Books

All Set Free: How God is Revealed in Jesus and Why That is Really Good News

What is the ending to the human drama? Will all be reconciled to God in the end? Does God demand an altar, a corpse, and blood? Or, rather, is the Christian God set apart from all the other gods throughout history? All Set Free sets out to answer some of the more difficult questions Christians today are faced with. It will challenge the Augustinian understanding of hell and the Calvinist understanding of the atonement; replacing them with a more Christ-centered understanding of both doctrines. This book will also use the work of René Girard in order to reshape how many understand “what it means to be human.” Then and only then should we ask: “Who is God?” Come explore what has become Matthew’s theological pilgrimage to this point. Come discover the God of peace.

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‘In All Set Free, Matthew Distefano articulates what an Evangelical theology might look like when shorn of it’s Janus-faced deity. This is a challenging and provocative study which utilizes the mimetic theory of René Girard to reframe the perspective by which readers read the Bible. This will be the book you could put into the hands of any person seeking the post-Christian Abba of Jesus.”

Michael Hardin, Executive Director of Preaching Peace, editor/author of eight books, including The Jesus Driven Life

All Set Free is a fascinating integration of René Girard’s mimetic theory with a biblical grounded Christian universalism. Every Sunday countless Evangelicals sing ‘Come, Now is the Time to Worship.’ Through a careful exposition of the relevant biblical passages, Distefano demonstrates the good news and literal truth of its chorus: ‘One day every tongue will confess/One day every knee will bow. . .”’

Ric Machuga, Professor of Philosophy, Butte College; Author of Three Theological Mistakes: How to Correct Enlightenment Assumptions about God, Miracles, and Free Will

All Set Free is a splendid contribution to an ever-growing theological conversation springing from the work of René Girard, one that is liberating the Christian tradition from its deadly optics of violence in favor of something much more in character with Jesus’s forgiving and loving Abba. Distefano makes the case for the reconciliation of all humanity with God, in a fluent, engaging style, rising often to eloquence, presenting multiple arguments to bring out the inconsistency in textual interpretations demanding eternal retributive punishment. Most of all, he gives us a positive message of a nonviolent God whose deep attraction promises to make the rote prayer of ‘your kingdom come…on earth’ become thrilling human reality. A vital book for twenty-first-century Christianity.”

Anthony W. Bartlett, Co-Founder and Contributing Theologian at Theology and Peace; Author of Virtually Christian: How Christ Changes Human Meaning and Makes Creation New 

”In All Set Free, Matthew Distefano offers his readers many gifts. For those asking new and intellectually challenging questions about God, he provides a map of the terrain, including areas which other maps cordon off with ‘here there be monsters.’ For those whose religious communities have ostracized them for their questions, he offers vulnerability and companionship. This is not a lawyer’s brief, defending a position at all costs. Neither is it an exposé, claiming to unmask deficient theologies. Rather, it displays the gift of joy that comes with discovering the God of peace.”

Gregory A. Clark, Professor of Philosophy, North Park University

All Set Free begins with the assumption that the character of God is revealed in the nonviolent story of Jesus. The result is a merciful and loving God, who would not kill many thousands of people (as is often assumed from the traditional reading of the Old Testament) and who would not condemn millions of people to fiery torture after death for unending billions of years. Instead the book argues for a ‘universal reconciliation’ in which punishment is not rejected but serves a purifying function so that eventually all are reconciled to God. All Set Free is thus a welcome addition to the growing body of literature that challenges the inherited ideas of a violent God and a God for whom forgiveness and salvation depend on a propitiating death of Jesus. The assumption that drives the book obviously requires rethinking a number of inherited doctrines and also developing a new understanding of biblical interpretation. This book pursues these questions through a lens focused by René Girard. For those who want a Girardian analysis, this is a very interesting book, which concludes with a heart-felt invitation to live peacefully by living in and imitating the peace-loving God who is revealed in Jesus.”

J. Denny Weaver, Professor Emeritus of Religion, Bluffton University

”So many of us are finding our way out of the penal atonement theory with all its prohibitions and implicit violence. In All Set Free, Matthew Distefano stands in this tradition and does it convincingly and with conviction. I hope many, sensing something wrong with Christianity, will read this book and be encouraged on their own journey toward a God who actually brings Good News.”

