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The sad result is that many young adults feel ashamed if they “settle” into ordinary jobs, get married early and start families, live in small towns, or as 1 Thessalonians 4:11 says, “aspire to live quietly, and to mind [their] affairs, and to work with [their] hands.” For too many millennials their greatest fear in this life is being an ordinary person with a non-glamorous job, living in the suburbs, and having nothing spectacular to boast about…
My friend, Tim, was the first to respond to my post on Rob Bell’s comments on gay marriage in his post “Why Rob Bell Matters to Me.” In his post, Tim put Tony Jones and himself (?) on one side of the debate and David Fitch and I on the other. In Tim’s words, he and Tony believe Rob Bell matters but David and I don’t. Then my friend Greg jumped in with an indirect challenge to evangelicals (and me?) in his post “Rob Bell Has Come Out…with a new book. O yea, and as affirming of gay marriage, too.”
I’d like to respond to both thoroughly but as pastors they only work on Sundays , and I’m busy Sundays so I will offer a brief response here. I also wanted to say something to the effect of “Shut up, you stupid heads,” but that argument stopped working once I went into seminary.
First, Tim. Tim among other things suggested I didn’t believe Rob Bell matters and challenged my (and David’s) understanding of community accountability when he said:
I think what else bugs me is this “Who holds him accountable?” question that’s been circulating feels a lot like “Who can we contact to get him in trouble because he has stepped out of line?” or “To whom do go to tell on him?” As part of the generation who is suspicious of “organized religion” I like there are people who are working outside the system. As one who is employed by the system, I hope to bring redemption/reformation to it.
I never claimed Rob Bell doesn’t matter. I actually think he does. If Rob Bell came out and said he loved the Philadelphia Phillies, I’d buy the same hipster glasses and potentially ruin my 20-20 eyesight in his honor. However, when any Christian makes divisive statements, they should be held accountable. Scripture claims that Christians belong to one another. So, yes, Rob Bell belongs to me, and I to him. If we treat his statements like they happen in a vacuum, we are in dangerous waters.
Also, anyone’s claim that Bell’s readers hold him accountable is like saying that social media is real community. Community guides us and oftentimes slows us down. I’d hate to have said what I wanted to (as many might say, speak authentically) ten years ago to have been heard out loud. I’d might not have the job I have now if I did that. Community can actually slow us down and sometimes that’s a good thing.
Let’s also not forget that the community help Rob Bell get where he is, and now we are upset that he’s being critiqued by those same people? Community’s a give-and-take. It’s a back-and-forth. That’s what makes it ugly sometimes, but other times it makes it beautiful.
I don’t want to have someone to “go tell on” Rob Bell. As much as it might sound like that to Tim, that’s not my intent. Tim could be accused of stating, “You can say whatever you want, and we don’t care.” These reactions to criticism of Bell can stem from a poor understanding of sola scriptura, believing that the sense of Scripture can be understood apart from the Church. Where’s the concern for faithful reading? Where’s the concern for the body?
Now, Greg seems to think Rob Bell and Barth sound similar. I at times believe Greg falls subject to thinking that Barth was the first to say something and so anything that sounds like something Barth said came from Barth’s head. Greg also think evangelicals have pushed Barth, Origen, Richard Rohr, Hans urs Von Balthasar to the margins. This is untrue. I’m reading Balthasar right now! Has Greg ever been to an evangelical-missional conference? If so, he wouldn’t have made it through a day without Barth or Rohr quoted.
However, that’s a point for another day. I’d like to challenge Greg’s point about:
I also think what many are talking about is envy and fear. Critics are envious of his ability to speak with authenticity and clarity what many of us, maybe most of us, are actually thinking. They envy his ability to communicate the gospel in a way that actually draws cynics and skeptics into the community of faith others have been trying to preserve and defend for so long. Many envy his creativity and reputation with artists, poets, film makers, the Dalai Lama, and Desmund Tutu, who are working for the transformation of creation. Many may envy that God is actually at work in the other, the different, the liberal, and those who do not fit within labeled theological boxes.
Sounds to me like Greg needs a hug from an evangelical. (I would be glad to impart this to him if he would ever get back to me with a date for lunch!) Sure, some of Bell’s critics (read for Greg “evangelicals”) are fearful and envious. However, some of his critics don’t know they are critics because they don’t know Bell exists (for those people Bell doesn’t matter, Tim!). And some of his critics just don’t agree. And some of his critics like me love him and just disagree with his method here. We could reverse Greg’s argument back to Greg that critics of evangelicals are envious of the growth of conservatism globally.
