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For many who know me and my relationship with the living God they know I love to talk about Him. In fact if I could choose one conversation to have with the people I interact with it would be this. I love to see what people believe about God. I love to see how they view the world. Whether they be Christian, Jew, Muslim, Mormon, Buddhist, and especially Atheist, I love to listen to their reasons. For or against. I like to understand their faith. Faith to me is the very essence of how we live life. What we believe is often defined by what we do. As James puts it “people are justified by what they do and not faith alone.”
James puts the two together to say that faith gives life to our deeds. So this faith that drives us is our way of living. It is the root of our morality and the way of defining the world we occupy. Whether it be a definition with a god or as you see the world without. I seek these conversations because they help me more strongly define what it is I BELIEVE about God. Something, mind you, that is always adapting as my eyes become more and more aware to just how incredible His workings are. Just how holy this ground is.
When I was fourteen years old I had an experience with this living God that shattered my boundaries of where my faith could go. I encountered the love of God in a way that provided no chance of turning back. Confidence in the things I had hoped for. A seed was planted that would one day sprout to a higher calling I would have never predicted.
If the seed was this moment then the water came five years later. I was in a small group my freshman year of college with people who were being trained to be leaders in the ministry I am involved with. Every once in a while (probably when the leaders had no direction planned for the evening) we watched a series of videos with the name Nooma. With these brief 11-15 minute sermon videos we were asked serious thought provoking questions about how we view our dealings of life and what we think and believe about God. I always enjoyed these nights because the questions really got at me. I liked thinking about this. Around a year later I stumbled on a trailer for a book that grabbed my fullest attention. Here is the trailer:
When I saw this I had never been a huge book reader. Outside of Lord of the Rings or Harry Potter I had never given reading much focus. I was the movie guy. To further this point I was a Christian but the Bible was boring to me. I knew I should read it but it wasn’t something I was ever seriously excited about doing. At this same time I had just started regularly attending a church that I currently am still a part of. My pastor asked a profound question that I think sent me to much of my interest in the featured topic of the pages.
“If all the so called “prizes” weren’t in Heaven and there was only Christ would you still want to go?”
And so I had this question I’d never been asked that totally rocked my world and then I was given these other questions that absolutely challenged this box I had been taught and raised to keep the God of the universe contained. I pre-ordered this book entitled Love Wins and received it the day it came out. I began flipping the pages and thought after thought began exploding in my head. Those around the office were reading it as well and they KNEW if I were there we were going to talk about it. And so this weird fire began to come forth out of this water that Jesus had used to grow this seed of his. Suddenly this word faith was something fresh and because our beliefs drive our behavior I began to seek MORE.
The following summer I would read more books about God than I had even passed by in my life. The pages of my Bible began to glow with an orange, or pink, or yellow radiance. Suddenly the pages of this book I’ve possessed my whole life began to wear. So much that my cover fell apart. I had to bandage it up with duct tape and bumper stickers.
I say this not to say I read my Bible more than others and that I am this righteous person because I can check that off my Jesus list. I say this because reading Rob Bell EXCITED me to read the Bible. I read every book of the New Testament several times over and began having these answers to questions I would ask all the time. (Well, what does the Bible say about this.) I could bring forth something from the bible without having it in front of me. I could see how every day situations related to the stories I had learned years ago in Sunday School. I began to see gospel in my day to day journey. To put it quite plainly…Love Wins changed my life. Or more specifically Love Wins grew my faith.
That Summer I read all of these Christian books. So much that I got many warnings to not burn myself out. I read Lewis, I read Francis Chan, I read Keller, I read Platt, I read every book that Rob Bell had ever written. There was something different about Rob Bell’s writing. He was the one that kept connecting with me. I saw myself in him. He communicated like I communicated. His moment of clarity was so very similar to mine. I related to what he was talking about. But more importantly I actually learned from him. Chan, Platt, Driscoll weren’t so much teaching me NEW things. Yeah my gut was being challenged. They all wrote about what I wasn’t doing, but Bell, He was challenging what I wasn’t thinking.
