Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Does Love Really Win?

The media tizzy that has swept across evangelicalism over the last several weeks regarding Rob Bell's book Love Wins has been intriguing to say the least. The subtitle reads, A Book About Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived raised more than a few eyebrows of mostly the low brow evangelical type. It's interesting that I haven't heard much commentary from folks in mainline denominations about the book and the controversial figure behind the book. HarperOne, the publisher of the book, released a video with Bell introducing the book by telling a story about how the eternal destiny of Ghandi, this alone has made people denounce Bell, his book, and his salvation. I followed a few of the comments in blogs, Twitter, and Facebook and had a few conversations with people about Bell and the book, but I was convinced that I wouldn't make a judgment call about the book until I read it for myself. Sadly, many of the people who cast Bell and Love Wins into outer darkness reacted to a provocative video without ever reading the book for themselves.

I received my copy about a week or so after it was released. I can honestly say that Bell is quite good at asking questions, challenging the status quo of faith in a typical post-modern fashion...he provides lots of questions and very few answers. I think it is important for many in the church to realize that the rising generations (millenials, etc.) are quite comfortable with all the questions that may or may not lead to hard, conclusive answers.

Bell is aware that what he shares in this book is controversial and on the fringes of Christian tradition (many would consider is conclusion to be outside the bounds of historic Christian orthodoxy while others would permit the freedom to hold to different views on the destiny of everyone who has ever lived within the broader umbrella of Christian faith in the Living God). Bell is what he calls an exclusive inclusivist, meaning he believes that Jesus is the way to salvation but that the "all-embracing, saving love of this particular Jesus the Christ will of course include all sorts of unexpected people from across the cultural spectrum." He calls it "exclusivity on the other side of inclusivity" (155).

While I disagree with Bell's conclusion, I think intrinsic to his argument is the truth that we are finite human beings who cannot begin to fathom the depths of the mind and heart of God. Yes, we have the Bible, God's written revelation of his relationship with his people and how he has chosen to reveal himself to the world, most particularly in the person and work of Jesus Christ. That being said, I don't believe that I serve a God who is limited to act in only the ways he has acted in the pages of the Bible, if I did, I believe my view of God would be diminished because that would be a small God to serve. If God spoke creation into existence, made redemption possible through the cross of Jesus Christ, and is still at work in people's lives then who am I to pretend to know the mind of God and his complete plan of redemption. Let me reiterate, I am not a universalist or and inclusivist like I believe Bell is, nor do I think scripture can truly defend those positions, but if God wanted to save people through Jesus in a way that I don't fully comprehend based on the knowledge of God that I have and the revelation of scripture then he isn't a very big God. All that being said, I don't think that will be the case (that God will save people through Jesus even after this earthly life is over) but I am willing to let God have the final verdict on that topic.

A few things sadden me about Bell and his book...1. The lack of grace given to a fellow brother or sister in Christ. I am not saying that heresy should go unchecked within the body of Christ, but shouldn't the effort always be made to restore someone who holds erroneous beliefs about the faith. Ultimately, no one else is the judge of Bell's own heart and relationship with God except God. I am truly grieved that Christians who have experienced God's grace we are often the least likely people to be dispensers of the grace to other people (inside and outside of the church). 2. I regret that someone as influential as Bell would come to the conclusions he has reached, although I think he ultimately throws his hands up and says that he's not 100% sure of people's eternal destiny, but this (his questions and thoughts in Love Wins) are his attempt at trying to make sense of it all. Questions are good things, especially about faith...I am reminded of a quote I found from C.S. Lewis not long ago that says, "I know now, Lord, why you utter no answer. You are yourself the answer. Before your face questions die away." His influence as a pastor and leader are somewhat troubling when he reaches these conclusions but I would also point out that for me, him getting this wrong doesn't negate his own life change and being right in other areas of his own theology. I think ultimately Love Wins like other books by Bell is an attempt to work out his own theology in the context of writing, which can be very dangerous. I strongly encourage anyone to read the book before joining the masses in condemning Bell, you may reach the same conclusion, but at least you will have made that decision for yourself.

Some other interesting Blog posts about Rob Bell and Love Wins:
This one might be my favorite!

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

St. Patrick's Day and SHS Theater

Last week I had two life experiences that reminded me of the biblical theme of creation, fall, and redemption. We made our annual pilgrimage to Savannah for St. Patrick's Day on Thursday. It's always an opportunity to see family, old friends, and meet new people. We decided this year that we would watch most of the parade from a fixed point with chairs, snacks, etc. It sorta worked out okay. I made my way to the parade route around 8 AM to reserve a spot. We spent the better part of the first 3 hours of the parade watching and enjoying the scenery. The celebratory aspect reminds me that as Christians we have the privilege of celebrating the redemptive work of Christ each day not just on set days and festivals. The life of St. Patrick is a reminder to us as Christians in a post-modern context to meet people where they are with the bold truth of the gospel!

