looking for some feedback. please help.

I recently read the article below on RelevantMagazine.com and had some mixed feelings. I deeply respect my friends and readers opinions and wanted to share the article with you in hopes of hearing your heart on Rob Bell’s views. Please read and let me know what you think.
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Rob Bell On Saving Christians

Rob Bell is no stranger to new ideas. In his new book, Jesus Wants To Save Christians, he and Don Golden examine the disparities between the message of Christ and the message of the modern, Western Church. RELEVANT talked to Rob Bell about the ideas he and Golden explored.

In the intro of your new book, Jesus Wants To Save Christians, you describe the specific theology you are trying to articulate as a New Exodus perspective. How is this approach to reading the Bible different from a systematic or biblical theology?

Systematic theology dissects the story, cutting the body of the text into separate pieces for the purposes of study. Biblical theology puts the pieces back together into a living narrative. Both do so from a particular perspective influenced by the reader’s history, culture, politics and economic status. The New Exodus is one perspective, taken from the side of the weak and marginal and the God who cares about them. We’re interested in the big story because that’s what the Bible is—a story that unfolds across history. Who are the major characters, what’s the plot, how do we take part in it? Perhaps this is why Jesus can be hard to understand. It’s hard to understand the later parts if you haven’t been brought up to speed on where the story has been so far.

The literal and metaphorical idea of Exodus is a key part of the story God is telling—why don’t we hear more about the connection of Exodus in our churches today?

The Exodus is about the oppressed-slaves-being rescued. Less than two hundred years ago in our country, people in churches owned slaves. Exodus would have been an awkward story to tell in those settings, because after all, the Pharoah character is the bad guy. Needy people talk about Exodus. Jesus said it. It’s hard to enter the kingdom of heaven when you’re content with the kingdom you already have. If we aren’t talking about Exodus it’s because we aren’t looking for one. That’s when we know we need the needs of others. Their Exodus can become our own.

In your book you say, “To preserve prosperity at the expense of the powerless is to miss the heart of God.” In what ways do you believe the church in America has “preserved prosperity” at others’ expense?

I think it’s wise to avoid generalities such as “the church” because whenever I hear people make sweeping generalizations about “the church” I always think “yes, but I know lots of churches where they are compassionate, where they are intellectually honest, etc…”Perhaps one obvious question a church can ask herself is “What percentage of our budget is spent on us and what is spent on others?

The Church has missed the heart of God by speaking out against abortion while keeping silent about war. Both are forms of violence used to preserve prosperity. Abortion is prenatal war against the powerless child. War is postnatal abortion that destroys innocent life. The kingdom is life for the fetus and life for the civilian. The church embodies this life in a world of expedient and preemptive killing.

It can be difficult to understand the plight of the powerless when we have so much, what can church leaders do to help connect their communities with the heart of God for those suffering right now?

The most powerful thing we’ve seen is when people make a friend from outside their bubble—through a tutoring program, a job skills training class, a Habitat for Humanity build project-when “the poor” has a name and a face and personality for you, everything changes. And check out http://www.thecommon.org. An eminently practical tool to help churches share needs and resources within the community.

The traditional mold for doing church has been to invite people to our churches and to build bigger programs and add more staff as we grow. As you describe, this inward focus is a luxury many international churches can’t afford. In what ways should we rethink our strategy for church success?

There are organizations (Look out, here comes a plug for coauthor, Don Golden’s work at World Relief) who connect western first world resourced churches with churches in the third world. When an entire church sees how just a little generosity on their part can seriously help another church, it’s intoxicating. They want to do more and it helps put their own blessing in perspective. We shouldn’t resist the tendency in our churches to launch building campaigns. Good things take place when Americans are unleashed in this sort of way. It rallies churches and gives them focus. People are energized, resources are shared and communities are served. We could, however, reconsider the kind of buildings we build. Ezekiel imagined a New Exodus people building a temple for the true worship of God. Only, the building he pictured was actually the people themselves. Imagine a church launching a million campaign to build up the poor, to house the homeless and to care for the sick? Peter saw Christians “like living stones, being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God.” We should embrace the American gift of the grand and the great. Celebrate it and inspire it toward a more compelling vision of what it could be.

How can churches aid in subverting the myth of redemptive violence?

At a personal level, gossip and slander and divisive language is evil to the core. It causes stress fractures in us, our churches, and our culture that destroy any sort of common good. On the larger, national level, “question war.” The Roman Empire had this phrase “peace through victory” that is simply not true. Yet people still use it today. Jesus taught a third way—not passive acceptance because “that’s just how things are,” and not violent revenge, but a third way. Where are the experts in third way? Where are those Christians so thoroughly versed in third way that world leaders call them in when things get dodgy to give courageous, innovative, creative, freedom-loving (!) counsel on how not to resort to the same old guns and bombs.

As the title of the book suggests, Jesus Wants To Save Christians. In your opinion, what are the biggest things we need saving from?

Boredom. Which is really despair in its non-caffeinated form. And boxes. Where we live in fear and where we put those who unsettle us.

You describe the plan of God for the church to be a gift to the world. Many people today would say that the church is anything but. What are some crucial changes that our churches need to make to become a Eucharist that is broken and poured out for the world?

1. Master the art of doubt. Faith needs it to survive.

2. Surrender the compulsive need to constantly remind people that according to your worldview you’re going to heaven forever when you die and they’re going to burn in hell forever.

3. Celebrate the good and the true and the beautiful wherever and whenever you find it regardless of the label it wears or the person it comes from or the place you found it. All things are yours.

4. Remember that the tax collectors and prostitutes loved to feast with Jesus and the religious establishment gossiped about him and dissected his teachings and questioned his commitment to orthodoxy and eventually had him killed. There’s a lesson for us there.

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44 Comments

Filed under aiming at heaven, books, currently reading/listening to, in my opionation, life questions, right?

44 responses to “looking for some feedback. please help.

  1. First off, I would assume that a good chunk of people won’t read this article simply because it involves Rob Bell. Why read and listen when we can critique and scrutinize?

    I think it’s a great article with a great point. He is respectful towards the established church in saying that there are plenty of us that are working at doing the right things, but there is room for more.

    Overall, it seems like people fear change. They might see the value in things like this, but fear the pains associated with actually applying these things. (There will undoubtedly be pains). This is why people cling to the way things are so hard, they think the change is un-necessary because everything is fine as is, and meanwhile there are others who feel like they are in complete destitute. It’s hard to see another’s point of view, when you are sitting in the sunny, pleasant grass.

    I am sure comparing abortion to war will ruffle quite a few people’s feathers.

  2. thatgirlkate

    @ Josh, agreed that many will turn away b/c of Rob Bell being in the title. He is quite a polarizing figure in Christian circles, and understandably so.

