Last week the Washington Post ran a story on Nadia Bolz-Weber entitled “Bolz-Weber’s liberal, foulmouthed articulation of Christianity speaks to fed-up believers.” You may have heard of Bolz-Weber; she wrote a New York Times bestseller entitled Pastrix: The Cranky, Beautiful Faith of a Sinner & Saint. I actually had not heard of her until a colleague showed by the Washington Post article. Unfortunately, what I learned from reading that article and then exploring a bit more online has left me no choice but to comment on Bolz-Weber’s–shall we say, unique–approach to Christianity. No doubt the title of the article mentioned above is enough to clue you in to the attitude she takes.
The Post article calls Bolz-Weber a “budding star for the liberal Christian set.” It describes her appearance this way: “Her 6-foot-1 frame is plastered with tattoos, her arms are sculpted by competitive weightlifting and, to show it all off, this pastor is wearing a tight tank top and jeans.” That is a unique appearance indeed for any pastor, male or female. And while I may not be a fan of a black tank top with clerical collar, Bolz-Weber’s appearance in and of itself probably would not have prompted me to blog about her.
The Post article provides a very quick recap of Bolz-Weber’s life thus far: “A quick tour through her 44 years doesn’t seem likely to wind up here. It includes teen rebellion against her family’s fundamentalist Christianity, a nose dive into drug and alcohol addiction, a lifestyle of sleeping around and a stint doing stand-up in a grungy Denver comedy club.” Going from that kind of life experience to graduating from seminary and pastoring a church would make a dynamic testimony to be sure. And apparently Bolz-Weber has that. Interestingly enough, the Post article also includes several statements that I found encouraging. For example: “The type of social liberals who typically fill the pews of mainline churches sometimes feel like outsiders among fellow liberals in their lives if they are truly believing Christians; if they are people who really experience Jesus and his resurrection, even if they can’t explain it scientifically; if they are people who want to hear words from the Apostles in church, not Thich Nhat Hanh or Barack Obama.” While I personally struggle to reconcile biblical Christianity with many of the positions espoused by social liberals, the point that church should be a place for people who are truly believing Christians and who actually want to hear the Bible preached, not some pop psychology drivel, encourages me.
The article goes on to state this: “In her body and her theology, Bolz-Weber represents a new, muscular form of liberal Christianity, one that merges the passion and life-changing fervor of evangelicalism with the commitment to inclusiveness and social justice of mainline Protestantism.” That is, for the most part, exactly the kind of merging I think is needed in the church today. The “life-changing fervor of evangelicalism” is what the Gospel is all about, and it must not be abandoned or ignored. At the same time, there is a very real need for Christians to work for social justice and serve the poor and live out their faith. I cannot embrace the statement above in its entirety since “inclusiveness” is a not-so-subtle reference to accepting homosexuality, and while homosexuals need to be loved and treated with dignity, the homosexual lifestyle cannot be accepted by anyone who believes that the Bible is the Word of God and means what it says.
But the article follows the statement above with this one: “She’s a tatted-up, foul-mouthed champion to people sick of being belittled as not Christian enough for the right or too Jesus-y for the left.” Even putting the tattoos aside, the idea that someone can effectively represent and present the Gospel with a foul mouth is dumbfounding to me. Of her use of language generally not heard until late hours on television, let alone in church, Bolz-Weber says, “I don’t think church leaders should pretend to be something they’re not.” I would agree with that. I would also suggest, however, that deciding that being foul-mouthed is simply who she is instead of working to change that part of her life is not only inconsistent with Scripture but demonstrates a contradiction to what she also claims to believe–that the Gospel has life-changing power. God accepts and loves us as we are, but He does not expect us to stay that way. As we grow in relationship with Him, as we progress in sanctification, we should become less and less like the world and more and more like Christ. There is a reason that the language Bolz-Weber is known for using is called profanity–and that is because it is profane! That which is profane has no place in the life of a believer, much less in church.
The Post says Bolz-Weber’s message is this: “Forget what you’ve been told about the golden rule — God doesn’t love you more if you do good things, or if you believe certain things. God, she argues, offers you grace regardless of who you are or what you do.” Yes, God does offer grace, and no, God does not love anyone more for doing good things. But forget the golden rule? The golden rule, as it is commonly known, is a commandment from Jesus. This is exactly the way in which Christians are supposed to live. Living this way is how people will know we are Christians! When Jesus gave the golden rule he was turning the way the religious leaders of His day had taught completely upside down. Prior to Jesus, the teaching was not to do to others what you would not want them to do to you. That’s a good idea, of course, but it is a negative command, not a positive one. You could go through life never doing anything to anyone else that you would not want them to do to you and at the same time never doing anything nice, never performing any act of service, never demonstrating love to another person. I can go through life and never hit you upside the head, for example, but that is and of itself is not enough–that is not what Jesus has called us to do.
Continuing on through the Post article I again find moments of encouragement and times when I think “Right on!” Shortly thereafter, though, I am again confronted with times that make me think, “Are you serious?” For example: “Bolz-Weber says she abhors ‘spirituality,’ which she sees as a limp kind of self-improvement plan. She prefers a cranky, troublemaking and real God who at times of loss and pain doesn’t have the answers either.” Whoa! Hold on now… The God of the Bible is not cranky. Cranky implies moodiness, instability, emotions based on fluctuating feelings. God is none of those things. Yes, God gets angry, but He is angered by sin. He does not get angry because He did not get enough sleep or because He spilled His coffee or because he is stuck in traffic. And the God of the Bible is never without answers. Scripture makes it clear that He is omniscient–all knowing. If He knows all things than there can never be an answer He does not know. Surely there are times when He does not give us all the answers, but that is entirely different from Him not having them.
In a September’s issue of USC’s Religion Dispatches magazine Bolz-Weber was interviewed by Candace Chellew-Hodge, the founder/editor of an online magazine for GLBT Christians, pastor of a church in South Carolina, and author of a “Spiritual Survival Guide for Gay and Lesbian Christians.” In the interview Bolz-Weber says that she was “allowed not to die in exchange for working for God. I’d have to become God’s bitch.” That word refers by definition, of course, to a female dog, but it is a slang word for a variety of things, including “a person who performs demeaning tasks for another; servant.” While being a servant of God is a good thing, the connotation of the word is entirely different from what the Bible has in mind when it describes serving God. Bolz-Weber, no doubt, uses the word for shock value. Later in the same interview, when discussing how God used worked through flawed people in the Bible, Bolz-Weber said, “All God’s favorite people are f_____d up.” Again, the word is slang, and even if Bolz-Weber’s basic message is on target the way in which she presents it is a turn off–it’s offensive. Dictionary.com says of that word, “For many people, the word is extremely vulgar, considered improper and taboo in all of its senses.” In other words, it is certainly not the way to present the Gospel!
Nadia Bolz-Weber has some valuable insights into Christianity and, at times, she is right on. Unfortunately, her desire to be “real” means that she is in many instances actually offensive herself. The message of the Gospel is an offense to the world; the Bible promises us that. Accordingly, there will be times when the messengers of the Gospel are offensive to the world, too. We must be careful, however, to limit our offense to the message, not to our careless handling of it. We must be careful not to confuse God’s acceptance of us for who we are with His acceptance of us staying there. And we must be extremely careful not to present the God of the Bible as someone that He is not.