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

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Rob & Kristen Bell - The Zimzum of Love: A New Way of Understanding Marriage

Lord of the Harvest

Chasing Cars : Snow Patrol - Movie Montage

In "making room for the other" we remove ourselves
from "the other's room" until it may more gently be
filled with the other's space that we had once occupied.
And then, by mutal admission, are allowed back into
the rooms of our loved one in mutual occupation of
love and respect. This is the tzim-tzum of divine love.

                                               - r.e. slater

It is with admission that the postmodern church of the 21st century has entered into the era of post-Christianity and by this admission Relevancy22 was birthed to serve as a reference site for post-modern, post-Christian, theological spaces. As such, this site will look at contemporary issues and doctrinal topics from this perspective rather than the older, more traditional perspective that this author and others have been stamped heart-and-soul with over the many long years of faithfulness and service to Fundamental and conservative Evangelical churches. As such, we speak sympathetically but knowingly and strongly.

The growing chasm between the church then and now is as wide-and-deep as the novice reader would suppose. Nor was it with any degree of speed - or without deep anguish of heart and soul - that its gaping maw was crossed over in an attempt to update, upgrade, and essentially reboot, an old-timey Christianity whose 500 year-old bones must be reverently, but finally, laid to rest. RIP, old friend. Be at peace.

And with this assessment, along with the strong, supernatural sense of the burden of the Holy Spirit, Relevancy22 was born to speak to this new era of post-modern, post-Christianity. Not by "throwing out the baby with the bath water," as the saying goes, but by dissecting it piece-by-piece in a more contemporary doctrinal arrangement that would allow life-and-breath back into the dying corpse of Christianity that has been rotting away for too long under dogmas of judgment, exclusion, isolation, discrimination, a general malaise of dithering, self-righteousness, and the fiction of a powerful religious folklore long since determinative of its own future than of any act of the Holy Spirit excluded by its bona fide resources of sanctity and sanctimoniousness.

Harsh words? Yes. But spoken with a deep care and love for God's church and its many good people needing truer, more literate shepherds in the pulpits of the Lord. Asked a different way, "How would the prophets of yore have come to the people of God do you suppose?" With a meek word and groveling posture? By weakly speaking "By your leave" and "Might I say?" to the congregants within the Lord's temple? No, I think not.

The prophets of old, like the Jesus of the Gospels, came with a mighty voice, a strong spirit, and a "Thus saith the Word of the Lord" against all obstacles, naysayers, enemies, and determined foes. They did not back down when speaking judgment measured from an all-gracious God whose heart was broken before a hard-headed, hard-hearted people wishing only to grasp their idols, listen to their false prophets, and pretend that everything is the same as it ever was. Would we expect anything less today of God who is alive and well and inhabiting planet Earth? No, not really.

Introduction to "Tzimtum"

And so, to my voice and the voices of those who are quoted in the length and breadth of this website comes another old and familiar voice. That of Rob Bell and now his wife, Kristen, whom I-and-my-wife know as past friends and servants to the Spirit of the Lord from Mars Hill. In their newest book they speak together as one voice to a non-Christian generation of disspirited, disillusioned, perhaps agnostic or atheistic generations of disbelievers about the Lord to the ready sacrament of marriage without using the long, pontificating words of the church overfilled with dogmatic (as versus good, healthy doctrinal) import that is all too familiar to our dulled ears. (By the way, I said familiar biblical doctrines, but perhaps not understood nor connected in any wholistic way as we commonly think of them within the church. Accordingly, this blogsite has made a feast of such attitudes I'm sorry to say).

It is a good book, a solid book, but quirky and filled with the expected Robbisms of new speech and new ideas that will challenge the more conservative student of Scriptures. For myself, I have learned a long time ago to remember to bear Jesus' cross... not Rob's. That I'm not placed here on this earth to bear Rob's cross except as a brother in the Lord who is being used in other ways than the more typical church models of service and servanthood. Nay, my cross, as should be all of our crosses, is that of the Lord's alone. If we do this than we speak with God's voice and not that of another.

Hence, let us start by saying that the title of the Bell's book is not "zim-zum" but, in the Hebraic language, "SIM-sum". If you check the language dictionary you'll see that the initial "z" of zimzum is a transliteration from the Hebrew into English. But in Hebrew that "z" is actually a "ts" like "sit, zit, zilch, and zumba".

