Thinking Out Loud

September 27, 2013

Sin: Don’t Even Think About It!

tempting

 

On Tuesday I was speaking with someone who is heading off to a small Bible college in Eastern Canada. I asked him if he needed help with textbooks, and he said that the school tends to write their own curriculum as they have a unique take on how they approach some Bible subjects. Sometimes this can be a red-flag, so I asked him to give me an example, and it actually turned out to be something I found challenging and want to share here.

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus says,

NIV Matt. 5:27 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery. 28 But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.

Not all the teaching in this section specifically references the Decalogue, but what if we applied that “Don’t even think about it” standard to all of the other Ten Commandments? He told me that’s exactly what they did in their discussion of this passage. That got me thinking. Instead of “Thou shalt nots” it might look like this:

  1. Don’t even think about putting any other interest, hobby, passion, person, pet, or other god-to-be-worshiped ahead of me (or even on an equal place).
  2. Don’t even think about giving special place to any physical representation of something (existing or in fantasy) that then occupies a central place in your life.
  3. Don’t even think about using God’s name casually or disrespectfully.
  4. Don’t even think about doing some chores or work for pay during the time you know should be set aside for God and for the rest He commands. If it is within your power, don’t compel others to work during this time, either.
  5. Don’t even think about how, given other circumstances, you’d love to kill someone if you thought you’d get away with; or harbor the anger that rises to that level.
  6. Don’t even think about going against the values your parents taught you, or doing something against their wishes. Their values and wishes and the proverbs they taught you will lead to long life.
  7. Don’t even think about having sex with someone who is not your wife; those thoughts will consume you and furthermore, it’s not likely to ever happen, you’re just driving yourself crazy!
  8. Don’t even think about taking something that isn’t yours.
  9. Don’t even think about misrepresenting someone else or putting spin on a story so it makes them look bad.
  10. Don’t even think about comparing yourself to what your neighbor, or co-worker, or extended family member has, or to his or her spouse, and wishing you could have that life or lifestyle.

Feel free to refine what I’ve written in the comments, or take the list in Exodus 20, and rewrite it in your own personal style or adding things you feel conform to the intention of the text when combined with the application of Matthew 5.

Another thing that struck me as I studied this was how The Voice Bible rendered the “You have heard it said” sections of Matthew 5.

This translations also breaks down specifically the origin of “You have heard it said…”

  • 21 As you know, long ago God instructed Moses to tell
  • 27 As you know, long ago God forbade His people…
  • 31 And here is something else: you have read in Deuteronomy that
  • 33 You know that…
  • 38 You know that Hebrew Scripture sets this standard…
  • 43 You have been taught…

The Voice puts its “You have heard…” sections in italics in this version to indicate that yes, the translators have taken a liberty with the original text in order to provide clarity. What is especially worth noting here is that we generally read these with the inference that Jesus is now introducing something new, but these readings imply that the wider implications of what Jesus taught have been implicit in the text all along, if only we could see it that way.

  • 22 But here is the even harder truth
  • 28 You may think you have abided by this Commandment, walked the straight and narrow…
  • 34 But I tell you this: do not ever swear an oath. What is an oath? You cannot say, “I swear by heaven”—for heaven is not yours to swear by; it is God’s throne. 35 And you cannot say, “I swear by this good earth,” for the earth is not yours to swear by; it is God’s footstool. And you cannot say, “I swear by the holy city Jerusalem,” for it is not yours to swear by; it is the city of God, the capital of the King of kings.

Jesus’ teaching is clear: Don’t even consider wandering from the path, from God’s default settings, even for a moment!

NIV II Tim. 3:14 But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it, 15 and how from infancy you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus

 

 

image: Toon Pool

August 20, 2013

Guest Post: Why We Love Our Hollywood Heroes

My guest blogger today writes anonymously under the name Flagrant Regard. There are some reasons for this, which may or may not involve the Witness Protection Program. Or maybe it’s another one of those deals where somebody famous like J. K. Rowling pens some material under an alternative byline. Or perhaps it’s a lot less interesting than either of those possibilities…  You can catch his writing at — wait for it — Flagrant Regard.

Why We Love our Hollywood HeroesHow many times have you seen this in a Hollywood flick:

Man falls in love with woman, woman appears to have her sights on or a commitment to someone else.

