According to some Christian outlooks we were made for another world. Perhaps, rather, we were made for this world to recreate, reclaim, redeem, and renew unto God's future aspiration by the power of His Spirit. - R.E. Slater
Our eschatological ethos is to love. To stand with those who are oppressed. To stand against those who are oppressing. It is that simple. Love is our only calling and Christian Hope. - R.E. Slater
Secularization theory has been massively falsified. We don't live in an age of secularity. We live in an age of explosive, pervasive religiosity... an age of religious pluralism. - Peter L. Berger
Exploring the edge of life and faith in a post-everything world. - Todd Littleton
I don't need another reason to believe, your love is all around for me to see. – anon
Thou art our need; and in giving us more of thyself thou givest us all. - Khalil Gibran, Prayer XXIII
Be careful what you pretend to be. You become what you pretend to be. - Kurt Vonnegut
Religious beliefs, far from being primary, are often shaped and adjusted by our social goals. - Jim Forest
People, even more than things, need to be restored, renewed, revived, reclaimed, and redeemed; never throw out anyone. – anon
Certainly God's love has made fools of us all. - R.E. Slater
An apocalyptic Christian faith doesn't wait for Jesus to come, but for Jesus to become in our midst. - R.E. Slater
Christian belief in God begins with the cross and resurrection of Jesus, not with rational apologetics. - Eberhard Jüngel, Jürgen Moltmann
Our knowledge of God is through the 'I-Thou' encounter, not in finding God at the end of a syllogism or argument. There is a grave danger in any Christian treatment of God as an object. The God of Jesus Christ and Scripture is irreducibly subject and never made as an object, a force, a power, or a principle that can be manipulated. - Emil Brunner
Ehyeh Asher Ehyeh means "I will be that who I have yet to become." - God (Ex 3.14)
Our job is to love others without stopping to inquire whether or not they are worthy. - Thomas Merton
The church is God's world-changing social experiment of bringing unlikes and differents to the Eucharist/Communion table to share life with one another as a new kind of family. When this happens we show to the world what love, justice, peace, reconciliation, and life together is designed by God to be. The church is God's show-and-tell for the world to see how God wants us to live as a blended, global, polypluralistic family united with one will, by one Lord, and baptized by one Spirit. – anon
The cross that is planted at the heart of the history of the world cannot be uprooted. - Jacques Ellul
The Unity in whose loving presence the universe unfolds is inside each person as a call to welcome the stranger, protect animals and the earth, respect the dignity of each person, think new thoughts, and help bring about ecological civilizations. - John Cobb & Farhan A. Shah
If you board the wrong train it is of no use running along the corridors of the train in the other direction. - Dietrich Bonhoeffer
God's justice is restorative rather than punitive; His discipline is merciful rather than punishing; His power is made perfect in weakness; and His grace is sufficient for all. – anon
Our little [biblical] systems have their day; they have their day and cease to be. They are but broken lights of Thee, and Thou, O God art more than they. - Alfred Lord Tennyson
We can’t control God; God is uncontrollable. God can’t control us; God’s love is uncontrolling! - Thomas Jay Oord
Life in perspective but always in process... as we are relational beings in process to one another so life events are in process in relation to each event... as God is to Self, is to world, is to us... like Father, like sons and daughters, like events... life in process yet always in perspective. - R.E. Slater

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Love Wins: My Humble Attempt at Joining the Conversation

Reading Sean Peter’s blog presented one of the clearest witnesses to Rob Bell’s newest book Love Wins that I have read this past month. I admit that engaging emergent Christianity can sometimes be tricky to hear and think through when read from all my prejuides gained by way of a thorough orthodox religious and traditional church background. But reading through Sean’s insights seems to help navigate and comprehend what Rob and others think is really, really important to say.

Lately, I have been telling family and friends who have been reading Love Wins to read it first and foremost for “intent” and not “content”. As a long-time member at Mars Hill this may be the most helpful advice I can give to outsiders unfamiliar with the conflicted message that is perceived to be Rob. Long years ago I had gone through all the emotions and aggravations that many people are now going through presently in March of 2011. But I can only tell you that it takes time to listen and to re-orient yourself within the postmodernistic message of today’s newer churches.

Our brethren are struggling to say better what the traditional church is not saying at the opening of our 21st Century. These messages can be ecclectic, irratic, unclear, wandering to our traditional ears and I think we would do this new group of brothers and sisters a great service in participating and engaging with them. But first, we need to listen better. To understand the dilemmas and the questions they are struggling with. To walk awhile in their shoes before speaking up. This can be a journey in itself but having done that I can say that it has re-balanced my traditional Christianity with a simpler, more sublime message better attune to Jesus' 1st Century message in his day and age.

And yet, it takes time to wade through, to “get,” but when reading Sean’s very positive grasp of what he “gets” as a church pastor it shows me again just how simple this new gospel message of Jesus really is. It’s not rocket science. It’s profound and we too many times try to over-think inexact, non-scientific language with propositions and statements. And from that create doctrinal statements and church dogmas that were only trying to lend help and support to their adherants in years past.