It also consists of two syllables - a "zit" and a "zum" where the first takes on the harder strike of the tongue and the latter a softer pronunciation almost as an afterthought. Thus, we would say "TSIT" really hard and "tsum" really soft as if you are expelling your breath.

Lastly, "zimzum" is spelled in Hebrew as "tzim-tzum". So, put it all together, and it sounds like "TSIM-tsum". Cool, eh?

But what does it mean? It essentially means "creating an empty space for a new thing to form." As held within the ancient sects of Jewish mysticism this took on its own meaning pertinent to that sect or cult's idea of God. And, as you would realize, most cults (and some sects) fixate upon some "new" spiritual meaning that has come to their group to spin it off in a trajectory more towards their own envisioning words and ideologies than perhaps the Lord's. Essentially then, trading one religious dogma for another, more human, dogma. But we do this all the time, which again is why the church has its theologians to question and reflect even as colleges and universities have their own professors doing the same. Each attempting to keep to the foundations of a churchly or scholarly idea without losing sight of the overall import to the societal structure at large.

For instance, in science, a theory is a theory until it becomes qualified as a "natural law". Similarly, a spiritual insight or theological teaching doesn't automatically become part of the church's doctrinal foundation without becoming qualified by the worshipping community as a whole. Basic liturgy within Christianity understands what a denomination is apart from a sect or a cult. Moving left to right a Christian fellowship may slowly, by degrees, part from its origination point until it has become something other than what it once was. Jewish mysticism, like Christian mysticism, is no different.

And so, "TSIM-tsum" became a non-traditional Jewish teaching that led to other things. It dealt with paradoxes and philosophies and religion in a mixed bag of ideas seeking to sort itself out along lines of mystical thought about God, self, and life itself. Where Christian teaching differs from mysticism is that its mystical center is God Himself who is both mystery and revelation to His people. But, it is important, that the God of the Bible has e-x-p-l-a-i-n-e-d Himself through the words of His prophets, the personal stories of His servants and non-servants alike, and even within the events of history itself. God doesn't maintain His silence or remove His words from us but makes every effort that we should know Him as He wishes to be known. He is no mystery! And so, Christianity is not a mystery religion whose center is hidden in secrecy and darkness. No, this God has revealed Himself. And ultimately through Jesus Christ as the second person of the triune Godhead become incarnated as a man to this good earth whacked by sin and ruin.

A New Christmas Message - One of Peace and Solidarity with the World

So then, God does not wish to be a secret even though any Christian man or woman will be the first to tell you that in the knowing of God through His Word He is still beyond our imaginings and is mysterious to us in many ways ontologically and metaphysically. However, that mystery become incarnated flesh in the person-and-work of Jesus who is the very Word of God Himself. Not simply a prophet, a priest, a judge, or a man, but more than these.

Yes, Jesus was the spoken, revealed Word of God. Who became the Offerer as well as the Offering as the Most High Priest/Mediator and Lamb of God. Who became for us the suffering Servant of Isaiah whom we know as Emmanuel, God with us, in the Gospels. And yet, through it all, He became the incarnated God who lived amongst us even as He was the r-e-v-e-l-a-t-i-o-n of God to us through His earthly life, words, and actions so we might better see and understand this God of the bible we would worship and seek to understand.

As such, Christianity is mystical in its essence, but must also be regarded as a revealed religion - which is why Christianity is not simply a mystery religion just as ancient Judaism was not a mystery religion in the Old Testament. And yet, within both eras of the Old and New Testament religious mystical groups would arise to add (or subtract) from biblical doctrine according to their philosophies, preferences, and ideologies. But it is important to know that the God of creation has taken pains (both figuratively and literally) to reveal His heart, mind, plans, and purposes, to us in innumerable ways of examples and ancient stories. And now it behooves us to become better listeners than we thought we were to this very same God of redemption and recreation, renewal and life, in this post-Christian age that we now live.

Thus today's straight-forward, measured words to the traditional church of the 21st century resisting God's newer words which are actually older words neither secret nor mysterious to its life and practice. Words that are being spoken through non-typical orifices of prophets and publicans alike as God's revealed words to a contemporary postmodern, post-Christian generation. A pagan context demanding we think differently - and in newer ways - while remembering that once Christianity's more ancient spiritual center is found so too will be found the lively God of Scripture in a more profound, more passionate, more forceful way, than we thought possible or could believe.

