Will “Love Wins” Change Anything?
March 8, 2011

Yeah, I’m jumping on the “Theological Firestormageddon 2011” bandwagon. Though it’s not like my opinion matters, I just had to give my thoughts on this whole controversy surrounding Rob Bell’s forthcoming book, Love Wins, which apparently no one who has commented on has actually read. All the hype is based on the couple minutes of his promotional video, including this post.

[If you don’t know what the hell I’m talking about, Love Wins, which I too have not yet read, appears to be  a pop-treatise on why the Christian doctrine of Hell doesn’t make sense. And why that doctrine has turned millions away from the Christian faith. Since the position Bell seems to be taking is nothing new — people are branding him a Universalist, a position that says all will ultimately go to Heaven —  the fact that has everyone’s panties in knots is that this is coming from a well-known (semi-)evangelical pastor.]

Judging from the blogs I’ve seen, no one’s mind has changed on the topic of hell just yet, nor will it. The position Bell is asserting, along with the fact that such a popular Christian is asserting it, is just drawing the battle lines. People are taking their positions under their shields, wrapping their fingers around their sword handles, and preparing to defend their kingdoms at all costs. Some preemptive trebuchet firings have already flung off. And no one is listening to the other side.

Whatever people have thought about hell, they are continuing to think. Bell is trying to change that. Or perhaps he’s just trying to make Christianity more digestible to the unchurched or the jaded. I for one was moved by his first major release, Velvet Elvis. Not “moved” as in my position changed. But emotionally moved in the sense that I no longer felt alone in questioning what Christianity has become.

So the question is if Love Wins will do nothing more than make another heretic. The theological establishment has a way with easily shoving people out of their circle once the Fundamentals have been questioned. It’s been happening for millennia. It has kept the Tradition intact and “pure.” But today, when the masses now have access to the same information that only scholars and bishops had centuries ago, the circle of elites is becoming less and less relevant. They are continuing to push more and more people out of their circle, but what they don’t realize is that their circle is becoming so small, and the rest of the world is becoming so much larger, they are reducing themselves into irrelevance.

The day is already here when The Correct are merely talking amongst themselves. They are talking loudly, for sure, but no one but themselves are listening. The Correct are grumbling to each other, trying to expel heresy at every turn, while the rest of the world moves on. As more and more pastors are branded as heretics, they escape The Box and join the rest of us.

And so while Love Wins is creating a firestorm between CorrectTheologyLand and LiberalTheologyLand, perhaps no one really cares except those who need to reassert themselves as “Right,” on both sides of the issue. (I admit I’ve been guilty of that.) For many of us, the book will probably either give us hope for a more open world, or it will be just another blip on the timeline of the countless religious wars and declarations of heresy.

So there’s a far deeper issue at hand here than the downfall of the doctrine of Hell. It’s the division separating individuals from each other just because of unwillingness to listen to the other.

But for me, I choose hope. Then again, maybe my mind is already made up too, so I’m just playing the game like everyone else, and this whole post is nothing more than a ploy to boost my SEO and build my platform by using all the right keywords.

But maybe there’s another way? Maybe Love really can win, and someday maybe even bridge divides that have existed for ages. Or maybe not. I guess it’s really up to you and me.

Name That Heresy
March 3, 2010

Part two of my Journey: Refractions blog series…


Christianity does not have the exclusive claim to God.

There, I said it. You can label me now. Reduce me to a category, or better yet, a brand, like we’ve done with God.

I just think maybe God is like me: A Large that can’t be squeezed into a small.

A big muffin-top that bulges over low-rise jeans, even “relaxed-fit” ones.

A form that refuses to stay in any container, even cross- or steeple-shaped ones.

A quiet stream that is also a pillar of raging fire. A lion that is also a lamb.

A Father who is also called “Many-Breasted One.” Google it.

A loving wise man who throws tantrums in the temple.

The Unknown God and “YHWH.”

An Unfathomable Power that we don’t even have sounds to express.

And we think we can nail all this down with one creed, a few rituals, and 66 books.

