Lately I’ve enjoyed internet exchanges with the writer Jim Gordon (AKA DoneWithReligion AKA DWR), and to begin by being perfectly candid, when I’d first read from Jim in the form of their words of encouragement to Alex Black, I’d came away truly perplex. Although not because of Gordon’s seemingly good nature, supportive stance or even their distaste for polemics, as they’re all common, rather I was surprised in that Jim insisted upon the above through use of Christian terminology, which to me appeared so thoroughly inappropriate. “Doesn’t the Gospel scandalize the world?” I’d ask myself, “Isn’t the Law a mirror so that Grace is properly understood?” (For which Jim could share the Law unabashedly), Gordon however wasn’t to me an impassioned speaker of Christ crucified, nor an ardent critic of behaviour truly contrary to God’s commands, which constitute our duties as His creation. Explaining in part their views on issues of spirituality, Done With Religion shared on their opening page:
“Done with religion does not mean done with God. It’s because of God’s gift of grace that we are done trying to please God by performance. Done with religion does not mean we are done with church, but we realize the Church is the community of believers and not a building we go to once a week.
Religion tells us our relationship with God is based on how well we follow the rules and how well we perform. Done with religion means we no longer submit to rules and regulations but live a life of love for God and one another because of his grace. We want to take our eyes off personal effort and performance and focus entirely on Christ, realizing we are one with Him.”
Grace, the body of Christ, reconciliation with the Father, they’re each hinted at in the above, and that’s just wonderful, however, in what way are these concepts being used, there’s no further teaching or preaching on the subject so that people already familiar with the idea (or even the experience) of God’s love can delve deeper. This is cause for concern, as anybody in touch with world religions already knows, though one example of why the above is so dangerous should suffice. While visiting Piccadilly Circus, an absolute hub of humanity in London’s West End, I recently came across several bearded men in white shirts, most sitting by a table, with the words “I love Jesus because I’m Muslim” plastered upon the front, as if to say they’re writing of the same Jesus, Jesus away in a manger, no crib for a bed, as the reading public might think. The clued in however aren’t so easily taken in, as whoever Muslims are talking about when they say “Jesus”, it’s not who historians find for reading the best available sources about the life and public ministry of Jesus of Nazareth. Rather, “Jesus” as spoken in the mouth of Muslims comes from the portrait as painted by the Quran, and for people who have read last week’s article about the “Zealot” book they’ll immediately be weary of Muslim claims about Jesus. Further damning, even if you and I were to ignore Muslim source material on Jesus being written over 700 hundred years after the public ministry of Christ, is that the Jesus they heart, that being the Jesus of the Quran, had been outright plagiarized from the Gnostic infancy gospel of Thomas!
Gnostic beliefs, for the uninitiated, were that matter was evil, and that the God of the Torah, who Jesus loved and called Their Father, was an evil lesser god (known as the demiurge), and an awful being undeserving of our worship due having “trapped” humanity in bodies of flesh and bone. Now, “I heart Jesus” counts for nothing if the Jesus you’re writing about is the invention of gnostic believers who wrote falsely in the name of long deceased apostles and members of Jesus’ inner circle, moreover, professing your love for a portrait of Jesus which isn’t just false, but actually contrary to the views of the historic Jesus, is just perverted. Notice how important the above is in my conversation with the material of Jim Gordon, as it’s what’s behind the rhetoric, and not the rhetoric itself, that’s of interest to people.
Asking that Jim would clarify himself was unfortunately met by an abrupt resistance, which again isn’t commonplace in the most devote believing people I’ve come across, with which the apparent tension between how I imagined Gordon ought to behave compared to how they behaved in truth remained unresolved. Though the Christian world is as people have noted “a broad church”, meaning I wasn’t ready to dismiss Jim as an apostate or fraud as of yet. Were they “belonging to a cult”, I mused, not meaning to be insulting, but rather using the technical definition of the word, like how uncommon expressions of faith like Mormonism or the JW use Christian terminology, while be it said holding to very little historically recognizable as Christianity (it’s possible). Or as an alternative, could Jim’s outlook simply be the product of a man falling out of love with their once held Christian identity, even perched upon a slippery slope leading down into the most unhappy state of apostasy (again, it’s possible). Nevertheless, breakthrough wasn’t coming by way of an honest conversation with the people behind Done With Religion, not until reading through their book review section, with which they proudly promote:
The Misunderstood God: The lies religions tells about God.
God and the Gay Christian.
Repenting from Religion.
Grace for Grown-ups.
Torn: Rescuing the Gospel from the Gay Christian debate.
Yikes! Gay Christians, needing to “repent” from the crime of religion, lies of religion and idea of grown-up grace, as if to accuse people who disagree of childishness, how enlightening with regards to the views of the husband and wife team behind Done With Religion (they’re far from “done” with religion). Rather they’re in an all-out knock down drag out war with religion, and although I’m certain they’re loving, friendly and considerate people, everything I’ve been reading is causing real concern in my heart. By my first reckoning being “done” with religion simply meant shunning the institutionalization which faith based institutions often employed, though for the reading material I’d become concerned being “done” with religion meant “I’m mad as hell, and I’m not gonna take it any more!” Done with religion appears to mean looking religion straight in the eye and saying “We’re coming after you.” Lastly in their book section I found what might be the best example of Jim’s beliefs, that being The Hyper Grace Gospel, by Paul Ellis. Though what exactly do people mean by “hyper grace”, isn’t God’s grace as found in the Bible enough, and if not, why not?
