Tuesday, April 26, 2011

People Worshipping in Glass Churches Shouldn't Throw Stones: The Outrage About Rob Bell

In considering the subject of arguments, it occurs to me that there are two major ways in which one or another of the participants could approach a resolution. One would be to handle it in a diplomatic manner, where the two parties begin from points of agreement and work towards addressing the differences. The alternative would be to argue from diametrically opposed positions, make no effort to move to the middle, and try and shout each other down until one person gives up. It's this latter option which appears to be the dominant method of discussing Rob Bell's new book, Love Wins.

Over the past several days, as I've read numerous Tweets and blog posts attacking both the book and its author, I couldn't help but wonder how many of those throwing stones had actually taken the time to open the book and read it - even if it was just a few pages. One of my pet peeves is seeing someone arguing against a position without the slightest bit of knowledge or evidence to back up their points. It strikes me as being highly lazy - and exceedingly uninformed - to rely on what someone else has to say, rather than taking time to investigate and draw your own conclusions.

If I understand the main thrust of the opposition correctly, the contention is that Bell has tossed aside thousands of years of traditional thought on the subject of heaven and hell, and how many people go to one or the other. The author, many say, is casting a very wide net in his interpretation of what the New Testament says about hell, and in his attempt to get at possible answers to questions that many of us have (how does one get to heaven; what sort of life does one need to leave; is there a hell; how can I avoid going there) he is completely stripping away the significance of the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus. And a large majority of opponents are tossing out the "u" word - universalist.

Is it just me, or are those who are least confident in their beliefs and position are the ones who argue the loudest? And aren't those Christians who are the most objectionable in terms of their approach to those with whom they disagree the exact opposite of the way Jesus would handle similar discussions?

I want to see for myself and form my own opinions, so I will be beginning the book tonight and blogging my thoughts. Admittedly, I am coming into this with a blank slate; until last week, when his book caused the collective heart to stop beating and he appeared in Time magazine on the list of 100 influential people, I had never heard of Rob Bell. I have no idea what his beliefs are, what he preaches, or just what goes on at Mars Hill Church in Grandville, Michigan. And to me, all of this is good - I have no preconceived notions and (aside from the rantings of an earnest few) no idea what to expect.

Might I end up throwing stones myself at Bell and his book? Certainly - but I should be careful that I'm not throwing them through the walls of my own glass church.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Five Minutes with My Daughter and the Gospel of John

Every night for homework, my oldest daughter is required to read a short book - typically one from her class, but sometimes one she chooses from her shelf at home - and answer a series of questions about the story. Tonight, she selected a short volume from The Little Golden Book series, about Easter. For the most part, it deals with Easter as a time of rebirth, flowers blooming, sun shining, spring arriving, etc.

But there is one particular picture which shows family looking out the window of their house and gazing at a hill in the distance, upon which stand three empty crosses. When doing the question where she has to list three things that happened in the story, MB chose that scene as one of the three events - and then she paused and asked me how Jesus died.

It certainly wasn't a question I was prepared to receive when we first starting doing her homework, and on short notice it was difficult to come up with what I felt was an adequate - and simple - summary for her. I muddled my way through it - Jesus was hung on a cross and died, he was put in the tomb, and three days later he was once again alive. MB contemplated all of this for a moment, and then asked, "How did he come back to life?" I then went into a short description of how it was as a result of God's power; I thought that would be simple enough.

She again thoughtfully considered my (admittedly) short answer, and then asked, "Well, did Jesus have powers?" "Yes, he did!" I responded. "He made blind people see, he made people who couldn't walk walk, and he even brought dead people back to life." Immediately, MB cut in: "The little girl!" "Yes, the little girl, and a man named Lazarus, too."

MB then asked, "Who was Lazarus?" I went and got my Bible, flipped to the Gospel of John, and started to read. I then stopped and thought, why not give her a little extra reading homework? So I pointed to this passage, and she started to read to me:

When he had said this, he cried with a loud voice, "Lazarus, come out!" The dead man came out, his hands and feet bound with strips of cloth, and his face wrapped in a cloth. Jesus said to them, "Unbind him, and let him go." (Jn. 11:43-44)

This story had no grand conclusion; MB said, "Hmmm" and handed the Bible back to me. Then, it was off to draw in her notebook. She may not remember this particular moment beyond tonight, but it's a time with her that I'll remember for the rest of my life.