June 1, 2011

Points of View

I've been reading Rob Bell's book, Love Wins.

Where was I two months ago, right?

I often attended Mars Hill and typically appreciated Bell's teaching style, as well as the laid back atmosphere of his church, and the band's unique infusions of popular Rock/Indie/Disco/Funk tunes with modern worship songs. Also, the services started at 11. That goes a long way when you're delivering pizzas until 2 am.

I had a Love Wins bumper sticker on my last car, and still have one on a music book. I also have a Jesus Wins bumper sticker put out by another West Michigan church to contrast it.

Maybe love wins, but publicity definitely does. I heard buzz from plenty of Puerto Ricans (and Americans, and news outlets, and blogs, and relatives, and... yeah) about some unorthodox ideas from a pastor I knew fairly well, through many church services over many years.

They were saying all kinds of things
about what he was saying,
and what he was saying
didn't seem to be in line with
what
others
had
always
been
saying.

Questioning Gandhi's eternal resting place?

Universalism?

Must investigate.

I visited a Universalist church once. Didn't care for it. Their congregation was surprisingly aged, but the building was beautiful. I really couldn't see how embracing every religion and worldview gave them any kind of framework to make sense of God, the world, sin, death, anything. Their syllabus was far too open, kinda like taking a class on "Stuff." What are we going to learn about today? "Stuff." How do you study for that? How do you leave and go home and ponder that and come back the next week seeking something deeper, something concrete, something to stand on? How does that change your life? They had pagan verses in their hymn books. The sermon was self-helpish. It was Oprah church. I could have stayed home and watched Oprah.

A Christian church, on the other hand, has a framework. There's a Bible, there's tradition, there's a refined approach with a limited swath. You can gauge the Pastor's teaching against the Bible. Is he right or wrong? Why? It's in the Word. Go read it for yourself. At a Universalist church, you just kinda have to decide if the pastor is smart and take his word for it.

All that to say: Rob Bell isn't that kind of Universalist. I don't know what he is. He still uses the Bible as a framework, he still says Jesus is The Way. He just says it with a twist, one that I can't really refute, support, or explain. I'm not convinced he's a heretic or anything, though I do think there are some questions a laymen like myself can ask that a Christian pastor with a wide following probably can't, at least without complications and blowback. It's one thing for me to be at home, watching TV, wondering - What am I going to eat for dinner? What if God lets everyone into heaven anyway? Where are my socks? It's another for a pastor to write a book about it.

His book is okay, as far as readability goes. I'm about 80% of the way through it and mustering motivation to finish it. Some of what he says, I like. Some of what he says, I don't really have an opinion on. Some of what he says, I don't agree with. But for covering such a controversial topic, the book is pretty boring. Maybe that's because I often read it when my eyelids are already heavy (*Not a good state in which to read your Bible, btw.) He devotes a lot of it to asking questions, many of which he doesn't answer. And I think that's what he set out to do - ask a lot of questions. I'm cool with that. I'm all about getting to the bottom of why we believe what we believe.

We were riding up to church in San Juan on Sunday and I had the book in my lap. A friend was riding shotgun and asked me about it. He's pretty opinionated. He'd admit this. So he asked me about the book...

I articulated Bell's point of view as well as I could and diplomatically said there were some things about it I like and some that I don't. He went on to aptly debunk most of what I said, at least as he understood it, quoting scripture along the way.

I found myself defending Rob Bell's point of view. Which is interesting because it's not one I particularly agree with. I do this a lot, it turns out. In this instance, my inclination was to back up Rob Bell's book because the person debunking it by their own admission hadn't read it.

I don't consider myself very argumentative, and I don't really care about winning an argument or being especially convincing. I just like discussion. I often take a centrist viewpoint. Maybe that makes me wishy-washy. I've been accused of that before.

Or maybe it's just more fun to argue with someone you agree with. That way, they defend my point of view, and they typically do it better than I could.

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