Perhaps what we are living through is the Age of Kingdom as it breaks into man's more parochial churchly structures to experience its tension between the Gospel of Jesus to the words of man. Even so we know this to be true ever since our Lord and Savior came so many years ago. That even as the Church Age replaced Israel's Kingdom Age so now is God's heavenly Kingdom breaking into this very Church Age we live within. Creating with it a reversal of structures, an upside-down character of weak and strong, a salt-and-light yeasty thing, intermixing ancient thoughts with newer thoughts, until the tensors of God's Kingdom at the last replaces the very Church itself before the advent of Christ who has come to disrupt and displace man's kingdoms both lost and found. This is the kind of thing only the God of universe who has come to us can do. Not a thing that is created by us with feeble hands. But by His holy designs of love and peace upon a sin-torn world of injustice, war, greed, and pride. This is the kind of God who has come to disrupt our very lives within its torn fabrics of conscience and misery, hurts and harms, desperate plights and ingracious lives, built upon the sacrileges of self-righteousness, legalism, and prideful living.

And thus and thus the Kingdom of God has become acutely problematic for us, the church of God, as we listen to God's newer, disruptive words to our hearts as we try to comprehend them without killing the messengers of God whom He has sent to speak to us between the tensions of this age and the age to come. In reality, for many of God's prophets it ended badly as God's people slew them and then went about their hard-bitten lives oblivious to God until final judgment came upon them as a thief in the night within the tent folds of their ancient societies. Let us not do the same. But let us be wiser servants of the Lord, united in cause and in spirit, to the glistening Words of the Lord not unlike the 10 virgins of the Lord come to seek Him with lit candle-lamps in the black darks of a benighted , bewildered world. Amen.

R.E. Slater
December 22, 2014
updated December 29, 2014

* * * * * * * * * * *

Amazon Link

Book Contents

As he revolutionized traditional teaching on hell in the phenomenal New York Times bestseller Love Wins, Rob Bell now transforms how we understand and practice marriage in The Zimzum of Love, co-written with his wife, Kristen.

Despite the divorce statistics, people are still committing to each other, instinctively believing and hoping that theirs is a sacred union that will last forever. Yet when these couples encounter problems, they often lack the resources that keep them connected to this greater mystery surrounding marriage.

Rob and Kristen Bell introduce a startling new way of looking at marriage, The Zimzum of Love. Zimzum is a Hebrew term where God, in order to have a relationship with the world, contracts, creating space for the creation to exist. In marriage, zimzum is the dynamic energy field between two partners, in which each person contracts to allow the other to flourish. Mastering this field, this give and take of energy, is the secret to what makes marriage flourish.

Rob and Kristen Bell are brutally honest about their own struggles, their ups and downs, as together they pass along what matters most for couples. In this wise book, they explore the secret of what makes a happy union—probing the mystery at the heart of the extraordinary emotional connection that binds two people. With his down-to-earth charm, a dose of whimsy, and memorable stories, Rob, writing with his wife Kristen, changes how we consider marriage, providing insight that can help all of us create satisfying and sacred unions of our own.

Product Details

Hardcover: 160 pages
Publisher: HarperOne (October 28, 2014)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0062194240
ISBN-13: 978-0062194244

Customer Review

November 1, 2014

You may not have heard, but Rob Bell put out a new book. More specifically, Rob and his wife, Kristen, dropped a book last week called The Zimzum of Love: A New Way of Understanding Marriage. (Now that Rob has published a marriage book and Mark Driscoll has resigned from his Mars Hill Church, the eerily-similar career trajectory of these two guys continues to get creepier).

The Zimzum of Love is a short, quick read. As with most of Rob’s books, it’s light and playful, while not shying away from deeper waters. It’s good. It’s helpful. Did I mention it’s short? Is it worth your time?

The Zimzum of Love claims to be a new way to understand marriage. Is it?

Yes… and no. Depends on who you’re talking to. When Rob left his church in 2012, he made a conscious decision to step out of pastoring in a church to pastoring outside the Church. His last book - What We Talk About When We Talk About God – reflects that trajectory, and The Zimzum of Love. In other words, Christians looking for a deep book on marriage should probably go check out Tim Keller’s The Meaning of Marriage instead.

Rob and Kristen wrote a book on Christian marriage for non-Christian people.

