Not This Again…

In the last week or two Rob Bell was in the news again. Bell left Mars Hill Bible Church for parts unknown although it is rumored that he will be starting a TV series with the executive producer and writer from Lost. Of course, as with all things Bell, many Evangelical Christians are taking their pot shots. This rings a bit hollow for me considering that after Love Wins many were pretty much denouncing him as a pastor and labeling him firmly as heretic. I feel that too many Christians have put Bell in a no-win situation. He is damned by many Christians no matter what he does. Honestly, I just don’t understand it.

Whether it is Christianity Today likening Bell’s spirituality to Oprah’s, overall one believed to be devoid of depth just generic; Rick Warren’s negative diatribe/warning that basically says that Bell will have less impact and no accountability; to the faceless, nameless comments that spew negativity by being thankful for Bell’s leaving but praying for Southern California or questioning how Bell could believe himself a Christian in the first place.

We like to be judge, jury, and executioner. I don’t think this will ever change. I don’t think I really have the ability to know without a doubt who is a true Christian and who is not. I’m pretty sure that the Bible says that is something God does himself. Maybe we can say that we wish Bell well and pray that God may continue to work in him and increase the knowledge and living out of the truth. Honestly we all need that, it’s easy to pick on someone like Bell. How we react though is almost just as important, lest we be a heretic in practice if not in our theology.

Negativity and Impatience

I am concerned about a climate that seems to have gripped our country. Perhaps it is an attitude that is beyond the borders of our nation and extends further than this time frame, but it seems as though the attitudes of negativity and impatience have become fixtures in our daily lives.

Perhaps the most public display of this is in political realm. Politicians work harder it seems to discredit and undermine each other rather than attempting to work together and compromise. It is easy to only blame the politicians, but often we on the other side of things are just as bad. It is easy to read the comments section of any political news article and see Republicans blaming Democrats, Democrats blaming the Republicans, people blaming the poor or the rich, these “discussions” often just become cesspools of negativity. Then add to the mix that we want results at the snap of a finger and fail to realize that change and perhaps particularly good change takes time. In the end it seems like all this does is create a cycle of negativity and impatience, we may go into things with high hopes, as many did with Obama, but when things are rushed so as to not make the impatient people angry all it does is create a lot of negativity for those who view a situation differently. Sadly it appears to wind up creating people who are elected not because of their views or experience, but rather on who they are not.

Let us depart from politics though. This attitude also seems to follow us to our workplaces. How do I know this since I am not currently working, well for one I’ve worked before and for another my wife does work. It is easy to see people in the same workplace make snap judgments about one another rather than even attempt to understand that person or why they may have acted a certain way in that situation. It is also not uncommon for people to act as though they were in a competing workplace instead of a workplace that is all working together for a similar goal. They talk about one another behind people’s backs, make snap judgments, complain, or just don’t do their job well because of their dissatisfaction. This doesn’t mean that there are not places for some of these things in certain circumstances, but all too often in these circumstances positives steps are ignored in favor of negativity and a desire not to have to go to all the work of having to understand a person or a situation.

Perhaps most sadly, is that this attitude is alive and healthy in the church as well. It is perhaps easy to think about the reaction to Rob Bell’s Love Wins here, but I’m not necessarily talking about that, even though it is an example. What about our reactions to changes that are happening in church or perhaps changes that are not happening that we want to see? How do we react to those changes? Sadly it seems that too many times we react with negativity, a complaining spirit, trying to undermine leadership or one another, and a desire to ramrod our change through simply because of our preferences or idea of what we should do. It can be seen in people who only ever speak up to say something negative that they think should be done a certain way, rather than being a voice of encouragement and someone you can count on when things are going well.

As I said perhaps this isn’t anything new, but it just seems to be that it is a prevailing thing in our day. I’m not even presenting this as a negative diatribe to everyone out there. I even feel the pull to react negatively or impatiently with things I see, but what good does that do? With all these cases it is so easy to criticize, make snap judgments, and be impatient. We need to be willing to work together for positive change, putting ourselves out there beside those working for change instead of being armchair commentators, perhaps most of all we need to realize that change does and should take time. It is the harder path for certain and there will be people who bring you down because of that, but I firmly believe that it is a path we need to and should take. You can’t stop all the negativity that others do around you, but it can start with us.

