There is little question that there is a problem evident in the Christian Education arm of the evangelical church in North America. As I stated in an earlier post, there are probably many of reasons for this predicament and, thus, the solution is multifaceted. To that end, I want to tackle a few of these reasons in several sequential posts (they will come more regularly now that I am fully back from vacation).
Over a series of blog posts, I am going to tackle a topic that I have been reflecting on over the last few years: Why most evangelical Christians have less and less theological and biblical understanding and the effect this is having on the Church as a whole. This awareness is not unique to me but has been observe by many antidotally as well as statistically.
This thought process has been the impetus of a Discipleship Plan that our church is currently working on that we hope, on a some small level, will help to address some of these issues (that being said, most of these issues are cultural and systemic and not program driven. Consequently, our discipleship plan will take this into account).
On an effectual basis, this problem is currently being evidenced so poignantly through the Rob Bell debate. Most comments I have read from pastors and lay Christians come from a fear in Rob’s questions. I think that largely this fear extends two-fold. First, it is extends because they are unaware that Rob’s questions are not new and that many thinkers that they hold dear have had similar questions and either expressed them to the controversy of the church (John Stott), pushed the envelope a little (C.S. Lewis – i.e. The Great Divorce) or purposely keep them secret and refused to give their personal thoughts on Hell. That being said, historical context is important and many people don’t understanding that the church has always been asking questions about Hell and will continue to do so – is this not a good thing? Secondly, I think people have reacted this way because someone like Rob (who is a brilliant questions asker) has expressed good questions that most people would rather ignore than thoughtfully deal with. Let’s face it, life is busy, filled with pain and brokenness, and most people would rather have simple answers (One blog post I saw had the title: Why Rob Bell is wrong and everything you learned in Sunday School is still correct.) than have to dive into deep subjects (this is a point I will deal with in a future post) – honestly, I don’t blame them sometimes.
This is just the start as they are many dynamic at play (biblical, theological, cultural, historical, etc). I don’t pretend to be an expert on this but simply want to bring my observations forward on what I see happening, the symptoms that are manifesting and some possible suggestions to help the Church potentially move forward.
With all the attention of Rob Bell’s new book “Love Wins” and the label by some that he is a universalist, many evangelicals have come out to condemn the book (even before it was published) and call him a heretic and even bid him “farewell” on Twitter. I, personally, found how this was/is being handled deeply troubling on many levels (theologically, historically, biblically and practically). Although I will tackle why I think we, as the Evangelical church, responded the way we did in my next post (coming soon), I want to tackle the more practical side of the universalist debate.
You may argue and say that I am abusing hyperbole and that our actions don’t matter as much as our belief but I would argue back and ask where in Scripture are we allowed to separate the two? Jesus was pretty clear on this. Jesus teaches in Matthew 25 about Hell and eternal destiny. Jesus teaches here that he will separate the metaphoric sheep from the goats and teaches that the questions asked/criteria used will be action orientated rather than belief orientated. (“I was hungry and you didn’t feed me…”) Don’t get me wrong, I believe that faith in Christ (and not works) is the only way to eternal relationship with God (John 14:6) but it MUST be worked out with action! This is the point James makes in his epistle – Faith without works (actions) is dead!!! (James 2:17)
Therefore, is it not disingenuous for Evangelicals who demonstrate through their action, the unwillingness to share the Good News with others in spite of their belief and passion in their view of Hell, to speak negatively about others who are asking questions (good questions) about their belief of it?
I hope my heart comes through in the post! My hope is that we would see the plank in our own eye before we try and help Rob Bell with the sawdust in his!
I recently read a timely and prophetic book by my friend and former professor Randal Rauser, “You’re Not As Crazy As I Think: Dialogue in a World of Loud Voices and Hardened Opinions.” I think this book is very apropos in our currently evangelical Christian climate. A climate where people truly do have hardened opinions and don’t seem to have the ability, or tools, to dialogue with others in the pursuit of truth; a climate that has people simply and exclusively reading and listening to voices that reinforce their pre-existing view, rather than challenging it in a healthy way.
This climate has been evidenced in the recent Rob Bell “debate” with Rob’s, yet to be, released book “Love Wins.” A book that asks series theological questions that need to be asked, a book that continues a dialogue about a controversial subject that the church has wrestled with for thousands of years. Whatever his view will be in the end, it will definitely not be new and the church will survive. I just would hope that we would at least listen to the arguments before we “pre-condemn” a book and it’s author.
I have to admit that I found Randal’s book to be more personally prophetic than I anticipated. The title says it all but I dived into the material looking for ammunition of how all those whom may disagree with, need to learn to listen more and come to a better conclusion. But something very different and unexpected happened. I ended up full circle and found I was the one being rebuked and corrected in my hardened views that I may not have recognized before. I recognized, quite reluctantly, that I was part of the problem and that I need to learn to listen more to voices outside my own view(s). I may not change the view I have because of them, but at the very least, it will help me to understand the view I hold better as a result (for more on this, see my earlier post here).
Randal uses his platform to communicate our common need to pursue truth and what should be our desire to pursue it.
“…our deepest conviction ought to be the desire to know the truth, as well as the willingness to see this same conviction in our “enemies.”” (pg. 12)
Randal uses several examples to communicate his point and although I feel he went into more detail than needed for each example, space that could have been used to explore other topics and examples, it highlights our hardened options none-the-less.
One of the things I have witnessed recently, that Randal highlights, is the disconcerting phenomena of viewing those with different views as being morally corrupt (This is explored in his chapter entitled; “Those I disagree with Are Probably Not Ignorant, Idiotic, Insane, or Immoral.”) I have witnessed this disturbing reality recently in the Evangelical Church: In a YouTube video featuring John Piper, Piper makes the comment that the Emergent Church movement is over and determines those apart of it to be in shambles (the implication is that there is moral problems) – a claim he doesn’t back up. I, too, think many of the theological beliefs of some of those in the Emergent Church movement are troubling, but I don’t automatically think the people who hold them are consequently morally corrupt. If this were true, then one could therefore take bad morality as logical sign of bad theology and the reverse, good morality as a sign of good theology. Thus, this is a symptom of the church’s problem: we have forgotten how to dialogue, how to pursue truth and how to listen to others.
This book hits the selves at a timely moment in evangelical culture and one that is a must for every theological student and pursuer of truth!
- Confess and profess that you are not perfect and that God loves you regardless of your failures!
- Own your failure and don’t pass the buck.
- Learn from it and grow. Even if your failure is from our own ineptitude, you can learn from it and grow as a result.