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

Thursday, May 26, 2011

The Presence of the Kingdom of God Now

A Teachable Moment: The Perils of Rapture Theology

Christians should certainly question those who "prophesy" a specific date. Yet they should also question the underlying assumptions of rapture theology.

By Kyle Roberts
May 23, 2011

Editorial Note: This piece was co-authored by Patheos columnist Kyle Roberts and Adam Rao, who is Pastor of Teaching and Strategic Leadership at SafeHouse Church in Minneapolis, MN.

In the weeks leading up to May 21, Christians everywhere denounced Harold Camping's prediction that the world was coming to an imminent end. Many did so on the basis of Jesus' words in Mark 13, that "no one knows about that day or hour" except the Father. What remains troubling, however, is that many of those denouncements suggested that Camping was wrong about the date, but not necessarily wrong about the event itself. Maybe it's high time to reconsider the theology behind the very idea of the rapture. For some time, theologians (such as N.T. Wright and Jürgen Moltmann) have been pressing for a de-raptured eschatology to permeate the general Christian consciousness.

Rapture theology has captivated the contemporary public imagination. The most recent iteration was the popular Left Behind material. Prior to that, in 1970, Hal Lindsey's The Late, Great Planet Earth fascinated countless Christians. In contrast, contemporary evangelical theological scholarship found its voice, to some extent, as a counter to the sensationalist eschatologies of dispensational fundamentalism. George Eldon Ladd's influential work on New Testament eschatology moved evangelical theology away from a focus on literal fulfillment of end-times scenarios, especially literalistic readings of Revelation and "rapture" theologies connected to tribulation schemes. Yet within popular evangelicalism, fascination with the rapture continues to pervade preaching and teaching about the "end of the world." This is a problem.

Biblically, rapture theology finds its roots in 1 Thessalonians 4:15-17, with its language of being "caught up . . . in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air." N.T. Wright suggests, however, in Surprised by Hope,

When Paul speaks of "meeting" the Lord "in the air," the point is precisely not—as in the popular rapture theology—that the saved believers would then stay up in the air somewhere, away from earth. The point is that, having gone out to meet their returning Lord, they will escort him royally into his domain, that is, back to the place they have come from. (p. 133)

Moreover, while rapture theology retains the apocalyptic vision of the New Testament, it does so in precisely the opposite direction of the biblical authors (see Moltmann's The Coming of God, p. 159). Rather than seeing the apocalyptic as a reason to resist evil, rapture theology suggests that Christians are meant to escape this world and that the destiny of this world is destruction. In such a view, Christians will be swept off the face of the planet, leaving it to the devices of evil and the horrors of tribulation.

The biblical witness suggests exactly the opposite, that Jesus is already king and that his kingdom has already made inroads into this world, which will one day be ratified and confirmed (at his Second Coming). Tribulation is a past and present reality, and the church is called to endure it on behalf of the world and to stand up against it through the power of the Spirit. Rapture theology, in which Jesus will take his people away and leave the world to the devices and whims of evil, runs counter to the good news that the kingdom of God has already come in Christ (e.g., Mk. 1:14-15).

In contrast to rapture theology, a biblical eschatology:

1) Affirms the inherent value of the earth and motivates care for creation. Rapture theology suggests that we are "just passing through" this temporary dwelling place. Eventually we will escape this world and find our final home in an ethereal realm, a "heaven" filled with mansions and streets of gold. Again N.T. Wright helps to re-frame our expectations. God's plan is for "a new heaven and a new earth" (Rev. 21:1), what Wright calls "life after life after death" (pp. 148ff). Since the goal is the re-creation and redemption of this world, we have motivation to care for and cultivate it now.

2) Offers a compelling vision for resistance against evil, injustice, and all forms of oppression in the present world order. Rapture theology generates an "escapist" mentality whereby our best hope for dealing with injustice, wickedness, and hopelessness is to simply fly off to a perfect spiritual world unhampered by sin and finitude. Most harmfully, rapture theology sees injustice, oppression, and even natural disasters as predictive signs of the end of this life for Christians, rather than as the evil and discord they really are.

