About a month ago, I was accepted to Seminary. That sentence alone is enough to scare me and make a lot of people I grew up with laugh. I start in August and should have an M.Div degree in however many years thereafter.
I don’t want to take Greek. I only ever learned to successfully ask how to go to the bathroom in Spanish after three years of classes back in the day, so I’m honestly unsure how Koine Greek is going to go. Thank goodness I’m enrolled in the Distance Learning program and it’s only one week a semester in classroom, or else I’d probably have to invest in a catheter.
If I’m honest, the fact that I decided to pursue a degree in a field which is essentially dying, i.e. the church, is a bit unnerving. Every day I wake up with two overwhelming questions – what am I doing and what do I even believe anymore?
I can’t seem to land on an answer to that last one. Part of me, I guess, narcissistically thinks that by going this route I will be the ONE sole person who finally uncovers the ONE sole answer to the ONE sole belief about the ONE sole God in this ONE sole world.
And then I realize I must not actually be awake and am still in the middle of an absurd, quixotic dream.
None of us has ever or will ever land on that answer, and THAT reality is what makes us all crazy.
The fact that none of us actually knows, and yet so many people and religions and articles on Relevant continue to try and convince us daily is what creates cyclical divisions of angsty hatred. And at a minimum, I think we can all agree that no matter Who or What or How you believe, angsty hatred is the antithesis of what anyone hopes is true.
Speaking of Relevant, this morning I read an article entitled, “Rob Bell Is at It Again: love him or loathe him, the theological provocateur says it’s time to rethink the Bible.” Not catchy at all.
So I read through it, the well-written, totally biased piece. Relevant loves Rob Bell – and so do I…although not without my own plethora of feedback, thoughts, and fits of occasional cringing. The author of the article essentially set out to help market Bell’s new book: What Is the Bible?: How an Ancient Library of Poems, Letters, and Stories Can Transform the Way You Think and Feel About Everything. (Also un-catchy.)
For those of you who don’t know and are into labels, Rob Bell would be labeled as a “New Age” theologian, which means he pushes the envelope of conservatism. Oh how those Evangelical Christians hate him! <pause here to enjoy and reflect on standard Christian hypocritical irony>
I was not one bit surprised by the garden variety Q&A section of the article. Neither the questions asked by the Relevant author nor Rob’s answers took me aback. Instead, I found the most insightful outlooks on “The Bible” and “Christianity” and “God” in the comments section.
Yeah, yeah, I know that comments from haters on the sidelines are what people in the game will tell you are useless and, if you let them, will keep you from playing your best ball. But in this case, aren’t those the exact people who used to feel unmatched joy from being asked to join in a backyard game on an innocent summer night, one that no one cared who won or lost?
I may not have an M.Div yet, but that’s the message I plan to preach. Belonging. Same team. Love. (And, swing for the fences even if you strike out.)
Much like the article’s subtitle: love him or loathe him, there were two main opposing viewpoints in the comments section about both God/The Bible and Rob Bell himself: they are either not real and untrue (and thus, this whole “believe in it” thing is totally jacked up), or…they’re on to something.
Here are some of the responses (typos included). Note the resounding either/or – love/loathe – it MUST be one or the other themes:
- He’s a fence-rider, whose writing has an aura of mystery and poeticness that is admittedly appealing in syntax and nuance, but is wholly lacking in applying sound hermaneutics. At times when passages *clearly* defines the importance of faith in Christ, such as Matthew 14 where Peter falls in the water, Bell reinterpretes the narrative to say Peter lost faith in himself. It is this constant new age application that sells his literature, while pushing himself away from orthodox Christianity. 2nd Tim 4:3 – “For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear.”
- does sound doctrine mean we have to literally believe everything the bible says. I personally don’t belive that Peter actually walked on water at all. I believe there is a lesson there for us, regardless of the facts. For me, the only measure of orthodoxy is the Athanasian or Nicene creed. Dispense with them or any part thereof and you have less than Christianity. Biblical infallibility and inerrancy does not figure in either.
- I want to shake him and beg for an actual answer… he dodges the question and just leaves you more confused. he should listen to Michael Heiser… may help him frame some of his arguments for those “curiosities” he likes to dig in to
- maybe the questions are more interesting than the answers
- Rob reminds me a little of LBJ. He avoided direct answers so often, an exasperated reporter once thought he’d get the president to answer a simple question. So he asked Johnson, “What is your favorite color?” Johnson answered, “Plaid.”