    Yes, people do fear change. They also fear being led into something that isn’t Biblical and want to stand guard against it.
    I think that is my main problem with this specific interview- it’s like I agree basically with most (not all) of what Rob Bell is saying-granted some of this is a plug for his book and is giving teasers and not the full story. I absolutely feel that reaching out-feeding the hungry, taking care of the broken, hurting, and poor is essential to walking out Christianity, but I feel that salvation should never take a back seat to these things. That is where I think me and Rob Bell would go around in circles if we ever talked. What good is food or a home built by Habitat for Humanity if the people who receive it never receive Christ? Christ is the only thing that will truly help people-mind, body and soul.
    I was not happy by the statement ” Surrender the compulsive need to constantly remind people that according to your worldview you’re going to heaven forever when you die and they’re going to burn in hell forever.” Is he saying that this is not his worldview and those of us who hold on to it should surrender it?
    Maybe Rob Bell is calling Christians to use more tact, and yes, I agree. There are some Christians who are not full of love, grace and mercy and use hell as a threat to bully people into salvation, but there are some of us whose hearts break at the idea of the unsaved going to hell and desperately want them to find Christ. Is this something we should “surrender”?

    I say no way jose!

  3. Obviously, I think the confession of Christ is critical to our walk. I think what he is talking about is using service and love as a vehicle towards salvation. I don’t know if he wants you to give up your worldview, but to be constantly refining it? The subject of hell is extremely confusing, and debated about amongst pretty much every Biblical scholar, so I think his point is that rather than focusing on that approach, we should focus on the stuff that Jesus was adamant and extremely vocal about.

  4. Hmm, first let me state the fact that Rob Bell (RB) is in my top ten list of thinkers. To me RB always wants us to ask questions of ourselves, not to undermine doctrine but to undermine how easily we can make faith about ourselves and our views. I think he’s asking us to look outside what is comfortable, what is our “reality” and experience, what questions God would like us to ask ourselves. It’s way too easy for me, as a Christian and a middle class American to not see “problems” in the world. They’re aren’t homeless people on the streets near my house, there isn’t a war on my doorstep, sure there are other denominations but I never visit a church outside of my own…
    What I hear in this is that we don’t have to be “right,” God is right, we just need to love people. When you make doctrine the end all where does love go? I’m not saying it’s not important, but to what end does it serve? That, I think is the question he’s asking us to answer.

    I too def see people freaking out when he mentions war and abortion but I think they’d be missing the point of his message.

  5. thatgirlkate

    @ Archie, thank you for taking time to give thoughtful input. You saying “To me RB always wants us to ask questions of ourselves, not to undermine doctrine but to undermine how easily we can make faith about ourselves and our views.” really helped me to relate more to the heart of RB and the place where he is coming from. Maybe it is the relational girl in me, but I really need that in order to receive the point he is trying to make.

    I do feel the HS convicting me in this particular area. It can be scary to open up to new thinking, especially because I don’t trust my own wisdom or judgment and don’t want to allow in anything that would be detrimental or misleading to me spiritually. I am not an “intellectual” and instead pad myself with people I know are solid in their beliefs and I can trust their teaching and mentoring. Maybe this is wrong, I don’t know, but it helps me to feel safe.

    I would like to be a person who does the very things that RB, you and Josh are saying: “to look outside what is comfortable, what is our “reality” and experience, what questions God would like us to ask ourselves.”

  6. (I think you are pretty darn smart). The questions you are asking are 100% valid. I could see someone reading this article and thinking that salvation is not necessary, when it clearly is. It’s good for us, as believers, to open up in dialog and process things rather than gathering our own interpretations and running with them. Christianity is extremely communal, whether that communion is vertical or horizontal, it’s detrimental to growth.

    It’s funny, because at times I see the progressive crowd taking just as much insight with out processing it as I do in the conservative arena. God’s will, message and love is unbending to ours. We just need to stick to those basics that are laid out for us, and trust, I guess.

  7. lauren

    First of all, thank you for this post. I’m fairly indifferent to Rob Bell in general, but this actually made my ears perk up to him. I’m going to read the book. The issues brought up in the article have become conversation topics for my husband and me this evening, too.

    I have to say I agree whole-heartedly with Bell in this interview. I definitely look at a church’s spending habits (within vs without) to find out the character of a church… which is actually a large part of why I’m not currently attending a formal congregation. I really like his quote about surrendering the compulsive need to beat people over the head with reality of hell. What kind of love is that? Why do people cringe at the thought of being “witnessed” to? Because Christians haven’t had a good track record of showing the love they’re preaching.

    I have led and/or been involved in a LOT of missions trips. I remember my teams’ best experiences being the times when they weren’t solely focused on leading someone through the salvation prayer. I could see the light of God on my teams’ faces when they just sat with someone and loved them, talked to them, cared about them, listened to them… God was there. They didn’t even have to say His name. He was there. That’s why I think sometimes building houses and helping those in need with true love is enough. In my experience, people do end up asking why I’m building them a building. And I tell them. But I don’t think broadcasting your belief system is a prerequisite to loving.

    Sorry if I’ve got a little hyper-passionate there… I feel strongly about the subject, and you asked for opinions… ha! I actually surprised myself with how interested I was!

  8. lauren

    Oh, and I don’t think it’s “wrong” to surround yourself with people who are strong in their beliefs. The trouble comes when you only feel safe in their beliefs, rather than in your own, on your own. Beyond that, who says you need to feel “safe”? There is no end to figuring out God; He’s too big. So if “safe” means having all answers, maybe “safe” shouldn’t be your goal.

    God created some people to experience Him intellectually. God created others to experience Him emotionally. Each are expressions of His character. Neither is better or worse. God isn’t afraid of your questions. Let yourself be free to ask the hard ones.

  9. i did agree with a lot in this article. the comparison of abortion and war is a harsh one. but if you don’t let that sway you from the heart of his point, as archie said, then it can really challenge you to examine your beliefs and see where there may be hypocrisy. we all have hypocrisies in our lives, but the point is to allow Christ to flesh those out.
    as for his last statement about “surrendering” the need to constantly tell people their going to hell, i perceived it differently. i think that we (as a church) do a disservice by reminding people of hell instead of first encouraging people about Jesus’ love. it doesn’t mean they don’t need salvation or Christ. but why would they want any of this Christ we talk about it if we haven’t opened our arms to people who do things that we find so wrong? this is something that breaks my heart. women who have abortions or consider abortions don’t run to the church. why is that? because we haven’t shown a lot of compassion or love towards them. (and agreeing with RB, there are churches that have, but i’m not sure it’s the norm). i think some of these things are heart issues and not as black and white as we’d like to make them out to be. i’d like to see us love first and still stand by our convictions in a way that makes people feel as welcome as we did when we first found Jesus. and truly trust and allow the Holy Spirit to do what He is so good at we’re not – changing hearts.

  10. (I am loving this conversation)

  11. @Kate, Stop that, by even seeking out things that challenge you in this way you are a thinker :-P
    As Josh mentioned, I think your concept of fleshing out the bible in a group setting is actually an extremely biblical way of sorting things out. Because we live by our *interpretation* of the bible, not by “what the bible says.” (This concept is mentioned in his book Velvet Elvis quite a bit) Historically this has been done in the group setting, in the early church nothing was written down, those beliefs were formed in a group discussion, not individuals reading the “bible” in their rooms by themselves.
    I would be careful though not to always listen to the “same” group. Rather people with different beliefs (Christian) on the same doctrine. Not to agree with them necessarily but to hear a different view point ;-)
    Totally agree with what @Teresa was saying about Hell and Heaven, check out this RB vid to hear his stance:
    http://vids.myspace.com/index.cfm?fuseaction=vids.individual&videoid=18426818

  12. Sharon

    “Historically this has been done in the group setting, in the early church nothing was written down, those beliefs were formed in a group discussion, not individuals reading the “bible” in their rooms by themselves.”

