to then demonstrated. Jesus did not just give us textbook and transactional answers, but personally walked through the full human journey of both failure and rejection—while still forgiving his enemies—and then said, “Follow me” and do likewise (see John 12:26; Matthew 10:38). This is the crucial message of nonviolence that most of Christianity has yet to hear. Without it, the future of humanity is in grave peril.

Gateway to Silence:
Be peace.

Enoughness and Contentment-Richard Rohr

We live in a society that places great importance upon external signs of success. We have to assure ourselves and others that we are valuable and important—because we inherently doubt that we are! Thus we are often preoccupied with “one-upping” others. I am afraid that most lose inside of such a “winner-takes-all” society. We have great difficulty finding our inherent value with such a world view. Few have deep conviction about their own soul or the Indwelling Holy Spirit.


People living under capitalism find it almost unnatural to know their own center. Dignity must always be “acquired” and earned. We live in an affluent society that’s always expecting more, wanting more, and believes it even deserves more. But the more we own, ironically enough, the less we enjoy. This is the paradox of materialism. The more we project our soul’s longing onto things, the more things disappoint us. Happiness is an inside job. When we expect to find happiness outside of ourselves, we are always disappointed. We then seek a “higher” or more stimulating experience and the spiral of addiction and consumption continues.

Pew Note 9-15-16

We try to impress God with our perfection and impress others too. And what we tend to forget is that the moment we become impressive, we have diminished others’ view of God. When we try to cast a large shadow, we forget that God is the object of our worship and is the One we are to point others to, not ourselves.

Michael Mercer

Who Am I?

Written for Shadowland Community Church weekly email.


Who Am I?

Recently, I was sitting at the breakfast table, caught up in deep thought. For whatever reason that morning, my mind had been drawn to the reality of my daily existence. 

Ann, noticing my far away look, asked me: “What are you thinking about?”, to which I replied, “I’m nothing but a speck on a gnat’s rear end.”  

That phrase comes from my growing up years in Alabama. If you wanted to tell someone how worthless they were, you would say, “You’re not even a speck on a gnat’s rear end” 

The conclusion I had arrived at that morning came from an unvarnished look at my life and circumstances compared to, what appears to me as, the innumerably greater, better, more significant, lives and circumstances in the world about me. As an elderly person, I think about and strive to find meaning and purpose in a life that feels increasingly useless. 

As I write this, I can hear the protests. “You shouldn’t feel that way…you are _______ (fill in the blank) .“  

But, alas, there is something freeing about bringing the reality of my insignificance into the light of God’s love for me and thoughts about me. It’s what I see David expressing in Psalm 8: 

“When I consider your heavens,
       the work of your fingers,
  the moon and the stars,
        which you have set in place,
what is mankind that you are mindful of them,
     human beings that you care for them?”

We resist the truth of our existence but it is only in our insignificance that we will find our significance.

I stood alone on the wet, sandy seashore
In the presence of the Sea.
Its waters extended endlessly,
Beyond the horizon
Touching infinity.

The sounds of waves rolling
And crashing against the shore
Roared like the majestic dawning of creation,
Deafening in its might.
Colors blurred into every shade
Of blue and black and green and white.

I tasted the salt in my mouth,
And breathed it into my life.
The light of the eastern sky broke through
Billowing clouds of cotton and blue,
Dark clouds receding, retreating before the light.
Towering black cliffs loomed massive behind me,
Laid along side one another
Like giant steeples of stone
Reaching up until lost in the mist
Of blanketing clouds above.

I stood in the awesome, infinite presence of the Sea,
Of ineffable mystery.
And simultaneously I saw myself from above,
One speck on a vast shining shore,
A shoreline stretching farther than the eye could see,
Lost in the distance to the embrace of the Sea.
And I felt significant.
I felt significant only because of my insignificance.
Yet I stood in the Presence of Ultimate Reality,
Of Another, of the Holy Other.
I felt acceptance and affirmation,
Security and peace.