Moving On

Vacations always seem to screw me up something fierce. Patterns that I’ve established always seem to fall apart after being away. This is why about a month later I am finally updating my blog again. This post is saying that I am moving on from the subject I’ve been dealing with most recently, namely Rob Bell’s book Love Wins. So in honor of moving on from it I want to just give some final thoughts about it before I move on.

1. Bell does not appear to be an universalist. Despite the number of people who claim this, I find little basis to make this claim on. I will say that there are a couple of phrases that you could use to say that he is an universalist, but there are just as much if not more evidence that universalism is not what he has in mind. Honestly it seems that many in the evangelical community have found it easier to simply slap the label of universalist on Bell and dismiss him than actually engage his material. There may be exceptions to this, but most I’ve come across do this.

2. Does disagreeing with Bell mean that he is a heretic? I found things I disagreed with in his book. I’m not sure I buy the idea of a second chance after death, for example. However, I’m not sure I can say for certain that God is not able to do such a thing. There is part of me that hopes such a thing, but it is not something I feel that I should center my hope around. Then is it heretical of Bell to propose such a thing? When you’re dealing with a God known for the redemption of a people who never deserved it, I’m not sure you really can. As I said it isn’t something to lightly toss around and to allow for us to be uncaring about God now, but does my disagreement with it make Bell a heretic? No I certainly don’t think so.

3. Are we willing to let God do what He wills? This cuts both on Bell’s side and on those who are his detractors. If God decides there is no second chance and there will be a final and unchangeable judgment are we okay with that? I’m not asking if we’re okay in such a way that we begin to enjoy or relish the idea that people go to hell, but that we trust God’s character and judgment enough to let him do what he will. Or if God does allow a second (or third, etc.) chance are we open to that?  Or do we act like the workers in the vineyard in Matthew 20 who say we’ve been here the longest and deserve more wage? Are we willing to trust God even if it goes against our uncertainties about judgment or our feelings of religious entitlement?

4. We have to be careful not to allow this discussion about hell cause our faith to be destination oriented. Is our faith simply an escape from hell or for a ticket to heaven? Personally I don’t believe so. I think we have to ask ourselves if there was no heaven or hell would we still follow God? If all we had was this life would God be worthy of following? Tough questions perhaps, but ones that I think we need to keep close to us.

5. It is okay if we discuss this issue, but I think it is important to emphasize the word discuss instead of words like debate. I think we need to create an environment of honest discussion and not simply  debate. Debate does little but cause divisions or widen the gaps that are already there into chasms. Even discussion is not a surefire way to bridge gaps, but it is much more likely than going in with the mindset of debating. Even with discussion I think we need to make sure that we’re taking all members of the discussion within context and not simply taking quotes out of context which could give it a meaning it was never meant to have. Lets actually act like we want unity and not simply beating down anyone who comes out with ideas that we disagree with or maybe don’t entirely understand.

So here are my final thoughts on Love Wins. I thought it was an interesting read. Honestly, I’m not sure what a lot of the ruckus was about, but what are you doing to do? But anyways, goodbye Love Wins as of right now I’m moving on.

 

NRLW – Part 5 – Is Jesus Just a Doctrine?

How do we know God? That may seem like a simple question, but is it? You can do a Google search of that question and find answers. However, a lot of these answers are simply done by presenting principles or steps that we need to affirm and then we now know God. While I agree with the content of these principles, I wonder if this really helps us know God that much? Or perhaps more to the point does this implant into us that God is a God who doesn’t want us to know Him personally, but wants us only to know principles about Him?

Do we turn God, Jesus, or the Holy Spirit into dead doctrine? A mental checklist of beliefs we can affirm, and then try to get others to affirm. Do we always act as if God is a living God who interacts with this world or are we practical atheists (or at least deists)? So when I ask how do we know God, I’m talking about something more than just doctrinal affirmation. I’m more asking do we believe that God is more than just a doctrine? Do we believe that He is active and on the loose? Do we believe that He can act beyond our understanding?