The Zimzum of Love is a celebration of the sacramental nature of marriage, grounded in Trinitarian life and love of God. You won’t find the word “sacrament” anywhere in the book (and Trinity only once or twice), but that’s the point. This picture of marriage is good news to people who don’t know it, but only if they can understand it.

Rob and Kristen use language that sounds much more at home on the O Network [Oprah's OWN] than in a pulpit. This will doubtless make Evangelicals looking for something to complain about happy; they’ll surely find the confirmation they were seeking that Rob has abandoned Orthodox Christianity in favor of the trendy spirituality-lite. That’s an exceptionally uncharitable reading of the book, and if that’s what you choose, it’s too bad, because you’ll miss the real benefits of the book for both Christians and non-Christians.

The Zimzum of Love should be read more like a latter-day incarnation of Paul’s sermon at Mars Hill.

Rob and Kristen show Christians a new way to talk about marriage. (Well, it’s not actually new… Christians have been talking about marriage as a sacrament for quite a long time. Evangelicals just aren’t very good at it these days.) As did Paul, he begins where people outside the Church are and invites them slowly, inexoribly closer to the center of the life of the Trinity.

Their thesis is that marriage is sacramental. Whether you’re explicitly, intentionally following Jesus or not, marriage can orient you towards God. Marriage can be an opportunity for and means of grace in your life, if you choose to play along. As they say:

"Marriage has the uniquely powerful capacity to transform you both into more loving and generous and courageous and compassionate people."

The Zimzum of Love explores what exactly a sacramental marriage looks like. They begin, of course, with the concept of zimzum. Though they borrow the concept from Jewish mysticism, they steer clear of the rabbit hole, settling for a simple explanation:

"[Rabbis contend] that for something to exist that wasn’t God, God had to contract or withdraw from a certain space so that something else, something other than God, could exist and thrive in that space. And the word they used for this divine contraction is zimzum. God zimzums so that everything we know to be everything can exist and thrive."

Rob and Kristen use the concept of zimzum as a picture of the self-sacrificing love that is the heart of the trinity. They don’t “go there” until nearly the end of the book, but a discerning theological reader should pick up on that right away (again, the brilliance of the book). The rest of the book, then is a movement from zimzum to Trinity, exploring what it looks like to love another person with this sort of self-effacing love, a love that makes intentional space for the Other within the Self.

And if that sounds heady and complicated, don’t worry. The Zimzum of Love is anything but. It’s clear, compelling, accessible and practical.

Rob and Kristen use humor, wit and lots of personal anecdotes to make the book an easy but helpful read. Their vision of marriage is inspiring and exciting. It’s not easy – and they’re open about that. They also offer questions at the end of the book to help a couple walk through the book together.

I do a lot of weddings, for both Christian and non-Christian couples. Ever since I read [Tim] Keller’s The Meaning of Marriage, it’s been my go-to for Christian couples. But as excellent as Keller’s book is, the degree to which it’s steeped in Christian language and theology makes it off-putting for people who aren’t Christians. I’ve found myself using ideas and concepts from the book rather than the book itself.

I plan to offer non-Christian couples The Zimzum of Love. Rob and Kristien articulate many of the same ideas and theological truths, but in ways that are more accessible and relatable for people who aren’t Jesus-followers. Rob and Kristen present Marriage as an invitation into the life of God. As they say near the end of the book:

"In this trinitarian understanding of God, love is the engine of the universe, the life force that surges through all of creation… This love takes us back to that first impulse you had to zimzum for this person you love. When you zimzum, you are aligning yourself with the most foundational creative energies of the universe. You’re experiencing the same love that sustains the world."

The Zimzum of Love is an excellent resource for the Church.

Marriage done well can connect us to the first love of creation.It doesn’t take a Counseling degree to see that the larger culture doesn’t care to hear what the Church has to say about marriage. At the same time, relationships in our culture are a mess. We’re more alone, more isolated, than at any point in our history.

Our culture hasn’t quit listening to the Church because what we have to say is untrue. Christian marriage is still the best hope we have to know and be known as we truly desire. Our message has become irrelevant because we’re not speaking the language of our culture anymore (and because our marriages aren’t particularly compelling all-too-often).

While traditional theological language may be very helpful for those inside the Church (and I mean inside the Church tradition – we have plenty of people in our buildings who are theological outsiders), more and more of our culture is outside the Christian theological tradition. If we want to speak meaningfully to them about love and relationships and sex and all the other things wrapped up in marriage, we must learn to speak their language.