Ultimately, my concern is pastoral. Rob Bell can say whatever he wants, but pastors and church leaders (people who are connected to a larger body) have to deal with his statements on Sunday. Rob Bell is like the guest speaker at a retreat. He can say whatever he wants and walk away (don’t get me wrong: I love that about guest speaking!). When the speaker leaves, the body is there to discern, sift, and engage the information, but the speaker goes home and sleeps through the night. As pastors (well, Greg’s a director, technically…but not for long!), I’d think Tim and Greg would resonate with that.
In summary, Rob Bell matters to me: (1) because he is a brother in Christ and we belong to each other, (2) because community matters, and (3) because of the pastoral dilemma his statement creates.
The news came out a few days ago that Rob Bell spoke out for marriage equality recently during his time in San Francisco. Among other things, here’s what Bell had to say regarding gay marriage:
“I am for marriage. I am for fidelity. I am for love, whether it’s a man and woman, a woman and a woman, a man and a man. I think the ship has sailed and I think the church needs — I think this is the world we are living in and we need to affirm people wherever they are.”
I don’t really want to speak directly to marriage equality/gay marriage here (the web is the least productive way to proceed). David Fitch, CMA pastor and professor at Northern Seminary, stated the following on his Facebook page yesterday which shaped the way I am approaching this:
“Who is Rob Bell speaking for/to in affirming gay marriage? His (former) church? Christians at large? The press? Culture observers? Gay Christians (in Grace Church SF)? Why or who should be paying attention to him? and Why? More and more I’m seeing Christian leaders who have no congregation/people they’re accountable to (who yet carry media/publishing driven leadership) create division with pronouncements. This results in damage to the church’s wherewithal for witness in a world that sees all this. I don’t know if Rob Bell is to blame (for the media) but I do think we Christians should not encourage this nonsense. (On the other hand, I can listen to the Pope differently because he stands within 2000 years of a tradition so that he cannot make statements without being accountable to it). When we listen to a Christian leader we should first and foremost look at place of ministry/accountability from which he/she speaks. What say you? agree?”
I think I’m leaning toward agreement with Fitch on this one. A pastor flying solo and taking a stance on a politically sensitive topic without accountability to a local body or denomination is detrimental to the life of the Church. I have been a supporter of Bell, in that, I think we’ve come down on him way too hard in the past (and I don’t expect anything to change here). But I think I’m with Fitch on this one.
Do you agree with Fitch too? Why?
[Tony Jones writes a response to Fitch]
You may call it “devos,” “quiet time,” or “God-and-me time,” but the fact of the matter is, if you are an evangelical Christian, you have a some point been told how important it is for you to read your Bible and pray every morning. Often, this comes in the form of a sermon or a song to read your Bible and pray every day so you grow, grow, grow.
Let me be honest: I suck at personal devotions. I am not good at them. They bore me, and I feel guilty even admitting this. My devotions often include a time for me to pray (briefly) and read the Bible (briefly).
I had a great discussion with a friend recently about personal devotions. He too has trouble. He too does not see the point. He too is bored with them. And he too feels guilty even admitting this.
For those of us who have been told we need to have “coffee and the Word” every morning but have trouble doing so, here’s a few questions:
- Is it biblical? I’m not sure to what end I am supposed to be having “Jesus-time,” but I’m pretty sure it’s not biblical. To give me a few proof texts about how Jesus went away from the crowds to pray does not prove that Jesus did this every morning and so should I.
- Is it valuable? Praying and reading Scripture is valuable. We are asked to pray. We have been given the gift of having the Bible in our hands, and we should take advantage of it.
- Am I wasting my spiritual gift? Maybe personal devotions don’t line up with whom God has made me as a person. I have not been blessed to be a “prayer warrior.” God has made me a person who is passionate about study and knowledge. Am I wasting my spiritual giftedness if I am trying to be the “arm” when I’m the “leg”?
- Is this a culturally-constructed obligation? In other words, do I feel guilty about it because I’ve been told I should feel guilty about it? If we are asking people to follow an obligation that is not one, we are setting up people for failure, disappointment, and disillusionment.
Those are just a few questions. I haven’t arrived at a conclusion about this, but I’d be interested in your thoughts.