Perhaps now you’re sitting there wondering, how does this relate to Love Wins? Well in many ways this is what seems to be a big part of the second half of Rob Bell’s book. How do we know who knows God and who doesn’t know God? Or in other words, who goes to heaven and who goes to hell? You see when we turn God into a doctrine and put belief in Him on a list of doctrine necessary to pass the “You know God” test, we use the results to see who is following God and who isn’t. Now while this may not be an entirely bad thing, I mean people following God should believe certain things, but it is also a very flawed system.

Does knowing doctrine equal knowing God? No, if we look at Jesus’ day it was typically those who knew the law/doctrine of the day most who missed out on what God was doing through Jesus. I mean in all honesty we aren’t told the religious education of the disciples, but my guess is that one or two pharisees probably knew more about the law/doctrine than all twelve put together. You also have Matthew 16 where Peter was able to accurately declare Jesus the Messiah, but then still didn’t get what Jesus was there to do. Not to mention James 2:19 where James says that even demons have accurate belief in God.

This can paint our views on certain issues that Bell brings up. Like what we think about those who haven’t been told the Gospel, what is their final fate? If knowing God is simply knowing a list of principles or assertions, then they’re probably out of luck completely. However, if God is alive and active in this world why couldn’t He be moving in a place that doesn’t have missionaries or Bibles or Christians? Does that mean we simply leave it to God and don’t reach out to those around us at home or overseas? No, but we also can’t reduce God’s power simply to where there is a Christian presence. Romans 10:14-15 presents the need for people to be sent out and to preach so that people can hear. So He does choose to use us, but I would be reluctant to say that God is limited to only using us. We can easily forget that God’s way was counter the religious minds when Jesus was on earth. God may work in ways that leave our religious/theological posturing sorely wanting.

Another problem that results from this, that Bell interacts with, is that dead doctrine has little meaning. Bell’s focus was on the cross. With the idea that the cross is perhaps both overused and in some ways underused. On one end we have people who know that the cross is the symbol of Christianity and so we have become so accustomed to it that we really don’t know what it means or at least know the full significance of it. For example what does it mean when we see someone wearing a cross necklace or having a tattoo in the shape of a cross? Or perhaps it is on the other end, we limit our definition of the cross too much saying that it means or references only one particular accomplishment and that’s all. Then when someone doesn’t hold that view or hold that view as the only view then that person is viewed as incorrect or heretical. Bell only interacts with the cross in that particular chapter, but this can be true of anything we believe.

So how do we know God? As usual I don’t have all the answers, but I do know that we have to treat Him like He’s a God who is active in this world and in our lives. If knowing Him is simply knowing a list of doctrines, or turning Him into a doctrine we’re going down the wrong path. Even prayer and reading our Bibles can return mixed results. Are these interactions with a living God or just routine activities for our own peace of mind? This isn’t always easy and like any relationship I think there are ebbs and flows, but we should strive to treat Jesus as more than just a doctrine both in our lives and as we share our faith to those around us. May it be a faith of life and interaction with a living God who is a bit of a mystery rather than a faith of dead doctrine that can be easily dissected.

NRLW: Part 4 – Hand baskets sold separately

Hell. That’s not a place or subject we really like to talk about. To be honest it is not a subject I really want to talk about either. But when you’re discussing issues out of a book that deals with heaven, hell, and the fate of every person who ever lived, well some things are inevitable. I admitted that thinking about heaven gives me a headache, but hell gives me a mental migraine. I mean heaven at least has positive connotations, hell on the other hand does not. However, my approach is going to be similar to how I handled heaven. Putting out some questions that have arisen from Bell’s book and some of my wrestling with it.

Where do we get our picture of Hell from?

Here is perhaps the most significant question I got from Bell’s book. At the beginning of his chapter on hell he talks about how much the Bible focuses on hell or even has a word that we could really translate into hell. The result is not many. The Old Testament doesn’t have a word that can be translated well into hell. We get words like Sheol (a somewhat mysterious shadowy place); death, grave, the pit, realm of the dead type of stuff. Not too much we would liken to our view of hell. Bell goes on to wrap-up the Hebrew view of “hell,” like so: “But, simply put, the Hebrew commentary on what happens after a person dies isn’t very articulated or defined… For whatever reasons, the precise details of who goes where, when, how, with what, and for how long simply aren’t things the Hebrew writers were terribly concerned with.”

