Watch Aaron in the film Holy Wars

Thursday, September 30, 2010

How should Christians engage the powers that be?

Below is an ongoing conversation between me and my good friend Dan Sidey:

Question: One of the questions I'm wrestling with these days is how to be a Christian who is truly engaged in contemplative resistance. I realize that the US is not a peaceful country. I live in a small town that relies on the assets that come from our military. We have plenty of families that rely on the money made by troops and an airbase that nearly five times a day, with F-15s, tries to remind us that the US wants to own the skies of the world. The whole thing is disillusioning, yet so ingrained as deeply valuable in the mind of most folks here. I see the tragedy of this paradigm played out constantly in the violence in my own neighborhood. It is as grand as gang fights and as minute as unhappy parents neglecting their children to run from their own violent demons.

I'm beginning to believe negotiating with these powers for a share in their use is not our calling. We're meant to denounce their ability to help as Jesus did. He calls us to love the least of these. Instead of climbing the ladder of success in search for the scarce resources of power we turn around and find an abundance of opportunity to serve in love those the empire considers a liability. Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove believes that we will finally find abundant life only in community with others engaged in contemplative resistance like this.

I'm looking for this message of Jesus fleshes out. I'm curious how you'll wrestle with these ideas in your books. What does Carl believe about this message?

Thanks for dialoguing about this.


Thank you Dan.

I think that's a lot to chew on. Of course, based on what you've written, I would say to you "Go for it!!" I think we have to keep in mind though that different people have different callings. Carl and I are primarily trying to speak to the evangelical world, telling them to reconsider their hate and prejudice towards 1.5 billion Muslims. That's a pretty tall order! Carl travels and speaks quite a bit, so he wouldn't fit nicely into the "beware of your carbon footprint" camp. I probably wouldn't either since travel is a large part of my calling. I've come to realize that I can't do everything and take up every cause, though that doesn't mean that I can't encourage others in their respective callings. As long as we're loving Jesus, loving people, practicing non-violence, and taking the admonitions of Jesus towards the poor seriously (whether that means living among them or advocating for them politically), I think it all counts.

Not sure if I'm making sense here.

I hope this helps.


Dan's response:

It's true that many New Monastics are concerned with their carbon footprint, but thats not really one of the distinctives that I'm gleaning from them as paramount in my journey. It doesn't surprise me that both you and Carl don't either. Your interests seem to be more along the lines of mine, focused on a Christian response to Muslims and the practice of non-violence in the face of militarism, nationalism and radicalism.

So how do we engage the world as a political body? The political Body of Christ. Are we called to negotiate how the government uses force? Or are we called to have a prophetic witness that is not a stake holder in power, but a denouncer of force that points others to love? Maybe a little of both?

I recall in your book(at the very end) you said something about force being a possible asset in the face of extremes like genocide. Do you feel that way? Are we stakeholders in power?

Peace, Dan


Dan, this is one of the best questions ever posed on this blog! I love the way you frame it: How should followers of Jesus engage the world as a political body? Should we negotiate the government's use of force or should we refuse to be stakeholders in power?

I love the way you frame this question, since it underscores a key point I make in my book "Alone with a Jihadist." If you remember the last chapter, Powerless Prophets I make the case that followers of Jesus would be a lot better off renouncing earthly power (and by that I mean most political power positions available and definitely military power) for the very reason that you stated. When we become "stakeholders" in power (thank you for the phrase--I'm going to use it!), we lose our objectivity and our credibility as prophetic witnesses. Almost like a conflict of interest if you will. So, to answer your question, I don't think it's an either/or. It's both/and. We renounce power not just so that we can withdraw in our caves and let the world self-destruct. No. We renounce power so that we can be a credible voice to the powers that be! At times this may take on the form of prescribing practical solutions for just peace making between warring parties, but we have to be careful here. Political solutions are almost always ambiguous. If a follower of Jesus isn't well informed on the issues at hand, he or she should keep their prophetic distance and work for peace and justice in non-political ways. God uses all kinds!

That's where I stand right now. If I end up moving my position, it'll be in the direction of non-engagement, where we don't even bother at all with telling the earthly kingdoms how to run their affairs. I'm not there yet because I still feel that if we refuse to participate in the violent structures earthly kingdoms use to advance their interests, the very least we can do is propose alternatives to mitigate the violence. I think John Howard Yoder has it right when he says, and I'm paraphrasing here, "We can't hold earthly governments to Kingdom ideals, but we can hold them accountable to their highest ideals."