3) Redefines Christian mission as anticipation of and participation in the kingdom of God. Salvation, as Wright suggests, enables us to be witnesses to and signs of the ultimate salvation of the cosmos, as well as participants in that salvation (p. 200). That's why the biblical witness says that Christians are to be agents of reconciliation with those who do not yet know God and are to participate in the restoration of the cosmos (2 Cor. 5:20). In contrast, rapture theology suggests a sudden, disruptive end to that project, cutting off hope for reconciliation and renewal.

A de-raptured theology reorients evangelism and the meaning of salvation around the centrality of the kingdom of God. Rapture theology tends to use scare tactics—"Don't get left behind!"—that market individual salvation as an economic transaction rather than a new way of living justice, righteousness, and peace. A de-raptured evangelism is an invitation to embrace the reality of the Kingdom inaugurated by Christ.

Unfortunately, out of distaste for rapture theology, some Christians have swung the pendulum too far in the other direction. They focus everything on the present, believing that our world is what we make of it and that it is not only futile but even counter-productive to look to an apocalyptic Eschaton. Perhaps biblical eschatology resides not at either end of the spectrum, but somewhere in the middle. Only God can bring about the Kingdom, and Christians rightly await the second, and final, return of Christ (Col. 3:4). We look for his coming and long for the justice it will bring. In this sense, Christian theology should retain the apocalyptic (the hope that God is coming to make things right) without falling prey to fanciful notions of apocalypticism.

America is a nation imbued with eschatological consciousness. It's often how we talk about hope, change, and how we motivate action in the present toward a better future. As such, American Christianity will always be infatuated by and prone to predictions about the coming end. The recent media preoccupation with the doomsday, rapture theology of a well-meaning but deeply mistaken radio broadcaster is just the latest example. Christian leaders have a responsibility to remind people that we cannot know the "day or hour" and that it is counter-productive to speculate about it. They should also emphasize, however, that Christians should not seek to escape the world, but to embrace and engage it instead.

Kyle Roberts is Assistant Professor of Systematic Theology and Lead Faculty of Christian Thought, Bethel Seminary (St. Paul, MN). He researches and writes on issues related to the intersection of theology, philosophy, and culture. Follow Kyle Roberts' reflections on faith and culture at his blog or via Twitter.

Roberts' column, "Theological Provocations," is published every second Tuesday on the Evangelical portal. Subscribe via email or RSS.

Context, Context, Context

I continue to enjoy Roger's sense of humor (yes, theologians can be humorous!) as illustrated in these next couple of articles and thought the latter article would help to clarify the relative term of "evangelical" from Roger's earlier blog of a couple days ago (in this same blog section below).

- skinhead

(A brief total explanation of American Christianity)

by Roger Olson
May 16, 2011

Totally tongue-in-cheek! Blame it on the mountain air. But I think there’s some truth in it, especially when referring to upwardly mobile religious people:

Pentecostals want to be Baptists,
Baptists want to be Methodists or Presbyterians,
Methodists and Presbyterians want to be Episcopalians,
Episcopalians want to be Roman Catholics,
Roman Catholics want to be Pentecostals.

by Roger Olson
May 25, 2011

A few comments responding to my post about the label “evangelical” and why I can’t give it up have stimulated me to think about and attempt to explain the importance of understanding people’s contexts.

I’ve often wondered why some people I admire and consider fellow postconservative evangelicals eschew that label and even sometimes criticize me and other postconservatives or progressives among evangelicals. I’m thinking of one person in particular. I won’t name him here. But he is a very well known progressive evangelical president of an evangelical seminary.

I’ve read him and heard him speak and I know his career well. The seminary he heads is noted as a progressive evangelical institution and his writings have demonstrated that he is open to new ways of thinking and often defends progressive evangelical thinkers like Rob Bell.

But he was adamantly opposed to our Word Made Fresh manifesto (about which I blogged recently and posted at my old blog). He wrote a column for Books & Culture saying we should drop the “post-” and just be conservative evangelicals. When we invited him to our first annual meeeting of the Word Made Fresh Forum he refused to sign the statement and criticized Stan Grenz and others of us who were trying to carve out some space for fresh and faithful evangelical theological reflection.