Tom Truby, Member of Theology & Peace; United Methodist pastor in the Oregon-Idaho Annual Conference

”In All Set Free, Matthew Distefano presents a way of reading the scriptures that will be new to many. And therein lies its value. We do not gain new insight by simply affirming what we already believe, we expand our thinking by exposing ourselves to ideas that might contradict our current believes. Using René Girard’s anthropological insights, Distefano creates a context in which to read the scriptures that exposes the god of violence as human projection, and unveils the Father of Jesus Christ as the inversion to this human projection. A very timely book indeed.”

Andre Rabe, Founder of Always Loved Ministries and Author of Desire Found Me

”In All Set Free, Matthew Distefano contributes an accessible yet accurate synthesis of how post-Evangelicals might integrate the discoveries of mimetic theory into an increasingly clear vision of the non-retributive God. The author heeds Michael Hardin’s call to hear Jesus say, ‘Be not afraid,’ to its conclusions in ultimate reconciliation. Distefano shows how such a move brings personal healing to those battered by the unChristlike gods. A helpful synthesis.”

Bradley Jersak, Author of A More Christlike God 

From the Blood of Abel: Humanity’s Root Causes of Violence and the Bible’s Theological-Anthropological Solution.

 

While millions of believers around the world are finding their understanding of Christianity to be outdated and untenable, Matthew Distefano has managed to paint the Gospel in such a way that even an atheist could appreciate its beauty. Rather than a message of rapture, or rewards and reprisals, Distefano presents the good news of what God has done in history to stem the tide of our own violence and evil—inviting us into a whole new way of living and being in this world. By integrating René Girard’s “mimetic theory” and Ernest Becker’s “death anxiety,” Distefano is able to diagnose the root causes of human violence and then offer the life-giving solution in the person of Jesus. Both the struggling evangelical and unbeliever alike can take refuge here, finding in this Gospel the thing their soul—and the disintegrating world around them—is thirsting for.

Available for purchase on Amazon and Quoir!

In this marvelous follow-up to All Set Free, Matthew Distefano synthesizes Girard’s ‘mimetic theory’ and Becker’s ‘death anxiety’ to diagnose the causes of human violence right to the roots. He then faithfully applies the Christ-solution as our effectual, life-giving remedy. It is especially striking that the author moves easily from theology and theory into real-life scenarios and testimonies. He recounts the excruciating reality of violence and exclusion–but does so to spotlight the power of the beautiful gospel.

Brad Jersak, Editor at CWR Magazine, Faculty at Westminster Theological Centre, and author of A More Christlike God: A More Beautiful Gospel

Humanity has a problem, and that problem has a name. The only problem is that we’ve been largely unable to name this unseeable issue that seems to plague us from the moment we first throw a punch at our siblings for taking away our favorite toy. In many ways, the modern surge toward understanding our personal anthropology, and specifically that which is in relation to our own spirituality as well, has been not unlike a pressure-cooker, whistling and gaining volume until someone finally blows the lid off and releases the pressure. What comes out has such force its best to step back and watch from a distance. What is this problem? War, but more to the point, it is in our propensity toward war as a default response to social dissonance. Whether that is a war against metaphorical icons like terror or drugs, or war against other humans, we wage it whenever given the chance. In From the Blood of Abel, Matthew Distefano shows this in force, while making the necessary, important connection between the deity we worship, the theology we espouse, and the wars we wage in the temporal—all while remaining faithful to those serious students of Girardian philosophy and theology. Whether or not we will ever be free of the cancer that is human violence remains to be seen, but the more we have voices like Matthew’s, flooding the scene with this truth, the greater hope I have for that end.

Caleb Miller, author of The Divine Reversal: Recovering the Vision of Jesus Christ as the Last Adam and Saving God: Freeing Abba from the Captivity of Religion

Matthew Distefano’s From the Blood of Abel is the book that our country and our world needs right now. In a day where Christians are known for our violent rhetoric, persecution complex, and scapegoating of all those who don’t fit within our theological paradigm, Distefano powerfully speaks the truth of the Gospel of peace in an accessible and deeply moving way that will shatter the false images of God so many of us have been taught to believe in. In place of the false images, Distefano unveils that the face of God is revealed in Christ, a face that has the power to truly redeem our world. This book is a must read!

