The Good News with Cory Marquez
I love the Easter story.
However, if I’m honest, I never really gave much thought growing up to the narrative I was given:
Did God really look at us and see us so detestable because someone ate a fruit 6000+ years ago?
Did God have such a lust for blood that he had to see his own Son bleed out on a cross to make this right?
Is this the story of our all loving, all knowing, and all powerful Creator?
Is this how Good News feels?
Last Easter I heard a sermon by Cory Marquez, pastor of New Abbey Pasadena, called Reclaiming Easter. The story was the same, but it was much bigger than I had ever heard it taught. The story started thousands of years before Adam and Eve were in the garden. I was reminded that God created man (and woman, of course), and man was good, and he was PLEASED! Eating one piece of fruit didn’t change that. (Wouldn’t that be a very small God, then?) Then 2000 years later, Jesus came to have relationship with us, to suffer with us, and to reconcile sin once and for all. Through His life, death, and resurrection, we are now all lifted up. And all means all. Inclusive. Everyone. And this is GOOD NEWS !
I’m lucky to have a pastor and friend like Cory. So a couple of weeks ago we met in DTLA’s Arts District to chat. (More to come later.) Even though we weren’t there for Easter brunch, knowing Forge would launch on Easter, I thought I’d ask about it.
The church at Large Seems to be going through a major shift now. what would you call it?
The birthing of a universal God.
CAN YOU ELABORATE?
Evangelicalism has really been a group that represents white surburbans. Now the church is including more and more people. There’s a birthing of a universal God that’s taking place right now. We no longer can look at other human beings and say, “Oh, Mexicans? Oh, gay people?” You know somebody now, or you have social media with direct access to these people. It’s harder to alienate people than it used to be. And it’s the same way with God. It’s like, “Oh, those evil Muslims” You mean Raffi over here? His kids go to school with my kids. They have killer BBQs. So I think with that connection point, particularly in a melting pot like Los Angeles, and also because of the internet, we’re birthing something new. The fancy religious term is called syncretism. So that would be like the old-school way when the Catholic Church was colonizing South America and they would go to an Incan village and wipe out all of their temples, and then build a Catholic church right over the ruins of those temples and old gods. Those peoples then don’t fully accept Catholicism. They still bring in their native religion in some way. And that’s what’s happening to all of us right now, and it’s happening at a really rapid rate. We’re all building on top of those old temples really quickly and we’re sharing that information. So there’s a universal syncretism taking place in the Church right now, even if we don’t know it.
could we call it post-Evangelical?
I use the word post-Evangelical all the time but it’s such a limited description of the fuller story. Just because I came from an Evangelical background or you came from an Evangelical background, there’s a bigger thing happening outside of Evangelicalism. It’s happening with Catholicism, it’s happening with Buddhism, it’s happening with Islam. Even with the Arab Spring, that’s an example of the internet and people’s sociological context reshaping how they engage their god, their religion, their whatever. So it’s not exclusive to us as Evangelicals.
So as it relates to Evangelicals, how is it different? How is it different than what we learned growing up?
Sure. What we learned growing up is that your faith is rooted in your certitude. So having more answers, knowing more doctrine, being able to articulate more verses of the Bible shows that you have a strong faith, when that is the opposite of faith. Faith is not certitude. Faith is wonder, mystery, doubting. That’s why it’s called faith.
Faith is wonder, mystery, doubting.
That’s why it’s called faith.
The reason certitude came into play is that Evangelicalism was birthed out of Western American Protestantism, which is another way of saying some of the most powerful people who have ever lived on planet earth. And when you’re the most powerful people that have lived on planet earth, you want certitude, because certitude contributes to the power you already have.
Now what we’re saying is that’s just not true anymore. We should be asking bigger questions.
