Thinking Out Loud

August 10, 2017

Rob Bell Responds to All Your Questions

The pastor and I had talked for more than an hour. The topics had shifted quickly and covered a wide swath of theology, ecclesiology, culture, ethics and church history. Several times I had to ask what the connection was between something he had said, and what had been said just a sentence earlier. But it was all stimulating, even invigorating.

So when the time ended, I got up to leave and said, “That was awesome. I really enjoyed our time together. That was deadly serious and a lot of fun at the same time.”

And then, before I turned to go out the door, I added, “But you know…you never actually answered my initial question.”


Answers are what people want. Especially if the person being asked is somewhat controversial. But perhaps we North Americans and Western Europeans are simply too destination oriented. Maybe we need to enjoy the process or the journey more than fret the arrival.

Rob Bell’s newest book What is the Bible: How an Ancient Library of Poems, Letters and Stories Can Transform the Way You Think and Feel about Everything (HarperOne) is based on a series of Tumblr posts he has been doing over the last two years. Most of the articles were removed with the arrival of the book — something his publisher probably insisted on — but as I remember it, many were driven by reader questions.

Those readers got responses. I don’t know if they got the answers they desired, but speaking for myself, I’ll take some of these replies over a direct answer any day. And many times, Bell is really clear we’re asking the wrong questions in the first place.

For example, take the chapter titled, Is the Bible inerrant? For Bell this is like asking,

Did Mozart’s symphonies win?
In your estimation, has Mozart prevailed?
Do Mozart’s songs take the cake?
Are his concertos true?   (p.279)

and if you’re willing to concede any ground to him at all, he does make his point well, even if it’s not the direct answer you were hoping for. He says it’s the wrong question.

He encourages readers to read the Bible literately instead of literally — I would argue for the use of literaturely — knowing what genre they were seeing and then examining it appropriately on that basis.  (p.80)

Bible narratives come to life as never before. How did that woman in John 8 get caught in the act of adultery in the first place? Bell sees the clue in John 7; this is a festival not unlike our Creation Festival here or Greenbelt in the UK; it’s a religious camping event; there is much wine; someone ends up in the wrong tent. (pp 26-28) I can personally attest there isn’t much privacy at such things when the tents are sandwiched in close, though there was no alcohol factor at Creation.

Melchizedek? Bell writes that Abraham has been promised that God is going to do a new thing through him. He begins a covenant with Abraham. Something that has not existed prior. But then along comes “a priest of God Most High.” So there’s already a thing. An ongoing thing. A thing that’s been taking place long enough for there to be a priesthood. And even though we’re only 14 chapters in, the writer of Genesis assumes we get what that means. Long before the birth of Levi, there is already the notion of an ecclesiastic structure; within it a group that is set apart — by the designation priest — to serve in some capacity related to the sacrificial system which, in chapter 14, is just beginning. As Bell puts it,

If this is a story about the new thing God is doing, how come a character shows up who is already in on the new thing God is doing? (p.146)

For Bell there is a connectivity between portions of scripture we’ve perhaps never linked before. He starts out in the gospels and the whisks us to I Kings and just when we’ve caught our breath we’re in Psalms. All in the space of two pages. For Bell, genealogies are a ride at the amusement park, and the people with the weird names are the stuff of great theater. You end up thinking, ‘I really should read the Bible more often.’

And there are the personal moments. We’ve all heard the story of Bell’s first speaking engagement at a Christian camp, but the story of his first practice sermon in school was new to me. He knows he wants to reinvent the wheel so to speak, and so launches into a prototype of the prophetic Rob Bell style with which we’ve become familiar. The other students’ and the professor’s reactions coincide with a page turn, as you turn over the leaf, you’re expecting a certain type of response.

So as to the question at hand, what is the Bible?

Bell’s answer is not entirely radical. I’m not sure that I’d put this in the “first book for a new Christian to read” but you could do much worse. Better a response filled with life and dimension than something clinical. Twice Bell reminds us, as he has stated elsewhere previously, that the ancients regarded the scriptures as a fine gem which, when turned in different directions, reflects and refracts the light in a multitude of patterns and hues. It’s no accident that Bell’s book’s cover mimics this, appearing differently depending on how it’s being held…

…Preparing this review, I found myself diving back into familiar chapters. There’s no time to start from scratch right now, but I will probably use this a reference when reexamining key Bible passages. For the legion of Bell critics: Consider the potential audience. Through HarperOne, this book was available in airport gift shops and general market booksellers worldwide. It’s not an academic treatise on the meaning of the entire Bible, but an introduction for people who might want a fresh take on a belief system from which they may have once walked away.