Even in the New Testament there is all of a whopping 13-15 words translated “hell” depending on your translation, with the exception of the KJV version that has 23 occurrences of hell. That’s 13-15 in the whole New Testament. Does that surprise you? I know it somewhat surprised me. Even further is that only three of these usages directly connect hell with fire. Now admittedly there are places where not following God is illustrated as being placed in a fiery furnace or burned up in fire. Like Matthew 13:42, 50 and Revelation’s lake of fire, but it is not the only way to depict hell.

All this is to say, where do we get our pictures of hell from? Is there enough mentions of what hell is really like in the Bible to piece together a cohesive view of what hell is like? Honestly I don’t think that there is. It’s there and we can’t deny it, but we can’t elaborate all that much either. We can’t take the works of Dante or Milton or the view of a fiery place ran by the little red devil with a pitchfork as being the Biblical portrait of hell. We love to speculate and there is a certain need to do that, to speculate and imagine is okay. What we do have to be careful of is when that speculation becomes hard fact in our mind. That is where we get into trouble and start moving down a road that is neither healthy nor Biblical.

What is our attitude about hell?

Now this question cuts about every way you can imagine. One of the biggest complaints I had with how Bell’s book was received was how many people seemed to thoughtlessly smash Bell and present their doctrine of hell and the need to ascribe to it. Is hell just a doctrine? If we believe it is a real place, are we to be happy about it? It certainly seemed that some leaders in the church were acting that way. I don’t know about them, but it makes me very sad that a place like hell would exist. Can we say like Paul in Romans 9:3 that we would rather be cut off from Christ and cursed if that would save those around us? Often times that isn’t the picture portrayed. We sometimes defend hell a little too strongly and a little too heartlessly.
Now the reverse can be said too, and is perhaps the side that Bell leans towards a little more and truthfully the side I have to fight against as well. We can sometimes say this doesn’t seem fair and interpret things in such a way that makes us more comfortable or makes the people of the day more comfortable. While the popular view of hell may not be the Biblical view of hell, hell is there regardless. I believe we have to have humility and be honest about that. We can’t risk trying to re-imagine it too much into something just as equally wrong but palatable for today.

I think these two questions are really part of what is at the heart of Bell’s book. Bell doesn’t deny that there is a hell. He may be pointing out that we may not know as much about it as we think we do, but he says that its there. Also like he did with heaven, he says that hell is sometimes brought into this world and isn’t simply some place that we go. This is not to say that Bell may not have wrong or incomplete ideas himself. However, if we potentially have wrong ideas of what hell is like and Bell does too, do we have much of a right to criticize? I don’t think so, but we should enter the discussion.

Perhaps more important than laying out the existence of heaven and hell are Bell’s chapters on how people come to God and what hell entails for the people who go there. Honestly I think this is where most of the rub comes between Bell and his detractors, however it is some interesting stuff to think about… and what I’ll be attempting to think about next.

NRLW – Part 3 – Heaven is a Place on Earth

Well now we get into some more difficult topics. So far the two blogs I’ve done about Love Wins have been fairly general and not too troublesome. However, from here we get into the ideas of heaven and hell and how do we get from here to there (whichever there it is). So let us start with heaven.

Heaven has always been such a hard thing for me to grasp. It is common to hear people long for it and mention it in church and Christian circles, but honestly its something that doesn’t cross my mind too often. When it does it often just makes my head hurt trying to figure it all out and sorting through all the popular speculation of what heaven will be like. So upon reading Bell’s treatment of heaven it led me to a number of thought/questions some new, some not.

Where is Heaven anyway?

Bell picks up a teaching that I first had exposure to in college. This teaching is that our end location is not heaven, but a recreated earth. This is where Revelation leaves us. We are left with God recreating and presenting a new heaven and new earth and the descent of a city the New Jerusalem. This is what is presented as the final dwelling place of God’s people. This is a much different picture of heaven than the popular belief of the pearly gates, white robes, halos, and flowing hair.

Now while paradise being set on a renewed and restored Earth may answer some questions and maybe even make a bit more sense, it still seems bigger than what I can wrap my head around. What do we do there? Is the fact that it will still be earth mean that there will be many of the same things that we have today? How will it be different from our earth today? What about the time between when we die and the final judgment and recreation? All these questions remain for me, but I do think that having this view should change some of our views on the world.