There is ample opportunity for truth to be proclaimed, not with a bullhorn and a sign like one street evangelist I saw, but with a simple, quiet, uncompromising way we can live out the gospel story so that it impacts the lives of the people we come in contact with at a parade, at work, at home, even at church. Among the throngs of people enjoying the festivities one was reminded of the beauty of creation with the majestic oaks and Spanish moss of Savannah, the fall of humanity with the excesses present all around, and the mysterious work of the Holy Spirit to redeem all of creation for the glory of God.

Friday I went to see some of my students present The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe at Statesboro High School. They all did a fantastic job of presenting C.S. Lewis' beloved story that vividly presents the theme of the gospel more clearly than most churches on Sunday morning. It struck as I watched that you had students in the play and people in the audience who would actually miss the whole story that Aslan and his friends enact as creation, fall, and redemption are told in magical ways.

Happy Birthday!

Yesterday was our younger daughter's birthday...hard to believe that she is already 3. She has changed so much over the last few months that it seems like she is going to be married with a child of her own next week, but let's not discuss that too much right now. She brings so much joy, happiness, and yes even frustration to our lives as parents. One minute she can be extremely mischievous and the next, sweeter than ice tea. She has a way of always turning on the charm at just the right moment. It's amazing how blessed my life truly is by the three ladies that I share it with each day. They are a constant reminder to me of God's grace and love. They also remind me of the joy of life as a follower of Christ. Imagine...being love by the creator AND having people to share your life with!

Happy Birthday Charley!

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

The Problem with Trendiness

Stumbled upon this link on Facebook. Although I probably wouldn't see eye to eye on everything with this guy. I think he may be correct on these matters (theology and music).
The Problem with Trendiness

Friday, March 11, 2011

Soul Care

It's interesting to me that in ministry most people are often rigorous in pouring out themselves into other people but seldom take the kind of care and attention that is needed to cultivate our own lives. Ironically, we dismiss the need for that because we say we are too busy with "ministry." What I have found to be true in my life and in the lives of friends in ministry is that when we don't take time away from our jobs to invest in ourselves, invest in who Jesus is transforming us into, then disaster like what ensues after a earthquake induced tsunami comes roaring into the picture. Dallas Willard puts it this way, "Put everything you have into the care of your heart, for it determines what your life amounts to."

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Ash Wednesday Readings

Joel 2

Locusts Invade like an Army
 1 Sound the alarm in Jerusalem[a]!
      Raise the battle cry on my holy mountain!
   Let everyone tremble in fear
      because the day of the Lord is upon us.
 2 It is a day of darkness and gloom,
      a day of thick clouds and deep blackness.
   Suddenly, like dawn spreading across the mountains,
      a great and mighty army appears.
   Nothing like it has been seen before
      or will ever be seen again. 3 Fire burns in front of them,
      and flames follow after them.
   Ahead of them the land lies
      as beautiful as the Garden of Eden.
   Behind them is nothing but desolation;
      not one thing escapes.
 4 They look like horses;
      they charge forward like warhorses.[b]
 5 Look at them as they leap along the mountaintops.
      Listen to the noise they make—like the rumbling of chariots,
   like the roar of fire sweeping across a field of stubble,
      or like a mighty army moving into battle.
 6 Fear grips all the people;
      every face grows pale with terror.
 7 The attackers march like warriors
      and scale city walls like soldiers.
   Straight forward they march,
      never breaking rank.
 8 They never jostle each other;
      each moves in exactly the right position.
   They break through defenses
      without missing a step.
 9 They swarm over the city
      and run along its walls.
   They enter all the houses,
      climbing like thieves through the windows.
 10 The earth quakes as they advance,
      and the heavens tremble.
   The sun and moon grow dark,
      and the stars no longer shine.
 11 The Lord is at the head of the column.
      He leads them with a shout.
   This is his mighty army,
      and they follow his orders.
   The day of the Lord is an awesome, terrible thing.
      Who can possibly survive?
A Call to Repentance
 12 That is why the Lord says,
      “Turn to me now, while there is time.
   Give me your hearts.
      Come with fasting, weeping, and mourning.
 13 Don’t tear your clothing in your grief,
      but tear your hearts instead.”
   Return to the Lord your God,
      for he is merciful and compassionate,
   slow to get angry and filled with unfailing love.
      He is eager to relent and not punish.
 14 Who knows? Perhaps he will give you a reprieve,
      sending you a blessing instead of this curse.
   Perhaps you will be able to offer grain and wine
      to the Lord your God as before. 15 Blow the ram’s horn in Jerusalem!
      Announce a time of fasting;
   call the people together
      for a solemn meeting.
 16 Gather all the people—
      the elders, the children, and even the babies.
   Call the bridegroom from his quarters
      and the bride from her private room.
 17 Let the priests, who minister in the Lord’s presence,
      stand and weep between the entry room to the Temple and the altar.
   Let them pray, “Spare your people, Lord!
      Don’t let your special possession become an object of mockery.
   Don’t let them become a joke for unbelieving foreigners who say,
      ‘Has the God of Israel left them?’”
The Lord’s Promise of Restoration
 18 Then the Lord will pity his people
      and jealously guard the honor of his land.
 19 The Lord will reply,
   “Look! I am sending you grain and new wine and olive oil,
      enough to satisfy your needs.
   You will no longer be an object of mockery
      among the surrounding nations.
 20 I will drive away these armies from the north.
      I will send them into the parched wastelands.
   Those in the front will be driven into the Dead Sea,
      and those at the rear into the Mediterranean.[c]
   The stench of their rotting bodies will rise over the land.”   Surely the Lord has done great things!
    21 Don’t be afraid, my people.
   Be glad now and rejoice,
      for the Lord has done great things

