Why hipster pastor Nadia Bolz-Weber thinks the church is for losers


Nadia Bolz-Weber is the kind of pastor who ends up doing funerals for an alcoholic stand-up comic and a transvestite. Photo courtesy of Nadia Bolz-Weber

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(RNS) Nadia Bolz-Weber is the kind of pastor who ends up doing funerals for an alcoholic stand-up comic and a young man with mental health and addiction issues. The founder of Denver’s House for All Sinners and Saints, this tattooed, profanity-loving Lutheran pastor wants nothing more than to tell it like it is.

Her newest book, “Accidental Saints: Finding God in All the Wrong People," expands on her trademark exploration of finding God in the unexpected.

“When it comes down to it,” said Bolz-Weber, “the church is for losers. We connect to each other and to God through our shared brokenness, not through our personal victories and strengths and accomplishments. This is why it’s hilarious to me when people sort of write me off as hipster Christianity. You have definitely not been to my congregation. It is not hip."

Bolz-Weber talked recently with Religion News Service about the book. The interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Q: In the book, one of your critiques of social justice goes like this: “Nobody gets to play Jesus.”

A: People say, “I’m just a Jesus-follower. I want to be just like Jesus.” No one’s like Jesus, man. Jesus was Jesus. Jesus was God. You’re not God. You’re going to fail.

If we’re trying to be forgiving people because that’s the way Jesus was, and yet we’re never willing to confess our sins and admit what we need forgiveness for, good luck with being a forgiving person.

Q: Everywhere you see people trying to better themselves, yet you write that, “We always love imperfectly. It is the nature of human love. And it is okay.”

A: In conservative Christianity, there’s this question, “How is your relationship with the Lord? Do you have a right relationship with God?” I’m more and more convinced that right relationship with God is just standing naked in front of our Creator and receiving the love as broken people. Right relationship is confession and forgiveness. That’s right relationship. Allowing God to be the forgiving, redeeming God that God wants to be for us. Whereas we think that being in right relationship is not making any mistakes so we don’t have to bother the guy. That’s not a relationship, then.

Q: You wrote about a guy named Billy who struggled with heroin and booze, “sometimes played piano in his sister’s dresses” and eventually took his own life. You say he was “pretty much exactly the kind of person Jesus would hang out with.” What do you mean?

A: I’ve just become more and more confused about how Christianity became what it is today, given how it started. It just keeps puzzling me. It didn’t start with the religious authorities. It didn’t start with the people for whom life was easy. It didn’t start with people who were nailing whatever purity system was being handed to them at the time. It started with rank fishermen and prostitutes and tax collectors -- people for whom life wasn’t easy. And yet that’s whom Jesus chose to surround himself with.

Q: Why do you write that we’re punished by our sins and not for our sins?

Hell, yeah, man. Harboring resentment instead of forgiving someone -- that’s like drinking poison and hoping the other person dies. That’s its own punishment, just like shopping at Wal-Mart is its own punishment. Being punished for your sins implies that God’s going to wreak havoc on you, God has this score sheet, and if you go over a certain number, then God’s going to make some horrible thing happen to you. God doesn’t have to do that. We do it to ourselves. Good Lord! We create our own hell.

Q: Do you think God punishes?

A: All I can say is, I certainly hope not. Because I’d be screwed. All I can say is, I think if God punishes, then I don’t understand Jesus on the cross saying, “Forgive them, for they know not what they’re doing.” If God was that sort of punishing God, then I can’t think of a better situation than striking down all the people who crucified Jesus. I mean, that’s what I’d do. That’s why I need a God who’s not like me to save me.

Q: What do you mean by God’s saying “yes” to humanity, instead of “maybe”?

A: I’ve been taught that God says, “Well, we’ll see how good you are.” That’s the maybe.

I think there’s a way in which there’s this sort of yes from God that we reject all the time. We’d rather have the ball in our own court. So God says: “The game’s over. You don’t have to compete anymore.” I’m like, “Yeah, but I feel like if I compete, then I’m in control.” Grace actually feels like I’m totally powerless. I have no power. I have no agency. And that feels terrible to us, and we reject it over and over and instead go: “You know, I’m working on my own redemption project over here. I’m going to see how that pans out.”

Q: At the end of “Accidental Saints,” you rewrite Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount with alternate “saints” -- for example, “Blessed are the agnostics.” How is doubt saintly?

A: Doubt’s not the opposite of faith to me at all. I think certainty’s the opposite of faith. Doubt means you’re in an active, dynamic relationship to an idea. Certainty means you’re done thinking about it. I think there’s something really sacred about doubt. It’s part and parcel of faith to me. That’s why I go on to say something like, “Blessed are they who aren’t so sure they’ve figured it out that they stop taking in new information.”