The smitten man – always the story’s protagonist – does his best to win the woman’s affections and to become her ‘one and only’.  But, as the plot goes, the woman’s potential suitor finds himself in a losing battle with the other man in her life, or so it appears. And then of course, there comes this powerful moment in the story where he relinquishes his pursuit of the woman he’s in love with and, burying his hurt, stoically tells her something like, “I love you so much, I can’t afford to see you unhappy.  I want you to be with the man you truly love, and if it ain’t me babe, then at least I know you’re content.”

In some movies the protagonist gets another kick at love’s can as the woman in the story realizes what a truly unselfish man she’s throwing away and, forsaking the safe and familiar, falls hard and passionately for the new guy.  At other times (but is less rarely seen in modern American films) the pursuing male wanders off dejected and alone as he sadly accepts his destiny –  not being with the woman he’s in love with.

In either outcome, we value the protagonist as a true, unwavering and selfless hero who wants the best for the one he loves even at the cost of his own happiness.  Now that’s a Hollywood hero!

We cherish our silver screen heroic archetypes, especially in stories like the above, because of the selflessness involved; the sacrifice that springs from genuine love.  As we watch the drama unfold, we find ourselves wanting to believe in that noble kind of love because we know it’s the right kind to fully embrace and which also ‘sets the bar’ for ourselves.

But what of our heroism with respect to our following Jesus?  How much more should we be ready to sacrifice our selfish wants and desires – no matter how painful it is – in order to make sure the God we claim to love is pleased?  Are we willing to give up all or, like the rich young ruler that Jesus encountered who was not willing to give up that which he held most dear to him, we too walk away without God’s blessing or true fulfillment in our lives?

My wife and I heard these wonderful words of Martin Luther from a preacher just the other day:

“A religion that gives nothing, costs nothing, and suffers nothing, is worth nothing.”

In order to gain Christ, we are told it will mean us losing our very lives and sometimes walking away from the things we value most.  Will we walk away from a relationship that God’s word states is not right or will we blithely dismiss the clear instructions of the Scriptures in order to suit our desires or ideals?  Will we say in our prayers, “I want You to be pleased with everything I think, say and do, even if it means my sacrificing the things and/or beliefs I hold on to (which I think matter most).”?

Loving God often means struggle and persecution, but it is ALWAYS about forsaking all in order to gain Christ’s blessing, once we’ve been saved by His grace.  If you view the Gospel in any other light, you are not yet a beneficiary of the truth.  Yes, God is all about love, but he’s also about holy living, exemplary behaviour as befitting His people and He expects TRUE REPENTANCE:  an about face in our hearts toward God and a resetting of our minds that enables us to seek out what God’s will is for every aspect of  our life.

Do you want to be a hero?  Do you want to have the audience of angels and saints in heaven – and your heavenly Father himself – cheering for you?  Then be holy (sacred, morally upright, set apart), be seeking God’s will and be ready at all times to give your all no matter what the cost is to yourself.  This is how we win in this life and in the next.

© Flagrant Regard, 2012

“On His journey vast crowds attended Him, towards whom He turned and said, “If any one is coming to me who does not hate his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes and his own life also, he cannot be a disciple of mine. No one who does not carry his own cross and come after me can be a disciple of mine. “Which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not sit down first and calculate the cost, asking if he has the means to finish it? — lest perhaps, when he has laid the foundation and is unable to finish, all who see it shall begin to jeer at him, saying, ‘This man began to build, but could not finish.’ Or what king, marching to encounter another king in war, does not first sit down and deliberate whether he is able with ten thousand men to meet the one who is advancing against him with twenty thousand? If not, while the other is still a long way off, he sends messengers and sues for peace. Just as no one of you who does not detach himself from all that belongs to him can be a disciple of mine.”
(Luk 14:25-33)

“Therefore, surrounded as we are by such a vast cloud of witnesses, let us fling aside every encumbrance and the sin that so readily entangles our feet. And let us run with patient endurance the race that lies before us, simply fixing our gaze upon Jesus, our Prince Leader in the faith, who will also award us the prize. He, for the sake of the joy which lay before Him, patiently endured the cross, looking with contempt upon its shame, and afterwards seated Himself– where He still sits–at the right hand of the throne of God. Therefore, if you would escape becoming weary and faint-hearted, compare your own sufferings with those of Him who endured such hostility directed against Him by sinners.”
(Heb 12:1-3)

March 27, 2013

Wednesday Link List

Forgivenall

Our opening image this week apparently dates back to the mid ’90s and was sourced on a Dutch website whose name translates approximately as End Time Space. Click the image to link.

Several possible links for this week were important enough to become their own posts here. Be sure to check back at topics covered since Thursday.