I had a hard time with that. And he’s not the only one. But when I sat back and tried very hard to understand I realized something. He’s a member of a mainline Protestant denomination that is drifting far to the left politically and theologically. As I thought about others who I consider progressive evangelicals who seem ambivalent and ambigous about their commitments I realized every one of them–people I think of as open and progessive among evangelicals but at the same time take very conservative positions publicly–I realized they ALL belong to mainline denominations that are dying out because of their liberalism (read “nominal Christianity”).

On the other hand, I have worked my entire career in contexts where fundamentalism is the main threat–not mainline wishy-washy-ness. I and some of my friends have to look over our shoulders for the heresy hunters who would love nothing better than to ruin our reputations as evangelicals–sometimes by lying about us. (Yes, as I’ve explained before, that has happened to me many times.)

Those other folks, who I think are, for the most part, right where I am theologically but refuse to join any movement to promote openness among evangelicals, are all looking over their shoulders at the ruins of their mainline denominations being destroyed by liberal theology. (By “liberal” here I mean like the mainline Protestant seminary president who I heard give a paper title “God and her survival in a nuclear age” at the end of which she said she didn’t really know anything about God. She was clearly using “God” as a cipher for nature to give a religious sound to her politically-driven agenda.)

I will name one person as an example of what I’m talking about. One of my theological heroes, someone who died recently and to whom I am dedicating a book, was Donald Bloesch. He was my mentor “from afar.” That is, when I was wavering theologically, reading him rescued me. He showed me how to be both evangelical and progressive. However, late in his life and career Bloesch took a turn–not away from his progressive evangelical project but toward outspokenness against radical religious feminism (including inclusive language about God) and panentheism, process theology, etc.

Why? I think because he saw his own denomination, the United Church of Christ, going down the tubes, so to speak, into vapid liberal mushyness. At least that’s how I think he saw it. He wasn’t very concerned about fundamentalism as it was no threat to him. He taught his entire career at a mainline Protestant seminary. Without giving up any of his progressive evangelical openness (e.g., authority of Scripture without inerrancy and a “big tent” view of evangelicalism), his main concern became the danger of liberal theology in mainline denominations. That was his context.

Others of us have found ourselves in total agreement with Bloesch and other progressive evangelical theologians and leaders but having different concerns because of different contexts. I got to know Don Bloesch toward the end of his career and we thought very much alike. But I didn’t share his passion to fight radical feminism because it didn’t exist in my context. And he didn’t share my passion to promote biblical egalitarianism, although he embraced it, because his context was way, way beyond that.

My thesis is that there are very many progressive, even postconservative evangelicals who won’t jump on that bandwagon or get with our program because they are mainly concerned with fighting extreme liberalism and radical theology in their mainline denominations. In other words, THEIR “conservative evangelicalism” is virtually synonymous with my “postconservative evangelicalism” but we are facing opposite directions in terms of the dangers we face.

In the overall scheme of things, meaning in the wider world of so-called “mainline Protestantism” (which should probably really be called “old line Protestantism” as Martin Marty says), I AM VERY CONSERVATIVE! Yes, you heard that right. I’m conservative. But context determines what those labels mean. I’M NOT CONSERVATIVE compared to the neo-fundamentalists in my religious social context. I AM CONSERVATIVE compared to the liberals and radicals so populous in the so-called mainline academy and denominational hierarchies. For God’s sake (I mean that literally)–I believe in the supernatural. I believe in the Trinity. I believe in the deity of Jesus Christ. I believe in the resurrection. I believe in hell! All that makes me a dinosaur among mainline Protestants. But just because I don’t wave the inerrancy banner high and believe in women in ministry I’m a “liberal” or “post-evangelical” among neo-fundamentalists in the Southern Baptist Convention and other conservative evangelical contexts.

So when I say I’m “postconservative” I MEAN among evangelicals who I see as having swung dramatically to the right in recent decades. I DON’T MEAN I’m not conservative at all. In certain professional societies, for example, I stick out like a sore thumb as what many of them would consider a fundamentalist! I mean I can no longer consider myself a conservative within my own religious milieu which is evangelicalism because the center has shifted so dramatically to the right since I was in a centrist evangelical seminary.

