Thursday, July 20, 2006

Taco Bell

I've had a few comments recently about Rob Bell's "Bullhorn Guy" Nooma video. I echo many of the sentiments stated in those comments, but don't feel the need to throw in my 2 cents. In case you couldn't tell before, I think through reading many of my posts it's become quite evident that I'm a pretty cynical guy. I like being that way for the most part - I like questioning things - but sometimes it devolves so far into criticism that I forget to take a step back and look at the big picture. In short, I have a tendency to point out the speck in my brother's eye while the plank remains in my own.

With that being said, I decided to read up a little bit on Rob to try to get to know him a little better. Following are links to some articles/interviews, and some selected excerpts.

From an article in everybody's favorite newspaper, the New York Times: (see, more cynicism!)
At his own church and in his videos, Mr. Bell avoids controversial topics like same-sex marriage, abortion rights and school prayer, and in his talk here he offhandedly dismissed "any spiritual institution that says you should vote a certain way."

Explaining afterward, he said: "It's against what Jesus had in mind when it becomes about how much power we can have as a voting bloc. ..."
Ever since college, I've been annoyed with the perception that the Republican party is the "Christian" party. However, I don't see a real need to avoid "controversial" topics. I don't think we should be stating absolute "Jesus would say ..." statements, but I think good, open, honest discussion & debate is good - it forces you to think about what you believe and why you believe it.

A comment from a listener:
"It's more like Jesus' teaching than the church's teaching," said Mr. Beh, adding: "I loved that there was beer available. The church needs to go more in that direction, more culture-friendly rather than sectarian, or dividing people."
If only more churches allowed people to get drunk. But in all seriousness, this man's last statement reminds me of a recent discussion I read about faithfulness vs. relevance - sometimes in our attempts to be "more culture-friendly" and draw new people to church, the Truth of the Gospel gets watered down, or even lost along the way.

From a Christianity Today article concerning the "emerging church":
Bell is almost certainly the only pastor to have begun a megachurch-planting career with a sermon series from the book of Leviticus.
That's pretty interesting. I'd like to give those a listen/read.
"Swords appear strong," Bell says, "but they're actually quite weak. Jesus appears weak, but he's actually quite strong." Inviting his congregation to embrace weakness, referring to Paul's words about his own infirmity in 2 Corinthians, Bell takes up a refrain: "Weak is the new strong."
From 2 Corinthians 12:9: "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness."
"This is not just the same old message with new methods," Rob says. "We're rediscovering Christianity as an Eastern religion, as a way of life. Legal metaphors for faith don't deliver a way of life. We grew up in churches where people knew the nine verses why we don't speak in tongues, but had never experienced the overwhelming presence of God."
I don't quite know what to say about that. Is this supposed to be some sort of "Zen-Christianity?" I don't know for sure, but I'm guessing the authors of the books of the New Testament might have something to say in response to "Legal metaphors for faith don't deliver a way of life."
"The Bible is still in the center for us," Rob says, "but it's a different kind of center. We want to embrace mystery, rather than conquer it."
One of the things I remember most from my Theology professor in college was him telling us to be able to live with unanswered questions, to be able to hold apparently contradictory Biblical truths in tension. But I'm also drawn to Paul's words in 1 Corinthians - "We have not received the spirit of the world but the Spirit who is from God, that we may understand what God has freely given us. ... we have the mind of Christ."
"People don't get it," [Bell said]. "They think it's about style. But the real question is: What is the gospel?"

That question, of course, is not new. It was asked by, among others, a devout young German monk named Martin Luther who found church increasingly dissatisfying. His answer, rooted in Scripture, changed the direction of Christian history at a moment of epochal cultural change.

It is my prayer that all of our questioning about God and the gospel drive us hard into Scripture, not to any post-modern, politically correct, "tolerant" psychobabble.

From an interview with Christianity Today:
"Jesus is Jewish. I thought he was Christian. So then I started reading. Jesus taught about himself with Moses—the Torah—and the Prophets. It drove me crazy. I thought, There must be a whole world of stuff in there that I'm missing. And there was. There are thousands and thousands of pages of ancient writings that Christians are oblivious to."
I find it easy to skim over the Old Testament, forgetting that the whole book is about God's redemptive plan through Christ. But there's so much there - from prophecy to foreshadowing - that helps us to understand Jesus and the New Testament better.
"Jesus had faith in his disciples. Then he says to them, 'Now you go and make more disciples. I'm out of here.' That's how a rabbi worked. A rabbi only chose disciples he believed in."
Here's a reminder of my introduction to Bell. I basically said it before, but I'll say it again - Matthew 28:19-20 - "Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age." (emphasis added) And Luke 24:49 - "I am going to send you what my Father has promised; but stay in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high."
"A lot of Christian preaching isn't really seriously about story. I don't want to conquer mystery. I want to celebrate it. And in the modern era we have 'Seven Steps to Prayer,' 'Four Steps to Financial—whatever.'' Those all, I assume, have their place.