  • First, please consider following my Twitter feed; not because of my great wisdom, but because I’m following some other really cool people. 
  • The radio host of “Canada’s most listened-to spiritual talkback show,” Drew Marshall takes to television this weekend. 
  • Is the Pope Catholic?  This blogger dares to ask: Is the Pope born again
  • Here’s a good breakdown of pastor blogs fitting into ten (or eleven!) categories. Actually, blogs, Twitter, Facebook, etc.
  • Just in time for Passover, the Maccabeats are back.
  • If you or someone you know has been involved in a marital affair, here’s a reminder to skip the what questions and look at the why questions.
  • This week the Dictionary of Christianese defines Godincidences. (They’re like God Winks.)
  • This has been around for awhile, but if you haven’t watched this timely 3-minute video, check out Peter Rollins’ I Deny The Resurrection
  • A Canadian Mennonite pastor is dealing with a couple of strange baptism requests: “They don’t know much about Jesus, but they want to come to him, to sign up to follow, even though they don’t have much of an idea what they are getting into.”
  • One hundred and eleven podcasts later, and you can still listen to episodes of A Christian and An Atheist.
  • Here’s a good analysis on how the church should multiply (real growth) instead of simply poaching (transfer growth) from other churches.
  • And on that same blog we found a link to a piece on how tradition(s) can trump what Jesus explicitly taught
  • Know a single who is saving their first kiss? You might identify with this video trailer, but trailer for what? (Found at TWW.)
  • Russell Moore is asked whether or not reading fiction is a waste of time. He answers that fiction can  “awaken parts of us that we have calloused over.”
  • And congrats to Russell on his new title with the SBC.
  • Pete Wilson and Cross Point Church have invaded downtown Nashville. Their new church building opened this past Sunday.
  • For gay Christians, the F-word is fear.  Read this two part post starting with the article and then, especially the author’s story.
  • Pastors’ Corner: Five sources of ministry distractions, including Platform Jacking and Funny Money.
  • If you’re thinking of being in Vancouver, British Columbia from July 29 to August 2, 2013, you could sign up for this business ethics course.
  • When you are trying to make it as a writer, a rejection letter can be crushing, and create a need to reaffirm your calling.

preaching-to-choir_from fritzcartoons-dot-com

March 8, 2013

One Solitary Life

When I went to post the following to C201 yesterday, I discovered that the text of the popular “One Solitary Life” had never appeared there or here. To some of you, perhaps it amounts to greeting card theology, yet I’d hate to think a new generation has never heard it. So…

Wednesday night I was reading a new book by an author completely unknown to me, so I went hunting around the back pages for some kind of “about the author” section, whereupon I learned that he was best known for founding an organization and an annual conference.

Maybe it was because it was quite late, but my mind went to a piece of prose (sometimes rendered as poetry) known as One Solitary Life. It turns up on tracts, on Christmas cards, and even email forwards.

Here is a man who was born in an obscure village, the child of a peasant woman. He grew up in another obscure village, where he worked in a carpenter’s shop until he was thirty. Then for three years he was an itinerant preacher.

He never wrote a book. He never held an office. He never had a family or owned a home. He never set foot inside a big city. He never traveled two hundred miles from the place he was born. He did none of the things that usually accompany greatness.

While He was still a young man, the tide of popular opinion turned against him. His friends deserted him. He was turned over to his enemies, and went through the mockery of a trial. He was nailed to a cross between two thieves. While he was dying, his executioners gambled for the only piece of property he had – his coat.

When he was dead, he was taken down and laid in a borrowed grave.

Nineteen centuries have come and gone, and today he is the central figure for much of the human race. All the armies that ever marched, and all the navies that ever sailed, and all the parliaments that ever sat, and all the kings that ever reigned, put together, have not affected the life of people on this earth as powerfully as this “One Solitary Life.”

Most sources online credit this to Dr. James Allan Francis.

In light of what I was reading, I just wanted to add “he never founded a charitable organization, never established an annual conference.” To which you could add, “He wasn’t on Twitter, He didn’t have a website or a blog or a podcast.”

That reminded me of a section — see below — of a quotation from Philip Yancey that has already appeared here (at Thinking Out Loud) twice which says, “…when He did something truly miraculous he tended to hush it up;” so I did a search of the phrase “not to tell anyone.”

The healing of a blind man:

Mark 7:35-37

35 At this, the man’s ears were opened, his tongue was loosened and he began to speak plainly.

36 Jesus commanded them not to tell anyone. But the more he did so, the more they kept talking about it. 37 People were overwhelmed with amazement. “He has done everything well,” they said. “He even makes the deaf hear and the mute speak.”