For goodness sakes, people! I’m a premillennialist!   :)

Debating Hell in Evangelic Circles

I may temporarily follow this conversation to see where it goes but I would much rather post a couple good articles about biblical theology pertaining to Hell, Sheol, Hades, etc, than follow two evangelicals debating their positions. That said, forgive me for my curiosity. In the end I may simply delete these pertinent blog articles in favor of the aforementioned. Till then let's follow for awhile and see what comes....

(ps. Mark Galli's CT article says nothing new and rings with the ever true statements that when God speaks to us it seems always "surprising" to our minds and hearts even though tried-and-true doctrines have been known and critiqued. Still, its nice to hear fellow believers lead off with the acknowledgement to "Spirit illumination," for that appeals to my understanding of man's humility to all things "God.")


Mark Galli to Jeff Cook to Francis Chan
Scot McKnight
May 26, 2011
Mark Galli, senior managing editor at Christianity Today, responds today to Jeff Cook’s post yesterday. Mark has written a book that will be out shortly that responds to Rob Bell with the title God Wins: Heaven, Hell, and Why the Good News Is Better than Love Wins.

"In the End, We Can Trust"

by Mark Galli, senior managing editor, Christianity Today

In a recent blog post here, Jeff Cook took aim at a video by Francis Chan, the author of a forthcoming response book to Rob Bell’s Love Wins. I took note, naturally, since my response book, God Wins, is coming out in the next month as well. I’ll admit I was self-centeredly looking for “ammunition” that would set my book apart.

But after reading Cook’s critique, I found myself in the awkward position of feeling compelled to defend an author whose book will be in “competition” with mine! But it appears the Chan and I are both partial to one biblical argument.

Let’s begin with the critique.

… it seems to me that those who affirm the traditional view of hell need to do more than say “this is what the Bible says and we’re just repeating it.” Everyone involved in the debate about hell right now is saying “the Bible says”. What those who affirm the traditional view must show is why that view is worthy of devotion.

There is a way of saying, “The Bible says…” to shut off all conversation. I doubt if Chan is saying this, and I certainly don’t say this. Cook is right to critique a Biblicism that would do this sort of thing.
In addition, Cook is on to something when he implies that we need to do more that merely repeat the Bible. We are called by Jesus to preach the Word, not merely read the Word. So that requires explanation of some sort. Some of those explanations will help us understand more deeply biblical teachings that are unpalable in our age. But sometimes we won’t be able to do that because the mystery is so deep.

The problem with the wording of Cook’s conclusion is this: It suggests that our job is to try to justify the ways of God. But of course, it is not our job to show people why God or his truth is “worthy of devotion”–as if there were a reason above and apart from God that would justify his truth to us. Instead, his truth comes to us unbidden, sometimes in the starkest of terms—“and the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth.” Who can possibly unravel the mystery, and yes, offense, of this “simple” biblical truth? So the truth often comes to us in terms that defy our ability to grasp it or explain it in ways that shows it worthy of belief, let alone devotion.

While the paradoxes of divine justice make us balk in our age, it has been the paradoxes of the Trinity or the Incarnation or grace that have caused other eras to demand that these shown to be worthy of devotion. But to succumb to this demand is to let our presuppositions run the show, when it is biblical revelation that is in charge of the business of theology. When we succumb to this demand, we invariably end up with an extra-biblical explanation that undermines the faith (tri-theism or modalism, Arianism, etc.)

The truth of the matter is that the faith will always be a stumbling block, for different reasons in different eras. In many instances, all we can say is “The Bible says…” as long as we do not mean the Bible as a magic book but the Bible as the revealed Word of God.

This does not mean we should not ask the toughest of questions. We have that freedom in the grace of God to do so. Many biblical characters are shown doing just this, to the point of insolence sometimes! But note how, in the end, even the Academy award-winning questioner of God, Job, concludes the matter:
“I know that you can do all things; no plan of yours can be thwarted. You asked, ‘Who is this that obscures my counsel without knowledge?’ Surely I spoke of things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know. (Job 42:2-3)
At the end of the day, the Christian is not called to have answers to the deepest theological perplexities, nor to justify the ways of God to man, but to point to Jesus Christ on the Cross. There we see God as both perfectly just and perfectly merciful. How he solves that which we only see as impossible dilemmas, I do not know, but with a God of pure justice and pure mercy, all things are possible. And after we’ve asked our questions and mightily wrestled with them, we can feel free to leave things we do not understand, things too wonderful for us, in the hands of a good God.