- Assuming that you’re a Christian, I find it interesting that Rob avoiding answering questions directly annoys you so–since this is EXACTLY what Jesus did when people questioned him. The point is self-discovery. For listeners to keep getting their curiosity piqued until they long to know the answers and seek guidance from divine spirit.
This stuff fascinates me. People fascinate me. It’s kinda like why I’m not above binge-watching shows on Netflix that my good friend Danielle would say are shows that “won’t do much for helping your walk with the Lord.” They make me feel better about myself. I might be crabby to my husband every now and then, but hey, Olivia Pope is wayyyyy worse than I am! What season am I on?!? Go, Liv, go.
Reading about and knowing unequivocally that diametrically opposed views of religion and God exist makes me feel less guilty about my own viewpoints. And I’m not talking about the ones that differ from denomination to denomination – I’m talking about the ones that differ from day to day. The ones that differ from the left side of my brain to the right side. The ones I learned to grow up believing as a generational Italian-Irish Catholic were Gospel to the different ones I continue to wrestle with today.
Here’s what people want to know: outside the question of “Is God Real?” – because for the purposes of me finally getting to my main point and summarizing this post, I’m taking the stance of “Yes He is” – most people want to know “Ok, so then what?”
If God is real, what does that mean for me? What am I supposed to do? Is it all those things in the Old Testament? Because if so, I’m out. No one can do all that stuff, plus I don’t have a bunch of oxen hanging out in my backyard to sacrifice.
Is it don’t drink? Because if it’s that, then – as most college kids would say – I’m out.
Is it don’t get divorced? Because if it’s that, then I guess, brokenheartedly, I’m out.
Here’s the deal. Everyone is so hung up on if this, then that; we’re right, you’re wrong; this way, that way; right, left; liberal, conservative; Old Testament, New Testament; elect, everyone; yes, no; yada, yada, yada, puke – that rarely does anyone stop to remember what it’s like…how it feels…to play a backyard game on an innocent summer night together, one where no one wins and no one loses. Just, laughing and enjoying each other’s company – including the [perceived] opposing team’s.
This may totally get me kicked out of Seminary before I even begin, but what if…just what if…God actually is all things? More than what any of us can even fathom, let alone fight about? What if Rob Bell is right AND so are the super conservative interpretations of Scripture? What if our God is big enough to BE all those things to each of us, at different points in our lives? What if God actually is unchanging and it is the collective we – us – singular I’s – who must (and do) change in order to finally be in the ultimate accepting relationship, bidirectionally?
The more I study, the more I wrestle, the more I want to throw my arms up in the air and scream!…the more I can’t stop smiling, thinking about how God is (and has always been) there, watching me play the game. Patiently, He is in the stands, waiting. He’s seen me roll my eyes because the mitt has to go on my left hand. He’s watched me learn to throw, to catch, to hit. He’s seen me run to first; He’s seen me strike out and throw my bat. He’s watched me round the bases and slide into home.
I picture me looking up in those stands at Him – not a far view from the top of the team who is hoisting me up in the air – and there He sits. Same expression. Same position. Still patiently waiting. For many years, that confused me – how I just scored the winning run, but God was unmoved, unchanged. The crowd was going crazy, but not Him.
Then, one day, I changed. Sure, I was older, stronger, more experienced, having played more games than I could count. But winning had lost its appeal. There was nothing else to do; the game would only and always have 9 innings and 54 outs. And it was in that moment of realization when I looked over and saw God cheering for me softly in the stands. I could see Him since I was no longer looking at the scoreboard.
What if the whole point is not to know, but to believe that we are loved whether we win or lose? That we were created for and with a purpose by that unconditionally loving Being so we can finally accept it and love others the same way? And what if all that other stuff that we get so hung up on and fight about really doesn’t matter and instead, is just one big human condition conglomerate byproduct?
Of course, I don’t know these things with certainty, but I certainly believe in a God who is more boundless than labels. Or simple dualistic thinking.
You can read the Rob Bell article here: https://relevantmagazine.com/feature/rob-bell-is-at-it-again/