And to think it all began with The Church Without Pants

Saturday, September 17, 2011

I'm More Biblical Than You Are

I know Love Wins is old news, but I enjoyed reading Rob Bell's book. I admit that freely even though many Christian scholars and other self-appointed defenders of Hell and the Bible assailed Bell long before the book was published. Well, it's been out for half a year now and more than enough authors have taken it upon themselves to parse Bell's words and proof text him into oblivion. (Isn't that where one would end up if there is no hell?)

I hope everything Rob says in that book is true.

But I doubt it. That would make Rob Bell the final authority on The Final Authority. And that's not really what he seems to be about.

What I get when I read anything from Rob Bell, is a sense of his humility as he wades through issues and questions. I feel welcome to join him on a journey to question and explore. I never get from him that he's set himself up as being the final authority on The Final Authority.

I've also had a chance to read some of what Bell's detractors are writing. There's God Wins, Christ Wins, Hell Wins, Hell Forever, etc. (OK, I made up some of those titles, but there's a bunch of these books out and ... well, you get the point.) Each of them proudly asserts that they (and not Rob Bell) are dispensing the Biblically true Truth. And while each of them will humbly deny this, and they do this in such a way as to say: "I may be wrong, but I'm not," the implication is clear that they have appointed themselves as the final authority on The Final Authority.

One forward says that "[this book] will immerse you in the truth of Scripture." (Since Love Wins doesn't and God hasn't.)

Another reads: "I want to help you understand the Biblical and theological issues ..." (Whereas Rob just wants to confuse you.)

Then there's the "I want to persuade you to side with the Scriptures ..." (While Rob Bell obviously wants you to side with Rob Bell) and one author totally pulls the Sola Scriptura card as he writes: "It is impossible to reassess the subject of hell without also reevaluating our beliefs about Scripture ..." (Impossible? Curious, but I think Rob Bell just showed us that it is possible and he did so long before you even thought of writing your book. Or do you mean that if I don't believe what you say Scripture says then you're going to have to throw out the whole Bible? Don't be silly.)

Again, "The book [Love Wins] is so anxious to show that love wins that it fails to appreciate how important it is that justice also wins." (Because all those questions at the beginning of Love Wins were so confusing I never made it past Chapter 1. Plus, I was looking to see if I could find myself in the picture at the beginning of Chapter 2.)

I really like the paragraph in God Wins (that's really the name of the book) that reads: "What is broken will be made whole again. What was lost in Eden will be regained. Love wins. Justice wins. And the God who is perfectly just and perfectly merciful wins." (And you needed to write a book about this because Rob Bell didn't cover this thoroughly enough for you?)

Finally one of the authors makes the appeal that, "As we dig deeper into God's Word, we discover it is less important that love wins than that God wins." (Because while Rob Bell certainly digs somewhere, it isn't in the Scriptures and Bell really, really doesn't want God to win.)

OK. I get it. You guys are from the truly Biblically-based camp and Rob Bell isn't.

Does that mean he's a heretic?

Can we burn him? Or would it be more Christian of us to wait for God to do that?

Just how long will we need to wait before God finally says, "Now you've gone and done it. You've crossed the line and there's no coming back. Off to Hell with you! Scat! Scoot along!"

Will Rob Bell really go to hell if he's got this one backwards?

Do we know this for sure?

But as always, I digress.

I met with a student a few months ago who switched churches. At first he said it was because his new church, the Church of the Biblically Based Biblicalists (not its real name), is more "Biblically based" (I like how spell check wants to change "Biblically" to "Bucolically") and that the sermons were "convicting." I know about the church he left. It's a big one. The Fellowship of Un-Biblical Bible Believers (not its real name, either) holds four services on Sunday. I also know some of the staff. I never thought of them as being un-biblical and so I asked this guy, "How did you discover that the Fellowship wasn't Biblical?" He was very careful not to say anything bad about the Fellowship or the people there. He just thought the sermons and lessons didn't come straight out of the Bible and that they weren't convicting enough.

I've been hearing about the incredible "convicting" sermons from other students who go to all the hip downtown clone churches and I really wanted to pursue
the whole "convicting" sermon thing with him, too. I apologized ahead of time in case I got too personal but I had to ask, "So, what kind of things are you being convicted of each week? Would you mind sharing with me about the last sermon when you felt convicted and how your life was changed?"

"Well," he said, "it's not really about convicting me as much as it is about convicting the world..." which is pretty much the same thing everyone else has said. So either they're too embarrassed to let on about what they're being convicted of or this is really what convicting is all about.

"Ahh ... So," I went on, "it's not so much about God speaking to you about your life through these Biblically based sermons or even conforming your own life to the Scriptures as it is about distinguishing the 'Us' gang from the 'Thems' isn't it?"

Which was a perfect segue into the Biblically based teaching issue.

When I asked him why being Biblically based was so important to him he explained that since the Bible is only way we can really know God it just stands to reason that you'd want to be around Biblical teachers who really teach the Bible.