Brandan Robertson, author of Nomad: A Spirituality for Travelling Light

Despite two centuries of exponential growth in human flourishing, our propensity for violence is still a fundamental theological issue. In From the Blood of Abel, Matthew Distefano does what few writers can do: he uses tools from multiple disciplines to unearth the origins of human conflict, yet still presents a hopeful path forward. Through biblical analysis and the insights of intellectual giants René Girard and Ernest Becker, Distefano shows how the answer to the human condition is the Gospel of Jesus Christ—the True Human. His argument is captivating and deserves the attention of all who care about resolving human conflict. Even those unconvinced by some of Distefano’s conclusions will profit from his penetrating analysis of what ails the world and the God who heals it.

Doug Stuart, regular contributor for The Libertarian Christian Institute

If you have stayed away from the Bible because it’s filled with violence and superstitious myths or because the God of the Bible seems violent, wrathful and prone to punishment, you may have overlooked a singular resource for peace. Matthew Distefano offers a persuasive case for reading Scripture as revealing two intertwined realities: humanity’s violence and God’s nonviolence. Making good use of the mimetic insight of René Girard, Distefano guides his readers gently but confidently to a new understanding of the unity between the Old and New Testaments, between the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and the God revealed by Jesus’ death and resurrection. Distefano believes that the Bible contains God’s plan for achieving peace in the here and now. When you have finished From the Blood of Abel, you will find yourself believing, too.

Suzanne Ross, cofounder of The Raven ReView and author of The Wicked Truth: When Good People Do Bad Things

Matthew Distefano’s From the Blood of Abel is a provocative examination of the problem of human violence through the lenses of mimetic theory and Christian theology. Distefano marshals theology, sociology, psychology, anthropology, philosophy, and history to lead readers through humanity’s horrifically violent past and present, and challenges us to look more closely at the ultimate hope for peace that Christianity provides. Distilling insights from René Girard, Ernest Becker, and Michael Hardin, Distefano offers a vibrant and astute assessment of humanity’s seemingly implacable violent tendencies and skillfully shows how the Bible effectively—and often surprisingly—addresses our most fundamental problem.

Dan Wilkinson, editor of the Unfundamentalist Christians blog on Patheos

Matthew Distefano’s book, From the Blood of Abel, places bible stories in their historical context and in the light of modern anthropological insight, revealing an astonishing and refreshing depth of meaning. The book digs to the roots of who we are, and offers a view of Christianity that addresses our tendency to be separatists, sometimes to the point of violence. Much of the “Christianity” we imagine postpones heaven to the postmortem, and rips humanity apart in the meantime. But Matthew reminds us that the kingdom of God is within us, and that Jesus doesn’t heal this world through war, ethnic or religious cleansing, or the devaluation of the “other”; but through forgiveness, reconciliation, and love.

Wendy Francisco, author and animator of the book and viral video, GoD and DoG

When reaching the final quarter of faith’s pilgrimage in life, it’s a natural instinct to look back to see if anyone is coming after one’s self with the same spiritual heart beat. When I metaphorically look back, I rejoice to see a new generation of young theological thinkers (in their twenties and thirties) who have already grappled with issues that some of us did not come to grips with until our fifties or sixties  . . . if ever! I truly feel a fatherly “cheer” arise in my heart for them. Matthew Distefano is of that number.

Matthew’s book, From the Blood of Abel is an excellent book to recommend to seekers who have begun to question traditional Evangelical teachings on alleged God-sanctioned violence, a sacrificial hermeneutic, doctrines of hell and eternal punishment, and much more. Matthew has processed weightier works on these topics and synthesized their salient points into a volume that is reachable to the majority who may have neither time nor inclination to read academic-level treatments on those subjects. In doing so, Matthew has done the body of Christ a great service. I wish I had read a book like From the Blood of Abel when I was twenty-one. If I had, my life would have charted a much different and much more Christ-conformed path, much earlier.

Stephen R. Crosby, D. Min., founder of Stephanos Ministries and author of How New is the New Covenant? and thirteen other titles

“Matthew Distefano’s From the Blood of Abel is a literary construction of power, precision and depth perfectly positioned for such a time as this. Navigating through layers and angles of human history, psychology, and spirituality, Matthew tactfully backs the reader and all humanity into the corner—dissecting, diagnosing and disarming our intoxication with violence. One cannot help but to be changed and perhaps even a bit haunted by the revelation of this monumental writing.”

