The theology of “Gross!”: What modern psychology can teach us about purity, disgust, love, and the gospel

gross_1Back in January, I posted a sermon I delivered on Ephesians chapter 2. I wrote:

In these verses, Paul makes the surprising claim that the law – God’s law, which was given to Israel through Moses on Mount Sinai – created hostility between Jews and Gentiles and erected a wall, an insurmountable barrier, which had kept them apart. This is true. Because of their law, Jews were compelled to separate themselves from non-Jews. They had to avoid all physical contact. Jews could never have fellowship or eat with Gentiles, because Gentiles’ food and utensils and homes and bodies were defiled. For Jews, the mere thought of eating with Gentiles would have made them feel physically ill.

Neuropsychology has shown that most of the judgments that people make in regard to morality – deciding what behaviors are right or wrong – are not based on careful, rational thought. Rather, these decisions come from the gustatory cortex, the part of the brain that helps us to detect bad smells and warns us not to eat certain foods because they are unwholesome or contaminated. I learned about these findings through a fascinating book titled The Righteous Mind by Jonathan Haidt.

When I first read about these things, I sensed that they might have enormous implications for how we understand the purity codes of the Old Testament law and the themes of “clean” and “unclean” running throughout the gospels, in Acts and the epistles of Paul. I thought, “Someone who knows the Bible and who understands psychology should really investigate this.”

As it turns out, someone did.

A few days ago, Sharon pointed me to the blogging site of Richard Beck, a professor of psychology at Abilene Christian University. She found a series of articles on “spiritual pollution,” or more formally, the theology of disgust. The first article in the series appears here.

The other thirteen articles in the series can be found by repeatedly hitting the “Next ->” link in the upper right-hand corner of the page.

As a Christian who cares about the interplay between modern science and Scripture, this is some of the most fascinating and thought provoking material I have ever read. I’m not kidding. It literally blew me away. As I read these articles, my mind was flooded with observations, ideas and questions. Here are some things that came to mind.

1. When we encounter passages about purity – for example, Psalm 119:9, “How can a young man keep his way pure?” – we instinctively apply this to sexual thoughts and behaviors, but rarely to any of the other vast areas of life that Jesus wants to redeem. Should we change our ways of thinking about this? Is it even possible to change our thinking?

2. If you bring up THE hot-button issue facing the western church today – the Christians stance toward homosexuality – before long, someone will say, “We have to hate the sin but love the sinner.” Why do I find that answer to be so trite and unhelpful? Can’t we do any better than that? Yes, I’m sure that we can. But to do better, we’ll need to ask whether “hating the sin but loving the sinner” is even possible without trivializing or changing the meaning of love.

3. Suppose a father never changes dirty diapers. Can he truly love his children, or will he always remain cold and distant?

4. Why were these images of Pope Francis embracing a disfigured man so deeply moving? Could these images carry a richer and more effective presentation of the gospel than a hundred evangelistic sermons?

5. If missionaries routinely experience “culture shock” – deep feelings of aversion toward the people they are trying to evangelize – what should they do? Would this be a minor issue? Or should this cause them to seriously think about whether they have what it takes to engage in cross-cultural witness?

6. If an evangelist imagines himself standing apart from the people whom he is trying to evangelize, because he imagines their lifestyles and behaviors to be detestable, can he faithfully communicate the gospel to them? Can he faithfully represent Jesus to them? Or is he just deluding himself?

Memo to Ben Toh: Please read these articles and then consider delivering a sermon “P is for Purity.”


  1. Joe, 14 articles to read IS challenging! though they would be of great interest to me. Hopefully I will get to it in the course of time.

    Your post is of interest to me because of the ongoing cognitive dissonance that many continue to experience in UBF, even if many people don’t know and perhaps don’t even want to know or understand what cognitive dissonance is.

    I thought of writing a post today titled: “Acting Like The Ruling Class.” This is because some of our leaders–permeated through and through in an authoritarian hierarchical culture–do not know how to relate to others in an equitable manner.