    Just had to interject – the early church did not form their beliefs by group discussion. First they knew or were taught the Old Testament scriptures and then they received the New Testament writings of the apostles. When they read such writings, they determined they were truly the word of God by two measures: 1) What was written agreed with what they had already received – “where two or three witnesses agree let a thing be established” was a rule for accepting teaching, 2) The Holy Spirit working among them witnessed in their heart when teachings or letters were from the Lord. These two rules are basic well known facts of the history of the formation of the canon and the very reason why the church does not acknowledge other books as having the same authority. I think these two rules are still good to follow. Does what you are reading here agree with what you have read in the Bible, yes I said what the Bible says, and does the Holy Spirit bear witness with it. It’s worked for 2000 years for His Church.

  13. Sharon, well said, I should have articulated that better. I merely wanted to point out that all most all interpretation of the bible/biblical writing (not the inclusion or exclusion of writings, but the canonical bible) is intended to take place in a group setting. I was looking at this from a “bible study” type view, not the formation of doctrine, but rather sharing insights into the text.
    Though, along this train of thought, even though “scripture” was held against certain measurements (canon) these measurements were always held within a community of believers, such as the Council of Nicaea.
    I don’t want to get into doctrine, but just wanted to stress the importance of a community setting. :-)

  14. Sharon

    Thank you Archie, I appreciate your clarifying that and absolutely agree that what was accepted as truly coming from God was done by communities even long before the Nicaen Council – like the church at Ephesus accepted the letter from Paul as authentic when it agreed with what they had heard before and they witnessed that the Holy Spirit was authorizing it to lead them. Many other writings were rejected for the same reasons. We later called it doctrine but this is walking after the Spirit.
    And right you are that scripture is not of one’s own interpretation (2 Peter 1:19-21) In addition the Word is living (Heb 4:12) and active…and able to discern between the soul (the parts of us that need to be made whole, sozo, saved) and our spirit, the part of us the Holy Spirit renewed, where the Spirit of truth resides and from which comes grace for both understanding (revelation) and conformity (transformation). It can and often does happen in solitary, but when we bring all this to other believers who have the same working in them, the light exposes the darkness without shame or condemnation, change takes place and God gets all the glory. This is the salvation of the Christian soul that James 1:21 exhorts us to. Is this RB’s idea of saving Christians?

  15. Thanks Sharon :-)
    I would hesitate to say with any conviction “this is what RB means…”, I’m just not that smart. However, his thoughts concerning community as I read them are: that we products of our environment, conditioned and limited by own own understanding within that environment. Because of this we need a community that is seeking to actively discern what the Holy Spirit is prompting to truly get to the heart of scripture. Bell is “advocating a communal reading of scripture” (as it was read in the Jewish tradition in Jesus’ time) “over and against a myopic, individualistic reading of scripture.” Not that personal scripture reading is not a feature of knowing God, but that we must acknowledge that our understanding is done through the lens (our extremely personal lens) of experience and environment.
    When you asked for his “idea of saving Christians” I’m sure this is in line with that thinking, but this thought is from his first book and I have not read his latest. From what I have gathered the word “saved” in this context is not referring to salvation, but a certain kind of redemption in thought. As always he says it better than I:
    “Jesus wants to save us from making the good news about another world and not this one. Jesus wants to save us from preaching a Gospel that is only about individuals and not about the systems that enslave them. Jesus wants to save us from shrinking the Gospel down to a transaction about the removal of sin and not about every single particle of creation being reconciled to its maker. Jesus wants to save us from religiously sanctioned despair, the kind that doesn’t believe the world can be made better, the kind that either blatantly or subtly teaches people to just be quiet and behave and wait for something big to happen ‘someday.'”

    I hope that helps :-)

  16. Mary Hendrickson

    Hi, just wanted to add my thoughts. :) Unfortunately the method of following the church’s formula from a historical perspective has not always worked well for the church. I.e., The Crusades, Roman Emperor Constantine, and the Mayan civilization completely wiped out because of the church’s ambition to convert. This is very extreme, but I am just trying to make the point that, although we want others to know the love and grace of the God we serve, that is not in our control. Like mom just said, it is an experience that often happens in solitary. I have many friends at work and outside of work who are not Christians, and we definitely have great spiritual conversations, but I know that if I become “forceful” in wanting them to accept Christ, it will turn them away.
    I like RB’s statement to surrender this compulsive need, because it gives the control back to the Lord and allows us to love people without having an “agenda”. We need to trust him in that, otherwise we are only living out of fear.

  17. thatgirlkate

    Thanks Mar-bear, you have so much wisdom and I appreciate your thoughts on this. I found it really helpful, actually.

    And thanks to Archie, my dear Mama, Lauren, Teresa and Josh who all had amazing insight and discernment with breaking down RB’s thoughts and making them a bit easier for me to digest. I feel like my heart and understanding was expanded and I am looking forward to the HS using this in my life.
    love to you all.

  18. Sharon

    Thank you Kate for letting me be a part of this great discussion. You know I’m a little old school but I love hearing new stuff. There’s an old saying – not “dark ages” old but a couple of generations: Eat the hay and spit out the straw.
    Love the Word and Love you,
    your mama

  19. Kate, thanks for starting the conversation! It’s great to see people talking about their own beliefs and thoughts, props to all of you!

  20. George

    Quote:

    “Systematic theology dissects the story, cutting the body of the text into separate pieces for the purposes of study. Biblical theology puts the pieces back together into a living narrative. Both do so from a particular perspective influenced by the reader’s history, culture, politics and economic status. The New Exodus is one perspective, taken from the side of the weak and marginal and the God who cares about them.”

    Biblical theology shouldn’t be an attempt to understand a biblical narrative from a modern reader’s perspective, history, etc. A biblical understanding only results from successfully determining what the author’s intent was. Once we take a historical narrative (like the Exodus) to be some metaphorical idea of freedom from the sin we’re born into or whatever the view is, Scripture becomes putty in the hands of the teacher. Here’s an example from Mars Hill’s website concerning the ‘New Exodus':

    “The reason we study the Exodus is because we want to understand who Jesus is and what he’s doing. He wants to liberate the world from physical, spiritual and cultural bondage. Most of us have been given great wealth, talent and energy. And God wants us to share it with others who don’t have enough.”

    http://www.marshill.org/believe/newexodus/today.php

    Interesting idea… What biblical evidence tells us that the purpose of the book of Exodus is to explain the teachings of Jesus which wouldn’t occur for several thousand years? Where does this ‘liberation theology’ come from? What does the Exodus really tell us? It tells us that God keeps His promises – check out Gen. 15:13, where God tells Abram that he can be certain that his descendants will be aliens in a foreign land, but that, after 400 years, God would rescue them from their oppressors and bless them exceedingly. Exodus shows us that, even after 400 years, God is still faithful to His promises.