I belonged to the Sea.
It had let me be
To become a valued entity.
It had named me,
To forget me now an impossibility.

God knew me.
God knew my name,
The journey of my life.
And God loved me.

Excerpted from Frank Tupper’s “A Scandalo



The Journey Continues

As you can see, my blog is working again. Unfortunately there is about 4 years of posts missing. I do have a file of 370+ posts that I’m trying figure out how to import. In any case, I’m pleased to have saved as much as I have.  I’ve been enjoying reading the older posts. You are welcome to browse through the years.

The trinity

God for us, we call you “Father.”
God alongside us, we call you “Jesus.”
God within us, we call you “Holy Spirit.”
Together, you are the Eternal Mystery
That enables, enfolds, and enlivens all things,
Even us and even me. 

Every name falls short of your goodness and greatness.
We can only see who you are in what is.
We ask for such perfect seeing—
As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be.



The Spiritual Journey of Christ Followers

  •  It is a faith journey …

To travel by faith implies the unknown. Lewis & Clark’s Northwest Passage map was marked “Unknown”

Rom.4  Abraham – Against all hope, in unbelief…”fully persuaded that God had the power to do what he had promised.”

Heb 11:13    All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance. And they admitted that they were aliens and strangers on earth.

  •  They travel light …

No extra baggage. Nomads don’t accumulate unnecessary baggage.

Rom 8:1 no condemnation, set free

Matt 11:28-30 “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.     Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

  •  They are outfitted for the journey …

Matt 6:25 Provisions for the journey are assured.

We have the most experienced and reliable guide.

“I will be with you.” Ex. 3:12 “I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

  •  They are clear about their allegiance …

Joshua “For me and my house…” Mary “I am the Lord’s servant, let it be with me as you said.”

“The Lord is my shepherd..”

Eph 2:19       Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow citizens with God’s people and members of God’s household, …

  •  The journey is immersed in mystery, awe and adventure …

Infinite God, mysterious and wonderful.

An adventure… not of a lifetime… but of an eternity.

Rom 11:33-36

Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable his judgments, and his paths beyond tracing out!

“Who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has been his counselor?”

“Who has ever given to God, that God should repay him?”

For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be the glory forever! Amen.

Psalms 84:1-7

How lovely is your dwelling place, O LORD Almighty!

        My soul yearns, even faints, for the courts of the LORD; my heart and my flesh cry out for the living God.

Even the sparrow has found a home, and the swallow a nest for herself, where she may have her young– a place near your altar, O LORD Almighty, my King and my God.

Blessed are those who dwell in your house; they are ever praising you. Selah

Blessed are those whose strength is in you, who have set their hearts on pilgrimage.

As they pass through the Valley of Baca, they make it a place of springs; the autumn rains also cover it with pools.

They go from strength to strength, till each appears before God in Zion.

  • They encounter the world …

Psalms 84:1-7

They pass through the Valley of  Baca

People who hold out never engage the world. As pilgrims, our journey does not bypass the world but takes us through it. Ps 23 ;

Our journey does not end when we find Jesus, it is no longer a restless wandering but a journey filled with hope and joy. It is along that journey that we are salt and light to the world.

  •   They change the world …

“… they make it a place of springs; the autumn rains also cover it with pools.

It matters what happens in the world. Until Jesus returns, the world’s future is our future. God’s people are called to effect/infect the world.

  •  They find strength in the journey …

“They go from strength to strength, till each appears before God inZion.

Prov 17:3 “The crucible for silver and the furnace for gold, but the LORD tests the heart.”

We find strength in the journey. Holding On does not allow God’s power to prevail and strengthen us. “A clinched fist cannot receive a gift.”

Ps 23 I will fear no evil for you are with me. Your rod and your staff they comfort me.