The revelation of His identity:

Mark 8:29-31

29 “But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?”

Peter answered, “You are the Messiah.”

30 Jesus warned them not to tell anyone about him.

Immediately following the transfiguration:

Luke 9:35-37

8 Suddenly, when they looked around, they no longer saw anyone with them except Jesus.

9 As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus gave them orders not to tell anyone what they had seen until the Son of Man had risen from the dead. 10 They kept the matter to themselves, discussing what “rising from the dead” meant.

The raising of Jarius’ daughter:

Luke 8:55-56

55 Her spirit returned, and at once she stood up. Then Jesus told them to give her something to eat. 56 Her parents were astonished, but he ordered them not to tell anyone what had happened.

All of which points us to Phil. 2:6

6 Though he was in the form of God,
he did not consider being equal with God something to exploit. (CEB)

6 who, existing in the form of God,
did not consider equality with God
as something to be used for His own advantage. (HCSB)

I would add, ‘Did not consider equality with God something to be leveraged.’

Despite this frequent reticence, this penchant for leaving to us to connect the dots, no one who has ever lived as ever affected the history of mankind so richly, so deeply, so powerfully as this One Solitary Life.

“The more I studied Jesus, the more difficult it became to pigeonhole him. He said little about the Roman occupation, the main topic of conversation among his countrymen; and yet he took up a whip to drive petty profiteers from the Jewish temple. He urged obedience to the Mosaic law while acquiring the reputation of a lawbreaker. He could be stabbed by sympathy for a stranger, yet turn on his best friend with the flinty rebuke, “Get behind me, Satan!” He had compromising views on rich men and loose women, yet both types enjoyed his company. “One day miracles seem to flow out of Jesus the next day his power was blocked by people’s lack of faith. One day he talked in detail of the Second Coming; another, he knew neither the day nor hour. He fled from arrest at one point and marched inexorably toward it at another. He spoke eloquently about peacemaking, then told his disciples to procure swords. His extravagant claims about himself kept him at the center of controversy, but when he he did something truly miraculous he tended to hush it up. As Walter Wink has said, if Jesus had never lived, we would not have been able to invent him.” ~~ Philip Yancey, The Jesus I Never Knew (Zondervan 1995) p.23 I

Quotations today are from the New International Version (NIV) except where noted

December 30, 2012

Parables for Our Times

Filed under: current events, Humor — Tags: , , , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 11:07 am

Subtitle: Not Your Grandma’s Prince of Peace

James Martin is a Catholic Priest and author of The Jesuit Guide to Almost Everything.

The Smart Samaritan

1. Just then a lawyer stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he said, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” 2. Jesus said to him, “What is written in the Law? What do you read there?” He answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.” 3. And Jesus said to him, “You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live.” 4. But wanting to justify himself, he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”

5. Jesus replied, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell into the hands of robbers. Fortunately, the man from Jerusalem was no fool and was carrying a big wooden club. So he beat the robbers senseless. Just then, a Samaritan came by to help him. 6. The man said to the Samaritan, “Don’t worry. They got what they deserved.” Later, though, the robbers’ friends waylaid the man. Together they had four clubs, so they beat up the man from Jerusalem. 7. Immediately the Samaritan, who had now learned a lesson, ran away, and sold his field, and with the money he purchased ten clubs. 8. The Samaritan armed his entire family, including his wives, his sons, his slaves and all his cattle and sheep. Among his heavily armed family was his elder son, who was angry at his father for not treating him as well his younger brother, who had spent all his money on loose living and had returned and was given a feast.” 9. “Lord, I’m getting confused,” said the lawyer. “Weren’t we talking about being a good neighbor?”

10. “Let me finish,” said Jesus. “The father knew that his son was angry, and potentially dangerous, so the father purchased an even bigger club that he hid under his bed. 11. That night, when father was asleep, the son came to father to apologize for being envious. The father, thinking it was a robber, hit him over the head. 12. Now which of these three, do you think, was a wise person?” said Jesus. 13. The lawyer said, “Actually, none of them. If the father hadn’t brought those weapons into his house, then no one would have gotten hurt.” Jesus was grieved at the lawyer’s blindness. 14. “You’re missing the point.” Jesus said. “It’s a violent world out there, and my advice is to purchase as many clubs as you can.” The lawyer was sad, for he was a peaceful man. 15. “Lord,” he said, “are you saying I should be like the Samaritan who has a houseful of weapons?” “Yes,” said Jesus. “Go and do likewise. And while you’re at it, buy me a club too.”