    Quote:

    “The literal and metaphorical idea of Exodus is a key part of the story God is telling—why don’t we hear more about the connection of Exodus in our churches today?

    The Exodus is about the oppressed-slaves-being rescued. Less than two hundred years ago in our country, people in churches owned slaves. Exodus would have been an awkward story to tell in those settings, because after all, the Pharoah character is the bad guy.”

    This demonstrates the real problem that I have with the whole ‘emergent church’ movement. Scripture is no longer the inspired word of God, but rather a book full of useful stories and metaphorical ideas designed to help us learn how we should live. Brian MacLaren, one of the leaders of this particular movement, has frequently put forth this idea in his books and speeches. Once we’ve adopted the idea that Scripture is a metaphorical resource, WE become the arbiters of what is true, rather than Scripture.

    Quote:

    “The Church has missed the heart of God by speaking out against abortion while keeping silent about war. Both are forms of violence used to preserve prosperity. Abortion is prenatal war against the powerless child. War is postnatal abortion that destroys innocent life. The kingdom is life for the fetus and life for the civilian. The church embodies this life in a world of expedient and preemptive killing.”

    Well, first I’d like to make an observation here. The NT doesn’t seem to indicate that the role of the church is to reforge society in God’s image. Some people, particularly amillienialists, believe that the promised millenial reign of Christ is a metaphor and figuratively fulfilled by the Church (this view lost its popularity in the US after WWII, when the horrors of the Holocaust made it plain that the church was not ‘conquering the world for Christ’). In fact, conspicuiously absent from the NT is the clash between society and the church that seems to be what has come to define the actions of the church in the US.

    Of course, that doesn’t mean that the church shouldn’t be critical of what is plainly evil and wrong. Though I have problems with the moral equivalency argument that Bell is drawing here, the real issue lies with this faith in social change. Let’s say for the sake of argument that we were able to correct all of the problems that are being implied here. War, poverty, disease, abortion, taxes, and all the rest. Even if that were to happen, no one’s eternal position would change. The separation between God and man is not social injustice but the chasm of sin, a chasm which can only be spanned by faith in Christ. That’s the real casualty of this whole philosophy – the gospel of grace through faith in Christ is swapped for a system of man-centered attempts to remake the world in God’s image.

    Quote:

    “As the title of the book suggests, Jesus Wants To Save Christians. In your opinion, what are the biggest things we need saving from?

    Boredom. Which is really despair in its non-caffeinated form. And boxes. Where we live in fear and where we put those who unsettle us.”

    I really have to respond to this – the whole of the OT makes it clear that the Messiah was to come to suffer for sin (Isa. 53 makes this obvious). Jesus’ name itself makes this vividly clear – remember what the angel told Joseph in Matt. 1:20-21? “He will save his people from their sin” – not boredom. Only arrogance and a blatant disregard for biblical truth would lead someone to conclude that the chief problem we need salvation from is boredom and boxes.

    Here’s how Rob describes God’s plan for the church:

    1. Master the art of doubt. Faith needs it to survive

    This is basically a throwback to the fountain of post-modernistic thought that the emergent church movement drinks from. You see, to them, we can’t be certain of anything, but that’s ok, since Faith is the important thing. It doesn’t matter what you believe – just believe it.

    2. Surrender the compulsive need to constantly remind people that according to your worldview you’re going to heaven forever when you die and they’re going to burn in hell forever.

    Basically, our problem is not an eternal problem solved by faith in Christ, but a temporal problem solved by living differently.

    3. Celebrate the good and the true and the beautiful wherever and whenever you find it regardless of the label it wears or the person it comes from or the place you found it. All things are yours.

    Another tenet of the post-modernist movement. All truth is relative and there is nothing fundamentally different between biblical revelation and

    4. Remember that the tax collectors and prostitutes loved to feast with Jesus and the religious establishment gossiped about him and dissected his teachings and questioned his commitment to orthodoxy and eventually had him killed. There’s a lesson for us there.

    Agreed. The prostitutes, tax collectors and all the rest recognized that they were sinners, needed salvation, and believed Him. The pharisees thought they were righteous because they followed the law, didn’t need anything from Jesus, and rejected Him. The lesson for us to learn here is obvious: believe in Him.

    You see, that’s the message that the world needs to hear – not that we need to be better people, or stop sinning, or any of the other things that are being pushed on us as a way to ‘clean up’ the old man. Jesus’ message isn’t that we can have a better life on this earth by being good people, but that we can have eternal life in spite of the fact that we’re bad people. And the wonder of it all is that He gives it for free. That’s the gospel – Jesus guarantees eternal life that can never be lost to all who will simply believe in Him.

    That message has been tragically lost by the post-modernist, emergent church movement.

  21. thatgirlkate

    George,
    Thank you for really taking the time to read and break down the above article. The points you made are 100% right on and I have a great big smile on my face, although I would assume there are some who have frowns. Thank you for sharing your wisdom and opinion; it means a lot.

  22. Great debate. Four thoughts.

    1. Josh said a lot of people won’t read the article because RB’s name is in it. So what?

    2. Josh said we should focus on what Jesus is extremely vocal about. What was that? [Hint: it wasn't social injustice.]

    3. Our compulsion should be to share the Gospel. And the Gospel, in a nutshell, is John 3:16. [Note, the word "perish" denotes punishment. Note 2: punishment doesn't dominate. But it's in there. ]

    4. I don’t get this Exodus thing. And that’s okay. I’d rather spend my intellectual equity on systematic theology. That’s fun to me. [ST put the "fun" in "fundamentalism." ;-)]

    By the way: Archie’s my buddy. He tipped me off to this post.

    Thanks Kate.

  23. Two more thoughts:

    5. We’re all intellectual snobs.

    6. If you don’t think you’re an intellectual snob…think again.

    Did I happen to mention that Archie’s my friend? He’s got great headphones.

  24. I really like that, George. this really caught my eye, and I agree with it:

    4. Remember that the tax collectors and prostitutes loved to feast with Jesus and the religious establishment gossiped about him and dissected his teachings and questioned his commitment to orthodoxy and eventually had him killed. There’s a lesson for us there.
    Agreed. The prostitutes, tax collectors and all the rest recognized that they were sinners, needed salvation, and believed Him. The pharisees thought they were righteous because they followed the law, didn’t need anything from Jesus, and rejected Him. The lesson for us to learn here is obvious: believe in Him.
    You see, that’s the message that the world needs to hear – not that we need to be better people, or stop sinning, or any of the other things that are being pushed on us as a way to ‘clean up’ the old man. Jesus’ message isn’t that we can have a better life on this earth by being good people, but that we can have eternal life in spite of the fact that we’re bad people. And the wonder of it all is that He gives it for free. That’s the gospel – Jesus guarantees eternal life that can never be lost to all who will simply believe in Him.