Not the other way around.
The other authors weren’t asking me the questions that made me go WHOA I have NEVER thought to think about it that way.
Now of course I don’t buy in to everything Rob Bell teaches and it actually irritates me that I have to say that at all.
Whenever I bring up that I enjoy Rob’s teachings I feel like there is a deep groan from much of my Christian community. Oh THAT guy. He’s the guy who said there isn’t a hell right?
First. No, he’s not.
Second. No, he’s not.
Third. No, he’s not.
He wrote a book about not focusing on the then and focusing on the now. Stop worrying and focusing all of your attention on the unknown then and focus on the visible Hell here, now, in the midst of our reality. People are suffering and there is a Heaven that can crash through their Hell by showing these people Love. God with us. What an absolute load of heresy right? (I need to work on this sarcasm stuff.)
But back to these groans. I’ve yet to meet a critic of Rob Bell that’s actually read his books. That doesn’t mean they don’t exist. I’m just saying all the people who don’t like him that I know haven’t read his stuff. Secondly many call him a heretic. I love how another defined heresy. I’m going to use it too. When the early church met they decided on a creed that would be the absolutes of the Christian faith. We can talk about the other stuff but this is what we believe. If you go against this, you are a heretic.
We believe in one God,
the Father, the Almighty,
maker of heaven and earth,
of all that is, seen and unseen.
We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ,
the only Son of God,
eternally begotten of the Father,
God from God, Light from Light,
true God from true God,
begotten, not made,
of one Being with the Father.
Through him all things were made.
For us and for our salvation
he came down from heaven:
by the power of the Holy Spirit
he became incarnate from the Virgin Mary,
and was made man.
For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate;
he suffered death and was buried.
On the third day he rose again
in accordance with the Scriptures;
he ascended into heaven
and is seated at the right hand of the Father.
He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead,
and his kingdom will have no end.
We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life,
who proceeds from the Father and the Son.
With the Father and the Son he is worshiped and glorified.
He has spoken through the Prophets.
We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic Church.
We acknowledge one baptism for the forgiveness of sins.
We look for the resurrection of the dead,
and the life of the world to come. Amen.
What a huge space for discussions.
I was talking with an Evangelist who upon hearing of the Popes resignation made a facebook status that said “What a great week to speak out against Catholics.”
So of course I asked her the question:
“Why should we speak against Catholics?”
She gave me a story of how they don’t believe they are born again. That she once met a Catholic girl and was speaking of how you are not a Christian unless you are born again. To which the wander-by Catholic girl said “I wasn’t born again.” Now when I heard this I’m thinking of how this girl probably interpreted the statement “born again.” Many Christians use that in the terms of “Well I used to be a drug addict then I was born again!” So I see it as her not understanding what this evangelist was preaching. But she said she was simply raised a Christian.
So this evangelist took this one story to generalize the ENTIRE Catholic church. I was trying to explain my reason for thinking that wasn’t a healthy thing to do. And even quoted some scripture as we always do. I used Roman 14 about accepting those whose faith are weak. And I shared this video on the order of teaching from Rob Bell where he talks about how so many start out with Hell without talking about Creation first. And he gives a hilarious literal analogy of casting your pearls at swine which I thought this lady would find funny. Her respone
“Blehg! Get that OFF my wall. I will NEVER watch Rob Bell.”
Now with the story I’ve above’d mentioned I haven’t painted this individual in the best way so I want to add that I had great conversations with her and when we were hanging out she was lovely to be around. And we got along really well and agreed about many things when it came to God and following Christ. However, this reaction that she had is a common reaction from a very vocal Christianity.