"So," I asked, "getting back to the Fellowship where you used to be, if their teachings aren't from the Bible, where are they from? And if they're not from the Bible, are they unbiblical? Did you go home and look in the Bible and find that the Fellowship was teaching false, unbiblical stuff?"

He didn't and as it turns out, the Fellowship was merely guilty of not "backing up" everything they said with Scripture. In essence, the Fellowship didn't quote Scripture as often or use the Bible the same way Church did, therefore they weren't being as Biblical as Church.

"But," I asked, "at the new place, Church, they do use the Bible?"

"Yup, and they back everything they say with Scripture verses."

"And then you go home after Church and look everything up to double check on them? Or do you just take Church's word for it that they're using the Scriptures correctly?"

Well, he doesn't go home and read the Bible after Church services either, so I'm guessing he must take their word for it or he just hasn't heard anything yet that sounds unbiblical enough to check up on them. Clearly, he has a sense of what is Biblical and what is not ...

"Sounds like you're letting them be the final authority on what the Word of God says. Have you ever heard anything from them that you disagree with?"

"Not yet."

"So," I paused here to think of the correct phrasing, "since you have the ability to agree or disagree with them, doesn't that make you the final authority on what you think is Biblical?"

"Um ..."

"Well, what would happen if sometime you went home and read on your own and found that you disagreed with Church? Could that happen?"

"I guess it could ..."

"And if that happened, who would you say was the final authority on what the Bible was saying? It can't be Church, since you disagreed with them. Isn't it ultimately up to you to decide what you think is Biblical or not?"

"Well, me and the Holy Spirit."

"So," I pressed on, "besides the Bible, another source of knowledge about God would be the Holy Spirit? And when the two of you get together you can go beyond the Bible to either learn something about God or discern whether something is Biblically based? In other words, there's something bigger, more authoritative, and even more important than the Bible?"

This was beginning to irritate him. But I was having fun. A clearly unbiblical moment for both of us ... but ultimately it was a few minutes that helped me to understand that the Fellowship of Un-Biblical Bible Believers could theoretically teach a Biblical lesson but not tell anyone it's from the Bible, while the Church of the Biblically Based Biblicalists might teach the very same lesson, even use the same words and illustrations but then add some proof texts to demonstrate that the teaching is "Biblical."

"It sounds like you're telling me a couple of important truths, let me see if I'm understanding you. First, after all this talk about the Bible and being Biblical, it's not really your church or even the Bible that has the final say. It's you and God, or the Holy Spirit, that are the Final Authorities in your life, right? And God is the The Final Authority on the Bible. And second, the real difference between "Biblical" teaching (I used the quote signs) and "unbiblical" is what we say about what we teach, and not what we actually teach?"

This produced a really long "Hmmmmm ...."

I couldn't help but think about "South Park" and the episodes when Cartman goes to the future looking for a Wii and finds himself in a world where three branches of sentient atheist groundhogs are trying to kill each other over what to call themselves. (If you can get past the potty mouthed children of South Park, the show is an amazingly accurate looking glass through which to view our culture.)

I think all this just frustrated him because he finally admitted that he switched churches because the girl friend goes there. (Amazing what we'll do to get the girl, isn't it? Some of us switch churches and some of us will even play tennis.)

Why is it that when anyone uses the word "Biblical" or "Scriptural" I just know that some kind of literal line is about to be drawn in some metaphorical sand and that they're about to use the Bible as an excuse to do or say whatever it is that they've already decided they want to do or say? (With the Holy Spirit's help, of course.) I don't even think it's about Truth. It's more about someone needing to be righter about everything than the rest of us. And rather than elevating the Scriptures, The Bible is reduced to the role of Justifier of All Things. Maybe that's why, when someone is about to enlighten me with some "Biblical teaching" I get the feeling that the same Bible I read is about to be used as a weapon against me and the only light I'm going to see is because I just got wapped upside the head with a really thick book.

"As we dig deeper into God's Word, we discover it is less important that love wins than that God wins."

And all this time I thought "God is ______."

God is ___________.

God is ___________.

God is ___________.

(I John 4:8 - 4:16)

Excuse me, but I'm expecting to get wapped upside the head any moment by some Biblical Bluto who'll explain to me how I've totally missed John's point and that _________ has nothing to do with being Biblical.

Thanks, Rob, for taking some hits for the rest of us. I love your work.



    Conviction versus Compelling?

    I think that a lot of people have gotten nervous about Bell because he doesn't quote the bible directly, and neither does the woman at St. Lydia's. Amazingly, it made me look up the chapter of John that she referenced, which means I'm actually going to remember the point of it... kind of like how it worked in college, where I wasn't spoon fed the physiology of the body, but had to work to learn it myself.

    But, I guess one could argue that the pastor at St. Lydia's and Rob Bell are using inferior translations of the bible, which makes them unbiblical. I don't know...

  2. I just went crazy trying to respond to your comment. Let me just say that I should probably add Emily Scott to the list of "interesting people and places" on Quest's home page. She, in an Oh-so-very "unbiblical" way, illuminated that story and brought it to life, did she not? (I wish I had a proof text from the Bible for this comment so that it too could be Biblically based.)


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