I hope this helps!

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

How important is baptism?

The following is a three part conversation that I'm having with my friend Carl. It began as an e-mail exchange when someone named Mike posed a question to Carl. Carl cc'd to me his response, and I gave him a little push back. Carl and I are good friends and we agree with each other on about 95% of things. You can check out his website here:

A little context first. We've been having an ongoing discussion about people following Jesus without the trappings of converting to the religion called Christianity.

Mike's Question:


I have a question. I was recently doing a study in Matthew 28:16-20, and was struck with Jesus' words to be baptized, and how baptism is an identification with the "Name" (Identity Marker) of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. It really appears to be an initial act of obedience to Jesus, and a clear identity marker of transference from the kingdom of man, to God's new kingdom with Jesus as the Lord/King.

How does that work with anyone claiming that they are "Following Jesus?" Especially if it doesn't include being baptized and identifying with Him as their Lord and not something/someone else?

What are your thoughts on this. I'd love to know. It would help me think through this issue in a deeper way!

God bless!

Carl's response:


Wow, good one. Don’t feel bad about asking this to the whole forum – nothing’s off limit.

My answer would be this....

I’m assuming we agree that baptism is not salvific. So then it’s somewhere in between a good idea of identifying publically with Jesus....and....a command.

My guess is you’re asking several questions here – only one of which is about being baptized. I think people ought to be baptized. It’s good at a lot of levels. And we have and do baptize Muslims – under the water, in the name of Father, Son and Spirit.

But what would you say about this? I think there are several commands in the scriptures (probably many, not just “several”) - that appear more frequently then “be baptized.” So while this is important – because Jesus said it and Paul affirms it – is it any more important then insisting that our new Muslim friends who are wanting to follow Jesus not gossip? Or to stay mentally, spiritually and physically pure?

What identifies someone as a follower of Jesus, is their fruit. The fruit of their lives. How they love. Serve? Or they sheep or goats? Do they “believe.” Do they love God and love their neighbor? All as important or maybe even more important than be baptized in water – mentioned once by Jesus, twice by Luke in Acts, and twice by Peter (if I remember rightly).

So while I think it’s important, I don’t think it’s as vital as several other things that are very clear in scripture. So let’s not ignore it, but we don’t want to harp on it (not that you are).

Identifying Jesus as Lord (master – is the better translation of the greek word Kirios), is a bigger one. And I’d just say that most of my friends would be on a continuum on this one. from “not at all” to “yes.” And again, to be sure we’re comparing apples to apples, while most evangelicals would give lip service to this because they know it’s the right answer (that Jesus is Lord) they would neither know what that really means or actually do much about it. I’d guess you’d agree with that. doesn’t excuse anything on their lack of believing or doing it, but just puts it in perspective.

What do you think? Does that help at all?

I like how you’re thinking bro!


Aaron's response to Carl:


A little gentle push back here. Baptism is a notoriously confusing issue. Jesus commanded it, Paul affirms it, and yet Paul boasts that he only baptized a few of the Corinthian believers (I Corinthians 1:14) and he also said, "Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel" (Vs. 17) At the same time, I think Mike has a valid point. You seem to be saying that baptism is on the level of character issues that believers are supposed to deal with, as if baptism is on par with the fruits of the spirit, like love, joy, peace, ect.... I also don't think it's very helpful counting the number of times the word "baptism" is used as opposed to other commands. "Love your enemies" is only mentioned a couple of times in the gospels, yet you and I make a pretty big deal out of that one. If we look at the context of when baptism is mentioned in the New Testament, it's hard to come to any other conclusion that baptism is the "identity marker" of membership in the Body of Christ as Mike describes. Both in Acts and in Corinthians (For by One Spirit we were all baptized into one Body--1 Cor. 12:13) baptism seems to be the initiation into the life of the church, kingdom membership if you will.

So to me the two extreme positions are a:) baptism as one of several commands that believers may or may not get around to and b:) baptism saves. The truth has to be somewhere in between these two positions. I agree with you that it's the fruit that identifies true disciples and that ultimately it's not up to us to determine who's "in" and who's "out" in the final judgment (or even right now). If we want to be even more confused, the quid pro quo salvation scripture Romans 10:9, "that if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead you will be saved"--mentions nothing about baptism.

I sincerely wish sometimes that the New Testament wasn't so confusing!


Now that you've read our two positions, what say you?