The Zimzum of Love is an excellent starting point for us to learn how to speak meaningfully about marriage with those outside the Church.

One final note – most people who have followed Rob Bell know that shortly after he left Mars Hill, he came out in support of Marriage Equality. Early in the book, he and Kristen make it clear that wasn’t a misquote:

"Marriage – gay and straight – is a gift to the world because the world needs
more – not less – love, fidelity, commitment, devotion, and sacrifice."

Disagreeing with Rob about this point is enough to make many Evangelicals toss the book across the room and quit reading.

I would challenge you to keep reading, no matter what your views on this issue are. Here’s why:

First, that’s literally the only time in the book the issue comes up. Throughout the rest of the book, Rob and Kristen speak about “husbands and wives” - even eschewing the language of “partners”. I spent some time trying to figure out why they chose to do this and couldn’t for the life of me. I would assume a gay couple reading this book might still feel alienated by the rest of the marriage language in the book. And since Rob is always so careful about his words, I am not sure what to make of this.

Second, whether you agree with Rob and Kristen’s view on Marriage Equality or not, their sacramental view of marriage is still spot-on. If you think only straight marriages are sacramental, but Rob and Kristen think gay marriages are too, you can still benefit from the picture of marriage they endorse in the book. That one sentence aside, Marriage Equality doesn’t show up once in the whole book, not even obliquely.

So does The Zimzum of Love offer a new way to think about marriage?

Yes. For non-Christians, it offers a powerful, sacramental view of marriage as an invitation into the deep mystery of God. For Christians, it offers a fresh, meaningful way to talk about distinctively Christian, Trinitarian marriage with those who are outside the Christian theological tradition. Rob and Kristen point us toward incarnational language that invites us all to have healthier, more loving marriages. As they conclude:

"When you are faithful to each other, zimzuming as you act for the well-being of the other,
the space between you becomes a place in the universe that isn’t broken and divided but
one and whole… There is a larger purpose to your marriage… one that shapes each of
 you into better people as it makes the world a better place."

BOTTOM LINE: The Zimzum of Love offers a powerful vision of marriage in language our culture can understand and engage. It’s not written for Christians, but Christians can use it as a guide to engage the larger world.

