Thinking Out Loud

January 12, 2010

Rob Bell: Defending Dust

I’m not prepared to go to the wall defending everything Rob Bell says or does, but I think some balance is needed against the mounting criticism online, of which perhaps this piece (click here) is a prime example.

Rob Bell in his pre-minstry days, at 18 months

I’ve watched a number of the NOOMA videos, but I’m not sure if I’ve seen Dust.   I have heard the sermon that it’s based on however, and therein lies a huge difference.   I’m a big fan of Rob’s preaching, but on days like this one, I sometimes wish that NOOMA didn’t exist.   The full sermons offer the full experience.    Nonetheless, I find this concept somewhat straightforward.

Peter asks Jesus if he can join him walking on the water.   Rob brings a lot of cultural context to this request in the full sermon, and in other teachings.   Peter, you see, is a lead disciple.   His impulsive nature is actually manifest in the fulfilling of what is expected of the token ‘older’ talmudim   (Peter has a mother-in-law, so he’s married; Jesus tells him to look inside a fish to find a coin to pay the tax “for you and I;” the other disciples being too young for that tax.)   The disciple is expected to do what [i.e. everything] he sees the rabbi doing.

Peter gets out of the boat.  (Starts well.)   He walks on water.  (Going good.)   Then he takes his eyes of Jesus.  (Not so smart.)    He looks down.  (Getting worse.)  He wonders what the heck he is doing out there.   (Sinking starts.)

Bell points out that it’s not that Peter doesn’t believe in Jesus.   Jesus is unmistakably walking on water.    This is not a matter of faith, it’s a matter of fact that Peter and the other disciples can see plainly.  (We “believe” Jesus walked on water, all they had to do was look.)

Peter is just not sure he can do it, and he begins to sink.    Again, it’s not that he doesn’t believe Jesus can walk on water, or that Jesus can give him the power to also walk on water.   It’s just too big.   Too big for him to handle.    He doesn’t believe he can do it, even though it’s quite evident that Jesus can.

But Jesus believes in him, in fact Jesus doesn’t just restore Peter to ministry later on after his denial, he is constantly about the business of restoring and reinstating Peter to ministry. After the abortive water-walk, after the whole “get thee behind Me” thing, and after the three-time denial.

Bell in a slightly more recent picture

That’s what Bell is saying.   Do you get it now?   No?   Then give up.  Maybe it’s a generational thing.   Maybe it’s not that you can’t wrap your brain around it, maybe you just don’t like Rob Bell. Maybe you just can’t handle the idea that a new generation of communicators is taking the stage. Maybe you can’t remember when your earliest attempts to express your hope in Christ was packaged in difficult metaphors and rough-edged stories.

Rob Bell is not saying that the essence of Jesus’ ministry is “just believe in yourself.”   Bell, if he bothered to respond at all, would say that we are saved by faith in Jesus Christ.    This context is a unique presentation of a unique concept that applies to one disciple in one particular time and place.

His application is that Jesus believes you can do this. You can live this Christ-following life. He will give you the strength and the courage to live out this faith in a world of temptation, trial and opposition. He has faith in you to be His instrument to carry out His plans and purposes in your generation.

Give the guy a break on this one.   Or is that you really don’t want to? I don’t agree with everything he says, I couldn’t finish his friend Peter Rollins’ book, and the hiring of Shane Hipps may prove more problematic than anyone expected.

But as my mother would say, “don’t go looking for the hair on the egg.”

(And, for the record, I don’t agree with everything my pastor says, every author he quotes or every staff member he hires.)

And don’t extrapolate a pastor’s core theology on the basis of a ten-minute “discussion starter” video.

October 12, 2009

Sharing the Spotlight, Passing the Torch

Coming Events sampleFor the last five years I’ve been doing a project on the side that represents something I once swore I would never do.    I’ve been publishing a monthly newsletter that lets people know what’s going on that would be of interest to the local Christian community; and with our twin-towns having a population of less than 40,000; there often isn’t much going on at all, and the whole project seems hardly worthwhile.

Years ago, I met a guy — I think his name was Bill Scarborough — who published the Christian Activities Calendar magazine in several cities.   At the time I thought the whole thing was rather pedestrian.   Why not produce a magazine that does outreach, or discusses doctrine, or deals with youth and family issues?

But now I do the same thing.   The newsletter still goes out, but we modified a blog page to get online quickly.    It’s filled with concerts, car washes, bake sales, conferences, church picnics and lots of advertising for our local Christian bookstore.    It would be easy for someone to say I should be using that energy for evangelism, or theological discussion, or examining parenting and marriage issues.

But nested in between the seminars and the fundraisers and the singles events there are often things that are worthy of reaching a greater audience, often put together by people who aren’t connected or established or loaded with the money it often takes to make things happen.

I just finished watching the first two parts of a four-part series on DVD by Andy Stanley called Playing God and it reminds me of the need to use whatever power and influence I may have to help those who have even less.  His example in Part Two was Jesus stripping himself (literally) of his status and position to wash His disciples feet.

When it comes to these new or unknown or untried or unproven ventures I think my goal is obvious:

  1. We need to promote them
  2. We need to elevate them
  3. We need to resource them

To me, if the premise is valid and the doctrinal convictions of the organizers are sound and the spiritual benefit to the participants will be real; then I want to be seen as someone lending support.   Just as the business world has “incubators” for new ventures, so also do we need to incubate local ministry providers who want to serve the communities where we live.

Christian Events headerWe need to celebrate that in this chaotic world, there are individuals who are still willing to get their hands dirty in ministry; still willing to risk failure; still willing to attempt new ministry start-ups.

I don’t want be a skeptic sitting on the sidelines waiting to see if it will happen.   I want to make it happen.

Right now there are people in your town who are starting something or dreaming a dream or are out there in the trenches doing real ministry who need your support.   Whatever power and influence you have, use it to share the spotlight or pass the torch to those who will follow after.   Especially those next-generation projects that are so easily dismissed by the “religious establishment” as non-consequential.

What will you do to help ministries where you live?

If you want to see what our “Coming Events” site looks like you can click here.   If you don’t have one of these in your community, why not start one?

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