    To some leaders, barking out orders and dishing out directives comes 2nd nature to some of them. But to seriously practice empathetic listening to “an inferior” or to someone outside of the oligarchy (without patronizing them) would evoke all sorts of negative visceral sentiments and emotions.

    If fact, based on your post, they might feel that if they acted equitably with their “sheep” or “junior” they might look like the picture of that chubby boy holding a worm with a look of nausea and disgust! :-)

    • Joe Schafer

      Yes, 14 articles is challenging to read. But in my case, it would have been far more challenging *not* to read them.

      In this thread, I’m going to refrain from discussing UBF and its problems stemming from authoritarian leadership. The issues raised by Richard Beck focus on feelings of “sociomoral disgust,” which has many manifestations.

  2. Regarding “sociomoral disgust” this is what comes to mind in observing some missionary comments and visceral reactions toward Americans and non-missionaries:

    * Being too loud. Talking or laughing too much, which supposedly indicates being “not prayerful.”

    * Too “easy going,” laid back, lackadaisical, or laissez-faire.

    * Too casual, loose, informal or revealing in their attire.

    * Disrespectful toward seniors, elders and top leaders.

    * Disliking being trained or receiving humbleness training.

    * Liking “bland” American food, instead of “tasty” Korean food (which being Asian I actually sort of agree, unless I am served a great medium rare steak, or lobster, or fresh oysters, but no pasta or mac and cheese please!!)

    This is what comes to mind spontaneously. Does this qualify as “sociomoral disgust”?

    Sorry for making comments before reading the 14 articles.

    • Joe Schafer

      Those could be examples of sociomoral disgust. In previous articles and discussions, people have grouped those things under the umbrella term “legalism.” What is really helpful about Beck’s work, I think, is that he focuses on the question of why Christian in any particular culture invoke a metaphor of impurity and contamination for certain sins but not others, and how this impacts their personal and collective judgments.

  3. Thanks, Joe for posting this. Have only gotten through the first article but already seems like it’ll be a fascinating trip. Beck says,

    “…throughout history, certain disgust properties—sliminess, bad smell, stickiness, decay, foulness—have repeatedly and monotonously been associated with, indeed projected onto, groups by reference to whom privileged groups seek to define their superior human status.”

    “Thus, as I’ll argue, when Christians structure sin categories or Kingdom issues via the psychology of disgust and contamination, those psychological ‘boundaries’ will ultimately undermine our ability to “love the sinner.”

    Jesus touching the man with leprosy, allowing the woman with the bleeding problem to touch him without being repulsed, touching those with unclean spirits, etc. immediately comes to mind as examples of one who inimitably bucked the normative sociomoral trend of his time to great effect.

    It’s interesting how God chose something as gruesome and macabre as Roman execution to reveal his greatness and glory. It’s also remarkable that Isaiah could look at the crucifixion event and attribute it to God’s glory as well (John 12:23, 41). Perhaps this event should be a cue to Christians as to how to regard suffering humanity in all of its unpleasantness and unsightliness.

    • Joe Schafer


      In Isaiah 53:2-3: “He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him. He was despised and rejected by mankind, a man of suffering, and familiar with pain. Like one from whom people hide their faces he was despised, and we held him in low esteem.”

      That not only describes Jesus. It describes many, many people whom we might view as ugly ducklings. One group that comes to mind is people with intellectual disabilities (mental retardation, autism, …) Despite our best intentions, we often react toward them with disgust, and they sense it and internalize it and suffer intense psychological pain.

      It’s interesting that Ben mentioned the “chubby boy” holding a worm in the picture above. I don’t know if it’s a boy or girl. But for some reason Ben used the word “chubby.” When I looked at the picture, I had a similar thought. In our body-image conscious culture, people who are overweight are instantly and implicitly labeled with all sorts of moral deficiencies, being seen as lazy, selfish, undisciplined, and so on.

      Yes, I think that Jesus deeply identifies with all people who have become the objects of sociomoral disgust. The church needs to value and welcome “the least of these.” Because they are Jesus in disguise. According to the Beatitudes, they have a powerful experience of God and provide a unique window into God’s kingdom.