Read two more updated parables here.

October 7, 2011

Leaving Life on a High Note

While the United States political system operates with two very dominant political parties, here in Canada, our provincial (state) and federal legislatures and parliament are usually comprised of representatives from three or more parties.  Even as I type this on Thursday night, votes are being counted in my home province to determine who lead us and under a parliamentary system, the premier (governor) is the one whose party nets the most representatives.

At the federal level this spring, the unthinkable happened.  While our national political scene has been dominated by the Conservative party and the Liberal party.  But the third party, the New Democratic Party (NDP) was fronted by an affable — no, make that downright loveable — guy named Jack Layton, who, after all the votes were counted,  became the first NDP leader to lead the official opposition.

But then, the unthinkable happened again.  Cancer struck Jack Layton down rather swiftly at age 61, and instead of seeing what he might have done in the House of Commons, instead, we watched his state funeral.

I mention all that because I was struck by a number of similarities with the death of Apple Computer founder Steve Jobs.  Both very likeable or even loveable guys, both struck down at the peak of their personal accomplishments; Jobs at only 56 years of age.

Life can be short.

Life can end suddenly.

And I can’t help think of a third person, a somewhat ‘once upon a time’ character that Jesus mentions in a parable, though when scripture says, ‘a certain man,’ though the general hermeneutic approach is to take this as hypothetical, I believe the omniscient Christ could have been drawing on a real character or a composite.


   Luke 12 (NIV) 16 And he told them this parable: “The ground of a certain rich man yielded an abundant harvest. 17He thought to himself, ‘What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops.’

18 “Then he said, ‘This is what I’ll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store my surplus grain. 19 And I’ll say to myself, “You have plenty of grain laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.”’

   20 “But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?’

Another guy at the top of his game.  Planning to expand in one sense, but planning to coast a bit — we might call it entering some years of profit-taking — in another.  But he never gets to enjoy his riches or see what happens next. 

And into the shock of that sudden crisis, Jesus interjects another issue: the man seems to have no succession plan.  There’s been no preparation for the next chapter, and suddenly it comes upon him.

Maybe the guy in the story has the wrong priorities, after all the parable comes after this:

15 Then he said to them, “Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; life does not consist in an abundance of possessions.”

And he follows it up with his own prescription for how to relate to material things:

22 Then Jesus said to his disciples: “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat; or about your body, what you will wear. 23 For life is more than food, and the body more than clothes. 24 Consider the ravens: They do not sow or reap, they have no storeroom or barn; yet God feeds them. And how much more valuable you are than birds! 25 Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to your life? 26Since you cannot do this very little thing, why do you worry about the rest?

   27 “Consider how the wild flowers grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you, not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. 28 If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today, and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, how much more will he clothe you—you of little faith! 29 And do not set your heart on what you will eat or drink; do not worry about it. 30 For the pagan world runs after all such things, and your Father knows that you need them. 31 But seek his kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well.

One pastor we listen to online ends each sermon with, “Now go out and build the kingdom.”   That’s what we’re here to do.  Political empires will come and go and business fortunes will be amassed and then lost.  Only what’s done for Christ will last.

Jack Layton was admirable in Canadian politics as also was Steve Jobs in American business.  It would seem we lost both men all too soon. But let’s use the shortness of their lives as a reminder to make each day count, and to measure what ‘count’ means with eternity in view.

Now go out and build the kingdom.

May 6, 2011

From the Best-Of Vault

Things have to be a year old to get reposted here, so a new month brings new possibilities.  Here’s some things from May, 2010:

The Best of Christian Blogging
I think real Christian blogging is being transparent. It’s sharing our lives with others. It’s relating to the struggle that some find themselves in. It’s celebrating what God is doing through local churches. It’s dreaming about what churches could be doing. It’s spreading the word about a new Christian book or CD or DVD. It’s encouraging one another. It’s confessing our faults. It’s keeping great quotations and stories alive on the internet. It’s laughing together. It’s praying for someone in the online community who is facing a great need.It’s about helping, informing, inspiring. And all of it aligning with Scripture; God’s word that must be carefully studied; must be correctly interpreted; must account for the past, present and future; must be defended from time to time; and must leave us somewhat ‘apart’ or truly ‘different’ from the world if we live out its teachings.