Think about the last 500 years. Just imagine the maps of the universe we knew. 500 years ago the map of the earth was flat. There were edges to the earth. Then eventually people realized that we’re on a globe or a sphere. It’s only been in the last 60 years that we’ve even had a sense of what’s in our solar system. It’s only been in the last 20 years that we have a sense of what’s in our galaxy or universe, and that keeps getting bigger. That changes the way we see God. As our map of the world expands, that expands how we see God.
Just 50 years ago we were debating if Evolution was real. Thats a certitude issue. The reaction was, “That’s a lie from the Devil because it might get in the way of the literal interpretation of the Bible, and this literal interpretation of the Bible is what gives power and keeps our machine going.” So once you start challenge that and say, “No, this thing is actually expanding.” It immediately forces questions because the map of the universe is getting bigger, so if the universe is getting bigger, I would imagine that God is getting bigger.
so what’s changing?
People. Like I said earlier, Evangelical just means white suburban. We are now including more and more people. That’s sociology as well. Look at what’s happened in the last 10 years — gay marriage, Black Lives Matter, the #MeToo movement — every marginalized group in the world is gaining a voice right now. So I think that’s immediately going to rub up against everything that Evangelicalism has been, which is a homogenous world view.
is the gospel message being taught differently now?
Absolutely. The Gospel message in an Evangelical church is rooted in Atonement. There was a problem that occurred somewhere in a garden however many years ago. God has been on a mission to fix this problem, and that’s what sin is. Sin is some arbitrary list of moralities, and each group interestingly enough gets to pick which is convenient for them. Jesus died for those things so that God the Father would not be so pissed off all the time, and feel better after His Son bleeds out on a cross. How’s that version for you?
SOUNDS LIKE THE VERSION I WAS TOLD.
Exactly. The post-Evangelical one is much more incarnational. We’re reclaiming that the story of God doesn’t start with a problem, it starts with goodness. Thats where Genesis 1 starts. Everything is good.
We’re reclaiming that the story of God doesn’t start with a problem,
it starts with goodness.
Thats where Genesis 1 starts.
Everything is good.
The story of the garden is not a story of a man and woman who dealt with a talking snake and a magical tree. It’s a story, that in all of our growing up, we have to fall and leave the garden in the pursuit of knowledge of good and evil. That’s literally what the story is about. You got to leave the thing, that’s the story, you got to leave the thing to figure out what life’s all about. That’s a radically different interpretation than reformed theology for the last 500 years. It’s not a radically different interpretation than other parts of Church history.
So if your starting point is that everything is bad, you get to Jesus needing to die and bleed out on a cross because of how bad everything has been and God will change His mind about you.
If your starting point is that everything is good, and that God is really interested in our human journey, then Jesus dying on a cross is all about changing your mind about who God really is, and reminding you that you’ve always been good, you’ve always been loved, you’ve always been pleasing to God, and that’s called GOOD NEWS. It’s radically different. Especially if you live in a Roman Empire and 98% of the people are slaves, and you think that you’re shit because you’re not one of the elite. That’s why Christianity spread like wildfire — “You mean, I’m as worthy as Caesar? Come on! I’ll get behind that thing.” That’s why it was revolutionary.
People were expecting every other religion of every other god, which is, you have to sacrifice animals in order to make the gods happy. This is why Jesus goes to get sacrificed, to put an end to sacrifice. Not because He is the perfect lamb to end sacrifice, but because He’s saying that sacrificial system is wrong. You don’t need to convince God you’re okay. God already loves you where you’re at.
You don’t need to convince God you’re okay. God already loves you where you’re at.
That’s two very different trajectories to that narrative. If you can just switch your lens and read the Bible through that, the Bible will come alive in a different way for you. It’s a whole different book now. It goes from a God who is petty to one who is endlessly interested in reconciliation.
so where does sin fall into this? Do we throw it out?
I don’t throw out sin. I don’t throw out the cross. I don’t throw out resurrection. I really don’t throw out any of it. I just say I don’t take it literally, I take it seriously, which are two very different stories.