    • As a teenager, a movie that vastly changed my perspective is The Boys Next Door ( The premise is that there is a social worker who is taking care of several men who have mental handicaps in varying degrees and is torn between living his own life or continuing to pour his life into these men. Throughout the movie, there are these vignettes, which are utterly captivating and heart-moving, in which the social worker imagines what these men would say or do if they had the lucidity and wherewithal to properly express themselves. The overall message of the movie is stunningly beautiful, yet at the same time extremely challenging; it will cost one a great deal to reach out to the marginalized and rejected, yet the reward is a serendipitous experience of glory unbeknownst to most of mankind.

      Just a side thought I have from time to time: I often think that, upon the return of Christ, those with mental and physical handicaps, the marginalized and castaways will be revealed as the most breath-taking creatures in the universe.

    • Joe Schafer

      Another great comment. We will definitely watch that film.

  4. Check out this comment on the Pope Francis article:

    “This Pope is crushing it. I’m an atheist from a very religious family, but I’m so pleased about some of Pope Francis’ actions and stances. He gets it, and the church needs it.”

  5. Joe, Your comment on my comment about the chubby boy reminded me of just how much I could not stand several categories of Bible students: the lazy, the liar, the tardy, the undisciplined, the lustful, the flirtatious, the unemployed, the irresponsible, the unfaithful, the disobedient, the arrogant or presumptuous, and the obese.

    I’d like to blame ubf, as a “holiness (mission) church” for relating to people based on my holiness categories rather than on love, but I likely could have done that entirely on my own based on my condescending arrogant self-righteousness and spiritual blindness.

    This comment rings true: “when Christians structure sin categories or Kingdom issues via the psychology of disgust and contamination, those psychological “boundaries” will ultimately undermine our ability to “love the sinner.”

    I think God has changed me over the past half dozen years or so, because today I no longer feel any internal revulsion toward the categories of people I listed in the first paragraph. Without being “light on sin,” I think God has helped me to love more than to judge people in those “sinner categories.”

    • Joe Schafer

      Ben, thank you for your testimony. I believe that everyone from every church or cultural experiences sociomoral disgust toward some individuals and tribes because of their appearance, beliefs, background or behaviors. I see this play out a great deal in politics. A conservative will instinctively react against almost anything that a liberal will say or do, and vice versa. And if a person changes his tribal affiliation — for example, if he leaves the conservative camp and joins the liberal camp — before long, the triggers of sociomoral disgust will be reversed. This is a big part of how humans work.

      This is why Paul’s teaching in Ephesians chapter 2 is so radical. He says that a Christian is not simply a Jewish person who believes in Jesus or a Gentile person who believes in Jesus. A Christian is actually a new kind of human being which the world has never seen before. Christianity is a new way of being human. In Jesus and through Jesus, we have the ability to cross over the insurmountable boundaries that have separated people ever since the Tower of Babel, the walls that separate “us” from “them.”

      This is why I have a problem with Christian camps that draw sharp boundaries, excluding people from their camp who confess faith in Christ but who differ with them on various theological and social issues (even important ones). The apostle Paul taught in so many places that the visible boundary marker for the church is self-identification with the crucified and risen Christ, and membership in God’s family is confirmed and sealed by the Holy Spirit. God wants to draw all kinds of people into that fellowship, even (especially) those people who trigger in us reactions of sociomoral disgust. This is why becoming a Christian and living the Christian life is really hard, and is actually a kind of death.

    • I’d like to blame ubf, as a “holiness (mission) church” for relating to people based on my holiness categories rather than on love, but I likely could have done that entirely on my own.

      Still, UBF created the fertile environment for this mindset. I remember that Samuel Lee publicly mocked people not only for being not “spiritual” but also for being “fat” – from American policemen to people who “ran away” (original quote from his newsletter: “the fat lady who resembled a globe”). By doing so, he established such behavior as being normal and acceptable.

  6. Joe, this is a lot of really good info to read and discuss, and I really enjoyed reading the discussion here. There is too much for me to react to at the moment, but I have just a small initial reaction.