A copy of What is the Bible was provided long after the standard review window had closed by Mark at HarperCollins Christian Publishing Canada.

 

 

 

 

 

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October 30, 2013

Wednesday Link List

Pumpkin Theology

I couldn’t decide whether my intro should tie in with Halloween or All Saints Day, so I decided to play it safe and just get to this week’s links…These links don’t actually link to anything other than today’s Out of Ur version of the list!

  • The UK has become Biblically illiterate to the point where while watching the Monty Python movie, Life of Brian, viewers no longer get the humor.
  • The Liberty Convocation videos on YouTube are a Who’s Who of Christians thinkers and leaders. Last week they welcomed National Community Church pastor Mark Batterson.
  • Essay of the Week: This one will leave you speechless. A writer shares her heart in the middle of a marriage that seems like a giant mistake.
  • Analogy Avenue: One more response to John MacArthur’s conference, this one invoking transportation (trains and the lunar rover) from author Mark Rutland.
  • So here is possibly the last word on that kid who was given the name Messiah, and the challenges that could create.
  • After Natalie Grant and Wow 2014, the number 3 position on the Billboard Christian music chart goes to Bryan and Katie Torwalt. “Who,” you ask? They’re part of Jesus Culture, and sound like this.
  • Randy Alcorn engages the subject of pro-life organizations that use explicit photographs to reinforce their anti-abortion message.
  • The authors of the non-Canonical gospel texts hoped that they would be taken seriously. It’s our job, however, to eliminate the late stories and isolate the early eyewitness accounts, even though we’re tempted to do otherwise.
  • The only thing noteworthy about an article that advocates for Christians to enjoy dancing, is when you find it at the website of Associated Baptist Press.
  • When your kids have a question, do they ask you, or do they automatically take all their questions to a search engine?
  • If you get struck by lightning twice in the same day, you may be correct in assuming that God is trying to get your attention.
  • When you read the Bible, do you follow the Flyover Route, the Direct Route, or the Scenic Route? David Kenney reviews a new NLT edition I’ve had my eye on for awhile: The Wayfinding Bible. (Tyndale Publishing, you have my address!)
  • Resource of the Week: You’ll want to bookmark (or share) Sam Storms’ eleven factors that can destroy objectivity in Bible hermeneutics, along with his basic rules for Bible interpretation.
  • Passionate Teaching: I always love it when Wheaton College’s Dr. Gary Burge drops in for a midweek service at Willow.
  • In Detroit a female Bishop in a Baptist denomination informed her congregation that for more than six months she has been married to another woman. And then she resigned.
  • After a week of focus on Steven Furtick’s house and John MacArthur’s conference, who would guess our attention on the weekend would be on Mark Driscoll, as evidenced here, here and here?
  • Meanwhile, Furtick debriefed his church on all the attention they’ve been getting.
  • Here’s another article suggesting you take an Internet hiatus. What makes this different is that it spells out exactly how to keep important messages coming. (Don’t all of you do this however, or nobody will be here next week!)
  • Here’s a link that gets you eight more links…to eight short newsletter articles the National Association of Evangelicals published on the subject of Holy Humor. (Includes some writers you know well.)
  • …And speaking of links to other links, here’s what an Academic edition of the Wednesday Link List might look like. (Brian LePort publishes one of these each week.)
  • 48% of teenagers have received a sexually explicit message on their smartphones. A mobile monitoring system offers some advice applicable to youth workers.
  • Get Religion is a media analysis site which last week looked at the coverage of the baptism of England’s Prince George from two different perspectives on what wasn’t mentioned.
  • Got 3 minutes? Turns out Eric Niequist, the brother of Willow Creek’s Aaron Niequist has a film company which recently completed this very short film.
  • That wraps up this week’s list. If we could end with a cartoon, it would be this one.

