Kingdom Chronicles For The Week Ending 3/5/11
This week’s Kingdom Chronicles has a lot to do with Rob Bell (what else?), and his soon to be released book, “Love Wins”. I will try to keep my comments to a minimum, and attempt, to the best of my ability, to speak in the Spirit of brotherly love and charity. Rob Bell, from what I have seen, is a sound Christian brother. Obviously, there is a great deal of disagreement between he, and the neo-Puritan movement (my position probably lays much closer to where it is assumed that Bell will likely land). I enjoy the fact that Bell is willing to ask the more difficult questions that (most likely) all of us have asked at one time or another; questions that are asked, usually, to a much larger degree the deeper one becomes engaged in biblical studies. I appreciate his willingness, not only to test some of the traditional answers to these questions against the pages of scripture, but also, to look back into the history of the church; investigating, to see whether or not there have been different interpretive traditions, which might possibly be considered equal to, if not more valid than, his own (or perhaps, even scrapping his tradition altogether, if he believed that the church had gotten some things completely wrong). This is good Protestant theology, in my opinion. I would think that those in the neo-Puritan movement (professing to be the direct heirs of the Reformation heritage) would applaud the efforts of Bell; but obviously, this is not the case.
I do not wish to call into question the sincerity of my brothers and sisters in the neo-Puritan movement; but I do have concerns. I want to be able to discuss these difficult questions with them; with the freedom and grace granted to us in Christ, but this is not possible, as has been evidenced throughout this week in their dealings with Rob Bell. He might employ the very same methodology that they so boldly proclaim, but the minute that he begins, to even hint, that he might be questioning the answers that they have traditionally arrived at, they become suspicious of his intentions, regard him as a wolf, and do everything that they can in order to prevent other people from listening to the answers that he is giving, fearing that these too, might begin to ask the same questions, and reject the answers that they had formerly accepted. They take no issue with using fear as a motivator; threatening people with excommunication, and even worse, an eternity of conscious torment in a fiery hell, for even considering the possibility that someone like Bell might be on to something truthful. But then, is it really possible to say that someone has honestly thought through these questions, with integrity, if they must constantly fear that coming to any conclusion other than the one which has been previously accepted, and presupposed, by the community, will end in their being cut off from that community (which is such an integral part of their lives), and supposedly, Christ also? Maybe this is another reason why I have grown to respect Rob Bell: he lives as if he fears God rather than men.
If I am going to be honest, I was extremely angry (at first) about the way in which the neo-Puritans handled this entire situation with Rob Bell; until, that is, I realized that I am at least as guilty, if not more so, of the sinful behavior that they have been exhibiting. In fact, I actually was one of them; highly influenced by the loudest (and even the most separatist!) of the voices leading the neo-Puritan movement, and as zealous as Saul of Tarsus, in my loyalty to the god of Calvinism (well…almost). So who am I to judge? If the neo-Puritans desire to shun everyone who disagrees with their inflexible, and rigid, ideology, then that is their prerogative, and there is nothing that I can do to stop them. If they think that they are being faithful to God by hunting down the “heretics”, and publicly denouncing them as the enemies of their god and his “special people”, so be it. If they believe that it is their duty to attempt to silence, and to exclude from fellowship, any and all of those people who might raise important questions with regard to the biblical accuracy of the neo-Puritan tradition, then that is what they are going to do. If they will not allow opposing ideas to be taught and considered within their community (failing to recognize their own fallibility), choosing instead, merely to search for new and creative ways to articulate those things that their tradition has “always” insisted must be truth, instead of allowing their preconceived notions to be challenged by other believers who also confess Jesus as Lord; then no one can force them to do otherwise; nor should we desire to.
I, personally, believe that our Lord is righteous judge, and I think that the wisest thing to do is simply to allow this movement to run its course, trusting in our Sovereign God, that this kind of behavior, which is all-to0-commonly exhibited by the neo-Puritans, being both divisive and destructive, will in time, destroy itself. We all get upset, when we recognize how careless, and ungenerous, they are, in their criticism of those who disagree with them, how inaccurate and misleading they tend to be when evaluating the theology, as well as the approaches to theology, of their “opponents”, and how overly confident (and even naive) they often sound, when boldly asserting that “truth” must be measured against the “scriptures” (as if we don’t believe that as well!), and we probably should get upset about it; but that is all the more reason for the rest of to avoid, at all costs, responses that in any way resemble the sort of attitude and conduct that we have witnessed from the neo-Puritans; that which has gotten us so distraught. I can tell you, on the basis of experience, that their reckless lack of caution, and over-confidence, as well as their exclusivist attitude, will, ultimately, be the cause of the downfall of this movement. There are, undoubtedly, consequences to our beliefs, and to our consequent conduct, resulting from them. Division breeds division, lies will be “found out”, and judgment will be in accordance with the standard wherewith a person chooses to judge another. I am a living witness to the truth of these statements, and am currently reaping the wrath that I had, myself, sewn, during my time as a neo-Puritan; it is something that I would wish on no one.
