Although the image and text below may be a little irreverent (and hilarious), it illustrates my point:
(I can already feel your pulse quickening, your collar tightening, and your bottom squirming).
I've been reading a fantastic book lately, A New Kind of Christianity: Ten Questions That Are Transforming the Faith by Brian Mclaren. Mclaren asserts that much of what conservative / evangelical faith preaches is actually derived from Greco-Roman mythology and the Six-Line Narrative:
Does it contribute to a higher vision of God, a deeper engagement with Christ, a more profound experience of the Holy Spirit? Does it motivate us to love God, neighbor, stranger, and enemy more wholeheartedly?
I'll let you read the book and consider his perspective deeper. Mclaren goes deep into a discussion about concepts of God, heaven, and hell that were introduced by Greek and Roman influences, many of which were not present in Judaism. Yet, we overlay these concepts and attempt to view the Bible and Jesus through this lens. Further, most evangelicals have elevated the Bible to an infallible document, direct from the hand of God (or at least inspired by God) and worship it as it it were part of the Trinity. Brian's perspective is that the Bible is a library of books, assembled by man, which describe the ongoing (and still evolving) struggles of man to understand and relate to God. But I digress...I'll save this for another blog entry for sure.
Why is this discussion important? Jesus spent much of his time trying to correct the ungodly perspective of the Pharisees, the "keepers of the law"; a law that was oppressive, manipulative, and self-serving to the leaders of the church; a law that did not effectively bring people into a personal relationship with God that was transforming. Jesus came to save them, but was it really to be a blood sacrifice to appease an angry God? Perhaps he came to save them from themselves, their oppressive, legalistic religious practices, all sorts of things that separate people from The Holy God, and the things God loves...you know...like loving other people (and His entire creation) through service?
Perhaps we need saving again, not from an angry, judgmental God, God the accountant who needs a blood sacrifice to balance the scales of sin, but perhaps from this Atonement theology that's all about the afterlife? Perhaps he wants us to turn from that which separates us from Him and from one another? Perhaps we are meant to be serving and loving one another TODAY?
If you must believe the story illustrated in the "Ta Dah" image above and it is truly transformational for you, calls you to meet people's needs in real ways today, then I certainly don't want to try to talk you out of your belief system; Go Forth and serve. But if you struggle with the two narratives above and need to see God, Jesus, and Christianity through a different lens, I encourage you to buy Brian Mclaren's book and see how your faith unfolds; it continues to be truly transformational for me.
Blessings my friends.