  25. to expand:

    So the chief reason Jesus came was to save us from sin. I of course 100% agree with this. What happens once we accept that salvation? It seems like that might be what RB is referring to. Is that salvation manifest in things like social justice? Is it in simply telling as many people as you possibly can that you have been given freedom? Is it building a massive church with a huge sound system and lighting so that you can tell as many people you can? Is it starting a small group in the basement of your home to develop intimate relationships that lead to other salvations? I think it’s all of these things. I don’t know if the debate comes from how salvation is achieved, but what the product of that salvation is.

  26. thatgirlkate

    @ Demian- So glad you joined the discussion! I agree with what you were saying…about Archie’s headphones. :) I think you had some awesome points, esp. about not wanting to talk about “punishment” and seeing that as judgmental to talk about with unbelievers. The truth is if you don’t understand what Christ has truly saved us from you will never understand grace and the only way to share grace is through experiencing it.

  27. sorry, I missed a few replies

    “1. Josh said a lot of people won’t read the article because RB’s name is in it. So what? ”

    It was just an observation, chill out buddy!

    “2. Josh said we should focus on what Jesus is extremely vocal about. What was that? [Hint: it wasn't social injustice.]”

    He wasn’t? Seems to me like he made a pretty big deal about feeding the hungry and clothing the naked.

  28. George

    Wall of Text Incoming:

    @Josh:

    Once a person has eternal life, then the obvious question, as you’ve pointed out is “What next?”. I think that Paul addresses that very question in his letter to the believers at Ephesus when he exhorts them to walk in a manner that is worthy of the calling with which they’ve been called (Eph. 4:1-7). Notice that he does this after affirming to them the truth of the gospel of grace through faith in Christ in 2:8-9. I think that the whole of the book of James is written for this same purpose: to encourage believers to put their faith into practice and warn of the consequences of not doing so.

    @Josh again:

    I’m not convinced that Bell is talking about the effects of salvation – one of the hallmarks of the emergent church movement is a rejection of salvation unto eternal life and a redefining of salvation in some other way. I’ve not studied Rob’s writings, but most of the leaders in this movement subscribe to this belief (Brian McLaren, of whom I’ve read a good bit, is probably the most conspicuous).

    The fundamental problem that I see here is a shift from pointing to Scripture as the Truth to pointing to ‘truth’ and declaring all truth to come from God, wherever we might find it. This sounds pretty good at face value, but the fallout from this is that people become the arbiters of truth, rather than Scripture.

    I submit that what we are really seeing here is the following. In the past 30 years, postmodernism has taken over Western thought and become a major force in our society. Seminaries have not been immune to the influence of this philosophy either. As a result, many pastors and teachers have been trained to think in this fashion and they then disseminate this broken philosophy to the churches they serve in. Since the church has largely stopped teaching the Bible and is no longer in the business of equipping its members to discern the truth from a lie, Christians hear what’s being taught and figure “Hey, he’s really passionate about this” or “Wow, he’s such a smart man” and believe it, regardless of the exegetical sleight-of-hand that’s required. Not good.

    There’s a lot of really bad teaching out there and that’s why the need for sound Biblical exposition is so great. We tend to think that false teachers are always external forces from Satan. While there is some of that (an example would be buddhism), I think that what we need to be critical of are teachings that are given by fellow Christians. That’s what Peter is warning in 2 Pet. 2:1-3 when he talks about the ‘false teachers among you’. I would argue that anyone claiming Jesus came to save us from boredom or to fix this world, is simply not preaching the truth. Lest we forget, this world is beyond fixing – Jesus knows this better than anyone else, because He’s the one who will destroy it! That, of course, is what He came to save us from – the power of sin in this life and the judgment and consequences of it in eternity.

  29. What’s funny is that I completely agree with you, George. I think you are being very eloquent and rational about your approach, and you are spot on. I honestly try not to associate with “movements”. If I were an Emergent (I am not), I probably wouldn’t be going to the church I do, or be able to maintain the Christian relationships I currently have.

    I think the disconnect comes from all of the mud slinging. I have read way too many blogs that simply bash and make childish cheap shots at the opposing side. I think what we are doing right now is the means to resolution. Trying to discover truth (that aligns with Word) through community and self-reflection. I really respect your approach, and feel like I have a higher understanding of the issue.

    I will say, I know a lot of people who have been touched by emergent books, and even rededicated their lives to Christ through reading them. I think refining is inevitable, and scenarios like this will promote that.

  30. @Josh …my bad…sorry if I was blunt…

    1. . I thought you were suggesting people who chose not to read RB’s book were some how missing out. Did I misunderstand? My point was everyone of us could survive without a RB book. Or a Luther. Or Calvin. They’re helpful. Not necessary. Scripture…necessary.

    2. Curious: How many times did Jesus feed the poor? And when did he clothe anybody?

    Josh, listen, I think I understand your overall point: doing good demonstrates we are saved. Points Jesus, Paul and James pushed. But Jesus didn’t spend his life doing them.

    Remember, his active ministry was only 3 years long. And lot of that time was spent in synagogues or with his disciples preaching the Gospel…demonstrating who he was.

    And his acts of kindness were to drive a spiritual point home…feeding of the 5,000, healing the paralytic, washing his disciples feet…that he was our servant King…and we are to behave like him…honoring the Father in all we do.

    So his life was a balance of preaching and doing. It wasn’t all about curing social injustice. In fact, if we were keeping score, he did a pretty cruddy job at it.

    But I’m with you. We must do it regardless. But never lose sight of this: there are consequences for those who reject Him. Or get what he said wrong. Those are his words. Not mine.

    I appreciate your passion. Take care, Josh.

  31. gmcastil

    I should add here that I’d never heard of Rob Bell until a couple of days ago and I didn’t know that he was part of the emergent church movement. I could care less what type of tradition or denomination a person hails from – there aren’t flavors of Christianity. There’s truth and then there’s error. Anyway…

    Quote:

    I will say, I know a lot of people who have been touched by emergent books, and even rededicated their lives to Christ through reading them. I think refining is inevitable, and scenarios like this will promote that.

    @Josh:

    True. God is able to bring people to faith in Christ regardless of all the obstacles that Christians seem to throw in their way. I myself am an example of what you mentioned – I returned from a period of apostate living through the love of brothers and sisters that I realized (later) didn’t see eye-to-eye with me on a couple of core issues.

    My problem with the emergent church ultimately reduces to two things: the rejection of Scripture (and the Son) as God’s complete revelation to man and a de facto rejection of the gospel.

    Are there believers within the emergent church? Of course.
    Is the gospel that the emergent church preaches able to save? Absolutely not.

  32. @demian: That is much more clear. I obviously agree that we could do with out RB’s writings. I was just more pointing out that people are most likely going to throw the whole thing out rather than reading it and discerning what is right and wrong. No one is 100% right except the dude upstairs ;) haha

    @gmcastil – right on

  33. Just wanted to add that I’m always amazed at the stir RB causes…

    @George- Just wanted to say thanks for chiming in. I probably don’t agree with a lot of what you’re saying but I appreciate you sharing a systematical approach.
    I think much of what you are saying depends on whom your audience is. I suppose I’m being “PM” here (I don’t like any of those kinds of terms, “emergent” included) but in all honesty that IS the culture that I am a child of. All but a few of my friends live in that realm and so do most of the people that attend my church. Maybe a better question would be, how does God’s truth exist in a PM world?