    The first thing that comes to mind is Henri Nouwen. His life was a glowing example of the theology of gross, and as such I see Christ amazingly clear through his example.

    I’ve been struggling with what to call my theology. What do I believe? I have delved into what some call “butterfly theology”, centered on the transformational work that happens to Christ-followers. But like the butterfly, this seemed to be short-lived.

    Then I found “outlaw theology”, which is where I am currently at. The term “gross theology” however makes a lot of sense to me. It reminds me of what might be called Apostle Paul’s “dung theology”. And it reminds me of what Jesus did immediately after preaching the Sermon on the Mount. He did something very gross.

    • “Butterfly” sounds nice. “Outlaw” sounds rebellious, that fits me like a T. “Gross” might be the best of all, because under unlimited, unmerited sheer Grace, even Gross can be Glorious!

    • Joe Schafer

      Great point!

      In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus goes up on the mountain, and presents the new “laws” that govern the new people of God. This is an unmistakable image of Moses giving the law on Sinai. Jesus is presenting himself as the new Moses.

      He begins the Sermon on the Mount with the Beatitudes, overturning everyone’s commonsense and religious notions of who is blessed and who is not blessed. This is stunning reversal and revision of discourse on “blessings and curses” at the end of Deuteronomy. Moses said that those who obey the Torah are blessed, those who disobey the Torah are cursed. Jesus said something entirely different.

      And at the end of the Sermon on the Mount, he intentionally overturns and fulfills major parts of the Levitical purity codes by doing something gross.

    • If there is any chance of Christianity surviving (and I think it will!), I think it will have to do with Christ-followers re-discovering the Sermon on the Mount. This sermon is exceptionally explosive, exhilaratingly earth-shattering and magnificently mind-blowing. Where did we get the lame teaching that the Sermon on the Mount is simply a boring, higher version of Moses’ teaching?

    • Yup, I’m sure you heard that the SOTM is regarded as Moses on steroids, which cannot but produce angry intolerant self-righteous Pharisees.

  7. Charles Wilson
    Charles Wilson

    Thanks for posting this, Joe. Very timely article for me. I was thinking about some issues arising out of such a theology while working a recent message on Luke 4:31-37, where Jesus drives out an unclean spirit (translated as “impure” in the 2011 NIV), and later on in Luke where Jesus heals a leper and declares him to be clean. I couldn’t help but begin my message admitting my lack of understanding on clean/unclean issues together with demonic influences, including possession. I felt overwhelmed as I considered this topic.

    I especially thought of these while reading part 3 of the series, on the four principles of contamination: contact, negativity dominance, permanency, and dose insensitivity.

    Why we are often so overly self-deprecating and self-loathing in a way that makes connections to us (even in Christ, born again and with the Spirit) being decayed, diseased, disgusting and so on. We find it in our songs, teachings, bible interpretations. We call ourselves a “wretch,” we have “nothing good in us,” and make ourselves out to be like that leper that went to Jesus. We so often lower ourselves in this way in order to magnify or understand various aspects of God’s grace through Jesus. Why not instead consider the goodness of Jesus, the end purpose of making a person whole, or removing hostility between peoples through the healing? Why does it have to be about the leper representing me? And why, after being in Christ, do I remain in the mindset that I am that leper still, diseased and rotting only?

    Even in the Old Testament, not all that is “unclean” is not sin or warrant the punishment of sin, where sin brings death but uncleanness could be treated by distance, a ritual, possibly over a certain number of days, and did not warrant death, such as the time of a woman’s period or a priest touching a dead person, even if by accident. But it seems that we’ve combined sin, uncleanness, disease, hostility between Jews and Gentiles (all separate issues), into one disgusting theology that has grossly affected our biblical understanding and interpretation.