From a comment I posted months ago at Beauty of the Bible

This is a series of charts and graphs that got posted when I got carried away doing a link list:

  • C. Michael Patton may call his post Why I Am Not Charismatic, but he’s more Charismatic-friendly than most. Besides, I have a thing for charts:

  • This post on theological systems isn’t very long, but makes a good point, and besides, like I said, I’ve got a thing for charts. Go to Matt Stone’s blog and double click the image there for a clearer vision.

  • Will Mancini says that when you break down Jesus’ spoken word content, his influence boils down to the use of metaphors. As a matter of fact, this blog post even has a chart:

  • This actually isn’t part of the Wednesday Link List — It was in my image file and I truly have no idea where I got this — but like I said, I have thing for charts:

And while we’re going chart crazy, here’s one from Christianity 201, from a year ago: A guy I knew locally, Paul Kern, is now pastoring the Highland Park Wesleyan Church in Ottawa, Ontario the capital city of Canada. I decided to see what he was up to by checking the church’s website and got more than I bargained for.

This chart shows their purpose as a church. The third horizontal section is about their particular ministries and won’t make a lot of sense to you and I, but I left it intact, since it shows how a theoretical purpose is played out in practical ways through their weekly programs and special events.  It begins: Our purpose at Highland Park Wesleyan Church is simple: We want to be disciples who go out and make disciples.

March 1, 2011

Rob Bell — Straying From Traditional Evangelicalism: How Far is Too Far?

On January 21st, I mentioned that through a series of circumstances I had obtained a very advance copy of Rob Bell’s new book, Love Wins: A Book About Heaven Hell and the Fate of Every Person Who Has Ever Lived (March 29, 2011, HarperCollins, Hardcover.)  In that brief article, I suggested that by the end of March, social media are going to have a field day with this title because of its controversial subject.

I was wrong.

According to this article posted at Christianity Today over the weekend, the fur has already started flying even before key players are getting their hands on advance print copies of the book (something I’ve been told to expect in my mail within the next two weeks.) In fairness, I need to say that I doubt any of this has come as a great surprise to Rob Bell himself. I don’t see him sitting at his computer in Grand Rapids saying, “Oh, look at this! These guys apparently don’t see it this way.”

On the other hand, many of those entering into the discussion are doing so solely on the basis of the brief publisher blurb online.   Well, actually that’s been online for awhile. The weekend brought the promotional video, which you can view at Justin Taylor’s February 26th post, along with an update that the topic of  Bell’s book — and a discussion of Bell himself — has been added to the agenda of The Gospel Coalition’s April national conference, a constituency whose orthodoxy is rarely questioned, but a constituency that is probably among the easiest to offend. (They probably considered burning him in effigy, but couldn’t get the local fire department to grant a permit.) Apparently Bell has been official designated a “problem” to be dealt with.

First of all, for the two or three of you who don’t have Flash Drive and can’t watch the video clip; and the two or three hundred of you who didn’t bother to  click, here is the text of the video that’s causing the stir, plus a few extra paragraphs:

Several years ago we had an art show at our church. I had been giving a series of teachings on peacemaking and we invited artists to display their paintings and poems and sculptures that reflected their understanding of what it means to be a peacemaker. One woman included in her work a quote from Gandhi, which a number of people found quite compelling.

But not everyone.

Someone attached a piece of paper to it. On the piece

of paper they had written: ‘Reality check: He’s in hell.’

Really?

Gandhi’s in hell?

He is?

We have confirmation of this?

Somebody knows this?

Without a doubt?

And they decided it was their responsibility to let the rest of us know?

Of all the billions of people who have ever lived, will only a select number ‘make it to a better place’ and every single other person will suffer in torment and punishment forever? Is this acceptable to God? Has God created millions of people over tens of thousands of years who are going to spend eternity in anguish? Can God do this, or even allow this, and still claim to be a loving God?

Does God punish people for thousands of years with infinite, eternal torment for things they did in their few, finite years of life?

This doesn’t just raise disturbing questions about God, it raises questions about the beliefs themselves-

Why them?

Why you?

Why me?

Why not him or her or them?

If there are only a select few who go to heaven, which is more terrifying: the billions who burn forever or the few who escape? How does a person end up being one of the few?

Chance?

Luck?

Random selection?

Being born in the right place, family, or country?

Having a youth pastor who ‘related better to the kids?’

God choosing you instead of others?

What kind of faith is that?

Or more importantly:

What kind of God is that?

And why is it that whenever someone claims that one group is in, saved, accepted by God, forgiven, enlightened, redeemed-and everybody else isn’t-why is it that the people who make this claim are almost always part of the group that’s ‘in?’

Have you ever heard somebody make claims about a select few being the chosen and then claim that they’re not one of them?