Rob Bell Is Not a Litmus Test


What one thinks about 'Love Wins' is no test of faith.

Mark Galli
posted 5/05/2011

I've had a number of conversations lately where, not surprisingly, the topic shifts to Rob Bell's Love Wins. That's when a strange dynamic creeps into some conversations. If the person with whom I'm talking has read my review of the book, or knows I had some critical things to say, he's naturally hesitant to openly praise the book. The usual first move at that point is to say, "I don't agree with everything in the book, but …" And what follows is hardly unalloyed enthusiasm. It's usually a qualified, almost worried appreciation for this part or that. It's as if some people feel guilty for liking the book. Perhaps people who really like the book don't even bother to talk to me, but I suspect something else is going on.

That something else is related to what a Christian journalist friend told me: She feels she has to carefully craft anything she writes about Bell, lest she be suspected of really liking him—or disliking him. The atmosphere in some meetings where people are talking about Bell's book, well, it feels like some people have to apologize for reading the book. Or they seem concerned that if they like it, their theology will be questioned.

In short, it's starting to feel like Rob Bell is becoming a litmus test. If you like Bell, your orthodoxy may be suspect. And if you want to proclaim your orthodox [(evangelic)] credentials, you simply have to condemn Love Wins.

As far as this phenomenon is true, it is silly. That it is silly doesn't mean it is not a powerful current. But as far as it is true, it is a current we evangelicals must swim against.

First, Rob Bell loves Jesus. He wants to see lots of people come to believe in Jesus. He wants to see the world transformed in Jesus' name. He really thinks the Bible is a book through which Jesus speaks authoritatively. He believes in miracles. He believes Jesus is coming again. I could go on. The point is that Bell shares a number of values that are dear to evangelicals. He is, in short, a brother in Christ.

Naturally, because he's a brother doesn't mean one has to agree with everything he says. Brothers disagree, sometimes over important things. And sometimes the biggest blowups happen inside families! But they remain family—unless one party says he disowns the rest of the family.

Second, to make Bell's Love Wins a litmus test is a touch hypocritical. At any given time, there are always a few books on Christian bestseller lists that teach something odd, and we don't shriek in panic in the way many have over Love Wins. Probably the most controversial of late has been The Shack. There are a few theologically troubling ideas in that book, no doubt, but for the most part, evangelicals have "forgiven" Paul Young his theology at those points in favor of the book's larger theme of redemption in Christ. We recognize that an author trying to repeat the old, old story in fresh ways will sometimes overstep the bounds of traditional theology. But most of us do not judge another's orthodoxy based on their reaction to The Shack. We recognize that people read and react to The Shack for all types of reasons, and we are charitable about that.

Third, I believe we have no choice in this day but to listen to and respond charitably to ideas we had thought were settled long ago, ideas that make us feel uncomfortable, ideas that seem to threaten our faith. We've entered a new stage in church history, the Internet Age, in which all manner of beliefs are but a mouse click away. We are virtual neighbors to Catholics, Hindus, Muslims, atheists, Arians, Pelagians, Universalists, and so on and so forth. And their websites often present views that in small and large degrees differ from mainstream evangelicalism—and they express those views reasonably and compellingly. We can no longer get away with name calling—"Universalist!" "Arian!"—and think that is enough.

No, we live in a time when we must engage afresh all these permutations of orthodoxy, heterodoxy, heresy, paganism, and apostasy. I for one welcome the opportunity, and want to hear the best cases that can be made against historic Christian faith, and the best cases for alternate views. If the historic Christian faith cannot stand up to such arguments, we should abandon it as soon as we can. But this is hardly likely, because when it comes to doubts about this historic faith and alternatives to it, well, there is really nothing new under the sun. What we have now is a divinely ordained opportunity to clarify again what we believe in the midst of a highly pluralistic world. It isn't as if the church has never been here before: the world of the earliest church was the just as pluralistic as ours, and the church managed very well, thank you.