I was posed with this question by my wife. I find myself to be a contrarian. I am in good company. However, I find that my contrarian nature can take me down two roads–genuine reflection or cynicism. I imagine, for most of us, we aren’t contrarians–we are just cynical. Let me give you some examples:
When you are in middle school, and trying to be cool (but you’re not; you’re just awkward), you are often a contrarian when it comes to your parents. Mom and Dad say, “We’re going to Disney World!” You love Disney World. You can’t get enough of M-i-c…k-e-y, Mmmm, Oooo, Uuuu, Sss, Eeee (=”Mickey Mouse” for the lazy reader)! But you’re in middle school. You can’t like mouses with four-fingered white gloves. So you say: “Psshh. Disney? Whatever. I’d rather skateboard.” But you have to say it. Otherwise, you won’t be cool.
Fast forward several years, you’re in college. Everyone loves Twilight and wants to buy the books, see the movies, and find a soul mate like the Vitamin-D-deficient dude on the posters. Yet, here comes big, bad Ms. Contrarian: “Pssh. Twilight? Lame. Whatever. I don’t say, ‘movie.’ I say, ‘film.’”
Or even, Coldplay comes to town. Oh yeah, you find yourself jammin’ to “Viva la Vida” when it comes on the radio. But when your chillin’ with all your friends who love Bon Iver and smugly pronounce “Bon Iver” properly with Frenchy-French smugness, talking about life-after-death, you wouldn’t be caught dead expressing: “‘For some reason I can’t explain, I know Saint Peter won’t call my name’ too.” Instead, Mr. Contrarian raises his dirty head and says, “Pssh. Coldplay? Whatever. Have you heard of [insert weird Swedish folk-indie-ska band]. Now, they’re cool.”
Now, is being a contrarian genuine?
But I am willing to bet, most times we are contrarians for contrarian-sake.
I think we are afraid of being exposed as normal.
Like everyone else.
In agreement with the Billboard charts.
Being an American consumer.
Being a liberal/conservative/fundy/hippie.
I know I’ve done this. I know I’ve shot things down, said I didn’t like something, pretended to be something I wasn’t, just because I felt I was supposed to be a contrarian. And aren’t contrarians the ones who say, “Why is everyone like so fake all the time, you know?”
Being a contrarian is pretty cool. But, to be honest, it’s not always genuine.
Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone. -Colossians 4:6 (NIV)
Is your speech Christian?
I have to be honest–I was shocked when I read Colossians 4:6 this morning. Generally, Paul has been painted by conservatives as on-the-attack so I was shocked when Paul encourages the Colossians to fill their talk with grace (seasoned, if you will). Or as Thumper learned when reflecting on baby Bambi’s walking,
Thumper: He doesn’t walk very good, does he?
Mrs. Rabbit: Thumper!
Thumper: Yes, mama?
Mrs. Rabbit: What did your father tell you this morning?
Thumper: [clears throat] If you can’t say something nice… don’t say nothing at all.
Recently, a friend said to me: it’s not important to always say what you’re thinking. In the days of Facebook, Twitter, and whimsical “authenticity” (being “real,” if you will), it is tempting to spout off whatever comes to mind.
“Whatever I think, people should know.”
Enter conversations around politics, theology, and colors for the church sanctuary carpet. I’ve heard too many Christians glibly talk about certain topics (e.g., healthcare reform, protecting “the Word”) and certain people (e.g., Obama, Bush, Mark Driscoll, Rob Bell) without salt.
I’m guilty of this, too. I had to make a pact with myself that I won’t spout off my feelings on Twitter or Facebook. That I think about things before I say them.
So, I challenge you and me: Is our speech Christian? Is it full of grace? Is it seasoned with salt?
If not, we should say nothing at all.
I will first admit. I haven’t paid much attention to Occupy Wall Street/Philly/Etc. I don’t really care all that much, to be honest (which has more to do with apathy than anything–to be honest again). However, from what I gather, a bunch of people are tired of corporate greed and are rallying behind a slogan “We are the 99%.” I have a brief, yet I hope valuable, take on all of this.
For those pro-Occupy: It simply won’t do to complain about corporate greed. The line of evil runs through you. How can you stop greed in your own life? Part of maturing is resisting “blame-shifting.” We think, “Yes, I am in a bunch of debt, but it not my fault. It’s the government. It’s Microsoft. It’s the Sallie Mae.” Blame-shifting is an anxious, (often) knee-jerk reaction out of fear that someone might point out where we are to blame. My debt, true, is my debt. If I decide that I want an iPad, go out an buy one on my Visa, that’s my problem. If I believed I had to go to a more expensive college to get a better job, took out a loan to pay for the world’s most expensive piece of paper (i.e., degree), and now have 6-figures of debt, that’s my problem. There is greed in all of us. Thomas Merton, a Catholic monk, amidst the Vietnam protests in the 1960′s reminded everyone that unless we are going to look inwardly at the violence in us, pacifism just becomes another war-tactic. The same is true here with greed.