I recently heard a woman tell about the funeral of her daughter’s friend, a high school student who was killed in a car accident. Her daughter was asked by a Christian if the young man who had died was a Christian. She said that he told people he was an atheist. This person then said to her: “So there’s no hope then.”

No hope?

Is that the Christian message?

“No hope?”

Is that what Jesus offers the world?

Is this the sacred calling of a Christian: to announce that there’s no hope?

~ Rob Bell, from an unedited copy of chapter one “What About the Flat Tire?” from Love Wins

Since I intend to return to this a few more times in the next few weeks, I’ll just point out a few of the other comments from the weekend:

Aaron Armstrong (after whom the 1.5V batteries are named)  at Blogging Theologically writes:

In his previous books and tours, Bell has often been… squishy regarding his take on the wrath of God (even going so far as to reinterpret God’s wrath as a feeling of grief mixed with a desire to reconnect and restore). Indeed, he’s been so ambiguous that it’s caused a great many pastors and theologians to ask the question: Is he a universalist?

With this book it seems we might have an answer, in much the same way Brian McLaren dropped his pretense of trying to remain orthodox in A New Kind of Christianity.

However, I don’t know if it’s safe to say that for certain because, well, the book hasn’t been released yet. Because the material is in Bell’s typically ambiguous style so it can be taken one of two ways:

  1. He is playing “Devil’s Advocate” (oh, how I loathe that term) and presenting legitimate questions
  2. The trajectory he’s been on for years has reached it’s destination and he’s outright abandoned the gospel

Meanwhile Jeremy Bouma writing at Novus Lumen and living himself in Grand Rapids hasn’t received his advance copy yet, but decided to revisit some of Bell’s earlier works. He writes:

While some have speculated that it is universalism through and through—I have on good authority that this is the case—a recent re-read of Bell’s first book, Velvet Elvis, suggests this has been his trajectory for at least 7 years.

He includes a couple of quotations from that book that are worth re-examination through the filter of recent developments.  His article also links to the blog Signature Entertainment, which has a more tempered view of things:

I’m not sure if Rob is going to take it as far as “hell is non-existent”, but the one thing that Bell seems to do well is walk the line of controversy, yet remain a consistent voice that challenges the Evangelical community. The best example of this is in Velvet Elvis where Rob Bell uses the example of questioning the Virgin birth to make a case for deconstructing one’s faith, even though he doesn’t actually make the claim that Jesus was not born of a Virgin.

I would agree that Bell loves to tease his audience. The following may or may not be part of the final manuscript, but certainly causes the reader to wonder which afterlife is up:

The apostle Paul wrote in one of his letters to the Corinthians that ‘the Day’ the prophets spoke of, the one that inaugurates life in the age to come, will ‘bring everything to light’ and ‘reveal it with fire,’ the kind of fire that will ‘test the quality of each person’s work.’ Some in this process will find that they spent their energies and efforts on things that won’t be in heaven-on-earth. ‘If it is burned up,’ Paul wrote, ‘the builder will suffer loss but yet will be saved, even though only as one escaping through the flames.’

Flames in heaven.

And while we’re teasing you, here’s a direct copy of two sentences in the version I have:

Do I believe in a literal hell?

Of course.

…But I need to tell you that I’ve cut and pasted that totally out of context. (I mean, you don’t want a bunch of spoilers, do you?)  And in case you’re wondering, yes, Chapter Three, “Hell,” does address the story of we know as “The Rich Man and Lazarus.”  It’s a different response than you’ve heard in other sermons to be sure, but at the end of the day, Bell does indeed affirm “… the very real consequences we experience when we reject all the good and true and beautiful life that God has for us.”

Chapter Three is in many ways the cornerstone of the entire book, and I’m reluctant to provide more of it here; and frankly, once the book is in the stores, I hope others won’t excerpt bits of it either. I say that simply because Bell’s argument has a rhythm and cadence of its own, and to just edit bits of it for a review is akin to editing a few bars out of a symphony. I’m not saying that I agree with all its conclusions, or even that its conclusions are overt and plain, but there is a passion to this particular argument that you need to experience in its full context.

You’ll probably not agree with everything, but you won’t be the same after you’ve finished reading.

Note to the 99.99% of people who won’t get an advance review copy of the book:  All of this discussion is valid and needful. But make sure it stays focused on the issues. Some of those who you will read online have come into this discussion with their minds already made up about Bell and have been looking for an opportunity to run him, figuratively speaking, out of town. The issue of Christian Universalism is a very serious and crucial issue and we need to stay on that issue, and not allow the personality or preaching style of an individual pastor to sidetrack us from gaining deeper understanding of what the Bible might be saying.