    A recent question sheet asked, “What metaphor could leprosy possibly represent in your life?” I took the question writer to task as the question already implies that there is a metaphor relating to my life and I just don’t realize it yet, rather than the passage revealing something about Jesus firstly and mostly. Furthermore, as the article mentions, if I train myself to view lepers like this, how then can I also maintain a compassionate and loving attitude toward lepers like Jesus? How can I not see the sins of others as anything but contagious, disease-like, creating deformed and just disgusting people? There are also the sociomoral disgusts that Ben mentioned which we apply to others.

    I find now that such a theology leads to false humility and eventually pride. The person continues to make him or herself out to be so disgusting yet can be so puffed up about him or herself, and so quickly look down on and condemn others. Now that I think about more, they become the diseased person they claim to be, including being numb to Jesus and those Jesus are concerned about. This attitude focuses on the individual first rather than on Jesus and is lacking acknowledgment the new creation Jesus has made and is making a new believer into, beginning even in this time before Jesus returns. Maybe I’m making too big of a judgment on others. But this view point just doesn’t jive with me anymore and I find it, well, disgusting and at times offensive.

    • “Why does it have to be about the leper representing me? And why, after being in Christ, do I remain in the mindset that I am that leper still, diseased and rotting only?”

      Charles, these are exactly the kind of questions asked by someone being transformed by the Holy Spirit!

      Some would say cigars are gross… Spurgeon had some amazing thoughts on his love of cigars and moral prudes.

      I don’t trust most Christian preaching, but I trust Spurgeon (which does not mean I agree with nor understand all that he said :)

    • Joe Schafer

      Charles, thank you for such a detailed and thoughtful comment. I hope you have time and energy to keep reading the series of articles. There are some awesome points in all of them, right up to the end.

      You mentioned the question on the question sheet: “What metaphor could leprosy possibly represent in your life?”

      Perhaps that is a relevant question for certain people at certain times.

      But when Jesus taught and performed miraculous signs regarding clean and unclean, he was posing a profound challenge to his religious culture. The questions he was asking were more like these. “What are the specific people and tribes that your church and your culture regards as unclean? What triggers your feelings of sociomoral disgust? How and why did you come to think of yourselves and your tribe as clean and pure? Do other people see you as pure? Are you willing to allow anyone to purify you in the way that you propose to purify them?”

  8. And speaking of Spurgeon’s views on always thinking of one’s self as a wretch or leper…I find this quote from Charles Spurgeon to be deeply rooted in what both the Holy Scriptures say and the Holy Spirit confirms:

    “Humility is to make a right estimate of one’s self; it is no humility for a man to think less of himself than he ought, though it might rather puzzle him to do that.”


    • Ever notice how some certain people are in a “wretch race”? They all claim to be the “worst of all sinners”. They seem to be so proud of how bad they are. That is NOT Christianity. That is han-syndrome.

    • Joe Schafer

      When people call themselves wretched sinners, they don’t actually believe it.

      Here’s a dangerous experiment. The next time someone calls himself a wrteched sinner, tell them, “Yes, you’re right. You are wretched sinner. For example, I have seen do [get specific] and heard you say [get specific] and you treat people really badly; for example [get specific]. I fully agree with you.”

      Then duck and run for cover.

  9. “I’d like to blame ubf, as a “holiness (mission) church” for relating to people based on my holiness categories rather than on love, but I likely could have done that entirely on my own.” “Still, UBF created the fertile environment for this mindset.”
    – See more at:

    Chris, of course UBF did. But I do not need to say it because I find blaming UBF continually as being unhelpful either to them (who may not listen), or to others (who may find it boring, predictable and judgmental), or perhaps even to you (who does not come across as loving, gracious, magnanimous, kind, giving the benefit of the doubt, or especially taking any personal responsibility whatsoever, but rather coming across as a hammer who is determined to repeatedly blame and undermine everything about ubf which basically does not allow anyone else to give any credit for any good thing ever done by any ubf people).

    • Joe Schafer

      Ben, the reason why Chris continues to hammer away is that he has not yet been listened to. With very few exceptions, the members and leaders of ubf have not acknowledged that they have even heard him say anything. They have not sent any meaningful signals that he deserves to be acknowledged or that he even exists. When the UBF community and its leaders start to engage in reflective listening and show the world that they are doing it, then you can bet your booty that his writing style will change.