* * * * * * * * * * * *

Rob Bell, Billy Graham, and the Zimzum of Oprah

It is that magical time of the year, but I am not feeling it. My holiday feasting seems to be savory servings of irritation, deep fried in frustration, and generously layered with melancholy gravy. Bon appetit.
What’s bothering me? Christians. The church. My brothers and sisters who are supposedly on the same journey with me—called by God to become like Christ—and yet seem to be going in such different directions.
Can I get this off my chest? I am hoping it will help.
Take the reaction from some Christians to Rob Bell’s new book, which he wrote with his wife Kristen, The Zimzum of Love. I try to be like Rob and ignore the criticism, but part of my job is tracking what Christians are talking about. And these critics are proudly shouting out their attacks, thinking it counts as righteousness. Rob found the word zimzum in the Jewish Kabbalah! He toured with Oprah and has a new show on her channel—he’s gone New Age! He hardly quotes the Bible anymore!
One only has to read the book’s introduction to discover that Rob takes the idea of zimzum (God had to withdraw to make space for us, his creation, to thrive) and applies it in a wholly original way, to marriage. So why would the idea’s source in the Kabbalah even count as important, let alone count more than whether it’s true or false, right or wrong? And what is “new age” about the idea that in marriage you contract to make room for your partner to thrive, while they do the same for you? Talking about how well the relational energy flows between a couple only counts as heresy if you worship at the altar of I’m Okay, You’re Okay. News flash: seventies-era psychology and nineteenth-century pietism are not the only paradigms Christians can use for understanding relationships.
There was also a parody in a prestigious Christian publication, Books & Culture, satirizing the back-room machinations of publishers pushing Rob Bell. In the parody the “Shadow Government of Religious Publishing” (presumably, HarperOne) likes religion as a category (because it sells) but hates evangelicals (because we are demonic), and so we love Rob, allegedly, because he sounds Christian but softens or undermines the faith by using words like zimzum and because he likes sacred but not holiness. That’s why Oprah loves him, too.
Get it? I didn’t.
I am all for laughing at myself. Beats crying or whining. But how did the writer, Jason Hood, not notice that his humor only works if readers already see themselves as the pure and righteous good guys, like Hood? People reveal more than they realize in their humor. Look at what words he attacks Rob for not saying: sin, holiness, righteousness, prayer, repentance, submission, Satan, sin, cross, God’s design and plan for the world—“you know, Genesis, male-female complementarity, that sort of thing.”
So why attack someone already deemed outside the tribe? Why is Hood so anxious that he needs to question the faith of anyone who responds positively to Rob? Has anyone else noticed that people who insist on using the language he wants Christians to use are not creating the kinds of Christians anyone wants to be around—especially the younger people fleeing the church? This is pure humor—as in, only for the righteous remnant unstained by the evil world.
When Billy Graham’s ministry started to blossom, he faced a difficult decision. Was God calling him to stick with the categories he inherited from the fundamentalists and evangelicals he emerged from, or should he open new doors as long as he could preach the gospel freely? He chose the latter. He began to invite mainline Protestants and, eventually, even Catholics to participate in his work. Overnight Billy Graham went from hero to enemy number one in many conservatives’ eyes. How could he consort with the enemy? they wondered.
So here’s a different take on Rob Bell. Rob felt called by God to reach people who won’t go to church. He first did this by building a new kind of church, which many people loved. Next he tried reaching them by videos and books, which eventually caused some tension with his church work. So he decided to stay true to his calling, gave up his security, and moved to California to see if he could use television to reach the unchurched. After several experiments, he eventually got the green light to develop a show with Oprah’s OWN Channel (debuting December 21) and to go on a speaking tour with her. Being a gifted communicator and a deep student of God and Scripture, he strategized how he could further God’s kingdom by framing his message in ways that do not put off readers and listeners and yet connect people with God/life/soul through the way of death and resurrection (a theme in all his books).
And when he is in front of an audience, he connects. People respond to his spirit and his message. Even Oprah.
So is befriending Oprah a sign of compromise or of success? Just remember that, despite the fantasies held by Books & Culture’s humorists, you don’t get your own television show or tour with Oprah simply because you compromise your Christian faith. Sorry. Not that easy. Something more is needed, something exceptional, something rare, something that may even be worth celebrating.
So why all the animosity for Rob who, otherwise, might seem to be an evangelical success story? Here’s a line Hood puts in the mouth of one of the demonic publishers for why they like Rob: “He kinda looks evangelical, but he’s cool with gay marriage.”
Really? A “sin” that costs suburban white heterosexuals nothing to condemn is the measure of whether one is right with God? Convenient.
And that is why I am looking forward to Christmas. We desperately need Jesus to come back to his church. O come, O come, Emmanuel.
Michael G. Maudlin
Senior Vice President and Executive Editor

Is God's love limited to the heterosexual? No. There
are legitimate homosexual bonds out there too...what
the church is calling "gay marriages". And so, let us
not neglect those couples who may as well enact the
tzim-tzum of God's love within their marriage bonds.

                                                                 - r.e. slater

Luce & Rachel // Feels Like I'm in Love // Imagine Me & You

4 Teachings of Jesus That His Followers (Almost) Never Take Seriously

4 Teachings of Jesus That His Followers (Almost) Never Take Seriously

[This post originally appeared on The Revangelical Blog on Patheos]
December 18, 2014\

It's no secret that those of us who claim to follow Jesus Christ consistently fall short of living up to the way of life of our Rabbi. Being a disciple of Jesus is a lifelong journey towards conforming ourselves to the image and way of life that Jesus taught. However, so often, followers of Jesus chose to blatantly ignore some of the clearest instruction of our Rabbi and obscure it with vague theology so that we can get off the hook. Other times, followers of Jesus are taught something explicitly contradictory to the plain words of Jesus and then spend their lives obeying the instruction they received instead of the commands of Jesus.

However we end up at the place of disobedience, all of us who claim to be followers of Jesus struggle to obey the commands of our Lord. One of the most transformative periods in my faith was when I took time to re-read the Gospels of the New Testament and get reacquainted with Jesus' himself, in his own words. As I studied the words of Jesus, I discovered that so much of what he asks of us as his disciples is incredibly clear and yet so much of it was new to me. I had never heard it in church or Sunday school or actually heard someone teach the exact opposite of the words of Christ. It was during that season of my life where I took inventory of how I lived and what I believed and aligned to the person and teachings of Christ that my faith was radically transformed for the better.