Even Jesus had the same message problems as we are witnessing today within evangelical Christianity (as so noted in an earlier blog re Dan Merchant's film, Lord Save Us From Your Followers).… The non-church crowd “got" Jesus, while the better informed, church-crowd debated him and later crucified him like it is doing now to our emergent brethren. And at the last, lending support to the ancient dictum, "The more things change, the more they don't."

So then, here we go…. Enjoy Sean's clear uptake. I did.



Love Wins: My Humble Attempt at Joining the Conversation
Sean Peters
Tuesday, March 15, 2011

I watched Rob Bell’s interview last night and a few of the interviews that he did this morning on cable news networks. I also had at least two people at church ask me if I saw the interview with the “preacher who doesn’t believe there’s a hell.”

Here is my meager attempt at engaging this important issue.

First, I would say that I hear nothing in what Rob is saying (and I have yet to read the book, so I cannot comment on what he has written) that would lead me to believe that he is lobbying for universalism or that he does not believe in a literal hell. On the contrary, I think that he was pretty clear that there is a hell and that we get to choose whether or not we want to spend eternity there. This freedom of choice concept is appealing to me as a Wesleyan but clearly drives my Calvinistic brothers and sisters batty. Rob sounds an awful lot like CS Lewis sometimes. Consider this quote from the Preface to The Great Divorce: “If we insist on keeping Hell (or even earth) we shall not see Heaven; if we accept Heaven we shall not be able to retain even the smallest and most intimate souvenirs of Hell.”

Secondly, the idea that “love wins” has very little to do with the afterlife. Rob’s interest, it appears to me, has much more to do with how we live “here and now” than what we think about what happens “there and then." This is a concept that former Anglican bishop and renowned theologian N.T. Wright explored deeply in his excellent book Surprised by Hope. Wright argues, and I believe Bell agrees that Jesus was much more interested in teaching us about how to live now than how to prepare us for then. Jesus’ most famous prayer, in fact, instructs us to ask God to let his “kingdom come” and his “will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” The kingdom of God is not someplace we go to when we die; it is “at hand,” it is here and now. It is not fully and finally revealed of course, it is an “already/not yet” kingdom that bursts into the midst of our broken and sin cursed lives on occasion and gives us a taste of what will ultimately be, but it is partial. Heaven and Hell are present realities and we get to choose. In Surprised by Hope N.T. Wright challenges us to consider whether we are asking the right questions or not:

“… the question of our own destiny in terms of the alternatives of joy and woe is probably the wrong way of looking at the whole question. The question ought to be How will God’s new creation come? And then, How will we humans contribute to that renewal of creation and to the fresh projects that the creator God will launch in his new world? The choice before humans would then be framed differently: are you going to worship the creator God and discover thereby what it means to become fully and gloriously human, reflecting his powerful, healing, transformative love into the world? Or are you going to worship the world as it is, boosting your corruptible humanness by gaining power and pleasure from forces within the world but merely contributing thereby to your own dehumanization and the further corruption of the world itself.”

I believe that this is the point Rob is trying to make with the book. He is not interested so much in who gets to go to heaven and who gets to go to hell; nor is he very interested in arguing about whether such places exist or not; but he is much more interested in trying to help us see that the way we live our lives in the short amount of time that we are given on this planet is much more important than worrying about where we will go when we die and who we get to hang out with when we get there.

Lastly, in an effort to not completely ignore the concerns of my friends and so many others who are interested in this issue, I want to briefly try and explain where I think Rob is coming from soteriologically. I believe that Rob is much more of an inclusivist than he is a universalist. Although I cannot speak for him, my sense from listening to his interviews and his sermons and reading his books is that Rob will choose to err on the side of mystery with regard to “controversial” issues like the afterlife. This has led some to accuse him of being ambiguous at best and heretical at worst. Why is it, I wonder, that we Christians have such a hard time saying “I don’t know?” Why is it that we feel we have to have an answer for every question that is hurled at us, and then defend our answers with such absolute assurance? Love wins, means that it’s o.k. to be unsure. It means that what’s most important is that we help people who may have questions about God and Jesus and faith and heaven and hell to know that although we may not have all the answers, we know one thing for certain: love wins. Inclusivity means that we do not condemn people to hell just because they think differently from us; it means that we choose to believe that the Holy Spirit might actually be able to reveal Christ to people in ways that we cannot even imagine; it means that we choose to love and accept people even if we disagree with them.

Rob Bell is a Christian. He is a pastor who loves God with his whole heart, and truly believes that Jesus is the way, the truth and the life. But he also believes that there are ways to encounter Christ that we may not even be aware of; and that it’s actually o.k. if we can’t explain it. It is arrogant and naïve of us to think that our understanding of how to “be saved” is the only way.

The irony of all of this to me is that Rob set out to write a book about the power of love and the divisiveness of judgment, and all he seems to have gotten from his brothers and sisters in Christ is judgment.

“So now I am giving you a new commandment: Love each other. Just as I have loved you, you should love each other. Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples.” – John 13.34-35

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