 Thus saith the Lord through the prophet Joel. Thanks be to God.

2 Corinthians 5:18-21
18 And all of this is a gift from God, who brought us back to himself through Christ. And God has given us this task of reconciling people to him. 19 For God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself, no longer counting people’s sins against them. And he gave us this wonderful message of reconciliation. 20 So we are Christ’s ambassadors; God is making his appeal through us. We speak for Christ when we plead, “Come back to God!” 21 For God made Christ, who never sinned, to be the offering for our sin,[e] so that we could be made right with God through Christ.
The reading of the second Epistle to the Corinthians, thanks be to God.

 Almighty and everlasting God, you hate nothing you have made and forgive the sins of all who are repentant: make in me a clean heart, a heart that hates...laments sins and readily acknowledges my wretchedness, grant your perfect cleansing and forgiveness of sin; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Free Music on iTunes

Free music on iTunes has been very good to me lately. Today I downloaded a song from R.E.M.'s new CD that sounds very reminiscent of their sound the last time I bought anything from them 15 years ago. In all seriousness Uberlin has a good sound, characteristic mumbled vocals by Michael Stipe, very similar sound to Time Out of Mind to me. I also got Lucinda Williams' track Buttercup...a gutsy, blues song about lost love. Williams has long been a critic favorite but slow in garnering a large fan base. I saw her in concert once, years ago when she opened for The Allman Brothers. She was obscure and unknown then, but she has come into her own with this song.

A few weeks ago I downloaded Amos Lee's Violin which I have posted about earlier. I also got Iron and Wine's Tree By the River and Randy Montana's 1,000 Faces both of which have been great discoveries for me. I am constantly listening to them while working at my desk. Lyrically and musically most of this new stuff fits into what my students call "banjo music" which is really singer/songwriter. I find solace in a well crafted song, which lays open the human story, usually the human predicament and tries to make some sense of it all. Sometimes the artists get it right, other times it's clear that their solution is void of the truth of the gospel. I always am reminded by a quote I saw years ago by legendary music producer T-Bone Burnett (Counting Crows, Allison Kraus, Robert Plant, Gregg Allman, O, Brother Where Art Thou?), "As a Christian you can write about the light or what you see because of the light." Both I think need to be done, artfully and truthfully!

While The World Watched

A few weeks ago I was in LifeWay in Savannah and saw a display for a new book, While The World Watched, by Carolyn Maull McKinstry. The book caught my attention because of the story, she was a survivor of the bombing of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama, and she was someone with whom Cyd and I had attended seminary at Beeson Divinity School. I quickly grabbed the book and paid for it.

I waited until the High School Winter Retreat to begin reading...I could hardly put it down. It is one of the most intriguing books on the Civil Rights Movement I have ever read. What makes it so unique is the way in which McKinstry along with Denise George not only tell her personal story as a survivor of not just one act of violence but as a student marcher who faced Bull Connor and his fire hoses, having a chunk of her hair ripped out by the water pressure, it also included the larger work of the Civil Rights Movement in Birmingham specifically but throughout the south. It doesn't just give the historical facts but gives the reader insight into the depths of human suffering and determination that came out of the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s.