Below I have compiled a short list of 4 clear teachings of Jesus that most of us who exist within Evangelicalism have either never heard, refuse to acknowledge, or believe the exact opposite of. It's my hope that by rereading these teachings of Christ, you will be inspired, like I have been, to return to the Gospels and begin to reshape your faith and life around the way and teachings of our Master, Jesus. Get ready and buckle up, because most of what Jesus says is pretty bold and potent. It'll shake up your faith!

1. Jesus, not the Bible, is God's living and active Word that brings life.

"You don't have His word living in you, because you don't believe the One He sent. You study the Scriptures because you think you have eternal life in them, yet they testify about Me. And you are not willing to come to Me so that you may have life."- John 5:39-40 HCSB

The Christian life is one that is fundamentally rooted in the reality that Jesus Christ is living and active. He interacts with us on a day to day basis and desires that we cultivate an intimate relationship with him. The more we commune with the Spirit of Christ, the more life and truth we are exposed to and are able to comprehend. However, for many Evangelicals, we rely more on the Bible than we do on the living and active Spirit of God within us. We fear that following the Spirit could lead to confusion and subjectivity and so we root our faith in the Bible. The problem is that a faith that is rooted in the Scripture alone is not sustainable. It will dry up and wither on the vine. While the Bible is an important and authoritative guide for Christian faith and practice, it isn't the foundation or center of our faith- Jesus is. And if we truly believe that he is alive, we should also have faith that communing with him will produce spiritual life within us. He is the living Word that we can ask anything to and expect, in faith, to receive and answer. Sometimes he will speak through Scripture. Other times he will speak through our friends and family. Other times he will find unique and special ways to reveal himself to us. But in order to maintain a vibrant and living faith, we must not make the Bible our substitute for communion with the living Word of God. Studying Scripture is valuable, but nowhere near as valuable as cultivating a day to day relationship with the God incarnate.

2. The only way to enter the Kingdom of Heaven is through DOING the will of God.

"Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven." Matthew 7:21 ESV

"An expert in the law stood up to test Him, saying, "Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?""What is written in the law?" He asked him. "How do you read it?"He answered: Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself."You've answered correctly," He told him. "Do this and you will live."- Luke 10: 25-28 HCSB

"We are saved by faith alone, apart from works!" This is a very popular Protestant catch phrase. The doctrine of sola fide (faith alone) was developed by the Reformers in response to the Roman Catholic Churches corrupted teachings that emerged in the 16th Century teaching that one could gain favor with God and shave off years in Hell and Purgatory by giving money to the church or doing acts of penance. The intention of the doctrine of faith alone was very good- to correct the error that our salvation could be earned or that God's grace could be manipulated. But like most doctrines that are formulated in response to another group's doctrine, it often goes too far. One of the clearest teachings throughout all four Gospel accounts is that the way to enter the Kingdom of God is through living in obedience to the Law of Christ. Time and time again, Jesus makes very clear statements that condemn those who think that they will be saved because they believe the right things or do the right religious rituals. Jesus responds to people who believe they are religious and deserve heaven by saying that their outward religiosity is detestable to God and the only thing God desires is that they would exercise their faith by obeying the command of God- to do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly. (Micah 6:8) Jesus says if anyone claims to be right with God but doesn't serve the poor, needy, oppressed, marginalized, sick, diseased, and sinful, then they do not have a relationship with God. No matter what they proclaim with their lips. No matter how religious they may appear. Jesus says those who don't obey will have no part in his Kingdom. He makes very clear that the way to "inherit eternal life" is through loving God and loving our neighbor. Isn't it astonishing, then, how many Christians today have been taught that salvation comes through right believing instead of right practice- a message that is fundamentally contrary to the words of Jesus. (And even more to his little brother James who says, "You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone." James 2:24 ESV)

