Misfit Disciples in an Orthodox World

Misfit Disciples in an Orthodox World
"You had better be a round peg in a square hole than a round peg in a round hole. The latter is in for life, while the first is only an indeterminate sentence." – Elbert Hubbard

What the Hell is Rob Bell Really Saying?

Friday, March 18, 2011

Before you read further, I highly recommend you Robin Parry's post on the same topic over at Theological Scribbles. Parry does an excellent job of presenting the video and discussing the interview. You can find the entire post here

I just finished listening to an interview between Martin Bashir and Rob Bell over Bell's recently released book, Love Wins. I must say that Bashir came out the gate swinging. I don't think Bell was prepared for the tone of Bashir's questions; it sure seemed to me that Bell was caught flat-footed and unprepared. Bashir had obviously done his homework, gathering a couple of the most cogent accusations asserted against Bell's book and levying them against him right from the beginning. Who knows if these are valid questions; if Bell's writings even raise ideas as framed by Bashir? I don't know, because I've not read it yet. But, it really doesn't matter at this point what the book says, does it? Fact is, it has stirred such a controversy that, while the alleged arguments are not new, represents one more evangelical voice being added to a chorus of voices that are singing way off key, in the minds of many. 

After listening to the interview, I must admit a huge amount of frustration. While Bashir could have toned down his adversarial  style a bit (as far as I know, Bashir doesn't have a horse in the race), given a little more credibility to his statements by perhaps introducing a direct quote by Bell, the fact is, Bashir's questions were clear, concise and quite frankly, pure common sense. And Bell's response left me wanting so much more from him. His response should have been equally as clear, concise, and rationale. But, instead, Bell side-stepped the questions, tried to restate them on numerous occasions, and basically refused to answer. 

Why write a book like this, participate in its pre-publication hype, and then basically try to regulate the controversy to the familiar? If we've heard all this before, why waste our time? If you are not wiling to take a stand, beyond the, "we just need to talk about these things" call for dialog, then seriously, why write another book about it? Or, if the book really isn't about the controversy it has instigated, why not make some attempts before its release to clarify and clearly state the degree of your orthodoxy? I'm sure we all know the answer to that one! It doesn't sell books, period! 

Here we have an evangelical giant who finally has a platform to express some courage and confront some archaic notions that have been a blight to the church for centuries. Instead, we are too afraid to come out and simply say, no, I don't believe that...and why? Because it would identify the real chasm, which is not in the particulars of hell or eternal torment, not in validity of gay and lesbian ordination. It is, however, that many of these issues or  standards, etc, that are, in the words of Bashir, no longer palatable to the modern reader. And, to deny this, is really like missing the forest for the trees. The real problem is that there are many things upon which the evangelical church has hung its hat that are no longer palatable to a modern reader, the religious reader, or for any rationale reader for that matter. We simply are not first century readers living in a first century world, operating within the framework of a first century worldview. 

This is where the divide really lies and where we must begin to form the questions correctly and give formidable and reasonable answers. We don't need anymore books written upon a premise so ambiguously stated that no one can really discern where you stand and what you truly believe. If Bell's book refuses to acknowledge the questions and give the answers the way Bell himself does in the interview, I am not interested in reading it. He pulled off a marketing marvel and he's sold allot of books. But, in the end, it will not further any positive discussion where we make real progress and come to understand what is important for the church, in this century, to be saying to the world. 

I come back to a statement made my N.T. Wright in his book Justification: God's Plan and Paul's Vision. Wright is actually defending himself against some of the very same men that Bell is getting criticism from. What he says is so true (he may object to me using his statement this way): "[f]or too long we've read Scripture with nineteenth-century eyes and sixteenth-century questions. It's time to get back to reading with first-century eyes and twenty-first-century questions."[p.37] When Bell or whomever chooses to write a book like that, then I will definitely spend my hard earned money on it. Until then, I think I will sit it out. If the book is as moving of a target as Bell is in that interview, then I think I would want to gouge my own eyes out before the first chapter is done.


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