Monday, November 23, 2009

Why Do Fundamentalists Hate Rob Bell?

From the title of this post, I probably have alienated all of my Fundamentalist reader(s), but that wasn’t my intension.  If you’re a Fundamentalist and still read my stuff, you must really hate me.  I imagine you are taking notes on everything that I’m wrong about, and you are waiting for the perfect time to spew many comments of disapproval all over my blog.  Or perhaps you are a Fundamentalist with an open mind and, therefore, a walking contradiction.  And so, if you are still reading this post, let’s get onto the meat of the subject: Rob Bell…the heretic?

What you shouldn’t expect from this post: the equivalent to a Rob Bell TeenMag article stating, “Rob Bell is SOOO dreamy… and available! XOXOXO”; statements why he is theologically superior to everyone else; or any claims of “Modern Day Prophet” or the equivalent. 

I like Rob Bell, I like Nooma, I like Rob Bell’s books, and, Lord willing, I hope to someday attend a service at Mars Hill Church in Michigan.  Now I’ve liked Bell for a while.  I was first exposed to the Nooma videos at the National Youth Workers Convention in Anaheim in 2006.  What was presented was Nooma Video 14, “Breathe”.  What struck me were the compelling implications of such a simple idea.  It’s like the message was there the entire time and was just waiting to jump out and grab me.

Since I’ve been working in the church, I have used a few Nooma videos on occasion.  What follows are deep conversations about aspects of faith, what it means to love, what it means to serve, and other topics that sometimes get swept under the carpet or not fully explored.  I’ve had youth ask when we’re going to do more Nooma videos.  So not only do I enjoy the videos, but the youth enjoy them AND the deep conversations that follow.

Enter Nooma video #9, “Bullhorn”.  I was screening the video before youth group sometime last year.  I liked it; Bell made some good points.  Just for fun, I decided to do a YouTube search for Rob Bell videos.  What I found was a bunch of copycat videos done to look like Nooma videos, but they were avidly against Bell’s videos.  No problem—everyone that “creates” is due some critics.  But then I got reading the comments—some funny, others disturbing, and yet others made you wonder how they figured out how to use a computer...  Upon further research, I noticed more and more people exclaiming their dislike of Bell’s teachings, even going as far as to say he’s a heretic.  One particularly funny comment I noticed on an iTunes audio book review for Bell’s book, Sex God, went on to say, “Rob Bell is a heretic.  He takes away and adds to the truth of scripture to make his point…” But yet the reviewer still must have liked the book enough to give it three out of five stars.  So he absolutely hated the message; but it was still an above average book?

My question is this: Is it really that easy to throw around the H-word in Christianity?  Just because someone disagrees with your theology (but probably not so much your theology as your implementation of your faith), you feel obligated to drop the H-bomb on someone?  Really?  My question is what gives you the right?  Where in anyone’s understanding of Christianity is arrogance and pride-filled name-calling acceptable?  Is calling someone a heretic really focusing on the things above?  Is getting the courage to write a poor review of his work really working towards the Kingdom of God?  Have you ever wondered how even the Evangelical Champions haven’t called Bell a heretic?  Do you ever think that maybe, just maybe, calling someone a heretic isn’t the best first step?  Moreover, perhaps there’s a small possibility that you misunderstood their words?  Do you think that possibly the reason that you have no credibility is because you’ve allowed yourself to fall into the 3rd grader-mentality of name-calling?

Doing a short Google search, I found a small quotation that will sum up probably 90% of the arguments against Bell.  I found it here.  And I quote:
Here’s a sample of Rob Bell’s heretical theology taken from his book, Velvet Elvis:
Heaven is full of forgiven people.
Hell is full of forgiven people.

Heaven is full of people God loves, whom Jesus died for.
Hell is full of forgiven people God loves, whom Jesus died for.

The difference is how we choose to live, which story we choose to live in, which version of reality we trust. Ours or God’s.
So there you have it, everyone is forgiven! All you have to do to go to heaven is live in God’s story (whatever that means).
See?  Do you see it?  You have decided to take an active stand against something when you don’t fully understand it.  You have decided to pick a side without fully knowing what the opposing side stands for.  But I would argue that there IS NO opposing side.  I ask you to do this: Desperately seek out the meaning of the message before you make your judgment.

So there it is—the answer…whatever that means…

My 2¢.                                                                                                                                                      

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Narcissism In the Church and Other Ways to Be a Hypocrite

*SLAP* Did you feel that?  *SLAP SLAP* How about that one?  *KICK SLAP* Hello?  You there? *PUNCH PUNCH SLAP PINCH KICK ELBOW PUNCH* There you’re coming around.   I can see the life coming back into your eyes, the thought processes starting to compute, and a realization that you’re not the only one on this planet.  Welcome back to the real world…or is it?