    • I fully agree that Chris hasn’t been listened to. But so has a whole host of countless others who have been shunned, marginalized, caricatured, bad-mouthed, or ignored.

      My point is simply that increasing the volume and incessant blaming is NOT going to compel anyone to more likely listen, and it is quite a turn off to the neutral and less involved observers and bystanders who never comment.

    • Joe Schafer

      “…and it is quite a turn off to the neutral and less involved observers and bystanders who never comment.”

      I suppose they are experiencing sociomoral disgust. So what should be done about it? Should Chris change his communication style? Or should they overcome their feelings of disgust and embrace him and talk to him as Jesus would?

      Ben, are you suggesting that if Chris kept quiet or changed his communication style, then more people would pay attention and dialogue would become more likely? I think the opposite. If everyone on UBFriends unilaterally changed their tone and became all fair and objective and balanced etc., then UBF members and leaders would think, “Great; problem solved. We don’t have to worry about them anymore, we can get back to doing God’s work.” Squeaky wheels sound irritating, but the squeaky wheel gets the grease.

    • “I fully agree that Chris hasn’t been listened to.”

      I’m always annoyed about such statements because they sound like it’s only me who has a problem with UBF and without my mentioning it it would not exist and could be ignored. No, it’s a problem that is inherent in UBF and completely independent of me and whether I am listened to or not, and this problem does not go away when I stop mentioning it.

      The problem is that nobody wants to do something about it. I heard an “ethics guide” is to be written. But it can only help if that guide starts with the confession that UBF leaders acted unethically in the past many times, and this unethical behavior happened systematically, due to unbiblical and unhealthy theology. Also, it can only help if concrete examples from the past are given that show that this problem is real and deeply rooted in UBF and its history.

    • Joe Schafer

      I strongly agree with Chris. A new Code of Ethics would, at best, be only a part of the solution. It would have to be accompanied by an admission of guilt and formal apology. I suggested to the Ethics Committee that they issue a general statement aimed at former members that expresses something like this.

      “We won’t pretend to know or understand all the myriad ways that we screwed up. We are only starting to become aware of them. For that, we need your help. We invite you, the people whom we have offended, to tell us what you experienced. We will give you a platform to tell your stories. We will listen long and hard. We will ponder what you say and allow it to sink it. This process will not be quick. It will take some major time and effort. But we promise to make time and to put in the effort, because the Holy Spirit has convicted us that we must do this, so that whatever hurt we have caused, we will not do it again. The gospel requires no less.”

      I believe the reason why the recent Toledo apology fell flat is that they tried to diagnose their own mistakes, pretending to know exactly how the had screwed up. And then they acted as though the matter was finished. They did not create any ongoing process to educate themselves about what had happened by hearing others out. But their apology was a one-time, one-sided act of speech, with no process for continued listening.

  10. “Even in the Old Testament, not all that is “unclean” is not sin or warrant the punishment of sin, where sin brings death but uncleanness could be treated by distance, – See more at:

    Great point Charles. And Jesus turned the OT upside down. He even said we could learn from those unclean, ugly, gross birds called ravens :)

  11. Joe, just some reactions:

    “the reason why Chris continues to hammer away is that he has not yet been listened to.”

    Correct. They only heard what they wanted and did not really listen to what Chris was saying or continues to say.

    “They have not sent any meaningful signals that he deserves to be acknowledged or that he even exists.”

    Correct, partially. They DID send a meaningful signal however– they initiated a lawsuit against him and threatened him with paying over $100K USD. That is meaningful in that the ubf leaders involved sent the clear signal that they would not tolerate Chris and his thoughts. I think many of us here “know the feeling”…

    • It is 100K Euros, which is > 100K USD. I strongly believe that this needs to be officially acknowledged and addressed. But I won’t be holding my breadth.

    • Yes Ben, using today’s conversion 100K euros would be over $100K, and would be $128K USD.

