Thinking Out Loud

January 26, 2017

Bases of Agreement

Filed under: Christianity — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 10:27 am

Disagreement HierarchyToday we’re thinking about the plural of the word basis and areas where while we might disagree on some hot button issues, there are core values we share. For example:

Social/political issues

  • You may be pro-abortion or anti-abortion but we can all agree on preventing unwanted pregnancies.
  • You can be part of the gun lobby or against the gun lobby but we can all agree on seeing an end to mass violence.
  • You can be in favor of bringing in refugees from war torn countries or you can be opposed to it but we can all agree on helping people in peril and praying for peace.
  • You can be for the death penalty or against the death penalty but we can agree on wanting to see fewer charged with capital crimes.
  • You can be for LGBT rights or opposed to gay rights but we can all agree on loving our neighbors.

Theological issues

  • You can be charismatic or cessationist but we can all agree that something supernatural happened in Acts 2.
  • You can believe in eternal security or not believe in it but we can all endeavor to live up to standards which will please a holy God.
  • You can support women in ministry or be opposed to women in church leadership but can agree that God has given each of us unique gifts for service.
  • You can affirm predestination or believe in free will but we can agree there needs to be a time at which people respond to God.
  • You can be pre-tribulation rapture, post-tribulation rapture, or no rapture at all, but we can all agree a day is coming that will usher us into a new era.

DisagreementThat’s a bit of a rough sketch of something I would like to have spent more time developing. If you have better suggestions, or feel part of it could be reworked, let me know.

I think you get the idea: Look for the basis of agreement; find the place where you and your opponent have common ground, because if you work your way back, it’s there.


While looking for a graphic image to add to today’s post, I remembered a couple we had used before and started reading the articles where we had used them. You might want check out:


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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.

December 20, 2008

Critique of The Shack to Release in February

findinggodintheshackWell, you knew it was bound to happen, but this is the first book about the popular novel that I am aware of, and you can bet it won’t be the last.  Finding God in The Shack is by Randal Rauser, associate professor of historical theology at Taylor Seminar, Edmonton, Alberta, Canada.   He writes on theology, apologetics and popular culture.   The book is releasing in February through Paternoster Press, a division of the worldwide STL organization.

The publisher marketing for the book (see below) appears to indicate a response to the book that is supportive of the The Shack‘s theological treatment.   That could upset people who are looking for ammunition to criticize the book, especially those who have been outspoken critics without actually reading it.   No doubt those titles will follow.

I am always skeptical as to whether or not books like this are written to allow further conversation on the themes in other popular Christian literature — I’m aware of at least six critiques of the Left Behind series — or if they are written from an opportunist vantage, trying to capitalize on the popularity of something else.   I know that’s unfair; nor are we to judge the motives of someone else; but as a bookseller, it’s easy to all that skepticism to creep in.

That said though, I do actually hope this is the first of many such titles, because there is so much discussion taking place now on theological matters that it would be healthy and beneficial to allow those dialogs to continue, especially among those who have never considered weightier theological matters before.   The Shack has brought many new people to the theological roundtable.   One other Canadian who would be good to hear from on this would be John Stackhouse of Regent College, whose debrief of the book is the third of three radio interviews available online from the Haven Today radio program*.   Plus, I’m sure a number of American, British or Australian writers would be itching to weigh in on this.

Here is the publisher marketing for Finding God in The Shack:

What would it be like to lose your youngest child to a serial killer? And then to have God invite you out for a conversation at the very shack where the terrible deed took place? And then imagine that the door to that shack of horrors opened . . . and before you knew it you had been swept up in the motherly embrace of a large African American woman? This most unlikely of stories, as told in William Young’s The Shack, has become a runaway bestseller and it is easy to see why. The book brings us on a redemptive journey through the shacks of deepest pain and suffering in our lives, guided by the triune God of Christian faith. But even as lives have been transformed through this book, other readers have sternly denounced it as a hodgepodge of serious theological error, even heresy. With one pastor urging his congregation to read it and another forbidding his congregation to, many Christians have simply been left confused.

Aware both of the excitement and uncertainty generated by The Shack, theologian Randal Rauser takes the reader on a fascinating journey through the pages of the story. In successive chapters he explores many of the books complex and controversial issues. Thus he explains why God the Father is revealed as an African American woman, he defends the books theology of the Trinity against charges of heresy and he considers its provocative denial of a Trinitarian hierarchy. But at its heart The Shack is a response to evil and so Rauser spends the final three chapters considering the books explanation for why God allows evil, how the atoning work of Christ offers new hope for a suffering world and ultimately how this hope extends to all of creation. Through these chapters Rauseroffers an honest and illuminating discussion which opens up a new depth to the conversation while providing the reader with new opportunities for Finding God in The Shack.

*For the earlier two programs with the author of the book itself, use the same link and modify the last four digits to program 1661 and 1662.   See also our post on this topic a few days ago with the link to an Australian radio show podcast.

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