Perhaps the most significant is that only the “spiritual” matters. This can be conveyed in a number of ways. To looking at various things in the world as not having any value like art, movies, literature and work. It can make us reject the idea of doing justice and the idea of charity because the physical needs of people aren’t nearly as important as the “spiritual” needs. In reality it is a combination of both of these realities; the physical and the spiritual and how they are inseparable. If at the end there is a physical earth and city around us, then it is pretty clear that the physical has some value to God.

Who gets into Heaven (New Creation/You get the point)?

Bell presented an interesting insight which was one that I had applied to myself but had never really thought about broadly. This was the idea that is found in Matthew 7. This idea is where we think we are going doesn’t necessarily mean a whole lot. It talks about how people came to Jesus saying that they had done all these religious and spiritual actions, but that Jesus’ response was that he never knew them. These people thought they had it all figured out and that they were a shoo-in to God’s presence, but they were wrong.

What strikes me about this is that we often realize the need for caution in judging a final destination when we think it may be negative, but when it comes to heaven we often judge with more certainty. I understand why this is the case, but perhaps when we are called to not judge others it means in both a positive and negative way, at least in terms of where their final destination is going to be. Now that may be tough for some, but perhaps there is a another question that needs to be tackled to see if this should be hard or not in the first place.

Is Heaven our motivation for belief?

Perhaps under it all though is this question. Is heaven our motivation for belief? If it is well then figuring out who makes the cut and who doesn’t might become much more important. This is really a question I’ve struggled with for some time. Are we simply to present heaven or escape from hell as the reason to have faith in God? Doesn’t that put all the emphasis on the wrong place?

If heaven becomes too much of a focus does it replace God as the object of our faith and hope? Shouldn’t we be willing to follow God even without the promise of heaven or paradise? Personally I think the answer is yes. We are being called into a relationship and interaction with the God who created the universe and who loves us. That should be our motivation for our faith and our motivation for evangelism. Instead of focusing on a place that we have more questions than answers about, perhaps we need to focus on God interacting with us here and now.

In all that I’ve heard about heaven, I don’t remember hearing or thinking of myself the idea of bringing heaven to earth today. Perhaps because we’re too realistic and know that we can’t bring perfection to earth or that we don’t want to be labeled something we aren’t by phrasing it that way. However, Bell explores this idea. He references the Lord’s prayer and the idea that we’re to pray for God’s will to be done on earth as it is in heaven. That this should be a way of connected the idea of our present reality to heaven/paradise/new creation.

That’s one thing that most of the talk about heaven has always frustrated me. It seemed so disconnected from our faith now. However, if we’re called to bring aspects of heaven into our lives and the lives of the people around us who are suffering and in need there is much more cohesive connection between this age and the age to come. Sure we can’t latch onto the view that we can do it all ourselves, but our view of heaven should include today and not just sometime in the future or after we die. If our focus is on God and not simply heaven then this should affect how we live today.

So yeah just some thoughts that were spawned from Bell’s chapter on heaven. The whole thing is still a lot bigger than I can nail down, but these were some thoughts from it.

A Non-Review of Love Wins – Part 2 – Honest Questions and Thoughtful Answers

In my first post on Love Wins, the focus was on how we as Christians deal with questions. That we need to both accept when people ask honest questions and feel like we are also able to ask questions ourselves. However, honest questions are only part of the equation. What use are questions without at least the attempt at answers. However, not just any answers will do, we have to make sure they are thoughtful answers.

What do I mean by thoughtful answers. My reason for using thoughtful instead of honest or truthful is that often times we can give a truthful or honest answer without ever thinking. We simply have the answer because we’ve read that answer, been taught that answer, or even just latched onto the answer because that’s the way everyone around us answers that. When we do I’m not always sure we think about the answer we’re giving nor do we often think about who we are giving that answer to.

I had planned this to be the next part of my “discussion” with Love Wins, but found it interesting when reading a review of Christ Alone: An Evangelical Response to Rob Bell’s Love Wins that the reviewer gave an excerpt that said:

“Besides such enduring questions, however, Bell’s opening chapter raises many questions that few evangelicals are struggling to answer. In my view, these additional questions don’t drive us deeper into the mystery of God. Instead they seem to raise doubts about the evangelical view of salvation (8).”