3. Condemnation isn't Jesus' style.

"I have not come to condemn the world, but to save it." John 3:17 ESV

"Neither do I condemn you. Go and sin no more."- John 8:11 ESV

Many modern day Evangelical preachers spend a lot of time talking about the kinds of people that God is opposed to and who he condemns. They spend time talking about how to transition from a position of condemnation before God to a position of Grace through believing the right things about Jesus. They often talk about those who disagree or live contrary to their understanding of what is "righteous" as those who are under condemnation from God. But what's funny is that as one examines the teachings and life of Jesus, we find him not only befriending, loving, and affirming some of his societies most despised and vile people, but chastising the religious leaders who condemned them for their sin. Whether it is Jesus' conversation with Rabbi Niccodemus in John 3 where Christ explains that it is his mission to redeem the world and not to condemn it or the instance where a woman is caught in the act of adultery and is taken outside to be stoned by the religious officials (as the law required) and Jesus steps in to stop the condemnation and proclaim freedom and forgiveness to the broken woman, it is clear that Jesus is not in the condemning business. Instead, it seems Christ is in the business of restoring humanity to the most broken and wicked of people. It seems that his passion is to see the weak, sick, and broken become strong, healthy, and whole in his Kingdom. It seems that he spends very little time (almost none) telling sinners why they're wrong or speaking words of condemnation over them, but rather practically loving and extending grace to the most screwed up of individuals. Maybe we Evangelicals, who are known for our condemnation of entire people groups with whom we disagree, could learn something from Jesus on this point.

4. You're supposed to sacrifice yourself and speak words of blessings for those you disagree with the most.

"Love Your Enemies and Bless Those Who Persecute You" Matthew 5:44 ESV

It seems like every week there is a new major controversy taking place within the Church. Most of the time, the situation revolves around one group of Christians disagreeing with another and then taking to the internet to write slanderous posts about the other. If it's not infighting, then it is Christians engaging in culture wars, working to defeat those whom we disagree with politically and socially by painting them as soul-less monsters. But that response is absolutely contrary to the way of Jesus. Jesus calls his followers to love the people they disagree with most and to speak blessings over them when all we really want to do is curse them out. No matter what the situation is or what kind of enemy we have, Christians are called to bless the people who hurt us the most. This includes in theological battles, political disagreements, national wars, and personal conflicts. Christians are called to a radical position of nonviolence and forgiveness, grace, and even blessing of our enemies. There is no way around it. And when Christians chose to ignore these clear teachings, our hypocrisy is glaringly obvious to the watching world. Want some proof? Take a couple minutes to watch this clip of the famous Agnostic Comedian, Bill Maher, talk about Christian's refusal to obey the teaching of Jesus. (Contains explicit language)

Bill Maher nails it!

Uploaded on May 17, 2011
Atheist, Bill Maher, makes a pointed and controversial commentary
on Christians celebrating the murder of Osama bin Laden.

That video may be hard to stomach but Bill Maher is 100% correct. "If you ignore every single thing Jesus commanded you to do, you're not a Christian."

The point of this post is to encourage those of us who claim to be followers of Jesus to reexamine how we are living our lives and practicing our faith. It is so easy to get so caught up in the flow that we fail to recognize just how far away from shore we have been carried. The words of Jesus are pretty darn clear, but oftentimes in our zealousness for our faith, we often get pulled away from the basics and eventually end up living in a way that we believe is honoring to God, but is actually contradictory to everything he has taught us.

In this post, I have offered just four examples. There and hundreds of teachings contained in the 4 Gospels of the New Testament, teachings that, if we obeyed, would absolutely flip our lives and world upside-down for the glory of God and the good of all people. What the Church as a whole and Evangelicals in particular desperately need in this age is a return to the plain teachings of Jesus. We need to be willing to set aside out theological debates and meanderings for a season and focus on simply reading, conforming, and obeying the will of Christ, both as revealed in Scripture and as we are led by his Spirit. The world is desperately longing to encounter Jesus through us and for far too long we have been giving them a cheap knock off that we have exported under his name. But it's clear to everyone that what is passing for Christianity today is almost totally divorced from the teachings of Jesus Christ.

My prayer is that we would all turn our faces towards our risen Savior and seek to selflessly follow his commands. I am convinced that the Jesus' way is the only way that will heal our broken world. I am convinced that the whole earth is groaning as it waits for men and women to take of their crosses and follow in the way of redemption. I am convinced that when those of us who call ourselves "Christian" re-orient ourselves in Jesus, the power of God will flow through us in an unprecedented and miraculous way that will bring salvation to the ends of the earth. Oh how I long for that day.

‎"Those who aren't following Jesus aren't his followers. It's that simple. Followers follow,
and those who don't follow aren't followers. To follow Jesus means to follow Jesus into
a society where justice rules, where love shapes everything. To follow Jesus means to
take up his dream and work for it."  - Scot McKnight