I watched the online interview with Rob Bell last night. For an hour, Lisa Miller of Newsweek asked Rob a list of questions regarding topics such as heaven, hell, Jesus, and universalism.
There were no surprises, really. In true Rob Bell form (with his geeky preachery charm intact), he answered most of the questions using stories or by sharing his views and understanding regarding Jewish culture and history. His delivery was passionate, emotional, and kind. Not perfect. But overall, good.
Now, some will argue that Rob’s answers were vague or ambiguous or lacked biblical support, the subtext of those arguments being that Rob’s answers weren’t “mine” or “my pastor’s” or failed to line up with “my understanding of scripture.”
And believe it or not, I understand that. I really do.
For a long time, I observed debates and conversations regarding Christianity in the same way. Not long ago I would have come into last night’s interview with my own perfect biblical truths, truths that I assumed were also God’s truths. And rather than listening to Rob’s answers or hearing and respecting his points of view, I would have been comparing what I heard with the list I knew was right and making a list of discrepancies and errors.
Any time I heard somebody talk about God in ways that rubbed against my theology, I looked for critique. Any time somebody’s answer failed to line up with my correct answers, I cried “heresy” or “fraud” or “dangerous” and once “false teacher!!”
There were lots of reasons. But two reasons stand out: 1) Because I thought I was right and those who didn’t agree with me were wrong. I had to be right. Anybody who disagreed with me had to be wrong. Not just wrong. But wrong in a dangerous “lead people astray” sort of way.
And 2) because I was fear-filled… not faith-filled. Oh I thought I was full of faith. I thought I was walking the narrow road. But mostly I was overwhelmed with fear, a fear that sometimes pushed me to go to crazy lengths to “prove” my point of view correct, biblical, and in agreement with God’s thoughts on things.
Thankfully (through therapy, prayer, and other means) I learned that faith in God isn’t about protecting the “truth” like we’re kids playing a game of King of the Hill. Which is often what we do! We’ve turned faith into “thinking we’re right” and defending our “rightness” at all costs.
Over the years I’ve grown to appreciate the perspectives of people like Rob–because they push us out of our spiritual comfort zones and encourage us rethink “truths” that some of us have been defending and protecting and worshiping since grade school. Rob as well as others encourage us to be about living fully today (in the here and now) and resisting the urges to become complacent about life on Earth, that the “good news” should be real and alive and present right now and not some “no hell for me” status update.
And also remember this: while Rob’s message might rub you the wrong way, there’s a host of people who have engaged or re-engaged God’s story because of Rob and others like him. Why? Many say that they give God another chance because the “good news” is actually good, because they’ve witnessed it doing good things, encouraging good things, and thinking good things… and the “gospel” making things good is biblical.
And who are we to work against good?!
In the end, Rob believes in Jesus. He believes in the power of resurrection. But chances are, he also believes in a Jesus and resurrection that will ultimately redeem a bigger percentage of people than what Rick Warren believes or John Piper believes (that’s not a dig, just an assumption). While what Rob purports isn’t a popular belief here in America, many theologians throughout history believe there is indeed a biblical case for it.
And it’s fine to not agree. But why fight against it? I mean, it seems to me that such a belief only makes the cross of Christ more powerful and more potent. And too, such a belief puts less emphasis on us, what we do, what we say, or how we are. Isn’t that what we preach already–that grace has nothing to do with us? And that it’s all about Jesus?!
I mean, what IF the cross of Christ did actually save “the sins of the world”? Isn’t that good news? Isn’t that something worth sharing? To suggest that it’s not possible is to put theological limits around what Jesus did on the cross. Have we become so theologically bold that we would put belief barriers around God?
Do I believe that the cross of Christ will save more than what our American gospel foretells? Some days I do believe that. I’m not ready to put it on a t-shirt. Because frankly, most days I just hope for that.
But in the end… I don’t know. And you don’t know. Which is why we have faith.
And while you might wildly disagree with what Rob believes, don’t demonize the man for believing in a grace that is bigger and more accepting than the one you believe in.
Not that long ago, I might have demonized Rob, too. Not for what he says. But mostly for what he doesn’t say. And I realized, at least in my own life, that back then the very thought of God’s grace being bigger (or more merciful) than what my theology allowed irritated me. The thought of God saving people who stood on the outside of my belief system pissed me off. Why? Because there was a part of my (then) personal faith that found comfort and joy (and yes, justice) in believing that God’s consequences were coming. And payback was going to be hell. If people outside of my belief system weren’t going to face retribution, then what was the point in having a belief system?
Eventually I realized that I’d created God in my own image. And that the mercy and truth and grace of God that I adhered to was MY version of the mercy and truth and grace of God. And who am I to be so bold as to limit how merciful God is and will be?
Rob was right when he said, “Grace and love always rattles people.”
And being rattled is fine (and sometimes even good). But please, let’s not let it divide us.