Recently I submitted an article to our church newsletter.  And as usual, I didn’t have an article ready, so I did what I usually do in this type of situation and submitted a blog entry.  When I’m in a pinch and getting a death glare from our Office Manager Duane, I usually find the most relevant, non-ranty post that I’ve done and send that to him.  Well, I picked the article about the first week of youth group this year.  It chronicled the events and my inner struggles that surrounded that evening.  Also, it talked about how I was going to refocus my group to be more of a service oriented youth group.  I thought, “Hey, this is good stuff.  I’ll submit this so the congregation knows what’s going on.”  Seems innocent enough, right?

Monday morning I come into my office later than usual.  Then Pastor Gordon comes in to my office.  Usually when Gordon comes in, it’s no big deal.  He usually just needs to blow off some steam, chat a little bit, or he needs help with his computer at home (I know, I didn’t see that one in the job description eitherJ).  So Gordon sits on my couch, we talk a little small talk.  Then he says something to the effect of, “Your letter in the Key has had a BIG response.”  Now realize, what I submitted was written about two months earlier, having quickly gone through and attaching it to an email.  I haven’t actually read it in almost two months.  So I’m trying my hardest to remember what he’s talking about, coming up blank.  Gordon continues to talk about this response to my Key entry and I’m slowly gaining insight.  Turns out that some parents, whose kids don’t come to youth group, read the article.  Whoops!  Forgot about them.  But I’m not too worried.  The parents were talking about how there are two teachers that hand out loads and loads of homework for Wednesday nights.  Ok, I can understand that, no problem. 

Now here’s the part that hit me.  I went back and read what I had written and my intent in writing it.  It was an encouraging post meant to discourage people from playing the numbers game (bigger is better) and encourage people to do great things with what they have.  It was a post about my reaction to what happened when I bought into the numbers game, and my subsequent revitalization and refocus to do big things with the youth that come.  What the post wasn’t, was a post complaining about youth not coming.  What it wasn’t, was a post complaining about parents not encouraging their kids to come.  What it wasn’t, was me lamenting about the yesteryears of youth ministry when everyone in town would come.  And because it wasn’t these things, I got kind of annoyed at the parents’ response.  The article wasn’t about them.  It wasn’t intended to be about them.  And it continues to not be about them.  So why did they think it was?

The answer: because Adam and Eve ate the fruit.  Yep that’s right, narcissism is almost as old as the world and mankind.  You may be asking, “How so?” Well, take a look at why Adam and Eve ate the fruit.  It wasn’t because it was better than everything else.  It wasn’t because the serpent tricked them.  It wasn’t even because Adam was a passive man and Eve wasn’t barefoot, pregnant, and in the kitchen.  It was because (Genesis 3:5-7) ““For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it. Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves. “

You see the very first sin was that of selfishness.  Adam and Eve made it all about them.   They wanted to be like God and therefore ate the fruit.  Isn’t this what we continue to do?  Isn’t every fight you’ve ever had been because of some selfish act?   What about church splits?  What about Bible translations?  The Crusades?  Aren’t selfishness and narcissism the foundation of political parties?  Both sides think that they’re right and the other is wrong.  Both sides think that they have all the answers.  Both sides think that if they were in charge we’d somehow live in a utopian society.  On the far left you have people who want everything handed to them.  They have a certain sense of entitlement, due to their possibly less-than-desirable circumstances.  They think that because they weren’t given the same opportunities as the others, they deserve everything.  On the right you have exactly the same thing, but instead of wanting hand-outs, they want to hold on to everything.  They “worked hard” for what they got and it shouldn’t be taken from them.  It’s theirs and no one else has any right to it.

So now we’re left with the great divide that is tearing our country and our church apart.  It’s a great battle of will between those that have none and those that have some.  So what are we to do?  Do we vote against any tax increase?  Do we vote for every tax increase? 

To those playing the entitled victim, read Matthew 25:14-30.  To those playing the entitled hoarder, read Matthew 19:16-30.  I say neither side, left nor right, are correct.  God commands us to “Love your neighbor.”  How is focusing on ourselves anywhere close to loving our neighbor?  If we truly loved our neighbors as ourselves, we’d buy them the nice car, clothes, house, and food.  We would fight for their rights, and battle injustice against them.  We’d make sure that they’re taken care of no matter what.  If we truly loved our neighbor, instead of being people of entitlement, we’d be people of charity.  Maybe, just maybe, if we as a church were people of charity instead of making every little thing about us we wouldn’t be looked on as hypocrites.  Think of it, a world where people are helping people because they are simply…people…well that sounds like heaven.

My 2¢.

Monday, November 2, 2009

If you don’t read…

You can’t lead…

It dawned on me this morning during my drive to work: there might be a sudden influx of new readers to my blog.  Almost all of them will not know me except through the blog.  I was thinking about how I can build my credibility.  Maybe it’s better stated that I was wondering how I can explain myself and my beliefs without the luxury of meeting everyone face to face for some Taco Bell.  So I decided to put together a list of favorites—authors, musicians, movies—so people can gauge where I’m coming from with some of the stuff that I write.  I know some people will immediately write me off because of their view of a particular author that I read, but I do hope this list will inspire people to read some of these authors, listen to some of the music, or watch some killer movies. (NOTE: “Killer” is not a reference to film genre, a.k.a. horror movies; it’s a reference to the quality of the movies.)