This statement may be true, but again I think there are a number of concerns that I have with this paragraph. The idea that “Bell raises many questions that few evangelicals are struggling to answer,” may be a concern only if Bell was primarily targeting evangelicals and that it is always what we answer that matters. But what if Bell wants his audience to be more than just “evangelicals” whomever or whatever they are? What if part of Bell’s point in the book is not just that we have an answer to a question, but that how we present that answer may be equally important. Perhaps me saying this would drive a theologian insane, but for one with a pastoral bent it should not come as any surprise that this is important.

Does anyone remember algebra class in high school? Remember how we were often harped on to show the work for our math problems? The mantra was always that the answer alone wasn’t enough, but that we are also showing how we reached that answer. Perhaps this is a mantra that we would do well to adopt in the church. Often times we reach our answers but fail to show the work we did to get to that answer. Then we simply give our answer to people who have not labored over the question like we have and expect them to be on the same page. Or we expect them to go read this book or that book instead of actually thinking through the question with that person.

We must put more thought into our answers. We should be willing to show how we arrive to our answers. How did our views on heaven, hell, salvation, God get to where they are today? Do we even know? Are they more varied that the one we hold tightest to? We must also be willing to understand that there are tensions in the Scriptures that will resist neat and tidy explanations. We have to be honest with that because some people will notice those verses that do not play well with our tightly packaged theology. Most of all though we have to understand that the world is not simply made up of evangelicals, in fact even the Christian faith is not made up purely of evangelicals. Even if evangelicals are not asking these questions (which is a statement I somewhat doubt) I imagine many people are.

We have to be asking ourselves do we have thoughtful answers? Are we willing to show how we arrived at an answer? Are we willing to discuss (not simply debate) with those who maybe got a different answer or seek to question our answers? Are we willing to admit that we can’t know everything and that no matter how much we study Scripture and follow God that there will be things we do not have answers to? Are we willing to journey towards our answers and journey towards God with people who thoughtfully disagree with us? These are questions I can only answer for myself and you for yourself, but I hope we answer them thoughtfully and not simply automatically.

The Gospel Coalition Review of Christ Alone

A Non-Review of Love Wins – Part 1 – Questions and Christians

Approaching something like Rob Bell’s Love Wins is a tricky thing. What I’m not planning on doing is reviewing the book, at least like I’ve done other books. I’m currently reading through it and plan to dialogue with some of the issues that I think the book raises and that we can all too easily ignore by either demonizing or championing one side or the other. I think this is the fairest way to approach the book. Rob Bell, himself, states in the preface of his book that, “If this book, then, does nothing more than introduce you to the ancient, ongoing discussion surrounding the resurrected Jesus in all its vibrant, diverse, messy and multivoiced complexity — well, I’d be thrilled.” If you believe him, which I do, a review doesn’t really serve much purpose in my mind. What I intend to do in this post and the handful to follow is to dialogue with issues he raises and discuss them regardless if I agree with him entirely or not.

With that said, the first issue I want to tackle is how we as Christians respond to honest questions. This is something that was in the spotlight before Love Wins was released. During the marketing of the book Bell was hammered on by various leaders in the church because of the promotional video for Love Wins. However, it does not end there because the first chapter of Bell’s book is filled with questions. How do we react to these questions? Perhaps it is best to see how some of the leaders reacted to his video.

As stated earlier Bell got criticized heavily for using a lot of questions in his promotional video. Kevin DeYoung in one of his blog posts on the matter summed up the reason for this the best when he said, “Don’t think for a second the questions don’t communicate something.” This I can agree with, however the next statement is where DeYoung lost me and continues to lose me, “These are not “let’s explore together and see what the Bible says about these hard issues” kind of questions.” This statement is not untrue, but why Bell is singled out as doing this. Many people who write apologetic literature use this kind of rhetoric and often have answers in mind when asking them. Where this loses me is that this is used to defend a blog by Justin Taylor saying Rob Bell is an universalist.