Q: Also making the list are hospital orderlies, NFL players and their fundraising trophy-wives. There’s something very physical about all these examples, and you say God is “blessing all human flesh.” What does God care about flesh? Isn’t God concerned with the soul?

A: I think a physical life is a spiritual life. God chose to have of all things a human body. God didn’t spare God the indignity of having things like the hiccups. God chose to have a body. What does that mean about all human bodies?

Q: You’ve got a whole chapter about King Herod’s slaughtering of the innocents and the Sandy Hook shooting. Why do you think it’s important to remember Herod in the Christmas story?

A: When we’re talking about Christmas, one of the important things we have to look at is, what kind of world did God choose to enter? What was going on in the world at this point? And how did God choose to enter it?

God chose to enter a world as violent and faithless as our own. I feel like that’s an important thing to know about God.

How do we reflect theologically about what’s going on now? Political tyranny, or in the case of Christmastime 2012, when a bunch of kids are slaughtered in their schoolroom. This is what Christmas is about. I don’t want to put Herod on wrapping paper, necessarily. But Herod has to be part of the Christmas story. He just has to be. I can’t stand that blend of sentimentality and religion that we’re seeing in cultural Christianity. I don’t think it’s in any way helping us make sense of the world as it actually exists.



  1. Thank God for a pastor who makes some open hearted sense, for a change, rather than yet another angry bigot fomenting resentment to drive donations, and padding his parsonage deduction.

    The anti-Christ haunts mega-churches, and those who fill them.

  2. OK, she has tattoos and is weird but I just want to know whether she preaches against the gay agenda or not. All this other talk about forgiveness and other things is so confusing. Mark Driscoll has tattoos bt he preaches against the gays so he is OK.

  3. Ok, as a former christian and an agnostic myself, I dig her “openness” and “acceptance” and her rewrite, “Blessed are they who aren’t so sure they’ve figured it out that they stop taking in new information.” However, as a professing christian, doesn’t she have to qualify that statement? Something like, “Blessed are they who aren’t so sure they’ve figured it out that they stop taking in new information AS LONG AS they eventually realize Christianity is true.”

  4. Ronald: I’m pretty sure that she doesn’t “preach against the gays.” In fact, I suspect that she would say that Jesus would far rather hang out, eat, and socialize with questioning and faith-wrestling LGBTQ folks than people who are so certain of their faith that they would apply a litmus test such as yours. I’d suggest reading the book–I suspect that one of the types of “wrong people” she mentions finding God in are in the LGBTQ community.

  5. The interview doesn’t make it clear whether she is an “LGBT affirming” liberal moonbat or whether she is accepting of the gays as long as they admit their brokenness and agree to be celibate or convert to straight.

  6. I know that many of you have heard Pat Robertson, Jerry Fallwell and others speak of the “Homosexual Agenda,” but no one has ever seen a copy of it.
    Well, I have finally obtained a copy directly from the Head Homosexual. It follows below:
    6:00 am Gym
    8:00 am Breakfast (oatmeal and egg whites)
    9:00 am Hair appointment
    10:00 am Shopping
    12:00 PM Brunch
    2:00 PM
    Assume complete control of the U.S. Federal, State and Local Governments as well as all other national governments,
    Recruit all straight youngsters to our debauched lifestyle,
    Destroy all healthy heterosexual marriages,
    Replace all school counselors in grades K-12 with agents of Colombian and Jamaican drug cartels,
    Establish planetary chain of “homo breeding gulags” where over-medicated imprisoned straight women are turned into artificially impregnated baby factories to produce prepubescent love slaves for our devotedly pederastic gay leadership,
    bulldoze all houses of worship, and
    Secure total control of the…

  7. “All I can say.. if God punishes, then I don’t understand Jesus on the cross saying, “Forgive them…”

    Yeah. None of it makes sense. So why are you a pastor?

  8. This Pastor is like all the others. She is selling something which makes no sense no matter how hard you try:

    CHRISTIANITY = God turned himself into a man so he could later arrange to have himself commit suicide by having himself slaughtered painfully (‘lamb of god’ means lamb sacrificed for god) so that humanity would be saved (Savior) from….God’s own eternal wrath.

    But it only works if you believe it is true….????

    Makes no sense whatsoever.

  9. You can’t prove a negative. So we each have freedom to believe the glass is half empty or half full. That’s really all there is to be said in so-called “logical” discussion of faith in God.

