I should state from the outset that Rob Bell was my pastor for all the years that he was at Mars Hill Church. And that I, amongst others, witnessed week-by-week, the growth of his message and honest turmoil of his heart, as it yo-yo'd between the goalposts of doubt and faith. To this came an Emergent Christian message imperfectly formed because of its newness as both a movement and as a contemporary re-expression of Christianity's more ancient, orthodox message. And as everyone knows, in the heat of creation, percolating actions and words are but synthesizing barometers for a more complete statement of faith decades latter when many other voices have helped lend definition and thematic development - even as it is occurring today 15 years later (if we use 1998 as Emergent Christianity's starting point).
One of those troubling themes was the myth of biblical inerrancy, a late-1980s addition to the banners of Evangelicalism wishing to maintain its own forums of evangelical statement and beliefs primarily led at the forefront by Calvinism and Reformed Theology (each reticent since the time of the Reformation 500 years earlier when they were developed under Luther and Calvin). However, this type of systematic statement was never resident in the older forms of Christian orthodoxy under first Century Christianity. Nor to the early church under the patriarchal fathers as they recognized the newer canon of the New Testament alongside the older canon of the Jewish Scriptures, ascribing to each the divine revelation of God that was infallible and authoritative where it concerned God's message of salvation and redemption.
Ironically, this type of theology is only deemed liberal to an inerrantist believing his own misstatements and artificial boundaries while decrying all others as libelous. But to the orthodox Christian, a non-inerrant theology is not a liberal theology, but an orthodox theology. It still maintains very strong ties to historical orthodoxy and still remains centered around Jesus, His person, message and mission. Hence, The New Yorker's use of liberal is an inadvertent judgment placed upon the larger world of Christianity. Perhaps the better term is the one we just used, that of historic orthodoxy, where the newer concept of inerrancy actually is the lone trespasser here. For many Christians, the actual usage of the term liberal refers to a theology which reads the bible as just another human document culled from many years of ancient origins and manuscripts; and when reading it, disbelieving its revealed theology of God, of God's message of love and redemption, of Jesus as God Incarnate come to atone for sin and enact new life.
And yes - to a conservative Evangelic these would be liberal endeavors. But to those leaving the Evangelical church for a more progressive, if not more postmodern, Christian faith, it is a return to historical Christian orthodoxy that is in looong need of being updated, and redefined in light of contemporary movement and human history. Not by the older definitions of past humans eras found under the Age of the Reformation, the Enlightenment, nor Secular Modernism. But by today's more relevant standards using all the conceptual tools which we have at our disposal through the evolutionary sciences and human studies. To a re-application of what a postmodern, authentic, participatory faith may look like apart from man's religious decrees, dogmas and rules, surrendered to Jesus fully and completely in obedience to God's will and mission.
This is the promise of Emergent Christianity that Rob Bell found himself struggling to envisage when he discovered all his religious past was being nuked by his disbelieving heart troubled by speaking God's word more truly than he had been speaking it. It led him unto a path of disbelief for awhile that eventually reconstructed itself into something larger, more beautiful than he could believe possible in his many doubts and spiritual depression. And for the truly Emergent Christian, we each have gone through similar periods of doubt and unbelief until the Spirit of God renews our impassioned hearts by God's love and grace. Redemption points of salvation found in the cross and resurrection of Christ Jesus our Lord and Savior. It's relational above anything else that defines faith.
Thus, in the midst of brokenness and destruction new terms and expressions have been sought to re-express an ancient faith foundered upon the jagged rocks of religion. Jesus also spoke of this when confronting Jewish tradition with God's life-giving words. Providing long drinks of divine, life-giving, well-water to the parched hearts and minds seeking divine assurance of peace and hope. And like Jesus, Rob, as well as other emerging Christians, have been rejected for teaching against the foundations of religious customs become lost within their own boundary sets of reimaged words and conscripted speech. But true emerging orthodoxy holds on to Jesus - and to God's Word - no matter the accusations from its more conservative establishment of traditionalists and self-imposed reformists. Refusing that God's divine revelation be altered, or impregnated, with the moiling words of man too short on faith and insight, and too zealous in defense of religious beliefs and its own traditionalist mindset.
At the last, love can be the only denominator to healing the wounds of man - not only in society but in the world of the church as well. Irenic debate will occur, and well it should, because the Christian faith is a precious commodity that should ever be mined, and never lost within the dark confines of time and ecclesiastical distance. So, whether Rob speaks perfectly, or imperfectly of theology, is not the message here. The message is his journey of belief fractured by his former faith in man's religion until it was rebirthed in Jesus - birthing within him a renewed message filled with mission and wonder. Giving to him the Spirit's words of God's love lost in a wilderness of our own making until redeemed by the hand of God.
To Rob's vision will come additional theologians alongside Rob, who also will speak to the biblical themes of divine love and rescue, filled with godly exposition and spiritually-bourne labour. Of which Relevancy22 is but one small example of many to come in a worldwide explosion of divine grace in its global message of hope to doubters, disbelievers, cynics, and the broken. For without our doubts and brokenness can never come God's power of salvation, without first losing ourselves within the abilities of our strength and will. The church is no less different. Until it breaks and finds its faith by losing its faith, it cannot go forward. Humility must lead all. Especially epistemological humility. Then will faith come, because it is within the breast of every man that God's image is birthed.
February 14, 2013
*ps - occasionally I will add emendations to the column below (highlighted in orange) pointing to past articles we had at one time reviewed under various topics and issues. Overall, I am a supporter of Rob Bell, but not necessarily his theology at all times. Nor has this website tolerated false comments about his beliefs or faith.
Gandhi’s in hell?
We have confirmation of this?
[(unfortunately this is an urban myth - there never was a dump outside of Jerusalem in the first century, only later after Jesus' time. Historically, it was an idolatrous high place called Topheth, a notorious place of death and idolatry, fire and judgment, and a place of child sacrifice in its earlier Canaanite days. Thus it is a divine metaphor for divine judgment. For further discussions on Hell please refer to the sidebar under the same name, as well as other topics such as that of Universalism. - res)].)
... But few of these Bible verses, read closely, seem definitive; visions and allegories outnumber rules and regulations. And, in the early years of Christianity, some scholars suggested other interpretations. Clement of Alexandria, a second-century theologian, regarded posthumous salvation as a logical possibility: “God being good, and the Lord powerful, they save with a righteousness and equality which extend to all that turn to Him, whether here or elsewhere.” This is a solid verdict, except for its ethereal final word, “elsewhere,” which suggests more possibilities for salvation, in the afterlife. Clement’s most famous student, Origen, imagined life and the afterlife as a divine refinery, in which souls undergo progressive purification until they are fit for reconciliation with God.