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Global Faith Forum

The Dove World Outreach Center in Florida and the Mosque at Ground Zero stories are accomplishing nothing but heating up the religious rhetoric in the media. You need to know about an event we're hosting in November - one that will bring Communist ambassadors, Saudi intelligence directors and Rabbis, and second generation American Muslims to my church to talk, I mean really lay it out for us, about how they see the world, how they see Christians and how we can respect one another while having different faiths. We're calling it the Global Faith Forum.

There is no doubt about it, the Evangelical Church is part of the reason for the tension between the Muslims and Christians in America. As an Evangelical, especially from Texas, we cannot sit by quietly and allow this tension to build. Years ago I began doing humanitarian work in Afghanistan and now Gaza – it has been nothing short of revolutionary in my relationships to Muslims and the Middle-East.
From Gaza to Doha where Al Jazeera brought me in May to over 200 middle-eastern leaders I was introduced as, "This is Bob Roberts. He's an Evangelical Christian Pastor but it's alright - he like Muslims." It makes me sad, most people from the middle-east and most Muslims don’t have a positive impression of us – we have to change that. Al Jazeera is supposed to be coming to the conference.

The Global Faith Forum is Nov 11-13, 2010.
I am writing wondering if you'd be willing to help us get word out about it (email blast, write a blog post, ad, spread the word, etc.) and the importance of engaging in conversation with other faiths in this day and age and how you see the Global Faith Forum playing into that conversation. We want your network to be aware of this event.
It is unique from many interfaith conferences, which can tend to say down deep we all really believe the same thing. In this multifaith gathering, we would be deemed conservative adherents of our faiths (Muslims, Evangelicals, and others). We are aware of core distinctions in our beliefs and dialogue about them openly while choosing to work together toward building respect and mutual engagement to make the world a better place. This sets the multifaith perspective apart.
Some people you may have heard of will be here. You may know Daniel Levy and Amjad Atallah from the New America Foundation and Mara Vanderslice from the White House's Faith Based Initiatives Office. Others include Al Weiss, President of Worldwide Operations for Walt Disney Parks and Resorts, Prince Turki Al Faisal of the Saudi royal family, and Le Cong Phung who is the Vietnam Ambassador.
I am providing you a pdf and can get any other materials in your hands that could be beneficial for you to promote the Global Faith Forum.
Please let us know what tools you need to get the word out and we can send you whatever you need. Here is an article as to why we think it is vitally important.
I've attached our small press kit for the event. Please have one of your producers contact our Communications Director for more info - we'll get you guys whatever you need.


Bob Roberts, Jr.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Flood waters diverted in Pakistan to save U.S. airbase

It appears that flood waters have been diverted in Pakistan to save a U.S. air base. The Shahbaz air base is used by the U.S. military to launch drone attacks into Afghanistan and Pakistan, attacks that kill a disproportionate number of civilians by the way. When the flood waters threatened the base, the waters were intentionally diverted to the Jacobabad district, victimizing approximately 800,000 people according to numerous media reports coming out of Pakistan.

In other news, the U.N. has requested 2 Billion dollars for flood relief in Pakistan. Meanwhile the House has recently approved a 37 billion dollar supplemental war spending bill to finance the ongoing wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, requested by President Obama.

So let me get this straight. While flood waters are causing one of the greatest, if not the greatest environmental disasters since the founding of the U.N., we, the people of the United States of America and the leaders we elected, seem to think that a better priority than saving lives and property, is to save a U.S. base used to carry out extra -judicial killing on scores of innocent women and children. We think it's a greater priority to spend 37 billion dollars on financing endless war than 2 billion dollars to win hearts and minds by caring for the sick, the hungry, and the dispossessed. Oh, and one more thing, at the time of this writing, the U.S. military is refusing to allow the use of the Shahbaz base for relief efforts.

God forgive us!

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Jim Wallis praises Bush...and criticizes Obama

Here's something you don't see every day. In a recent post on CNN's website, the Reverend Jim Wallis praised President George W. Bush for his leadership in combatting Aids in Africa...and criticizes President Obama for his failure to keep his campaign promises in this regard.

This is refreshing.

The majority of people with Aids live in Africa. The funny thing I've noticed in my travels throughout Africa is that the vast majority of times you ask an African who their favorite president is, they'll answer Bill Clinton. And yet, George W. Bush arguably did more to help Africa in terms of financial aid and addressing the AIDS issue than Clinton did. Bush doesn't really get the credit he deserves for helping Africa because...well...he's Bush.

Now it's time for Obama to finish what Bush started.