  12. Correct, Joe:

    “I believe the reason why the recent Toledo apology fell flat is that they tried to diagnose their own mistakes, pretending to know exactly how the had screwed up. And then they acted as though the matter was finished. They did not create any ongoing process to educate themselves about what had happened by hearing others out.”

    There are more reasons why the Toledo letter fell flat and was nothing but another farce. The letter came several years too late. The letter carried the tone of “we are bad, but we are still God’s good servants”. The letter simply repeated my concerns almost VERBATIM, showing they had not thought through what I and others had been communicating.

    The timing of the letter was not only late, but came AFTER the last “rebellious” family left. Why then? Why wait until all non-conforming families left? Such a thing does not demonstrate “glorious unity” but cowardice.

    The letter also failed because it was a form letter sent individually and privately by snail mail. A form letter is the format for public, electronic, group communication. Why send the same form letter privately to each family?

    The letter fell flat also because it was not signed. Some names were typed at the bottom of the letter. Who knows how many people at Toledo ubf even saw the letter beforehand or had input? Do they agree with the letter? Why can’t students know about the letter and give input?

    Oh and one last straw that broke the camel’s back… My name was misspelled.

    • I think my words from 2013 about this failed apology letter from Toledo ubf are worth repeating here:

      “And most importantly, the letter was all about them and what they are doing and what they have done and how much better they are now. Hint: An apology is not about you.”

  13. And people wonder why we former leaders get a bit BITTER when ubf people have the AUDACITY to then say after such a letter, “Well just give us some more time. Just be patient. Just forgive us. Didn’t we do something right? Can’t you just give glory to God?”

    • It reminds me of religions that say that if your good out weights your bad, then you’re good. Some Christians apparently truly believe that their good out weighs their bad. Then their good is really good, and their bad is really not that bad, since in their mind, their good is really good.

    • Yes Ben, it sounds a lot like Buddhism. If you just instruct someone, they will get better. I’m starting to see that many ubf Koreans have created not only a Christianized Confucianism philosophy, but a Christainized Buddhist theology.

      “According to Buddhism, there is no such thing as sin as explained by other religions. To the Buddhists, sin is unskillful or unwholesome action – Akusala Kamma, which creates Papa – the downfall of man. The wicked man is an ignorant man. He needs instruction more than he needs punishment and condemnation. He is not regarded as violating god’s will or as a person who must beg for divine mercy and forgiveness. He needs only guidance for his enlightenment.

      All that is necessary is for someone to help him use his reason to realize that he is responsible for his wrong action and that he must pay for the consequences. Therefore the belief in confession is foreign to Buddhism.

      The purpose of the Buddha’s appearance in this world is not to wash away the sins committed by human beings nor to punish or to destroy the wicked people, but to make the people understand how foolish it is to commit evil and to point out the reaction of such evil deeds. Consequently there are no commandments in Buddhism, since no one can command another for his spiritual upliftment.”


  14. Charles Wilson
    Charles Wilson

    Recent discussion here on ubfriends has brought me back to this article. It seems to me that the application of purity laws and what is clean/unclean has become all too personal, ultimately landing solely on personal sin forgiveness. That is, clean and unclean is about you and God. But we may have neglected the larger context of how the OT defined clean and unclean and the consequences of such: being part of the community. What is unclean was separated–not exclusively from God, but always from other people. When Jesus healed a leper, it wasn’t so much about the metaphor of sin forgiveness, but restoring a sound person to the community. That leper would join with others again. He was building the kingdom and restoring the brokenness of the people. The greater application then seems to be for the church at large to pay attention to community building, to restoring others, to bringing them back in and creating a soundness among everyone with care, humility and willingness. Our instinctive reaction is to call “gross!” point and back away. But Jesus did the opposite. Forgiveness can be a part of that making clean and restoring, but it’s not the end goal. The referenced article’s conclusion with the story of Peter and Cornelius from Acts was perfect and I think lends itself to this kind of focus in application in community building.

    • +1. This is exactly how I’m beginning to read the gospels as of late; not in terms of personal cleansing and forgiveness only, but more so in the context of creating a new kingdom community.