That means we're going to have to get used to some card carrying evangelicals experimenting with ideas that centrists, like me anyway, consider less than helpful. But if a writer tries to ground his argument in Scripture, and identifies himself as a member of the body of Christ, charity requires me first to humbly listen. Who knows what God might want to say to us in this moment? It also means I should listen not just to the argument, but also to the problem he is trying to solve. Very few people present a new way of conceiving a doctrine unless they are trying to solve a genuine problem in the church.

In Love Wins, Bell reinterprets some biblical themes (e.g., last judgment, atonement) because he believes the way we've traditionally talked about these themes is not faithful to the Bible and pushes people away from Jesus. I think he's right that the way we've talked about substitutionary atonement and hell have hardly been biblical much of the time, and thus these doctrines have caused more problems than they have solved. But as I said in my review, I believe his solution will actually undermine his desire to win people to Jesus. Furthermore, as I will argue in a forthcoming book, the main problem with Love Wins is that the Good News is even better—deeper, richer, more complex—than it lets on. That I champion the historic Christian view on these matters, and that Bell offers a decidedly minority view, doesn't make Bell a heretic, though he may be unbiblical at points. It does mean that the burden of proof rests on his shoulders. And more to the point here, the fact that so many resonate with Bell's concerns about these themes means we need to wrestle with them afresh.

And not because it's a good idea to dialogue ad infinitum. God forbid! I've been a part of two mainline Protestant denominations much of my life, both of which seem to think that dialogue is an end in itself. On many crucial issues, even after thirty years of dialogue, they are reluctant to let their yes be yes and their no be no. Certainly for individuals, and more so for churches and denominations, there comes a time to clarify and confirm exactly what they believe, for example, about the atonement and hell. But if a book comes out that demonstrates from the reaction to it that tens of thousands of believers are wrestling with these issues, we best first step back, listen hard to the doubts and concerns, and re-engage charitably.

We are wise to nurture an atmosphere in churches, and families, and websites where any question can be asked without fear of judgment, where theological ideas are addressed and not merely dismissed. We sometimes act as if Jesus said, "I might be the way and the truth and the life—unless a better idea comes along." No, we can have complete confidence in the face of any question because we know that whatever is true has its origins in God's truth in Jesus Christ, and that Jesus Christ really is the Truth that sets us free. This will require in many instances some sensitive listening and hard intellectual work. But who said love, even loving God with the mind, would not entail suffering?

We have to become radically Protestant again. At times like these, there arises a longing in Protestant breasts for the magisterium, for an authoritative body to pronounce a final verdict to deal with the troublemakers by edict. But that is not a Protestant theology of the church and the Holy Spirit. We believe that God is sovereign in his church, that the Holy Spirit will guide us into all truth, that through discussion and debate, a sifting process allows the truth of God in Christ to deepen and broaden. If Jesus is truly Lord of his church, his truth will make its way into the church's life, one way or another. Our job is to prayerfully read Scripture, talk with one another in the bonds of love, and, yes, when the time comes, make the tough calls. Again, a congregation or a denomination has the perfect right and responsibility to say, "This conversation is over for now. This is what we believe. Let us move forward in mission grounded in this article of faith." There are times to call a spade a spade, and to say clearly that someone is engaging in false teaching and it's damaging the health of the church. All this is part of the sifting process of the Holy Spirit in history. But we are wise not to end some conversations before they've even started, especially when it often seems that the Spirit may be starting the troubling conversation afresh in the first place.
I have enjoyed many conversations with people who have read Love Wins and my review of the book. I look forward to more such conversations. They have reinforced some of my prejudices and forced me to rethink others—there's that sifting process. When entered into freely and without fear, in love and not in judgment, they have been occasions to love God more deeply in the company of brothers and sisters in Christ. There are perhaps more urgent ways to love God and neighbor in a desperately hurting world, but this is certainly not an unimportant one.
Mark Galli is senior managing editor of Christianity Today, and author of the forthcoming Chaos and Grace: Discovering the Liberating Work of the Holy Spirit (Baker).