"But what often happens is God gets shrunk down in the process. In the effort to boil things down, God gets boiled down. And there have to be spaces where mystery is simply celebrated.

"The true orthodox faith is deeply mysterious, and every question that's answered leads to a new set of questions. A lot of preaching tries to answer everything. At the end of the sermon, people walk out with no more questions."
I'm pretty much with him there - in particular with all the books. We like to say that the Bible is a "guidebook for life" but we also like to write & read books that are quick self-help guides themselves. How about searching Scripture for the Truth it contains? How about the Holy Spirit indwelling the believer's heart and implanting the Word there?
"Kierkegaard talks about faith in fear and trembling as absolutely necessary for there to be real faith. It's easy to say, 'Just believe. You got all the facts.' But it doesn't work that way.

"Two weeks ago I sponsored a 'Doubt Night.' I said, 'I want to talk about my own doubts about God, Jesus, the Bible, salvation, faith. And if you have some, bring them. Write them down and pass them forward, we'll read them and we'll see what happens.' We had a huge box—you would not believe—and I just started going through them, reading them and discussing them. It was so awesome."

We all have fears & doubts, don't we? What do we do with them - do we hide them behind a facade of bravado & certainty, or do we run with them into our Father's arms and into His Word? Do we discuss them with our brothers & sisters?

"Sometimes I hear people say, 'The church isn't here to entertain.' To entertain means to hold people's attention, which is clearly something teachers throughout the Scriptures are doing. They engage and capture attention.

"But we're not here to amuse. To 'a-muse' means to 'not think.' And it's wrong to prevent people from pondering or distract them from thinking. I'm not here to amuse. But of course I want to engage people. I have something to say."

I'm entertained by a good sermon - not by amusing stories, but by good Biblical teaching which makes me think and encourages my faith.
"I use a lot of props and visuals. People are like, 'You use your props and stuff. I'm just into biblical preaching.' Well, find me a person in the Scriptures who doesn't use visuals. Jesus said, 'Look at those birds, look at the tree.'
"But—props can never be a substitute for having something to say. It's easy to become Prop Guy or Video Clip Woman, but not have said anything. It has to start with something to say."
And what are we going to say?

From another interview, this one with
"I affirm orthodox Christian faith. I affirm the Nicene Creed."
Finally, some sense of doctrinal belief.
"For many people the message of Jesus was presented as an individual message of salvation for their own individual sin: 'Jesus died for you.' I affirm that wholeheartedly, but in the scriptures, its scope goes in the opposite direction. It begins with the Jesus who dies on the cross and rises from the dead. But as the New Testament progresses, you have writers saying that 'by his shed blood he is reconciling everything in heaven and on earth.' Peter says in Acts, 'He will return to restore everything.'

"So it is a giant thing that God is doing here and not just the forgiveness of individuals. It is the reconciliation of all things. It is the putting back together of the whole universe how God originally intended it to be. One way to look at it is that the message is an invitation into God’s giant, global universal purposes that 'I' actually get to be a part of."

"I’m trying to get the focus where the first Christians seem to have had the focus. It is easy for it to become a very selfish thing—'look what I’ve got'—as opposed to 'by the grace of God look at this amazing thing that he’s been inviting people into for thousands of years.' And that is quite an awe-inspiring, amazing thing."
This reminded me of Romans 8:18-23: "I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. The creation waits in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed. For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies."
"It has been a gradual realization that at the center of the Christian church for thousands of years has been this risen Christ who invites people to trust him; trust him with life, trust him with death, trust him with sin, trust him with future, trust him with hope, trust him with every day. And that this risen Christ transcends dogma and theological systems and denominations and world views.

"... over the years I’ve found that everything but the risen Christ fails. It doesn’t deliver."


Noah Braymen said...

That's one long post:)

Anonymous said...

This is good - thanks for doing the research I honestly don't have the time to do right now. I was thinking the same thing about wanting to know more about what this guy really was about. AND...I still stand by what I said about his work on the clip Bullhorn Guy. ;-) J in the UK