Sounds to me like we’re making someone in our own image.

What would it take to open up the lines a bit?

Leave some space between our words to let the Indescribable seep through, expand, and mess up our syntax.

Let the Holy Chaos randomize our code.

Then we might see that we really don’t have the puzzle figured out, even after ages of apostolic succession, ancient scholarly councils, apologetics, hermeneutics, and innumerable sermons.

So maybe we could work together with others and swap stories to get a bigger picture.

Wouldn’t that be nice?

Nah. That would be heresy. At least that’s what I’ve been told that God told somebody somewhere sometime, and if God said it I believe it and that settles it.

Nevermind.

Heretics in the Emerging Church? Oh My!
February 9, 2010

At least one of the three of you who read this may (1) like theological discussions and/or (2) wonder what I think about the Emerging Church. This one’s for you. For those who don’t care about this, read on anyway and you may find it mildly interesting.

First off, I do not consider myself “involved” in the Emergent movement. I may have a few years ago, but I felt like things started getting a bit too hip for my dorky self, so I tapered off on following everyone and everything with the movement, but I still keep in touch. I have many friends who are still closely involved, some serving with the coordinating council for Emergent Village and such. And some people may still consider me an Emergent-type of Christian, but I’d respectfully disagree, mainly because I feel in many ways I’m just barely a Christian at all….but come to think of it, that’s what some say about emergents anyway. Also, I am part of a faith community that some may consider an emergent church, although most people in my church wouldn’t say that – because we just are what we are.

Second, keep in mind that Emergent is a pretty fuzzy term. Some people think it’s a revolutionary movement similar to the Great Schism and the Protestant Reformation; others think it’s nothing more than a passing fad that either is already dead or will die out soon. Some people consider it purely deconstructive; others consider it conversational. And some say it’s absolutely liberal and Marxist while others say it incorporates conservative evangelicals, liberal mainliners and everyone in between those spaces and even those outside of it all.

Now, to either their credit or blame, depending on your view, Emergent “leaders” like Brian McLaren and Doug Pagitt and many others, through their books and through personal conversation, have inspired me. Brian’s A Generous Orthodoxy and other books were a huge breath of fresh air that I felt helped to liberate me in many ways. And many books and conversations later, I really feel free in my spiritual perspective. Sure, they may have made me a heretic, but at least I’m free.

But I still often agree with many of the sentiments expressed in Emerging church-type conversations, although I find the whole scene getting too cerebral for me these days. And while at one gathering of thought leaders a couple years ago, I felt fully included, like even though I couldn’t claim all the correct traditional beliefs, I was fully welcome to freely express myself right alongside the likes of N.T. Wright, Richard Rohr, Brennan Manning, and others. It was beautiful. I’ll post a video or two some time. …But at the same time I also felt a bit excluded, like I wasn’t cool enough because I wasn’t published, I didn’t have a doctorate, and I didn’t wear designer sunglasses indoors. But that’s another story. The point is that I am familiar with emergent and it is one train of thought that helped free me from an obligation of having to always stay within the accepted traditional boundaries and be “right.”

Anyway, in addition to other recent notable announcements concerning the Emergent movement, a recent blog made a bit of a stir among the Emergent crowd, particularly in Grand Rapids, which to some is known as one of the hubs for Christian progress. In it Jeremy Bouma, who has been somewhat of an Emergent insider, announced his theological departure from the movement. For his next couple posts, he will continue detailing his theological concerns with Emergent leaders like Brian McLaren and Doug Pagitt. Brian has just dropped new book called A New Kind of Christianity, which for many will serve as a long-awaited treatise that addresses specific theological questions concerning the ideas behind this new-ish church movement.

Without going into details, Jeremy’s main criticisms revolve around the idea that Emergent theology is based on old ideas that were declared heretical centuries ago by church authorities. He accuses Pagitt of neo-Pelagianism, which essentially says that Adam’s “original sin” doesn’t really affect human nature today. Jeremy then basically defines McLaren as a Unitarian Universalist, which sort of asserts that he think all paths lead to God and no one will go to hell, if it even exists. So what do I think?