The Wednesday Link List is produced in our studios just east of Toronto, Canada where, for the record, we don’t have snow yet. Any rebroadcast, retransmission, or account of this link list, without the express written consent of Major League Baseball, is prohibited.

Today’s graphics were located at Matthew Paul Turner’s blog.

Amazing Grace Baptist Church Book Burning

January 29, 2013

God Requires Ultimate Headship Over Us

I originally wrote what follows a couple of days ago at Christianity 201. While it serves as an introduction to the concluding video, I believe it’s something we all need to consider more.

I am continually fascinated by the concept of scripture as a multi faceted jewel which reveals, refracts and reflects with each slight turn. The geometric properties of a large diamond mean that each face is interconnected directly to several others, which in turn are attached to others. So we find as we read God’s word that many passages are connected to other passages, and that many others, even on their own, offer depths and riches of meaning and application.

But there is also the aspect that many verses are links in a chain, offering part of a whole larger imparting of God’s ways and God’s instructions on a variety of subjects. To fully grasp the mind of God — to see what is called the whole counsel of God — we need to dig deeper.

For example, what is the mark of our work and witness in the world? The first answer we would expect is love.

“By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” ~John 13:35 NKJV

But we all know people who, because they are created in God’s image, are very loving people, do good works, are benevolent and charitable; but they have never acknowledged Christ’s deity or given him lordship over their lives.

So we go deeper. The mark of the true Christian is the fruit of the spirit.

But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against these things!~Gal 5: 22,23 (NLT)

But in addition to growing in love (and joy and peace, etc.) we are to grow in the knowledge of God.

But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be the glory both now and to the day of eternity. Amen. ~II Peter 3:18 (ESV)

But clearly there is more, as we see in Paul’s prayer — and expectations — for the Colossian church:

For this reason, since the day we heard about you, we have not stopped praying for you and asking God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all spiritual wisdom and understanding. And we pray this in order that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and may please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God, being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience, and joyfully giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the kingdom of light. ~Col 1: 9-12 (NIV)

(We looked at this passage here.)

But clearly there is another dimension to there being evidence of Christ’s lordship over our lives — our possessions, our thought-lives, our decision making, our priorities and yes, our anxieties) and this is the idea of Christ’s rule and reign in our lives as we work toward becoming more conformed to his image.

I have no specific verse for this because there are so many. Someone once told me that the word Saviour appears 37 times in the KJV, and the word Lord appears over 7,000 times. That Jesus Christ is Lord is among the great themes of the Bible. The sovereignty of God, his ‘King-ship’ and Lordship over all creation is mirrored in the expectation that he will have rule and reign in our individual lives.

But if you want a specific reference, you do no better than the book of Romans which talks about whereas once sin ruled over us, the believer is now ruled by Christ.

For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body ruled by sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin— ~Rom. 6:6 (NIV)

I’ve led this progression of thoughts in this direction for two reasons. One, as you can see below is to introduce the song, Reign in Us by the band Starfield. This song has really been on my mind all week since encountering it again in a weekend service. More importantly, the other reason is that I believe that Christ leading us and captivating all that we think and do is going to impact the world in ways we can’t imagine.

Yes, the world will know we are Christians by our love, but they will also know it because we have submitted all to Christ. I’m not there yet — I have a long way to go — but as I write this, I make this my desire.

For those of you without high speed internet, the video is a static image; this is primarily an audio file that will load in seconds.


You thought of us before the world began to breathe
You knew our names before we came to be
You saw the very day we fall away from you
And how desperately we need to be redeemed

Lord Jesus
Come lead us
We’re desperate for your touch

Oh great and mighty one
With one desire we come
That you would reign that you would reign in us
We’re offering up our lives
A living sacrifice
That you would reign that you would reign in us

Spirit of the living God fall fresh again
Come search our hearts and purify our lives
We need your perfect love we need your discipline
We’re lost unless you guide us with your light

Lord Jesus
Come lead us
We’re desperate for your touch

Oh great and mighty one …

We cry out for your life to revive us cry out
For your love to define us cry out
For your mercy to keep us
Blameless until you return

Oh great and mighty one

So reign please reign in us
Come purify our hearts
We need your touch
Come cleanse us like a flood
And set us out
So the world may know you reign you reign in us

writers: Tim Neufeld, Jon Neufeld, Ben Glover

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