  10. Yeah, Pastor, Jesus approves of your comparison to Him. When was Jesus a foul-mouthed, tattooed woman? Acquire some dignity, please.

  11. You are right. It doesn’t make sense. And Nadia does not believe that either. She is from the strain of Christians, of which I am one also, who believes the “wrath of God” line is simply wrong. Yes, you can use the Bible to prop up that old two-faced wrathful-loving God, but that is not the God Jesus proclaims. The fact that God does not have to satisfy God’s wrath is exactly the truth that empowers Nadia’s proclamation.

  12. Nah. You’re confusing fundamentalism with Christianity.

  13. Am I? Isn’t Christianity, fundamentalist or not, about realizing what a terrible person you are and that you deserve to burn in hell forever and the only way to avoid burning in hell is to believe that god became a man, then had himself killed because you are such a bad person? I’m not saying this is the ONLY aspect of Christianity, but I don’t know how you get around it unless you believe no one goes to hell. Then I would call you a universalist, not a christian, and that’s cool with me.

    My issue here is she is downplaying the less desirable aspects of the “fundamental” tenets of her faith in order to attract more people. I get that. More and more people are drifting away from Christianity. Churches need to adapt to stay alive like any other business I guess. Just be willing to admit that at the end of the day it’s either repent, or perish.

  14. Are you saying that you as a christian (and Nadia, I guess) do not believe in original sin and that everyone either has to believe Jesus died for that original sin or they have to be eternally punished for it?

  15. Nadia Bolz-Weber’s message is not Lutheran by any stretch of the imagination. As a Lutheran, I find her message offensive to every facet Lutheranism.

    Nadia Bolz-Weber by her own words teaches a doctrine of Universalism which is not only anti-Lutheran it is anti-Christian as well. To quote her own words:

    “I confess that I am a Christo-centric universalist. What that means to me is that, whatever God was accomplishing, especially on the cross, that Christological
    event, was for the restoration and redemption and reconciliation of all
    things and all people and all Creation – everyone. Whatever God was
    getting done there, that is for everyone.” – Nadia Bolz-Weber (Religion&Politics July 2015)

    Nadia Bolz-Weber also takes it a step further in her deception with positions on the adoption of goddesses as part of Lutheran doctrine. Again quoting her own words.

    “Syncretism has always been part of Christianity. There’s a reason why the Virgin of Guadalupe is huge in Mexico, and it has to do with the goddess religion
    that existed before that. I don’t think it’s something to fear. I think
    it’s the way that Christianity has survived. It lends itself in a sense
    towards it. And that’s why it can exist in so many different places in
    so many different forms.” – Nadia Bolz-Weber (Religion&Politics July 2015)

    Lastly, is her position on the Bible and Lutheran doctrine which I think her words again prove she is not Lutheran.

    “I have no patience with Lutheran denomination. She says it is because she
    doesn’t read the Bible in a —— “literal way” ——- in fact, she calls such a reading idolatry.” – Nadia Bolz Weber (Interview BBC July 2015)

    As a Lutheran, you learn the Catechism then take an oath of commitment
    acknowledging that the Bible is the “Literal Word of God” and adhere to
    the doctrines the Lutheran Catechism as outlined by Martin Luther and the Book of Concordia from 1580.

    Instead you espouse that you are a Universalist (by your own admission) teaching a false doctrine built on secular modernistic theology which is not only wrong but most definitely NOT LUTHERAN by any way, shape, or form. You are deceiving people with false theology that amounts to blasphemy.

    We are not all forgiven because we are human as you say…we are forgiven when we realize our sins, our lack of faith, our unworthiness before the eyes of God. We repent our actions and we can only receive forgiveness by “grace alone through faith alone in Christ’s righteousness alone in the gospel.” – Martin Luther

    We achieve this as Martin Luther defines by:
    “(the Bible) is the sole source of written divine revelation, which alone
    can bind the conscience. The Bible alone teaches all that is necessary
    for our salvation from sin and is the standard by which all Christian
    behavior must be measured. It is denied that any creed, council or individual may
    bind a Christian’s conscience, that the Holy Spirit speaks independently
    of or contrary to what is set forth in the Bible, or that personal
    spiritual experience can ever be a vehicle
    of revelation.” – Martin Luther

    Its quite simple Nadia Bolz Weber if you aren’t going to honor your
    commitments (oath) to GOD by the teaching of the Bible, the Lutheran
    Catechism, and the tenants as defined by the Book of Concordia in
    1580 then you need to

    STOP CALLING YOURSELF LUTHERAN because…you aren’t.

  16. Not a Lutheran? How about not a Christian? A loose cannon that God would recognize as one of His children, but not a pastor.

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