Quotes & Sayings

We, and creation itself, actualize the possibilities of the God who sustains the world, towards becoming in the world in a fuller, more deeper way. - R.E. Slater

There is urgency in coming to see the world as a web of interrelated processes of which we are integral parts, so that all of our choices and actions have [consequential effects upon] the world around us. - Process Metaphysician Alfred North Whitehead

Kurt Gödel's Incompleteness Theorem says (i) all closed systems are unprovable within themselves and, that (ii) all open systems are rightly understood as incomplete. - R.E. Slater

The most true thing about you is what God has said to you in Christ, "You are My Beloved." - Tripp Fuller

The God among us is the God who refuses to be God without us, so great is God's Love. - Tripp Fuller

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

We become who we are by what we believe and can justify. - R.E. Slater

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) or, conversely, “I AM who I AM Becoming.”

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

To promote societal transition to sustainable ways of living and a global society founded on a shared ethical framework which includes respect and care for the community of life, ecological integrity, universal human rights, respect for diversity, economic justice, democracy, and a culture of peace. - The Earth Charter Mission Statement

Christian humanism is the belief that human freedom, individual conscience, and unencumbered rational inquiry are compatible with the practice of Christianity or even intrinsic in its doctrine. It represents a philosophical union of Christian faith and classical humanist principles. - Scott Postma

It is never wise to have a self-appointed religious institution determine a nation's moral code. The opportunities for moral compromise and failure are high; the moral codes and creeds assuredly racist, discriminatory, or subjectively and religiously defined; and the pronouncement of inhumanitarian political objectives quite predictable. - R.E. Slater

God's love must both center and define the Christian faith and all religious or human faiths seeking human and ecological balance in worlds of subtraction, harm, tragedy, and evil. - R.E. Slater

In Whitehead’s process ontology, we can think of the experiential ground of reality as an eternal pulse whereby what is objectively public in one moment becomes subjectively prehended in the next, and whereby the subject that emerges from its feelings then perishes into public expression as an object (or “superject”) aiming for novelty. There is a rhythm of Being between object and subject, not an ontological division. This rhythm powers the creative growth of the universe from one occasion of experience to the next. This is the Whiteheadian mantra: “The many become one and are increased by one.” - Matthew Segall

Without Love there is no Truth. And True Truth is always Loving. There is no dichotomy between these terms but only seamless integration. This is the premier centering focus of a Processual Theology of Love. - R.E. Slater


Note: Generally I do not respond to commentary. I may read the comments but wish to reserve my time to write (or write from the comments I read). Instead, I'd like to see our community help one another and in the helping encourage and exhort each of us towards Christian love in Christ Jesus our Lord and Savior. - re slater

Monday, May 9, 2011

What "Love Wins" Tells Us About Christians

by Scott McKnight
Monday, 09 May 2011 

10 things we can learn from one of Christianity's biggest controversies.

Everyone knew in advance that Rob Bell’s next book, Love Wins, would surely raise eyebrows and create some debate. But no one, including the author and his agent, expected what did happen. From the moment Justin Taylor uttered that opening warning and John Piper tweeted “Farewell Rob Bell” until many of us had a week or two to read it, Rob Bell’s book was at the forefront of American Christianity’s sensational tabloids. I’ve never seen anything like it, and it may well be a one-of-a-kind brouhaha for the next generation or two.

But what can we learn from what happened? I want to suggest we can learn 10 lessons.

First, social media is where controversial ideas will be both explored and judged. We no longer read books patiently, type out letters to denominational offices, find common agreements and then summon the Christian leader behind closed doors to ask questions and sort out concerns. It’s all public, it’s all immediate and everyone weighs in because social media is about as radical a form of democracy as exists. To be sure, this means the uninformed heavy-handed can weigh in as easily as the patient, careful, critical and balanced reader. But social media is not going away, so we should realize what we are getting into before we walk into the room.

Second, megachurch pastors are being watched closely. “Who says what” has always mattered. But because of social media, the who-says-what takes on new significance: megachurch pastors—and this applies to Bill Hybels, Rick Warren, John Piper, Mark Driscoll, Andy Stanley and Rob Bell—are being watched, and their critics only need one off-line comment to stir into action. John Piper has been hammered for some of his comments, Bill Hybels has weathered criticism and Rob Bell is in the same world. Robin Parry, a skilled and careful scholar, wrote a book called The Evangelical Universalist. He was an editor at an evangelical publishing house. His book barely drew attention, but when Rob Bell said even less than Parry, Bell was scorched by many.

Third, tribalism pervades the American religious scene. On my blog we went through Love Wins patiently chapter by chapter, and daily I observed both in the comments and in private email exchanges (and telephone interviews) that some thought everything Bell said was wrong while others wouldn’t admit he had said one thing worth worrying over. Call it groupthink or call it tribalism, but such divisions will emerge especially over controversial ideas said by well-known leaders. Tribalism produces imbalanced and fuzzy thinking. I was (probably not) surprised by how few noticed it was an eternity of further chances that really separated Bell from the thinking of others in the history of the Church, and I was also surprised by how few really know what universalism means or what Rob Bell’s commitment to “libertarian free will” means for universalism. If humans can both choose God and not choose God, and if universalism ultimately says God will win over everyone, then it makes little sense to call Bell a universalist—since he’s so committed to that sense of libertarian free will.