Other pre-reading comments: Josh Reich at Missional Thoughts, the blog Episcopal Café, the blog Arminian Today which sees Bell as deliberately provocative and publicity-seeking, and Maggie Dawn who relegates Bell to someone “engaging people with Christianity at entry level.”

Related post: John Shore uses an XtraNormal text-to-video to bring the conflicting views into sharp focus.

This blog post contains elements of an early version of the book which may not be part of the final copy.

March 18, 2010

The Story Is Getting Lost – Guest Post

My wife and I have known Rick Webster for about five years now.   For many years he blogged at Today at the Mission, where you can still read archived posts.   More recently, he’s been pastoring at The Third Space, a kind of alternative church in downtown Peterborough, Ontario; but only this week did I learn there was a Third Space blog.   When I read this post, I knew I had to share it with you, and rather than include it in yesterday’s links, I got Rick’s permission to reprint the entire blog post.


by Rick Webster

It’s a problem that I’ve been seeing more and more of lately. It’s everywhere. I first encountered it when reading the book, How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth.   The authors divide the bible into the various genres of writing – historical, poetic, apocalyptic, prophetic and so on. Each genre has to be interpreted according to its own unique quality – we can’t read the psalms in the same way we read the book of Acts. Okay, fair enough. But I soon discovered that this way of reading the bible divorced the Psalms from Acts and the connections between the two were lost. If there’s a narrative arc to the bible – if what Paul says in Romans is connected to what Adam did in Eden, and it is, then dividing the book into genres serves to break that arc and, in so doing, the story God is telling is lost. Instead we get, as the authors suggest, a book of rules and regulations, a book that is to “be read, understood and obeyed.” (their phrase).

Dividing the bible into an Old and New Testament, or even chapters and verses might do exactly the same thing. But we also have this incredibly common – some would say essential – part of our church life called a ’sermon’. In a sermon the preacher studies a passage of scripture and then makes a speech, from which the rest of us download information.  In this process, however, we isolate a text and, as a result, draw conclusions that often simply aren’t supported by the larger context.

I used to read the story of the three servants and their talents as a call to evangelism – we must not hide our faith, we must enlarge the Master’s Kingdom. The parable of the 10 virgins was an eschatological admonition to be ready for the return of Jesus. The story of the servants who worked in the vineyard for a day getting paid the same as those who worked for an hour was about all of us sharing in our heavenly reward equally.

But in reading through Matthew this year I’ve come to recognize that these stories are connected to the sheep and the goats judgment of Matthew 25. When seen as a whole, and when connected to the sheep and goats Judgment it becomes immediately apparent that these stories are about economic justice. Why did the virgins not share their oil? Why couldn’t they share one or two lamps and make sure there was enough oil to last the night? Instead, they sent the others, selfishly, away. Why did the two wise, confident servants not help the frightened one with his investments? Why did they not pool their resources? Clearly, this is a case of the rich getting richer while the poor get poorer. And in the story of the vineyard workers it appears that in the Kingdom of God the community is larger than the self, that we understand economic justice as what benefits us while God desires to distribute prosperity equally throughout the community. When we start connecting to the sheep and goats judgment the Sermon on the Mount becomes a document new and alien to our world; the house on the rock and the house on the sand take on a whole new meaning as well.

Every devotional, every bible study, every commentary I’ve ever read does exactly the same thing – subdivides the bible and thus, necessarily, fails us. But here’s the thing: every sermon we’ve ever heard, and every sermon I’ve ever preached, has done exactly the same thing. The limitations of the form require it. And there’s an awful, terrible, frightening truth in that. We’ve been going at this all wrong and some of us have dedicated our entire lives to this pursuit.

We need a new way to teach the bible. A way that allows for a long, long time to be spent dwelling in the text. Years, decades. A way that allows for long discussions and digressions.  A way that places it within the hands of the community instead of a priestly caste of pastors and theologians so that the Holy Spirit may speak among us, and through us, without the filter that is one person at the front of the room. And my fear is that none of this can be done within the frame of church as we know it. In fact, this single belief – that the scripture must dwell within the community, and the community within the scripture – challenges everything we know and understand about the role of a pastor, the nature and organization of church, our way of being the body of Christ together. The fear this engenders is enormous. And this new way has not yet come to be in our evangelical tradition. It may never come to be. But I think somewhere, somehow, someone should at least try, someone should begin.

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