    I read Oscar Wilde and think that the beauty and despair he mentions in his work is accurate even though his beliefs may lean off the Christian path.
    I find truth in the songs of Bono (lol) and Band of Horses
    I think Handel brings scripture to life.
    Does this trump the bible?
    No, but I think to say these aren’t truths of the human experience would be… off.

    The culture you are describing here is dead in my circles
    So what about those people?
    We can present the best systematic argument Piper can come up with, but until they see us show this love we’re talking about…
    It doesn’t mean anything to them
    In this case a modern approach doesn’t work
    Do we remain the same or do we adapt as Paul did to the Greeks?

    You’re right, and our world is only going to be fixed in the end by Jesus, but what about the children suffering in slums and people going without food, where is their Jesus?

    I’m beyond excited that Jesus freed me from sin but I’m equally excited that He wants my heart as well.

    And Demian is the Driscol to my Bell ;-)

  34. gmcastil

    @Archie

    You asked how God’s truth exists in a postmodern world. That’s a difficult question to answer, since it depends a lot on the brand of postmodernism in question. In my experience, most postmodernists tend to eschew the concept of objective truth and take what’s usually referred to as a ‘chastened approach to knowledge’. What’s usually meant by this is that we can know nothing for sure (this includes the deity of Christ, the existence of God, the existence of hell, etc) so it doesn’t seem to me that the postmodern perspective leaves a lot of room for God’s word.

    This isn’t to say that human sources can’t reflect God’s word, but they aren’t the source of it.

    Quote:

    “It doesn’t mean anything to them
    In this case a modern approach doesn’t work
    Do we remain the same or do we adapt as Paul did to the Greeks?”

    Depends upon what you mean here. Paul changed his method of delivery, not the content of his message. The PM church isn’t articulating the gospel in a different way – it’s preaching a different gospel altogether.

  35. @gmcastil Thanks for the response :-)

    One thing I want to be wary of is putting a title or a name on some of this discussion. I only briefly mentioned this before (in parentheses) but I feel I should expound on that.
    I think it’s quite ironic that we’re even talking about PM in here, but alas. When I’m adding my thoughts, the only perspective I’m hoping to illuminate is my own with special attention paid to where I feel RB has added. RB will adamantly disagree with the “Emergent” title and therefore I don’t see why we keep referring to it, or other “emergent leaders” here, unless we want to enter into a different dialogue. I don’t read or follow any “emergent” churches and so I want to make sure what is said is in regard to RB, not something from another writer/teacher.

    I think much of what you are speaking of in respect to absolute truth is not something I’ve heard RB disagree with or even allude to disagreeing to. Does it happen? Maybe, I’m merely saying that nothing that I have read/heard from him has suggested such.

    Also I’m confused on your statement regarding God’s word. I never meant to imply such works were more than mirrors pointing to God but if one were to discuss selfless love is that not a biblical truth? Even if it were voiced by someone outside the realm of the church? From reading RB, that is all I have heard him suggest. If we believe in gravity, which I think we all do, can we not attribute that to God?

    I’m also having a hard time seeing how RB’s message isn’t something more than the gospel in a PM(ugh) skin? If people won’t agree to absolute truth does that mean they can’t be ministered to?

    I think some of the things said earlier are confusing,
    such as the new exodus concept: I don’t see what the hang up here is. It’s wrong for churches to take a biblical concept, God rescuing His people, slaves, and applying that to a Church model? In too many ways I’m a “slave” to consumerism, to pride, to so many things. Don’t read this as me saying I’m a “slave to sin,” I’m not and I don’t think RB is either. If you want to limit the Exodus to just fulfilling a promise and move on that’s fine, but aren’t you missing half the story? I agree that God’s story is linear, but I also believe that it is just that, a story. A story filled with doubt, fear, and redemption.
    Help me out here because I can’t make the same leaps in thought that you are :-)

  36. gmcastil

    @Archie:

    My only exposure to RB has been this article and a section of the Mars Hill website discussing the ‘New Exodus’, so it’s difficult to exhaustively describe his teachings.

    Quote:

    “If we believe in gravity, which I think we all do, can we not attribute that to God? ”

    Of course. But we don’t need revelation from God to know about gravity. I think that’s the difference (and maybe it’s just difficult for me to convey in the text of an email) – there are some things that can only be known if God chooses to unveil them (salvation, the deity of Christ, and so forth). I believe that He’s done so and that He’s done so only through His word and His Son. Now, to the degree that anyone, Christian or not, articulates a Biblical principle, we should embrace that (a little like saying that a stopped clock is right twice a day). But there’s a world of difference between that and saying that Truth can be discovered from other sources. That’s my problem with statements Rob makes like:

    “Celebrate the good and the true and the beautiful wherever and whenever you find it regardless of the label it wears or the person it comes from or the place you found it.”

    I think that Rob is implying is that truth about God (more specifically, about salvation) can be found in other places. My question to this would be “By what metric am I to discern if something I’ve found from one of these sources is true or not?” I think you answered this earlier when you said:

    “I read Oscar Wilde and think that the beauty and despair he mentions in his work is accurate even though his beliefs may lean off the Christian path.
    I find truth in the songs of Bono (lol) and Band of Horses
    I think Handel brings scripture to life.
    Does this trump the bible?
    No, but I think to say these aren’t truths of the human experience would be… off.”

    How do you know these things are true?

    I’ve found tremendous accuracy about the human condition in all sorts of places. You mentioned Oscar Wilde as an example. Consider the case of Dorian Gray – here we have a man obsessed with vanity who ultimately finds destruction and despair in his hedonism. To be sure this is a biblical observation, and it should easily serve as a reminder that a life spent in pursuit of anything other than God is a life wasted (notice that Wilde would NOT have agreed with the conclusion I’ve drawn from his observation of the human condition).

    Quote:

    “I don’t see what the hang up here is. It’s wrong for churches to take a biblical concept, God rescuing His people, slaves, and applying that to a Church model?”

    The hang up is that, while the principle of God setting us free from sin and rescuing us is a biblical one, it isn’t being taught by the Exodus. Treating scripture in the allegorical fashion that RB has done vis-a-vis the New Exodus, the Bible becomes putty in hands of the exegete. The ends doesn’t justify the means.

    Quote:

    “If you want to limit the Exodus to just fulfilling a promise and move on that’s fine, but aren’t you missing half the story?”

    How am I to know what the remainder of that story is? The New Exodus concept articulated by RB goes beyond what is said in the text, so I’d need extra-biblical sources to know the missing pieces (this is what he refers to in the interview as Biblical theology – the interpreter splicing in the missing pieces from his own history, experience, and so forth). I disagree and would argue that it is the first business of an interpreter to let the author say what he does say, instead of attributing to him what we think he ought to say.

    “I agree that God’s story is linear, but I also believe that it is just that, a story”

    I’m not sure what you mean by ‘God’s story’. I don’t want to generalize, but postmodern teachers commonly make statements very much like this when they deny the authority and inspiration of scripture. If that’s what you intend to convey, then I guess I can see the source of your difficulty in understanding my argument. If not, then I’d ask you to clarify what you mean.