  •  They are always prepared to move on…

Mark 6:8-11 These were his instructions: “Take nothing for the journey except a staff– no bread, no bag, no money in your belts. Wear sandals but not an extra tunic. Whenever you enter a house, stay there until you leave that town. And if any place will not welcome you or listen to you, shake the dust off your feet when you leave, as a testimony against them.”

 Christian pilgrims understand and are prepared to move. They tempted to hold on but the promise before them is greater than that which they see and they keep moving.

  •  They don’t travel alone…

Elijah – I am the only one left. Rom 11:3-5

“Lord, they have killed your prophets and torn down your altars; I am the only one left, and they are trying to kill me”?

And what was God’s answer to him? “I have reserved for myself seven thousand who have not bowed the knee to Baal.” So too, at the present time there is a remnant chosen by grace.

 Rev 7:9-10; 13-17

After this I looked and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and in front of the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands. And they cried out in a loud voice: “Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.”…

 Then one of the elders asked me, “These in white robes– who are they, and where did they come from?”

I answered, “Sir, you know.”

And he said, “These are they who have come out of the great tribulation; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.

“… they are before the throne of God and serve him day and night in his temple; and he who sits on the throne will spread his tent over them. Never again will they hunger; never again will they thirst. The sun will not beat upon them, nor any scorching heat. For the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd; he will lead them to springs of living water. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”

A Look Back at 2011

A few days ago I took the time to look back at 2011. The year was full and there were a lot of events that shaped the year. Here are some highlights from 2011:

Pottery Classes

I took pottery classes taught by my friend Tim Vetters. I enjoyed them enough to take two sessions. I am not sure that I got in touch with my artistic self but it was well worth the time. Working with clay is a humbling experience. I was never able to get the hang of centering on the wheel.




Neighborhood Transition

We are surrounded by a number of rental properties, many of which are occupied by seminary families. We have gotten to know many of them and close friendships have developed. Asbury Theological Seminary completed the construction of 100 family housing units early in 2011. As a result, our seminary neighbor families moved into the new housing. It was very good for them but it was sad to not have them close by. The vacancies around us have filled and we are looking forward to getting to know our new neighbors. The continual turnover of neighbors is always a good opportunity to get to know new people.

Toward the end of the year our street was closed to through traffic as a result of the construction of single student housing by the seminary at the east end of our  street. This has temporarily impeded the flow of people past our house. I miss the front porch interactions but I am looking forward to this fall when the street will be reopened and I expect there will more people passing than before.

Pleasantview House

We had a very successful year with our guest house. We had 180+ guests from 19 different states and Canada. It was rented 142 days, way beyond our goal for our first full year. It has really been a pleasure to meet and get to know so many different people. We are gaining a number of returning guests. Ann and I really enjoy being hosts.


2011 was a very interesting year for me health wise. I had more issues and opportunities than the previous ten years combined. I will not elaborate on the details but I do know that I have a greater awareness of my health status and the responses necessary to continue enjoy the life style that I have enjoyed in the past few years.

Pediatric Nurse Practitioner

Tanya received her Master’s degree as a Nurse Practitioner from Vanderbilt University. Although I am geriatric rather than pediatric, I am very fortunate to have a medical advocate at my disposal. She keeps a close eye on me.


2011 could be described as the year of baseball. Ann and I have come to enjoy Cincinnati Reds baseball. I attended opening day and we took in several games together. We had a special family day with the Gabeharts and Crocketts. It was a great ball game and much fun.






Fellowship Group

My seminarian friend Mark, invited me to his Thursday night fellowship with other seminary students. I have found it be a very rewarding experience. I have met and gotten to know several men from a wide array of nationalities and cultures. Our conversations provided me with a deeper understanding of the scope of the kingdom of God. I continue to be impressed with the faith and passion of the seminary families.