Watching and waiting

Monday, September 20, 2010

Still following Jesus...But not for the reasons you might think

I got an interesting e-mail this morning. I left the person's name out in the interest of privacy. Notice my response. What do you think?


I came across your blog after watching the movie Jesus Camp and reading your interview with Pastor Tim O'brien. I was born Jewish, after my parents divorced, my mother remarried and my step-father, who basically introduced my to Christianity. After being in a Protestant Church for some time, my step-father felt the need to return to his Catholic roots, and we convert to Roman Catholic Church when I was in middle school. In high school i began to doubt my faith, and now that I'm in college I would consider myself an atheist. The arguments that led me to my current convictions could not be answered by my father or our local priest, and so I would like to see if you can take a stab at them...

1. The idea that the human race began from two individuals?
Answer from father and Church: The story is symbolic, the importance being that God created the first humans, and that we are separated from animals through the soul.
Further Questions arisen: How do we tell which stories are symbolic from the bible and which are not? Can we take any words from the bible literally? Other than obvious reasons of why this is scientifically false such as problems with cross breeding, ask the European royalty, I found this idea to be very troublesome as evolution and the progression of man from our monkey brothers becomes more and more viable with more and more evidence.

2. The idea that the bible is infallible, written through humans by God?
The earliest version of the bible that we have found was written around 350AD. Which means that the words that people take as the true words of Jesus Christ were passed down orally for over three hundred years. I know a belief of Christians is that humans are morally bad or corrupt, so I ask has it ever crossed your mind or any Churches minds that the words that are seen in todays bibles may be different from what Jesus said. But the bible is still quoted and accepted as the absolute truth and the words of God. From written evidence we found today, there is no way to know that some human along the way did not change any of the stories or words. If you have ever taken a history class, you would come to a conclusion that the new testament is a weak secondary document at most.

3. That god is outside of time...
One idea that frustrates me to the core is the idea that god has everything planned ahead of time. That he has a plan for everyone and that God planned the coming of christ since the beginning of time. Time, defined by the constant expansion of the universe is a nifty little thing that makes sure that not everything happens at the same time. For God to know what will happen in the future, he would then have to be outside of time, therefore knowing how every position and action would happen before it happens. To disprove this I will not turn to science, but to Christianities own infallible source: the bible. Anything that could disprove this theory would be any passage that says God changed his mind, for instance after flooding the world, won't even go into that one, God realized that killing every human other than Noah was a bad thing and promised to never do that again, oh wait did he change his mind?

Well I won't take up any more of your time, but I found your blog interesting and wanted to know if you could offer any answers to the questions I have.



Thank you for writing. You bring up a lot of issues. I appreciate your honesty. So let me be honest back. I'm a follower of Jesus not because I have everything figured out. Not because I can explain how time works and how God fits into that equation (though if you're interested in the subject, I'd check out Greg Boyd's website He's a Jesus follower with some unorthodox views on this matter) . I follow Jesus not because I have it figured out which passages in the Bible are more literal than others. Frankly, that's not so important to me anymore. I don't even follow Jesus because I can substantiate everything written in the New Testament, though there's a guy named Josh McDowell that's an expert on that sort of thing, perhaps you should look him up, but again, not the point. Point being, I follow Jesus for none of these reasons. Even if there was no heaven above or hell beneath, I'd still follow Jesus.


Because His life and teachings are so stinking compelling! Jesus was a man of the people, a champion for the oppressed, a critic of the establishment, a thorn in the side to the rich and the powerful, and above all, a friend of sinners. His kindness and compassion knew no limits. I love how He went out of His way to upset the religious establishment of His day by befriending harlots, Roman soldiers, tax collectors, and Samaritans. I don't know any teaching more compelling than "love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you and pray for those who persecute you." I'm sickened that most of my Christian friends don't take His teachings more seriously in their attitudes towards war-- but don't get me started. Because just when I feel myself getting self-righteous, I'm reminded that Jesus said, "Judge not lest you be judged" and "Remove the plank in your own eye before considering the speck in your brothers eye." When Jesus was on the cross, He prayed for His torturers "Father forgive them for they know not what they do." If God is like Jesus, then that's good news for everybody.

This is why I follow Jesus.

Everything else is icing on the cake.



Saturday, September 11, 2010

For the record: this is what I preached

I've been getting into trouble lately. It all started when I asked myself the simple question, "What did the Apostles preach when they presented the gospel to non-believers?" When I started to read the Book of Acts with this question in mind, one of the first things I noticed was that the Apostles overwhelmingly put the focus on the resurrection of Jesus, the forgiveness of sins, and the hope of eternal life. This got me into trouble with my liberal Christian readers because I refused to reduce the Gospel of the Kingdom to "let's all work together to make the world a better place." A few commented that I was de-emphasizing the life and teachings of Jesus. Go figure.

