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.

Circles and Boxes
January 27, 2010

This is in fact how many people see it…

A couple years ago I reviewed David Kinnaman and Gabe Lyons’ book, UnChristian: What a New Generation Really Thinks About Christianity and Why it Matters. In it the Christian researchers give statistics attesting to the realities of Christianity’s image problem and the reasons behind it. Importantly, they add that Christians must realize that the negative sentiments “outsiders” express are not merely because they are critical, or even “deceived.” These sentiments are the result of personal experience with Christian family or friends.

They also note that Christians should “avoid being defensive about the culture’s push to remove Christianity’s power in society,” and that “if the enormous number of Christians in this country has not achieved the level of positive influence hoped for, it’s not the fault of a skeptical culture.” In fact, they add that young Christians themselves are hesitant to raise the Christian flag because they too see Christianity as embarrassingly judgmental, confusing, insensitive, too involved in politics, out of touch with reality, hypocritical, and anti-homosexual, to name a few.

Some of the stats include:

  • Percentage of young non-Christians (“Outsiders,” ages 16-29) who see Christians as judgmental: 87% …Same question for churchgoers of the same age: 52%
  • …anti-homosexual > Outsiders: 91% …Churchgoers: 80%
  • …not accepting of other faiths > Outsiders: 64% …Churchgoers: 39
  • …out of touch with reality > Outsiders 72% …Churchgoers: 32%
  • …insensitive > 70% … Churchgoers: 29%

My purpose here is not to smear Christians or call out facts that many already know. It’s just to reiterate the point that any religious group that defines itself by what it must abstain from will obviously be defined that way by others…by what the group is against, not for. Now, I know that many Christians are trying to get beyond this; I have pastor friends who are working incredibly hard to simply offer love and healing to people. And I know that many Christians would say that they in fact really define themselves by what they are for: God’s grace, the principles of love taught by Jesus, intimacy with the holy spirit…all positive things.

But when one examines the qualifications of those things, it becomes apparent that the religion really does define itself by what it excludes more than what it accepts. An example… The benefit: Christians believe in the power of God’s all-encompassing grace which is available to all. The qualifications: “Jesus said that no man can go to the father except through him, the son (Jesus),” so no one is allowed to truly experience God’s grace unless he/she believes that 1) Jesus is God’s son 2) Jesus was born of a virgin 3) Jesus died on the cross and that process served as the only possible substitutionary atonement (payment) for the penalty of sin passed down from Adam 4) Jesus resurrected from the dead 5) Proclaim all these beliefs publicly 6) Be baptized (this may or may not count as the public proclamation) 7) Be filled with the holy spirit (preferably with the evidence of speaking in tongues, depending on denomination) … and I could add more, but I’ll stop at 7 because that’s God’s number. 😉 The theological explanation for this says that God’s grace is “sufficient but not efficient.” In other words, it’s power is based on the condition of our choice to accept it [on the terms given us by the church, to which Jesus gave all authority when he left earth].

So the circle of inclusion quickly gets smaller and smaller, the number of “acceptable” fewer and fewer. And don’t forget that, according to Christian teaching, “In the last days there will be a great ‘falling away,'” in which many Christians will become deceived themselves and will “backslide” and fall out from under the covering of God’s grace. So the circle gets smaller still. And all this makes me wonder if God’s grace, according to religion, really is all that powerful.

I choose to believe that it is, but the only time we get the picture of graceful inclusion is when a preacher is trying to “pull in the net” during an emotional altar call, or call for salvation. And this is what enforces the negative salesman image of preachers…Get in as many as you can without telling them the details of the deal. “Grace is the free gift of God for all,” it is said. “…Except…oh by the way…just sign here…”

So what’s my solution? I suggest that God’s grace is bigger than religion, bigger than Christianity, bigger than whatever box we humans try to fit God in, and yes, maybe even bigger than our ability to reject it. But I think that when we think we’re rejecting “God” we’re really just rejecting the notions of God that we’ve been taught.

This past Sunday at Journey we talked about the labels we put on God. And we had an illustration at the end of the gathering: A light box was up front. But the light was having a hard time illuminating the room because the clear side of it was covered with numerous strips of tape, so the light was very dim, only enough to let you see the overlapping lines of the tape strips. The strips were all the labels we put on God, maybe things like, “male” or “white” or “patriarchal” or even “Christian” or whatever. But at the end of the discussion we all lined up and one by one walked to the box. We each pulled a strip of tape off the clear front of the box, and with each removed piece of tape more light shined through. First a small shaft of light pierced through a split in the tape. Then another. Then another. Then light was getting more intense as it burst through all but a few strips around the border, and those got peeled off until the light emanated powerfully from inside the box and lit up most of the place.

I saw this and thought, “Maybe we should try to let God speak for himself.”

I know that’s hard because then who is to say that voice is verifiably that of God according to whatever criteria we come up with. Because even though the words touched the person who heard them and that person is better because of whatever they heard and however they heard it…even if it was through a tree growing beside a waterfall or a young man being nice to an old lady or a cartoon on YouTube…We must then gather a committee and debate and make sweeping proclamations and whoever has the best argument wins. After all, that’s how we got the Bible, aka, God’s Word.

There must be a better way, or as some like to say, another world is possible. I think God’s word, and God’s grace, is bigger than us. Bigger than all our little circles and boxes, no matter how nice we dress them up.