Chris Kratzer, pastor and blogger at chriskratzer.com

Matthew Distefano offers us a robust and intriguing approach to the Gospel. Having had his Christianity restructured both by Girard’s insights into violence, and by Becker’s understanding of death, he makes available a much stronger and richer sense of what Jesus was about in undoing those things than so many approaches which pile quote upon quote, leaving readers at the mercy of their own violence. Those questioning received notions of hell, of wrath, and of an exclusive God will find solid food here.

James Alison, Catholic Priest, theologian, and author

The Bible itself tells us to ‘rightly divide the word of truth.’ For 2,000 years, Christians have divided the testaments, but following Rene Girard, Distefano argues that there are two streams within the Scriptures, one of religion and the other of God’s revelation. From the Blood of Abel is a marvelous introduction to Girardian thought for any struggling Evangelical who is seeking the really good news of Christ Jesus.

Michael Hardin, executive director at Preaching Peace and author of The Jesus Driven Life

In a book filled with exegetical and theological insights, Matthew Distefano adds his personal voice to the chorus of those who reject altogether the use of violence, insofar as it includes an intention to harm someone, in the pursuit of justice. He rejects, for example, the idea that retributive punishment, whether temporary or everlasting, could ever satisfy to the full divine justice, as Jesus in particular (and the Bible as a whole) has revealed it to us. In the event of wrongdoing, he thus contends, nothing short of forgiveness, healing, and reconciliation has the power to restore a just order. Not everyone who accepts such a view will take it to imply, as he does, “an ethic of universal pacifism,” particularly when it comes to protecting innocent third parties from violent attacks. But all Christians can profitably ponder his arguments, and no one should doubt that an intention to harm someone is always incompatible with loving that particular neighbor even as one loves oneself.

Thomas Talbott, author of The Inescapable Love of God

A Journey With Two Mystics: Conversations Between a Girardian and a Wattsian

 

Having a careful ear and an open heart is vital to understanding the big ideas of the Universe. Two friends, Distefano and Machuga, put this on display here, vulnerably exploring some of humanity’s most robust topics: what it means to be human, what it means to be saved, what is means to be lost, and what the meaning of life is. And while the authors agree on many things, including the ultimate fate of humanity, they do not necessarily agree on all the details of how we get there. But instead of ‘agreeing to disagree,’ they model for their readers what conversations of this variety should look like — agreement with a little pushback, and even some poking fun at one another from time to time.

So, as Distefano advises, “Take your time and enjoy these discussions. They are transparent and hopeful, refreshingly liberating, and are imbued with complete awe toward the goodness of the Creator and her creation.”

Available for purchase from Wipf and Stock!

“True to the mystic tradition, Distefano and Machuga set out to authentically explore the dynamic, transformational inner journey of faith. Using a personal, engaging style of correspondence, together they tackle many of the distorted-over-time conservative Christian teachings and doctrines that have finally and thankfully began to unravel, offering more reasonable and palatable interpretations of the universally human spiritual path.”

Julie Ferwerda, author of Raising Hell

“A Journey With Two Mystics was just as I expected it to be; an intellectually honest and humble interchange between two close friends. Although they do not see eye to eye on every theological and philosophical point, they respect and cherish the opinion of the other. They have obviously been freed to test all things so that they may hold onto what is both good and true. This book is the result of a peace that truly surpasses all understanding.”

Charles Watson Sr., author of Hell In a Nutshell

“From Buddhism to Christianity to René Girard to Alan Watts to Gandalf—this book is full of profound wisdom. Matthew and Michael are excellent guides to the truth found in these traditions. As Matthew states, ‘No matter what truth we discover about the cosmos . . . every truth will point in the same direction—toward a supremely benevolent God.’ So, sit in your favorite chair, grab a cup of coffee or a glass of wine, and join these mystics as they dive into the love of the divine.”

Adam Ericksen, Education Director at The Raven ReView and blogger at Teaching Nonviolent Atonement on Patheos

“Correspondence between friends is always illuminating. Here, Distefano and Machuga tackle issues close to the heart: what it means to be human, why religion does not work, and why a careful ear for listening to each other is essential to both friendship and knowledge. This is a truly fascinating read of two younger adults navigating their way into post-modernity.”