    Good discussion – I appreciate your thoughts. Thanks.

    ~ George

  37. Sharon

    Wow, I didn’t check in for a couple days and am so pleased at what I’m reading here tonight. Paul warned that in the last days there would be a great “falling away.” We have been seeing this happen in the American church for about 40 years as denomination after denomination and now “non-denominational” churches reject the Scriptures as the only basis for Christianity, “falling away” from sound doctrine. A person can claim it all day long but if they don’t hold to this first and foremost belief, they are not a believer nor is Jesus their Lord. This “biblical theology” twist is just another ploy. I’m proud to hear true believers finally standing up to this. There is a true Church, not a perfect Church, but a true Church non the less. Then there is the False church emerging with not only the likes of RB’s, but also McLaren”s “theology” that is preying upon many offended, discouraged and “disappointed in their church or pastor” believers, telling them to “exodus” the true Church and come follow these Pied Pipers right into the land of bondage to false teachers. We watched this happen to people over the years and the result is much more disasterous than getting healed and reconciling with the true church and its pastors. RB makes it clear he does not believe the scriptures are the final authority when he makes false statements about the meaning of the virgin birth and excuses the Bible’s prescription for sexual sin on the basis of relativism. These are the teachings of wolves in sheep’s clothing wanting to lure the sheep from the flock so they can devour them. They cannot exalt the issues of social justice above the Bible’s primary concern of the salvation of man in this life and unto eternity without separating the sheep from the WORD so they’ve redefined themselves as some kind of bible scholars when what they proclaim is pure ignorance of the Bible’s actual content and context. Please just because they’re young and zealous for what they want to call Christianity, don’t believe them. Do as so many in the above discussions have done; check it out in your own Bible. If a person doesn’t find that necessary, then they can’t call themself a Christian, because that’s what Christians do and always will do in His true Church.
    In addition to these “emergency” church evangels not submitting their belief to the authority of the Bible, there are many other invasions claiming to be Christian you should also be aware of: the new whatever for the new day (the Aquarius jump that will take the human race into the more evoved universe of star trek’s next generation), such as liberation theology, a form of communal socialism with its own twisted redefining of biblical life which first appeared in Central America and Cuba to win over the impoverished to the communist revolution. This is believed to be the theology Jim Jones used to lead 1000 poor people to commit mass suicide in Guyana in 1978. Jesus said the poor would always be with us but He still put the new birth as the primary thing in the gospel and ministering to the poor as the fruit thereof. Then there is Christian Universal Reconciliation (the belief to which the author of the Shack holds fast yet hides from readers) a belief that a loving God just couldn’t possibly judge, much less punish sin, so everything including the devil, hell and all demons have been reconciled to God through Jesus’ blood in spite of the Bible’s clear teaching to the contrary on the existence, purpose, and final outcome of hell (don’t be fooled by these “snobs”, they are not Biblical studies scholars. In fact, most kids in Kate’s children’s church are more scholarly about the Bible than these).
    Finally, in many churches we now have Christian yoga with Christian mantras using meditation or labyrinth prayer rooms, all to enter the “silence,” the presumed highest pure spiritual state where you’ll find God within who will give you a mystical experience, even if you aren’t born-again! Jesus directly warned against such practices. He knew we wouldn’t find the Holy Spirit that way or He would have told us about them.
    Do you see the common thread? The message over and over is you don’t have to believe the Bible anymore. Oh yeah! We’re in a real interesting time in religous history. Our God knew this time would come and warned us. Just read I & 2 Timothy, John’s and Jude’s epistles for starters for some wisdom on this “new” church emerging in our country. It’s more an emergency than an emergence.

  38. gmcastil

    @Sharon:

    Yes. The church has largely abandoned the gospel of grace. Most churches are more concerned with eliciting an emotional response from people than teaching them to study God’s word for themselves.

    Far too many Christians have become obsessed with trying to ‘experience God’ and questing for a liver quiver.

  39. @George
    Thanks for your insight, I appreciate your thoughts and want to say thank you for continuing to add helpful commentary to this post :-)

    Let me start off by addressing your last thought, I think that’s most important in regard to the questions.
    Actually I believe that you and I are far more alike than we are different but I think we come to different (not theological) conclusions about the freedom RB is taking. I think that where I may have seen an interesting and well thought out step in thinking you may see a slippery slope. I don’t disagree that taken to that course you may end up in theologically unsafe ground, but I don’t believe we’re there yet.
    Thoughts?

    In regard to the word story, I meant just that, story. Not fiction (is that where you were going?). But a story, a line of events held in a human perspective. A personal (for each writer) “story” of creation, of failure and of eventual reconciliation. The most amazing and relevant aspect of the Bible in my eyes is the fact that it does resonate with us on such a personal level. You can read the Psalms and feel the same joy (or rejection) that David felt. You can read Song of Solomon and draw direct insight into your marriage.
    That is what I mean by story. It is God’s story but it is also our own.

    I have not read an instance where RB has cited a “truth” with regard to salvation outside of the context I cited. In fact I used the concept of science (gravity) because that was similar to the original RB example that I read. He told a story of a college student who was never taught that truth and beauty (as stand alone concepts) could be claimed for God. Hence, when a passionate atheist (for the sake of the illustration) professor denounced the existence of God due to, say evolution, her view of God failed. Rather then seeing the possibility that God may have worked through such means she say it as the end of her beliefs. (I don’t want to argue evolution but I think you can see how he used the concept of claiming truth and beauty)

    How do I know these things are “true?”
    Can I say that depends on what truth you’re looking for ;-)
    (I hope you see that as tongue-in-cheek)
    I believe that you found the same truth in A Picture for Dorian Gray as I did, does it matter that Wilde did not?
    I don’t believe so. Those without the spirit cannot understand things (or draw the same conclusions) as we do, so it is no surprise that this was not his conclusion. So do we merely discount what truth is there?
    I suppose I’m giving more freedom to the reader, and I’m ok with that. That is why we do need strong theology taught in our churches, so people can discern truth from falsehood in their lives.
    But I’m very wary to say there isn’t truth outside the bible. (in the sense that I feel that’s saying God can’t move in the hearts of people outside the church)

    Again, here I think we’re both on track with what RB is saying we’re just ending up in different places. Yes, I suppose if he were to take every biblical concept and re-arrange scripture to fit we would have a problem. However, I don’t see him doing this here and I haven’t read about him doing it elsewhere.

    I agree with you here, if RB was an interpreter he would just say what the text says. But if this were truly the case why would we need pastors at all? Couldn’t we all just read our bibles for the same desired effect? (of course then we could all debate translations…)
    Each pastor, lay person and believer works within their own construct of theology, no matter what is correct or incorrect. We can only apply things in the way in which we were originally exposed to them. One of my friends grew up having a terrible home life. Their father was emotionally abusive and extremely un-supportive. This is greatly affected her view of God as a father figure and she basically had to change her view of the role of a father. That was her theology, was it wrong, certainly but regardless that was her experience with that role and that was how she perceived it.
    Because our spiritual life is impossible to separate from the historical, emotional and relational aspects in our life we develop our own “biblical theologies.” Am I reading this incorrectly?