Fourth, hell remains a central Christian conviction and concern. There are some topics that are either taboo or almost taboo, and hell is one of those. Defending traditional views that are almost taboo is a game few want to play because the defender senses he or she is about to be called a bigot. Which illustrates why hell is one of those taboo topics that lurks behind many corners and simmers just below the surface of major theological topics. If Bell’s book does anything, it drives the issue of hell to the front of some serious theological topics. Teaching college students for 15 years has shown me time and time again they care about this topic and want to talk about it, but they want some clear-headed thinking and not fuzzy hopes.

Fifth, Christian views of hell are both incomplete and in need of serious examination. The problem for many today can be seen in what Mike Huckabee said about the world’s leading terrorist: “Welcome to hell, bin Laden.” Fair enough, I can’t think of many traditional Christians who think eternity will be paradisal for bin Laden. But then just saying that can both make many feel uncomfortable and ask the question, “Who do you think you are to judge someone?” or, “We really don’t know what he thought in the moments he was dying.” But all of this drives us back to what we think about hell, and what we think about it—and many suppress the thoughts—deserves careful exploration of what the Bible says and what the Church has taught, and we need to do both very carefully and patiently, and we need to present our conclusions both sensitively and faithfully.

Sixth, pressing questions require serious thinking. I said above that Bell’s not a universalist, but I want to nuance this by saying Bell’s prose is not always clear. He thinks he can get off the hook of precise thinking by saying he’s not a theologian but a pastor, and I’ll come right back and say: “You may be, but you wrote about the topic and this topic has generated fierce discussion and fine distinctions for more than 1,700 years. Anyone who enters this discussion needs to know the lay of the land before uttering a published word.” I want to cut to the chase here: universalism and hell are extraordinarily important issues for the Church today, but to write about these topics requires years of Bible study, theological reading and public discussion. Rob Bell’s book left too many questions unanswered about too many topics to carry the discussion forward.

Seventh, missiology remains the center of gospeling in our world. You can talk all you want about eschatology and about atonement theory and about evangelism and about worship, but the moment you cross a line others perceive to be too far in the wrong directions, you will be called out on it. The essential line in Christianity is the Gospel, and all theology is measured by its fidelity to the Gospel or its denial of the Gospel. Why? Because the Church’s message is one about salvation and how we get saved and who gets saved and what one has to do to get saved. The Gospel is more than salvation, but anything that softens salvation or hardens salvation is in for immediate debate. Frankly, Rob Bell’s book called into question the Gospel essence evangelicalism has defended since the Reformation. That is the fundamental reason why this book caused such a storm.

Eighth, low church, non-denominational evangelicalism, of which Rob Bell is an exceptional representative, carries its own dangers. As I was reading Love Wins the first time, one thought kept coming back to me: This book could not have been written by a traditional Presbyterian or Methodist or Lutheran or Southern Baptist … or by anyone who is accountable to a stable and long-standing theological tradition. Rob Bell is a stand-alone pastor, and Mars Hill is a stand-alone church. While it may have some responsibility to its mother church, it is more or less on its own. When pastors are celebrity and charismatic and competent communicators, as Rob Bell clearly is, they can take risks (and I applaud that at times) and they can also easily wander from the great tradition of the Church. This book makes me rethink what mechanisms need to be put in place to manage the potential zaniness that stand-alone pastors in stand-alone churches can produce. Some publishers will put the stop to some ideas, but others won’t. We need to think about this.

Ninth, we are still asking a big question: What is the Gospel? Time and time again Bell mentions the Gospel, and it appears to me that Bell defines the Gospel as God’s utter love for us. How odd, I muse at times, that so many claim “gospel” for what they think but at the same time don’t recognize that the word “gospel” seems to be a contested term and category that demands careful words and definitions. I believe reducing Gospel to God’s utter love for us is inadequate, however true. One group wants to define Gospel through the lens of a kind of Reformed theology, another group wants to define it through the lens of the term "kingdom," while yet another—Rob Bell included—through the gracious, unstoppable love of God for us. Well, which is it?

Tenth, what is evangelicalism and what is orthodoxy? I heard Rob Bell say in an interview that he is evangelical and orthodox to the bone. What do these terms mean? I have a stake in both terms because I’m a professor and I’ve studied these terms, and think the former [term] refers to a group that emerges from the Reformation through the American revivals and is now connected to the historic reshaping of American religious life in the career of Billy Graham. Essentially, evangelicalism is a movement that believes in the necessity of personal salvation and personal conversion now in order to inherit eternal life after death. Rob Bell, to put it mildly, shows little tolerance for that way of framing salvation and one has to ask what he means by the term “evangelical” and whether he fits the term as defined by the best thinking on this term in our world. And what does “orthodoxy” mean? Ask the best church historians and theologians and they will point you to the classic creeds, from Nicea on, and that means orthodoxy defines and articulates the Trinity. An orthodox person is someone who believes those creedal formulations. But I’m encountering a generation of young thinkers who really don’t care what these terms mean.

What we have learned from the heated debates and conversation about Love Wins should not be ignored. The vitality of our movement and the need for goodwill are at stake in these sorts of debates. When the next controversial book comes out, I hope we pause long enough to read the book, ask the author for clarifications and only then go public with our concerns and criticisms. What we can learn to do is model how to listen, how to disagree and how to express dismay with one another—before the watching world. If we choose to repeat what happened with Love Wins, we will [continue to] damage the Body of Christ.

Scot McKnight is the Karl A. Olsson Professor in Religious Studies at North Park University and author of One.Life: Jesus Calls, We Follow.