The term hyper-grace has been used to describe a new wave of teaching that emphasizes the grace of God to the exclusion of other vital teachings such as repentance and confession of sin. Hyper-grace teachers maintain that all sin, past, present, and future, has already been forgiven, so there is no need for a believer to ever confess it. Hyper-grace teaching says that, when God looks at us, He sees only a holy and righteous people. The conclusion of hyper-grace teaching is that we are not bound by Jesus’ teaching, even as we are not under the Law; that believers are not responsible for their sin; and that anyone who disagrees is a pharisaical legalist.
Hyper grace teachers insist we’re not to take note of Jesus’ teachings? We’re in no way meant to express our love for Jesus by keeping Their commands, and to even do so is to deny grace, to be some kind of pharisaical legalist (How utterly extraordinary!) The Hyper Grace position means there’s no such thing as sanctification, no Great Commission, no call to holiness, no requirement to even follow through with Jesus’ commands to turn the other cheek or love your neighbour as yourself, in fact, Jesus’ words of encouragement to take up our cross and follow Him daily are to be thrown out. Yet reading the Scriptures I find Jesus teaching: “Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching. My Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them.” Are the above words simply not applicable to believing people after the crucifixion, apparently so, according to the hyper grace teachers. Returning again to Paul Ellis, as Jim Gordon reviews their book, beaming at the revelation of grace Mr Ellis and others claim to have received:
I thoroughly enjoyed reading the book by Paul Ellis, ‘The Hyper-Grace Gospel’. It made clear the grace message and very respectfully answered many of the comments and claims made in a book by Michael Brown. This book did a great job of explaining grace and how God freely made it available to everyone. Paul showed how grace and works are two separate covenants and not meant to be a combination in the way we live.
In the first part of the book, many points are gone over making clear what grace, or hyper grace, is and is not. After Christ rose from the dead, a new covenant began. A covenant of grace and love, not rule keeping and law.
More on the above claim in a future conversation between myself and Jim Gordon:
The second part of the book goes over many arguments made in the book by Michael Brown, explaining clearly some of the misunderstandings and arguments made against hyper grace.
Now, the above is interesting in that I’m an avid reader of Dr. Michael Brown, moreover they’re an honest and thoughtful defender of the truth claims of the Christian faith, for which I’ve decided to give both their “Hyper Grace: Exposing the Dangers of the Modern Grace Message” and Paul Ellis’ material my attention, expect a verdict in later articles. Though in opening and reading first from Dr. Brown, as Ellis’ book I’ll read as a rebuttal, I’ve found a treasure trove of fantastic Biblical Christianity, to such a degree they’re interacting with several pastors, and even a preacher you may remember from an earlier book review of mine. Dr. Brown upon page 241 of their book begins by quoting from pastor Rob Bell, who endorsed and wrote the foreword to the passive aggressive “I Sold my Soul on eBay” book! Which again was recommended to me by my conversation partner Alex Black.
So, there’s at least one point of contact in literature between my friends Alex Black and Jim Gordon, that being Rob Bell, an unorthodox young pastor who in the above was insisting upon the Bible an idea of universal salvation (though are such ideas Scriptural?) Insofar as I’ve found, no, no they’re in no way scriptural, before anything else however, and before yet another conversation between myself and Jim Gordon, much like how was done with the material of Reza Aslan, I’d like to go deeper into Rob Bell’s material, in addition to other writers who find themselves flirting with the themes commonly found in the hyper grace camp. Let’s do that by way of their big hit book, Love Wins, first however, because I’ve never been shy about having the other side say their part, below is a small sampling of some glowing reviews for Love Wins.
I am not a person of faith, at all. I don’t even believe in God. But I am intrigued by the role of faith in the lives of others, and the powerful impact Christianity in particular has on politics, policy and discourse in the U.S. I am glad I let down my walls enough to read this book, which I picked up at an airport after hearing about it from my brother-in-law. He was raised by fundamentalist “Christians” in a hellfire and brimstone environment that has emotionally and psychologically damaged him beyond comprehension.
Furthermore, another 5 star review reads:
First of all, I’m not a preacher, I’m not a scholar, and I don’t speak ancient Greek. But last week, I was tired of being told I wasn’t good enough and that I was going to hell from Christians, and I was tired of being told I was an idiot from Atheists. I just told myself, “If this book doesn’t convince me otherwise, I’m going to convert to another religion.” But it did convince me otherwise.
Interesting voices in favour of the book thus far, even people who consider some religion psychologically damaging “beyond comprehension”, and posters who planned to leave their religion because people at their local church (or family) were being mean to them, for which I’m guessing if you’re really nice to him he’d join your religion (regardless of what it is). Though the last quote is most telling, as the reviewer signed off bitterly: ‘So go ahead…casts stones, throw around labels; bring your scriptural bag o’ tricks to tell me exactly why I’m wrong. Heck, troll my review in the name of righteous indignation. I don’t care. I’ll be too busy trying to find a tax collector to love on.’
Who’s really reaching down into their bag o’ tricks? We’re going to find out next week when Love Wins gets put to the test.
― T. C. M