So without further ado, here are some of my favorite authors and why they are my favorites:
Tony Campolo – I read Tony Campolo because, to put it simply, he’s not crazy.  Before I started reading Campolo, I had some reservations about mainstream Conservatism, Evangelicalism, and the Religious Right.  Now I’m not saying I’m the opposite of any of these, but before I read Campolo (especially Red Letter Christian), I was skeptical about many of the “Church’s” political views.  Campolo drew me in with Carpe Diem and his flirting-with-but-not-fully-committing-to Christian Existentialism and furthered my interest with Red Letter Christian and Letters to a Young Evangelical.  Simply put, reading Campolo will inspire thought and provoke contemplation.

John Eldredge – “WHAT?!?!  Really?  You’re going to follow Campolo with Eldredge?”  Yep, it seems to be that way.  I love reading Eldredge and here’s why: He was the first author I read that wrote about Christianity and the deep spiritual wars we fight with our hearts.  He was (for me) the first author that made it seem normal to be battling the internal wars without coming across as having it all together himself.  Plus, the way he writes makes each page a beautiful journey.  I started with Wild at Heart and continued with Captivating and Waking the Dead.  The last that I've read is The Journey of Desire.  His writing will lead to thoughts about personal change and improvement without making you feel condemned. 

Donald Miller – Another narrative writer, Miller’s books encourage questioning the accepted Christian norms and methods.  He takes his personal search for a “Bullet Point” God and gives it a story.  I love reading Miller because he gives life and a sense of reality to God.  All of his books were page-turners for me.  Start with Blue Like Jazz and then read everything else by him.  Through Painted Deserts will make you want to buy a VW Bus and go on a road trip, so unless you have the cash I’d save it for last.

Mike Yaconelli – Sadly Yaconelli passed in 2005.  But his books Messy Spirituality and Getting Fired for the Glory of God will encourage anybody to be okay with not being okay.  He talks a lot about innovation within the church through meeting people where they are instead of making them come to you.  He writes about his church and how it’s, “The slowest growing church in America.”  He highly encourages the “quality over quantity” mindset in both youth ministry and your personal relationship with Christ. 

C.S. Lewis – I know clich√©, right?  Well the simple fact is that without C.S. Lewis’s books, it would have taken a lot longer for laymen to start thinking theologically.  Plus, you can’t deny the impact that Lewis has had on Christianity as a whole.

Rob Bell – Bell has written a few books—Velvet Elvis, Sex God, Jesus Wants to Save Christians, and Drop Like Stars—of which I have read none.  So why is he on the author list?  Well, Rob Bell and his team are the creators of the Nooma videos.  In the Nooma videos, Bell explores various ideas and commonly-held beliefs about various aspects of each Christians’ personal life and he challenges them.  Bell has come under a lot of fire (mostly from the Fundamentalists) because he interprets the Bible differently than most people.  Of that interpretation, I can grasp that he seeks context from within the scriptures and then applies it to today’s life. He challenges each of us to put meaning behind what we do with our faith.

Andrew Schwab - Schwab is the lead singer and song writer for the band Project 86.  Schwab is another author that will challenge the basic accepted norms within the church.  Although he’s only written three books (two of which are poetry)and has another coming out soon, he is a blog writer for Relevant Magazine.  He challenges his readers to be authentic, to be honest to oneself, and to fight social ecclesiological norms when needed.  The final chapter of his book, It’s All Downhill From Here, is quite literally one of the best chapters ever written and could very well bring a tear to your eye.

Other books that have made an impact on me:
Youth Ministry 3.0 by Mark Oestreicher – Youth Ministry 3.0 takes a contemplative look at the current trends of youth ministry.  This book will help you refocus your youth group and challenge you to think communally about youth ministry.

Do Hard Things by Alex and Brett Harris – Do Hard Things is mostly written for teenagers and young adults.  I was 25 when I read it and it still encouraged me to take on harder things.  If you’ve been outside of the adolescence bubble for some time, it’ll give you context and encouragement to challenge your teens/youth.

The Case for Christ by Lee Strobel – The Case for Christ helps make the irrational, scientifically plausible.  It’s a great book to reaffirm your faith when your reason seems to eliminate the possibility of miracles in today’s world.

The Universe Next Door by James W. Sire – The Universe Next Door was a book required in my Worldviews class in college.  The tag line for the book is: “A basic worldview catalog,” which it is.  But it will help you better understand the world we live in and why certain people think the way they do. 

Other classic writers that I read from time to time include John Wesley, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, George MacDonald, and Thomas √° Kempis.  So these are the major authors and books that I’ve read that have influenced my thinking and theology the most.  If you have some authors and books that you recommend, let me know.  I’m always up for a good read!