He spoke some things that I didn’t agree with so “Farewell Rob Bell.” I’m done with you. You are out. You are a heretic because I disagree and you are challenging my tradition. So many people write him off and bash his work, ministry, and church. They take a statement that he never made to mark him as an outsider. To cast him into the fire “that he doesn’t believe in.”
Now for a more related to this post story. This same woman spoke out against Rick Warren because he is leading a movement that brings Christians and Muslims together for discussions on commonality. I asked what was wrong with that and she became livid making another generality. “I don’t understand how the youth of America doesn’t recognize how deep of trouble the modern church is in.”
I said look. I study religion at a secular college. So let me clarify what that means. I’m in a class with mostly atheist and am taught Christianity by people who don’t believe in it. And I LOVE this. My mom was so cautious about it but I said “No, if I am going to teach this book I want to hear what people have to say against it now and not later. I don’t want to be twenty years down the road and hear something that just rocks my perceptions of the God I’ve been teaching.” Here’s the fun part. I believe the bible MORE now than I did BEFORE. Studying with those against teaches me so much about what I hold as truth. I told her that just because Rob Bell said something you don’t agree with doesn’t mean there is nothing you can learn from him (referring to this video about the order of speaking).
Imagine only learning from people you agree with. You would never learn anything new. Which is a huge reason I love the Bible so much. I don’t agree with a lot of it. But that doesn’t mean I don’t believe in it and learn from it and get this BELIEVE the things I don’t agree with. Same with Mark Driscoll (sorry Calvinist) I don’t agree with him on everything. But I do believe he is doing great things for the church and I have learned great things from his teachings. He says plenty of things that make me squirm but so has my brother Blake and yet…he’s still my brother. Just cause I don’t agree with Mark doesn’t mean I’ll never listen to him or say others should steer clear. I just say “I think he crossed the line a bit on that one. Or I don’t really like the macho man personality.” But this man is a teacher that many great friends of mine follow and I’m okay with that and we can talk about our differences without discrediting all that teacher is doing. Debate the worthiness of the idea without infringing the worth of the person.
To clarify this point about teachers:
For when one says, “I follow Paul,” and another, “I follow Apollos,” are you not mere human beings?
5 What, after all, is Apollos? And what is Paul? Only servants, through whom you came to believe—as the Lord has assigned to each his task. 6 I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God has been making it grow. 7 So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow.
1 Corinthians 3:4-7
In Rob Bell’s last sermon as head pastor at Mars Hill he asked his congregation what I found to be a profound question. He asked:
Mars Hill, do you believe that the Spirit is working in this community?
And with the loudest yawp (yeah I’ve seen Dead Poets Society) they said “YES!”
He continued, “When people speak falsely against the Holy Spirit it is called blasphemy.”
It’s goes back deep to this point that God is over all, through all, and in all. God is in the courtyard when these evangelist are speaking and God is in whatever place Rob Bell is speaking. We do not always see how Christ is using his leg or his arm but I assure you HE IS.
So when people say these divisive things about other Christians who are doing the work they have been called by this Spirit to do it upsets me. No matter the person. Even these Evangelist whom I don’t agree with I stick up for all the time because I for one believe that when God’s word goes out it does not return empty but accomplishes what God desires it to accomplish.-Isaiah 55:11 Christ is preached and I rejoice. This doesn’t mean that we can’t disagree or have these discussions. Or ask these questions. The entire point of Rob Bell’s books is to have these discussions. To ask these important questions that MATTER. What we believe drives our character.
“Questions aren’t scary,
What’s scary is when people don’t have any.”
-Rob Bell, Velvet Elvis.
So these Christians who comment on Youtube or write these reviews and picket his shows or make mocking videos or say they are against him before they’ve even listened to him or even after THEY HAVE I say this…..but what about me?
What about my Bible with all those fun colors in it? What about the sermons I now give? The Children I run to to share with them wisdom of their maker? What about my passion to know this creator more and more clearly every day? What about this passion to teach? Do I believe in a false God because much of what I learned stemmed from this specific water that God chose to grow me and many, many others?