Michael Hardin, Executive Director at Preaching Peace and author of The Jesus Driven Life

“Distefano and Machuga—two friends sharing a common quest for peace in our world invite us to an intriguing exchange of letters. René Girard meets Alan Watts—west meets east. Here the insecure human ego and individualism of our culture opens to self in other as their conversation joins the God of grace and salvation in Jesus Christ to the cosmic oneness of reconciliation and peace.”

Rev. David R. Froemming, ELCA pastor and author of Salvation Story

“This book is about the collapse of a Christian worldview, the one that says the thing Jesus saves from is an eternal hell of torment. The anxieties and contradictions of this kind of theology are too awful to sustain, and A Journey With Two Mystics lays them all out with autobiographical clarity in a gentle epistolary exchange between two friends, Michael and Matthew. Gentle but charged with consequence, one which might aptly be named Either Nike or Krisis! Michael finds relief from violent religion in a form of Buddhism where the point of life is the joyous peaceful now: there is no ulterior goal to human activity (e.g. heaven), so he quotes approvingly the brand’s iconic tagline, “Just do it!” Matthew sees Jesus as opening up the divine space of a new nonviolent humanity. The New Testament word krisis is translated judgment with all the fearful connotations of an eternal destiny in heaven or hell. But Matthew sees it as God’s compassionate transformation of existence which, nevertheless, can still be reversed by the actual horrors of catastrophic human violence. Is there a real difference between the two friends? Even they seem unsure, but the reader is invited to discover an answer for herself in this extraordinarily rich and resonant conversation.”

Anthony W. Bartlett, author of Virtually Christian and Pascale’s Wager

“In this new age of Christian enlightenment, Matthew and Michael offer a powerful and fresh conversation that goes to the core of life’s true meaning. In addition to being uniquely written and refreshingly real, the dialogue offers savory insights that are critical to integrate into the Jesus tradition of our day, such as mindfulness, Universalism, and the naked now. These two mystics will have you continually wanting to flip to the next page.”

Eric Alexander, founder of Jesism

“Theology is like sex: it’s deeply personal, soul revealing, and no one wants to be told they are doing it wrong. In A Journey With Two Mystics, we are given a rare window into the depths of mind and heart of two great theologians who courageously and eloquently wrestle with the most important questions concerning God, ourselves, and life. The vulnerability, fearless exploration, and mutual respect offered in this literary work of theological art is a monumental gift to those who think, dialogue, and pursue a greater understanding about all things God.”

Chris Kratzer, pastor and blogger at chriskratzer.com

“Reading through A Journey With Two Mystics is a delightful and entertaining opportunity to eavesdrop (by invitation, of course) on a conversation between two lifelong friends, in which they discuss some of the things that matter most: theology, humanity, culture, literature, and even heaven and hell. You may not always agree with Matthew and Michael. In fact, they don’t always agree with each other. But that’s not the point. The point is sitting around the bonfire with your best friend on a Thursday night, learning to follow Jesus together, one step at a time, on a journey that never ends.”

Daniel Skillman, husband, father, counselor, writer, teacher, speaker, sinner, saint, singer, survivor, follower of Jesus

“We are living through a post-Christian moment. The older, violent versions of American fundamentalism and evangelicalism are no longer compelling for many who grew up under their tutelage. The mainline churches long ago lost most of their young adults and are struggling to find their footing in the Good News. A new group of faith explorers from both traditions is emerging. They are not necessarily giving up on their Christian faith, but reframing it and renewing it. In this book you are invited to listen in on a thrilling conversation between two of these pilgrims, one a follower of René Girard and the other a fan of Alan Watts. Perhaps you will overhear your own story. Perhaps you too will find your faith renewed.”

John E. Phelan, Jr., Senior Professor of Theological Studies, North Park Theological Seminary

“Reading this book is like getting an accessible crash course in a range of interconnected ideas about the human predicament and the promise of salvation. But not the kind of course you’d get in a classroom. It’s more like the voyeuristic pleasure of listening in on two friends, animated by philosophical and theological ideas, passionately sharing their thoughts by a bonfire. In fact, that’s exactly how this book was born.”

Eric Reitan, Oklahoma State University