For those contra-Occupy: It also simply won’t do to complain about the protesters. A lot of “Stop being lazy, get a job, and work hard at it. I did that. So should you!” line of thought has been floating around. That line of thought is contingent on “get a job,” which appears to be extremely difficult at this time and partially why the protesters are out on Wall Street. Yes, I have a job. After I lost my job as a youth pastor, it took me almost a year to be hired at a full-time job, and there are many people out there that work harder than I do to find a good (or any) job to pay for their family and it is taking them much, much longer. It’s hard to say, “Pull yourself up by your bootstraps” when someone can’t even buy the boots. Instead of thinking, “What systems are currently established that are keeping people from getting jobs?”, we complain about the people who can’t get jobs.
Basically, the line of evil runs through all of us. How are we involved in the evil that permeates our world? Let’s ask ourselves this question and work toward a solution. For me, I’m apathetic. What about you?
That’s my take.
By know, you should already know that Norway was subjected to a terrorist attack (both a bombing and a mass slaughtering). But what most shocking to many people is the terrorist’s religion was not Islam but, according to the terrorist, Christian. Anders Behring Breivik, 32, killed numerous individuals in the name of Christianity in his opposition to the “colonization” of Europe by Muslims.
I admit. I was shocked to hear the terrorist’s claim that he’s a Christian. I think most people realize that such terrorism is an anomaly in Christianity (see Is ‘Christian fundamentalist’ label correct for Norway terror suspect?). Although Christians do not always live lovingly and peacefully, Christianity is a religion of love and peace. As a Christian, I know this is the case, and I condemn the actions of Breivik.
I’m not here to challenge the fundamental claims of Christianity or Islam, but I want to challenge you with this question: why do many Christians dismiss Breivik’s claim but discount claims (from Muslims) that Islam is not a religion of violence?
Let’s be honest. The original speculation was that the terrorist attack was done by Islamic jihadists, and, if it stayed that way, we would probably think to ourselves, “Yeah. That doesn’t surprise me.” But I’ve heard Christians insist, “The Koran encourages violence and terrorism.” Does it? If someone said that about the Bible (and many have), wouldn’t you disagree?
I haven’t read the Koran at length, and I am under-researched in Islam; but I think it’s time for Christians to give up the idea (that is very present) that “Muslims are terrorists” when we see sadly that all religions have extremists. Christianity included! What happened in Norway, doesn’t stay there. The effects of this should hit home in every Christian. How are we viewing Islam? How do we view the Bible and Christianity? Timothy McVeigh and Anders Behring Breivik do not represent Christianity. So, why do we presume Al Qaeda represents Islam?
When I was in high school and college, I served as a waiter for Bob Evans Restaurant. Outside of the joke, “Your name is Evan. Do you own the place?”, I have mostly fond memories of that job (e.g., my wife and I started dating when we were both working there). However, there’s one memory that haunts me to this day–
the day I told Char she was going to hell.
I’m not really proud about how I handled the situation. In fact, burned-out-Catholic Char kind of cornered me when she asked, “Do you think I am going to hell?” As a good evangelical and student at a bible college, I knew the correct theological answer, “Yeah,” followed by, “If you don’t believe in Jesus, I think you are going to hell” (although I’m not sure I said, “I think;” perhaps, I want to remember myself as more compassionate than I was). No discussion. No follow up. And Char just walked away.
That day haunts me.
It’s not a matter of theology. I may have been theologically correct. But I wasn’t compassionate because I didn’t see God as compassionate. I saw God as someone who was just waiting to smite everyone who didn’t believe like I did. I saw God as someone ready to send billions of people to hell and eternal torment because they weren’t “saved.” I saw the world “going to hell in a handbasket” and the rest of us just had to hang on before God would judge everyone except…me and people who believed like me.
I wish I had read Rob Bell’s Love Wins. I wish I had hinged my theology on statements like,
Our eschatology shapes our ethics (p. 27).
…what Jesus does again and again is warn us against rash judgments about who’s in and who’s out (p. 31).
Because, maybe if I did, Char would have been in a better place to hear the good news about Jesus. Char may have been able to hear about God’s relentless love for her, and I might not be responsible for her eternity. Rob Bell’s Love Wins reminds me to be compassionate.
I don’t really want to debate all the theology of Rob Bell. I am actually of the opinion that Rob Bell is smarter than I. I would rather hit the questions people have been asking me about the book. I will be doing this over the next couple of posts or so.
But, for now, what questions do you have?