I relate to Rob Bell because the God HE believes in is HUGE. Infinite.
THAT’S the God I’ve felt. The God who opened my clarity on a mountainside.
I relate to him because he shows me MORE of the God I encountered my freshman year of high school sitting under the stars and hearing his affirming voice say to me “I love you.” Because when I felt the love of God it did not feel like it had any limit to who it could love or why it loves. But this love was something that bursts out from me that demanded it be shared with everybody everywhere no matter their faith, race, class, sex, or sexual orientation. God’s love is not exclusive it is inclusive. This God I felt had no limit. He had no box.
Now I don’t write this to defend Rob Bell because I’m not sure he’d even care for standing up to his defense. I don’t write this to get up in your face and say NO YOU’RE WRONG.
In Acts there is a wonderful story that involves Peter and the other apostles in before the Sanhedrin to be questioned by the high priest. They were told not to teach the things they had been teaching. But they did it anyways. When asked why they kept doing this they replied: “We must obey God rather than human beings! The God of our ancestors raised Jesus from the dead—whom you killed by hanging him on a cross. God exalted him to his own right hand as Prince and Savior that he might bring Israel to repentance and forgive their sins. We are witnesses of these things,and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey him.”
Angry at what these men were saying and the claims they were making the Sanhedrin became enraged and moved to put them all to death. But an honored teacher of the law, a Pharisee named Gamiliel, stood forward and said something that still will reign true today.
“Men of Israel, consider carefully what you intend to do to these men. Some time ago Theudas appeared, claiming to be somebody, and about four hundred men rallied to him. He was killed, all his followers were dispersed, and it all came to nothing. After him, Judas the Galilean appeared in the days of the census and led a band of people in revolt. He too was killed, and all his followers were scattered. Therefore, in the present case I advise you: Leave these men alone! Let them go! For if their purpose or activity is of human origin, it will fail. But if it is from God, you will not be able to stop these men; you will only find yourselves fighting against God.”
Or in another man’s words Love Wins.
I write this post for you to understand that God uses things and people whether you want him to or not. Jesus Christ breaks through barriers. He shuts down establishments.
This is why religious people wanted to MURDER him.
God was called a heretic.
God’s plan is not always your plan. And I don’t feel so hot about criticizing God’s plan. Or saying his water taste bad. Or saying God you can’t use HIM. Or finding myself fighting against God.
God makes things new.
God uses people to spread the aroma of knowledge of him everywhere.
I get excited when these books come out because I know that once I’m done God will be even bigger than I knew him to be before. And that is always exciting.
Finishing “What We Talk About When We Talk About God” simply enchanted me. I had often described culture as moving away from what God had in mind for us. Leaving what God wanted for us in the past. Bell challenges us to realize that God has always been ahead of us moving us and leading us into the new thing he has in store. That God is not back there being left behind unable to take on the world at hand. The Word is living after all.
I was two chapters in and I wanted to stand up in my coffee shop and just clap. Because it is a remarkable thing to excite a person to learn about God. Imagine if it were the opposite.
The founder of Young Life, a ministry towards teenagers, made an absolutely bold statement; “Christ is the strongest, grandest, most attractive personality to ever grace the earth. But a careless messenger with the wrong method can reduce all this magnificence to the level of boredom…It is a sin to bore anyone with the gospel.”
I have found that Rob Bell is one of the most engaging and relatable speakers this generation may ever have when it comes to this vast discussion of Jesus Christ. And obviously I would recommend his writing to anyone because well he doesn’t bore. He shows me this attractive personality in a way that draws me closer and closer with each passing word. He inspires me to not look at things as in or out but reminds me that above all things love wins.
Love must be sincere.
Love will be victorious.
God is love.
And this God of love holds all things together.
“I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God has been making it grow.”
Which each new book, God has been making it grow.