    • Good point, Charles. Never looked at it that way.

  15. Joe Schafer

    A fascinating look into how American fundamentalists branded and sold their religion as the purest, healthiest form of Christianity. They bundled together their distinctive set of beliefs and marketed them as a pure neo-orthodoxy. By doing this, they implied that those who disagreed with them were automatically impure and corrupt.

    • Charles Wilson
      Charles Wilson

      Thanks, Joe. Informing read with a lot to consider regarding the “re-conceptualized as individualistic” religious experience, “the evangelical context [being] all about you and God,” how orthodoxy was usurped, and how scriptural interpretation, acceptance and practice can get “nutty.”

      I find it fascinating how this shift in “church” happened to quickly with such far reaching results that are still around today. Looking at those outside of this kind of evangelical church context as impure and corrupt was certainly experienced in UBF and, sometimes more subtly, in other evangelical, non-denominational churches. They also boast of head pastors who didn’t go to seminary, of being non-denominational, and have congregations of mostly middle-class well to do people who think that their church is pure and orthodoxy and not a recent deviation at all.

    • This is pretty fascinating. At the core of the fundamentalist movement, you see this melding of economics/politics/religion; there are these parallel and inter-related fights between scriptural conservativism vs. more “liberal” views, e.g. higher criticism and constructing an orderly and submissive working class vs. allowing an activist-type working class.

      This is an important finding because it shows how certain spiritual or religious movements are often a guise for some other purpose, which in that case was primarily controlling the working class of society. Any time someone purports to have grasped the true way of looking at things, whether it be a philosophy or a religion, one has to delve into that person’s character and see what the their ulterior motives are. That philosophy or religion will necessarily be polarizing and you have to carefully look at which two things are being put at odds and why. It also shows that religion is a powerfully manipulative and conditioning psychological tool.

  16. Btw, if anyone is interested, this is a link to Beck’s journal article: Spiritual Pollution: The dilemma of sociomoral disgust and the ethic of love –

    • Love the Beck article thanks! And I really appreciate this article from Joe. Because Joe pointed out these things about purity, my mind was freed up to begin incorporating holiness into my theology.

      I began with just love. Then the breakthrough came when I added grace. Now I have a theology based on love, grace and holiness.

    • Joe Schafer

      Thanks Brian. I am also trying to understand holiness. Perhaps you have seen this?

    • I’ve not seen that, thanks, but I LOVE Flannery.

      “Flannery O’Connor once called this picayune attentiveness to every possible peccadillo measuring “your sins with a slide rule.” Because holiness is an utterly beautiful and glorious attribute of God and because we are summoned to be holy, we aim to convert our shivers and eye rolls into affection.”

      That describes what God did in my heart after reading this article and pondering these thoughts on disgust. I now thirst for holiness. My soul is warm to the word. I sense the Holy One living in me.

      In my oversimplification, to be holy is not related to separating ourselves from sin. To be holy, as I now read it in Scripture, is to live in the midst of an ocean of sin with a pure heart. I feel as if nothing could ever stain my heart again. I sin every day and I will die a sinner but there seems to be a Holiness in me that protects me.

  17. This is an incredible definition of holiness:

    “At a deeper level, holiness means “devoted” or “consecrated.” In the Do’s and Don’ts approach, holiness should focus on the Do’s. In other words, if separation focuses on differences from the world (the Don’ts), the deeper level of devotion focuses on a life devoted unto God (the Do’s). The two belong together, and we need both. [See D.J.A. Clines, The Concise Dictionary of Classical Hebrew, 388-389.]”

    • And btw, I am really getting a strong push from God these last couple weeks, sensing that my life is consecrated for His purpose. I am still unclear as to what that may mean in my upcoming journey, but something is about to change. There is some sort of ministry calling that I feel tagged for…

  18. Joe, that is fascinating how the Quakers shaped what we see Christianity as today.

    I am coming across a ton of Plato as well. We might be shocked and a bit ashamed to realize that some of our cherished Christianity in the West is actually from Plato.

    Is your Christianity shaped by Plato or the Bible?