Now that is a pretty weighty sentence to pronounce based off of questions. In all honesty it says a lot about how we treat questions that come to us. How do we know that our questions will be treated as an honest inquiry or be treated as us challenging the way things are. In fact many times I believe the two of those are intertwined. We wouldn’t ask many of our questions unless they were a challenge to the way we think or believe. I know this is true of me when I was a young Christian. I asked my now wife (who had grown up in the church) to answer where the Bible spoke against issues like drinking alcohol, gambling, or dancing to the degree I saw them denounced in parts of the church. I also asked how people who held a certain doctrine like predestination dealt with passages that didn’t fit neatly in that framework. They were honest questions, but they were also challenging the status quo I had seen.

Now this is also assuming that Bell is asking these questions himself. Bell is a pastor of thousands of people, perhaps these questions are not Bell’s but ones that he has had to deal with and is simply giving a voice to? In my watching of the video and reading of the first chapter this was the impression I got. To assume that it is him taking some heretical stance is uncharitable at best and really harmful, at worst, both to the reputation of the church and to those who already have a very negative view of the church and how it handles the questions they have. Not only that, it presents a model for how we should deal with questions that we think are trying to teach something we don’t agree with.

But let us move from Bell’s book though. How do we handle questions about our faith? Do we feel like we’re able to ask questions about things that we struggle to understand or accept? When people ask us are we able to handle their questions without making them feel like some heretic or moron for asking? Do we think that there are questions that the faith can’t handle? Are there questions too big for God? Are we still asking questions about our faith or do we feel like we have it figured out? Is it okay if our questions don’t have set in stone answers?

I think questions are a big part of how we grow as Christians and grow simply as people. Sure people will try to use questions to trap you or lead you to their belief, but Jesus handled that with grace and truth, are we able to say the same? Or do we simply want to call fire from heaven when someone even gives the slightest scent of pretext for asking their questions?

Links:
Love Wins Video
Two Thoughts on the Rob Bell Brouhaha (Kevin DeYoung’s Blog I Referenced)
Rob Bell: Universalist? (Justin Taylor’s Blog that DeYoung defended)

Human Pinatas

At the end of last week a firestorm was being waged in the Christian spheres of the internet. At the center of this firestorm was Rob Bell and in particular his new book that is talking about hell. Despite the book not being out yet people were jumping to the conclusions that Rob Bell was a Universalist. Now admittedly I’ve never read Rob Bell (although all this criticism kind of makes me want to in order to know what the fuss is about) but I have seen a few of his Nooma videos, which I think are well done and they are challenging and make you reflect.

However, I’m not really here to talk about Rob Bell specifically. It is more how this whole thing has been handled that really irritates me. Christians judging others before they know all the facts and too easily dismissing that person is not the way to communicate. This way of handling disagreement is exemplified in John Piper’s Twitter post of “Farewell, Rob Bell”. Now let me be clear here, if Rob Bell is a Universalist, I disagree with him completely. However, in the next breath I can easily say I would understand where his heart and desire is, misguided as it may be. It would be hard to dismiss him that easily, after all God’s own heart is that having all be saved would be the reality of things.

Sometimes I think we view people who disagree with us theologically or politically as human pinatas. If we hit them with our arguments, our disdain, and open condemnation then they’ll break open and out will come God’s favor for sticking it to them and maintaining what we believe to be the right way. Where in these situations is the grace and the love? Does disagreeing with a person necessitate a lack of love and grace? I certainly don’t think so.

I understand that Rob Bell is a Christian teacher and that if he is a Universalist his teaching may cause some people to go away from Biblical truth. We have to be careful though, because I’m pretty sure that stringing people up so that we can take shots at them because we disagree with them is pretty bad teaching too, particularly before we even know all the facts. We forget sometimes that our example teaches just as much if not more than our formal theology teaching. What good is teaching on the love of God and Jesus’ death for our sins if we act in a way that shows no grace and love for those who disagree with us?

It is easy to jump on the bash Rob Bell or other person who doesn’t quite fit our theological leaning. It is okay to disagree with them, but we have to make sure that in our disagreement we don’t react in such a way that is just as sinful (if not moreso depending on the subject). Instead of spiritual growth and development all this way of acting and reacting does is leave a lot of broken pieces on the ground from hitting other people with our sticks.