“Because We Said So.” Is That Enough?

I agree with Jeremy, Brian and Doug. While theological arguments abound in defense of both sides, it’s easy for me to say, “Yes” to all. I agree with Jeremy that yes, much of Emergent theology is really nothing new in the grand scheme. Many of the propositions are remixes of ideas that may have been deemed heretical in generations past, or at least outside traditional standards. But so what?

Technically speaking, theology is a science. And it is the study of many things we cannot conclusively prove. The whole point of a study like this is to advance our understanding, or at least advance our discussions of our understanding. The idea is to study all the information we have available to us from the past and present, even if present ideas are built on past ones, in order to further our discussions. If we only work within a predetermined framework that already has established the answers to its study and excludes any other questions or answers, and all the answers are based on the authority of the past, that is not a sincere study that seeks to advance knowledge; it is merely a study of law. But perhaps that’s what our seminaries prefer — to secure our pool of lawyers. But does that somehow advance the study of God? I don’t think so, and that’s why I say…

  • So what if centuries ago some guys got together and thought they answered all the questions once and for all; defined correct belief in regards to an offshoot of Judaism; defined what letters should make up the Bible and what it does and does not say; defined what God wants or hates, and defined what God looks like according to their current paradigm. For their deep sense of passion and their tireless debate skills, I honor them. But I must say that’s just what they were: master debaters.
  • And so what if theories that questioned the status-quo ages ago have been brought back up today. Without such ideas, we would still think Earth is the center of the universe and we would still literally burn people at the stake instead of only with our words. This would make us  modern-day versions of Nero and others who destroyed Christians…who at the time did not adhere to the traditional, national beliefs of the day. It’s interesting how the the persecuted often become persecutors.

The fact is that with new discoveries come new ideas (and vice versa), which usually have origins in formerly rejected ideas. For example, String Theory was once rejected from almost all discussions on the nature of the universe. Now it is regarded as the root of one of the most widely-accepted “theories of everything” available today. And I would suggest that such theories as this, General Relativity, Chaos Theory, M-Theory and such could offer much to theology, but sadly each of these fields have excluded the other. Regardless, the Emerging Church movement in my mind is a movement of challenging foundational assumptions. It is a science in that way. That’s what we do with principles we really cannot prove. It is in fact a deconstructionist movement , or at least a re-constructionist movement. That’s just what it does: It strips things down and challenges the foundations to find any cracks. And anyone who challenges foundational creeds are heretics…that’s the definition. But still, so what?

Perhaps you can prove that someone is a heretic – that their ideas do not line up with documents drawn up centuries ago – but I don’t see that as a problem. Maybe it’s a problem in the bubble called Christendom, but I really don’t think God is bound by the dimensions of that bubble. And I don’t see why some ideas were deemed outside the “range of acceptable answers” just because Church fathers answered heretics past with a terse, “Because I said so.” Or worse yet, because they claimed to speak on God’s behalf with a terse, “Because I said that God said so.” Or, to put it in modern-day bumper-sticker terms, “God said it. I believe it. That settles it.” And tot hose who would ask if I would say that to God if He said “Because I said so,” well first off, Yes. I would. He didn’t seem to have an issue with  Biblical figures doing that. But secondly, men are not God. Those who claim to speak on God’s behalf are no different than the pharaohs and Caesars of millennia past.

For me, “Because I said so” is not a good enough answer. And that’s why I support rebellion. While I may not consider myself an Emergent per-se, it is what I see to be a holy rebellion, and I’m good with that. So, even if Brian and Doug and others could be proven to be heretics according to the terms and conditions set forth ages ago, I really don’t see what the big deal is. So was Jesus.

Just to be clear, all this is not to say that those who adhere to orthodox Christianity are just like the Inquisitors of the middle ages or something. I just felt I needed to encourage people that, just because one challenges core teachings of the church and in fact may be technically labeled a heretic, (1) they are not alone and (2) heresies have given us the religious freedom we experience today. So let’s keep up the tradition of rebellion.