  40. gmcastil

    Quote:

    “I think that where I may have seen an interesting and well thought out step in thinking you may see a slippery slope. I don’t disagree that taken to that course you may end up in theologically unsafe ground, but I don’t believe we’re there yet. Thoughts?”

    The problem I have is that the reader is inserting their own opinions into what the text should say, rather than letting the author speak. If you think that’s a limited view, then I guess we just disagree. Personally, I’d have to say that what passes for ‘interpretation’ in most churches amounts to simply injecting our idea of what God’s revelation should be and then justifying it with lots of handwaving and flowery word. The New Exodus and Lordship Salvation concepts are prime examples of this.

    Quote:

    “In regard to the word story, I meant just that, story. Not fiction (is that where you were going?). But a story, a line of events held in a human perspective. A personal (for each writer) “story” of creation, of failure and of eventual reconciliation.”

    I guess I just don’t understand what you mean here – this implies that different authors are communicating different messages that need not necessarily be in agreement. This would make sense if the text were of human origin but seems incompatible with divine inspiration.

    “The most amazing and relevant aspect of the Bible in my eyes is the fact that it does resonate with us on such a personal level. You can read the Psalms and feel the same joy (or rejection) that David felt. You can read Song of Solomon and draw direct insight into your marriage.”

    I don’t disagree with you. But, using false interpretations (like Bell’s New Exodus interpretation) to teach what might be a biblical truth (Christ setting us free from sin) is wrong. An oft-cited example of this is Jer. 29:11, a verse perenially cited to teach Christians that God is in control of all things and that we should rely upon Him in all that we do. Clearly a Biblical principle. But, that passage isn’t teaching that – it’s teaching that God, having made a promise to Israel, was going to ultimately restore them to the land, once the period of exile and captivity was over. Yet, this verse is commonly used to console single Christians that “God has a plan for your life and who you’ll marry”. I think half of the singles groups in the US are named after this verse.

    Quote:

    “I have not read an instance where RB has cited a “truth” with regard to salvation outside of the context I cited. In fact I used the concept of science (gravity) because that was similar to the original RB example that I read. He told a story of a college student who was never taught that truth and beauty (as stand alone concepts) could be claimed for God. Hence, when a passionate atheist (for the sake of the illustration) professor denounced the existence of God due to, say evolution, her view of God failed.”

    I would argue that her view of God failed because it was founded upon experience, rather than upon Scripture.

    Quote:

    “Rather then seeing the possibility that God may have worked through such means she say it as the end of her beliefs. (I don’t want to argue evolution but I think you can see how he used the concept of claiming truth and beauty)”

    Again, experience and the humanistic notion of ‘reason’ would compel her to those conclusions. One word on this idea of ‘beauty’ you keep referring to. What is there that is of this world that is beautiful? This is world is permeated by sin, death, evil, destruction, and a whole host of other things. This is a fallen world and there is nothing in it that is intrinsically redeemable. It’s only by God’s grace that He has chosen to redeem us – the rest of the world perishes because that’s all that it’s any good for anymore.

    Quote:

    “How do I know these things are “true?”
    Can I say that depends on what truth you’re looking for ;-)
    (I hope you see that as tongue-in-cheek)”

    I see that you didn’t answer my question, though your remarks seem to indicate you believe that truth is in the eye of the beholder. If that’s to be our benchmark for what is true or not, then we’re not really dealing from the same deck.

    Quote:

    “I believe that you found the same truth in A Picture for Dorian Gray as I did, does it matter that Wilde did not? I don’t believe so. Those without the spirit cannot understand things (or draw the same conclusions) as we do, so it is no surprise that this was not his conclusion. So do we merely discount what truth is there?”

    You’re implying that the indwelling of the spirit here allows us as believers to extract truth from Wilde’s writings. I guess I just have problems with this idea that objective truth about God is found in all these different places.

    Quote:

    “I suppose I’m giving more freedom to the reader, and I’m ok with that. That is why we do need strong theology taught in our churches, so people can discern truth from falsehood in their lives.”

    “But I’m very wary to say there isn’t truth outside the bible. (in the sense that I feel that’s saying God can’t move in the hearts of people outside the church)”

    Teaching theology in churches is the problem. Teaching Scripture is the solution. Most churches and Christians are in the business of reading and teaching theology, much of which comes from those sources of ‘truth outside the bible’.

    Quote:

    “I agree with you here, if RB was an interpreter he would just say what the text says. But if this were truly the case why would we need pastors at all? Couldn’t we all just read our bibles for the same desired effect? (of course then we could all debate translations…)”

    Interpretation is what drives proper application of Scripture. And yes, individual spiritual growth only comes through spending time in the word. This explains why a majority of believers (including many in leadership in the church) are still spiritual infants.

    Quote:

    “Each pastor, lay person and believer works within their own construct of theology, no matter what is correct or incorrect. We can only apply things in the way in which we were originally exposed to them.”

    I guess this is where I fundamentally disagree with you. From what you’ve presented, you seem to think that each person builds their own little idea of God and then uses that ‘theology’ to determine how to interpret the truth and beauty they might find in this world. I don’t agree with this philosophy at all. I would argue that each person builds their own incorrect understanding of God from experience, life, etc. and then comes to Scripture with a need to UNLEARN all of that. I don’t believe that it’s possible to know God apart from a relationship with His Son and a knowledge of His word. Experience is something which needs to be evaluated critically through the lens of Scripture. What you’re describing goes the other direction and puts human experience and reason above God’s revelation.

    Quote:

    “Because our spiritual life is impossible to separate from the historical, emotional and relational aspects in our life we develop our own “biblical theologies.” Am I reading this incorrectly?”

    Yes, I think you are incorrect. Biblical theology is an understanding of God which has come from Scripture alone, not from experience, emotions, reason, etc. That’s what makes it biblical. Of course, since that elevates God’s word above human experience, that’s also what makes it unpopular.

  41. @George, Thank you for the time that you have invested here and the dialogue you’ve shared, I have learned much. As always I will continue to follow 1 Thessalonians 5:21 as I become the person God would have me to be.

    @Kate, Thanks for seeking and asking, as well as letting people like me comment so darn much on your site! :-)

  42. emilia

    just a side note re: the theme of exodus….it’s funny how themes reappear all at once. we were reading jeremiads in my american lit class and exodus was a huge theme in the puritan/pilgrim sermons. also, i was listening to npr and heard Rev. James H. Cone discuss Black Liberation Theology about the time of Rev. Jeremiah Wright peaking the headlines, and a large part of that theology is also explained in terms of an exodus metaphor…in fact it sounds really similar to me to the above described perspective of the marginalized…i wonder if Rob Bell distinguishes his New Exodus narrative from Black Liberation Theology in his book? Or if he reintroduces these ideas to a predominately white, middle-class audience, for whom it would be true (?) that “we [don't] hear more about the connection of Exodus in our churches today”?

  43. Pingback: 101 Reasons Why It Doesn’t Pay to Be an Intellectual Snob | Fallen and Flawed

  44. Pingback: 101 Reasons to Be Pretty Darn Euphoric You're an Intellectual Snob | The Copybot

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