In light of these things, we ought not root for their obliteration, nor should we attempt to bring it about ourselves, by calling down the judgment of God upon them; as they have done to Rob Bell. We should do unto them as we would have them do unto us, and welcome their them into our ecumenical theological dialogue, granting them a status that is on equal footing with those of us who disagree, and giving careful consideration to the positions that they take, knowing that they are part of a tradition that has deep roots in the history of the church. That does not mean that we must accept their conclusions, or that we should not hold to our beliefs firmly, and with strong conviction; but it does mean that we should recognize them as our brothers and sisters, who really do desire to know and serve the Lord Jesus Christ, as we do. Even if we have concluded that their beliefs are entirely misguided, and almost completely out of accord with the Spirit of Christ (in fact because of these things!), we should not act in a manner similar to they; by looking at them with great suspicion, launching condemning accusations, or demanding allegiance to our particular interpretation of scripture, under the threat of dis-fellowship, and eternal damnation. Instead, we must, at all costs, seek reconciliation, and show mercy to them; suffering through their threats and insults, and forgiving them, unconditionally, as God has forgiven us in Christ, for their outrage and hostility towards us. If we truly do believe that “Love Wins”, then this should be our approach to the situation. We must fight to include them, even as they fight to exclude themselves.
I realize that this is very idealistic, and I hope that it has not sounded to preachy; I am not even close to having attained to this attitude myself (and in fact, I re-wrote this post 4 or 5 times, because I really wanted to say some “other things”, that truly reflected my “disappointment” in the recent actions of a couple of the writers blogging with the “Gospel Coalition”). I do want to strive for this ideal though, because unless I do, I am no better than the neo-Puritans whom I so vehemently disagree with; no less worldly, and no more Christlike. I grant that it is, and will surely be, extraordinarily difficult for us to seek reconciliation with those who have, more or less, no desire to reconcile with us (unless, of course, it is on their terms; which means that we must first affirm that they are right, and we are wrong); people who think that they are doing the will of god by attempting to assassinate our character, or murder our reputations, through the spreading falsehoods about our beliefs, and by labeling us enemies of God, in order to ensure that their followers will read, and/or hear, all of those who espouse positions that are contrary to those held by the neo-Puritans, with a deep suspicion and angry bias (and they call this “shepherding the flock”?). But, my brothers and sisters, our Lord had to endure all of this as well; He sympathizes with us in our weaknesses, and He will grant us the victory, if we continue to manifest the Spirit of our cruciform God, in our interactions with the neo-Puritans, whom Christ loves also, and who are part of the world that He has, and is, recreating. Let us walk in the footsteps of the Lord…and that is all that I have to say on that.
Below is the video that sparked off all of the controversy (if by some slim chance you haven’t seen it already). Below the video, you will find the neo-Puritan responses, as well as a few responses, to the responses, from those beyond the neo-Puritan borders, that I, personally, found extraordinary helpful, and enlightening.
Justin Taylor’s first post is located here. John Piper tweeted this; and though I am not sure exactly what it means, it is clearly a condemnation of Bell, which came off, in the eyes of a great many, as quite arrogant; and Josh Harris tweeted this, which was also considered, by quite a few, to be somewhat condescending. Kurt Willems responded to all of this in a very gracious manner, here. At some point, Kevin DeYoung posted this, here. Andrew Perriman (here) and Ken Brown (here), summed up beautifully (though in different ways), why DeYoung was completely wrong. Christianity Today had a short article on the controversy here. Tony Jones gave his take on the whole situation here and here. Andrew Perriman went on to discuss a question about the parable of the rich man and Lazarus here, and also, reviewed an article by Tim Keller on hell, here. Scot McKnight posted this here; clarifying the differences between multiple Christian perspectives on hell and the afterlife. Greg Boyd (who actually read the book!) penned his comments here. Mason at “New Ways Forward” asks if hell is the point of the story here.
And now, on to other topics…
Caritas Et Veritas seems to be up and running again, and Jeffery Morrow is tackling an issue that I happen to be wrestling with lately; what books should we consider part of the bible, and why? I actually just got a new NRSV with the deuterocanonical books, and am anxious to begin studying through them. He is coming from a Roman Catholic perspective, and making some strong arguments for including these extra books (or, at least, making Protestants reconsider their rational for excluding them). Those posts are here and here.
Andrew Perriman talks about the importance of a convergence between the NPP and the Emerging church here.
Daniel Kirk asks whether we should understand Paul’s words to Timothy, about women remaining silent and not teaching, as a command of God, or simply as apostolic opinion and advice to Timothy, in his first century context; in light of 1 Corinthians 7:12 here.
The HHH joint of the week, well, it’s not so much rap as it is R & B. JR, who appears on practically every HHH album that is ever released, gets the honors this week. Let us be reminded, in the midst of the events of this week, of our God, with this song “God of Peace”, off of JR’s first album, “Metamorphosis”, released on Cross Movement Records.