Remodeling Projects

Ann and I took on some remodeling projects at our house. We added a new bathroom and reconfigured our mud/laundry room. That allowed us to reconfigure our existing bathroom. Lots of work but it has turned out to be very nice. We also re-tiled the fireplace in our living room. Ann painted our kitchen and will be painting other rooms.



Earlier this year I determined to catch a number of feral cats that were hanging out in our neighborhood. They were multiplying rapidly and action was required. I managed to catch three and have them spayed and neutered. They were off-spring of mother and daddy feral cats. It was not long before kittens began to appear. Ann I spotted there hang put and managed to capture 5 of them along with the mother. They were all taken to the animal shelter. Only daddy cat remained but he is very wary. Thankfully, since he has no mate, he doesn’t appear around here much and there are no additional cats. The three cats that were fixed have become fixtures. Ann has adopted them and feeds and waters them. They enjoy our front porch but will not allow us to get near them except for a few rare occasions.


Although we did not go to Florida in Jan – Feb, we had several trips and visits this past year. Carter and Lori and Clark and Vanessa both moved in 2011. Carter and Lori moved from Birmingham, AL to Dallas, Texas. We were able to visit them in Birmingham in May. Carter and I went bass fishing and had a great time. We got to visit them in Dallas on our way to Abilene and see their new home located in the downtown area of Dallas. They will be experiencing urban living for the first time. Clark and Vanessa moved from Burlington, IA to Racine, WI. We traveled to Racine and enjoyed visiting for a few days. It was our visit time in the area and we enjoyed it very much. Clark and I did some “urban” fishing. We caught several nice salmon.

In February we went to Memphis to celebrate Neyland and Turner’s first birthday at Scott and Allison’s. It was a grand time. They came to visit us for their first time in August.We also got to spend some time with them in the fall on our way to Texas. They are great kids.

In September, Ann and I flew to New Mexico and met our friends Ron and Jean Like and toured northeast New Mexico for several days. We enjoyed it very much and hope to return in the near future.

There were many other enjoyable times. As I reflect on the year, it becomes more and more obvious how blessed we are. I look forward to 2012 with deep gratitude for our lives and circumstances.


Thoughts about the journey:
There is a temptation to think of one’s spiritual journey as individual. I do not believe that is true. I am one part of the pilgrimage of all of God’s people. We each have our own unique encounters, experiences, trials and detours but we do not travel alone. We must not, cannot proceed alone. We need the strength, companionship, encouragement, wisdom and experience of fellow sojourners. The journey is perilous and we may need to be rescued or to rescue. The journey brings us joyful experiences and beautiful vistas to which we enthusiastically direct our fellow travelers. Of course we could make better progress without the burden of others but its not just about the destination. It’s also about the experience of the journey. Too often our perspective is like the impatient child: “Are we there yet?”. We pay little attention to the wonderful experiences, opportunities for relationship and love and the beauty and wonder of the scenes passing the window. We are only concerned about the destination.

September 2006

Being Church in Our Culture

This post is from September 2006. My experience in the 5 years since then have affirmed the relevance and truthfulness of Keller’s words.

Here are a few of quotes from Tim Keller’s Being Church in Our Culture:

Religion says “I obey therefore God accepts me”.
Gospel says “I am accepted by God therefore I obey”.
On the surface religion and gospel look similar but the lives and communities derived from them are radically different.

If we cannot show the difference between religion and gospel then non-Christian people will think we are asking them to just be good. Non-Christians need to see Christians who so inhabit their city, inhabit their neighborhood, inhabit their professions so that by looking at the Christians they will have a picture of what they would look like as Christians.

As Christians in the culture, paradoxically, we are both radically different and radically the same.

Teaching provided by seminaries, churches, bible classes teaches us how to be church leaders not cultural leaders. We operate in a church leader grid. The progression of our training leads us through a hierarchy of leadership. The result is that we pull people out of their jobs into the church so they have less and less cultural impact. Our objective should be to teach people how to be more excellent and distinctive in cultural leadership.