The core of everything for me is incarnation. It’s incarnation in Jesus and its incarnation in ourselves. The reality that God is wholly and fully within us and each human being, that’s God’s image. The more that we can see that, the healthier humanity will be. If I truly see you as made in God’s image, I’m less likely to harm you. That takes a life time to learn and believe that, even about yourself, let alone your enemy. I don’t get rid of any of those teachings of Jesus, and as Jesus would say the whole Bible is built around that. Love the Lord your God, and love your neighbor as yourself. You’ve got to love yourself, you’ve got to love your neighbor, you’ve got to love God, and in that you love your enemies. Thats crucial to everything. I don’t want to lose that.
I don’t throw out sin.
I don’t throw out the cross.
I don’t throw out resurrection.
I really don’t throw out any of it.
I just don’t take it literally, I take it seriously, which are two very different stories.
DO YOU THINK TRADITIONAL EVANGELICAL CHRISTIANS FIND THIS CHANGE IN TRAJECTORY THREATENING?
It’s a slippery slope for them because most of what we’re doing is challenging Atonement theory. The funny thing about heresy is people talk about it as if there’s an agreed-upon Orthodoxy. There’s not an agreed-upon Orthodoxy. You put an Eastern Orthodox priest, a Roman Catholic priest and a Evangelical pastor in a room, they are going to say a lot of similar things, but for a lot of things they’ll say, “oh, that’s heresy.”
So for me, you can say there’s a slippery slope of not agreeing on all things, or part of it is maybe that’s the point. Part of these things need to expand and have expanded. So I can think that God is either mad about the process or God is somehow in the process.
this makes the easter message different?
100%. The Easter story is the story of the cross and resurrection. It’s both. You don’t get resurrection and Easter without a cross. In the Evangelical version of those things that I got growing up, the cross was an effort that Jesus did, and because Jesus did this thing, I get magical pixie dust sprinkled over me and God’s gonna take everything away. That’s an inappropriate, unhealthy message. The response of resurrection is, “Look, God conquered death through Jesus, now let’s try to convince people why resurrection is real.” We need to prove that resurrection really happened and that’s how we know God is God. That’s the story we all grew up with.
The better version is, Jesus was simply the exemplar for what the human journey is all about. That we all go to a cross, that we all die to ourselves, that we all are in that place where we feel betrayed, and lonely, at times even by God. And it’s only in holding that pain, and trauma, and hurt, and not putting it back on others, that we’ll ever truly experience new life, re-birth, reconciliation, real resurrection on earth.
The truth is, if you go to the Evangelical version, the thing that they missed, is Jesus was resurrected, but not one thing was different on planet earth. Caesar was still in power, the Temple was still there, so what good is your story? So that 2000 years later we can argue with scientists if this really happened? That’s missing the whole point of the thing.
The former story is, “it’s all about Jesus and we look to that thing but we’re completely disconnected from it.” This narrative is, “Jesus is showing the narrative that we all go through.” God never asks us to do anything that God’s not willing to do first.
God never asks us to do anything that God’s not willing to do first.
So God leads us through that journey of cross and New Life. So that we are contributors to real resurrection in the world. A great example of that is when Peter is ready to take out the people in the garden as they are ready to arrest Jesus. Jesus’s famous words were, “If I wanted to call down 10,000 angels right now, I would. Let it be.” His whole point is, I understand this whole trauma is happening to me, and I’m going to take it in my body and release it upon the world. We say it at New Abbey all the time: “hurt people hurt people.” If you don’t embrace the cross in your death and pain, you are going to take the hurt and pain you experience and unleash it on to the rest of humanity. God will heal the world when we go to the cross; don’t release that hurt and pain on people.
SO GOOD. WOW. FINAL QUESTION: WHERE ARE YOU EXPERIENCING RESURRECTION IN YOUR LIFE THIS EASTER?
We talk about that in our church. For me, I’m experiencing resurrection in my marriage. Each season has its challenges, followed by a deeper understanding of our commitment to each other and the life we share.