The second thing I noticed was that there's no record in the Book of Acts of the Apostles insisting on a Jesus-is-God litmus test before they accepted people into the fold. In fact, more often than not, they emphasized the humanity of Jesus in their preaching and yet, we're explicitly told that those that heard and believed their message were saved. (Two striking examples of this are Acts 13:38,39,48 and 17:30-33) This led me to think that maybe we should be focusing on leading people to Jesus first and doctrine second. "Are we saved by doctrine or saved by Jesus?" I asked. This got me into trouble with my conservative Christian friends even though I insisted that I'm not denying the deity of Christ.

So to set the record straight, here's a summary of a short message I gave a couple of weeks ago to a mixed crowd of believers and non-believers:

I began with the simple Bible story of Jesus healing blind Bartimaeus. Bartimaeus was a blind beggar. He was a nobody. Even though the crowd was following Jesus, they tried to hinder blind Bartimaeus from coming to Jesus by telling him to "Be quiet!". This is what religious people still do today. Maybe in the past you've been interested in Jesus but you kept bumping into His followers pushing you aside and treating you like a nobody--so you decided to give up the pursuit of Jesus altogether. Bartimeaus could have done that, but instead he threw aside his garment, the symbol of all the things that were holding him back, and he came to Jesus.

Jesus healed Bartimeaus that day. He asked him a simple question, "What would you like me to do for you?" I ask you today, "What would you like Jesus to do for you?" Do you need healing, provision, or forgiveness? Jesus can do all of these things for you. There's a such thing as spiritual blindness and Jesus can take care of that too. We need more Jesus and less Christianity. Jesus always preferred to hang out with sinners than with religious people, so He'd probably prefer hanging out with you more than He would with me.

Jesus died on the cross for sinners. He rose again on the third day. The resurrection of Jesus gives me hope that one day God is going to make everything right in the world. Because Jesus is alive, He is able to grant you forgiveness of sins and the hope of eternal life. Come to Jesus today"

So there you have it. Aaron's gospel if you will. Are there things I left out or could have said better? Probably. Can God use imperfect people to accomplish His purposes? Definitely. Can God use imperfect theologies to draw people to a loving relationship with Jesus the Messiah? I think so. But then again...I could be wrong. I sincerely hope I'm not.

Saturday, September 04, 2010

Jesus loves me...this I know

Over the past few weeks, I've been a part of a forum with several influential evangelical leaders, as well as some Muslims that love Jesus but remain within the tradition of Islam. One of the questions that we've been asking is "What does it mean to follow Jesus?" One of the main points that has been made in response to this question is how Jesus meets people where they are, calling people to follow Him regardless of their background.

Jesus' approach (e.g. eating and drinking with sinners and heretics) seems to be the opposite of the approach that many evangelicals take today, which is to start the conversation with doctrinal litmus tests, as if following Jesus can be reduced to a seminary entrance exam.

Do you believe in the Deity of Christ?


Do you believe that you're justified by faith alone?


Oh, and by the way, do you agree that you're justified by faith alone but saving faith is not alone?


I wonder if we're complicating things?

This verse came to mind today: "I've been crucified with Christ, it is no longer I who live but Christ lives in me, and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God who loved me and gave Himself for me" (Galatians 2:20) (italics emphasis mine)

What if the crux of Paul's revelation is as simple as Jesus loves me? What if the cross, and all of our atonement theories that we use to explain the cross, isn't the main point, but a demonstration of the main point, which is God's inclusive love for all humanity? As Paul says in Romans 5:8, "But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us."

If Jesus was capable of loving Paul, then maybe He's capable of loving people today? If it's possible to enter into a loving, obedient, faith relationship with Jesus the Messiah today, then doesn't that cover the Jesus is more than a man part in our doctrinal litmus tests?

I'm wondering if the doctrine of the Deity of Christ is simply but a sign post to point us to a greater reality, which is that through a relationship with this mystical person called the Messiah, all of us have access to God in a way that wasn't fully available before Jesus showed up on the scene.

So maybe the old Sunday School song "Jesus loves me this I know, for the Bible tells me so" is all we really need to know. What if that's the main point--and everything else is secondary?

I'm thinking out loud here.

Forgive my babble.