Interspersed in the book are excerpts from speeches, many by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. from that era as well as telling photographs from the period. It is a gripping story that tells the struggle for equality in an entirely different way. I was challenged and encouraged by the hope of the gospel to bring about true reconciliation that transcends skin color, education, or abilities. The unsung strength of the book is the way in which McKinstry shares her own struggle with bitterness and hatred that almost cost her her life through an alcohol addiction, but that ultimately she came to realize that there is forgiveness, healing, and hope found in the gospel!

But I discovered early in life--from my grandparents, my pastor, and others--that in God's eyes, no life should be lived in hatred or unforgiveness. Bitterness hurts only the people whose hearts house it, not the offenders (p261).

Friday, March 4, 2011

Roller Coaster Faith

Each day never cease to be full of twists and turns and surprises. I often find myself thinking, what just happened? In many ways, life is like a roller coaster, which I despise, even though I have students who tricked me into riding one. The older I get I have found that as long as I hold on tight to God, through the twists, turns, jerks, flips, and dives I will make it to the end when the lap bar comes up. I guess as Christians we long for that day when ultimately the lap bar will come up as we rejoice to finally be in the presence of our King, but there are also those moments in life when we get a break from the roller coaster and with are knees still weak, catch our breath, as we breathe deep the breath of God. Here's to hoping you breathe deeply!

Two area educators finalists for GA Teacher of the Year

They added the video this time!
Two area educators finalists for GA Teacher of the Year

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

iMonk Classic: Those Magnificent Young Men in Their Pastoring Machines (4)

iMonk Classic: Those Magnificent Young Men in Their Pastoring Machines (4)

iMonk Classic: Those Magnificent Young Men in Their Pastoring Machines (3)

Part 3 of this iMonk series. Challenging thoughts indeed.
iMonk Classic: Those Magnificent Young Men in Their Pastoring Machines (3)

Thoughts from N.T. Wright

"I believe, to the contrary, that each generation has to wrestle afresh with the question of Jesus, not least its biblical roots if it is to be truly the church at all--not that we should engage in abstract dogmatics to the detriment of our engagement with the world, but that we should discover more and more of who Jesus was and is, precisely in order to be equipped to engage with the world that he came to save. And this is a task for the whole church, especially those appointed to leadership and teaching roles within it." (Italics are in the original text)

This is a statement from Wright's book The Challenge of Jesus, in which he challenges the so called Jesus Seminar scholars and those who cling to the mantra that all we need to know about Jesus we already know. Wright places himself in between those two camps not because of theological differences but methodological differences of how we study the life and ministry of Jesus. Wright's desire is for each generation in the church to wrestle with the gospel accounts and through continual study of the life and teachings of Jesus to know him, and thus God, more. He argues that if we truly want to know someone we never stop learning about them, for instance in a marriage relationship. So why would we as finite humans think that we have arrived at a fixed definition of Jesus and his life? To better understand our faith and the one whom we confess to be the Messiah, shouldn't we be diligent in our pursuit of the Jesus of faith and of history?

Speaking without a Sound

I read Psalm 19 early this morning before the sun even began to peek out of the darkness and it struck me how much the heavens and the earth proclaim God's glory. Proclamation is a buzzword in my vocation. In fact in many ways, it is the essence of what I do as a minister. Proclaiming the gospel, the good news, that even when we hated God, He loved us! Without the proclamation of the gospel everything else that we do as believers, as the church even, lacks meaning and substance. As believers in Christ, we proclaim his salvation for all who will believe, we proclaim his Lordship over all the earth, we proclaim his truth into the culture we are immersed in...ultimately so that His Kingdom purposes will be fulfilled. 

Psalm 19 (New Living Translation)

1 The heavens proclaim the glory of God.
      The skies display his craftsmanship.
 2 Day after day they continue to speak;
      night after night they make him known.
 3 They speak without a sound or word;
      their voice is never heard.
 4 Yet their message has gone throughout the earth,
      and their words to all the world.

Something else that struck me about this passage is found in verse 3, David is describing how the created order declares God's glory and majesty yet they do it without speaking a word. I have long believed that some of the greatest witnesses that we can offer to the hurt world around us in not in our words but in our deeds. Does your life and my life point others to God without even saying a word about Jesus? Don't get me wrong we still need to speak the truth of God and boldly proclaim the gospel but if all we ever do is pay lip service to our faith what good is that to God or anyone around us? Let us proclaim the gospel and the glory of God with our words but more importantly with our lives!

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

iMonk Classic: Those Magnificent Young Men in Their Pastoring Machines (2)

Part two from iMonk. Scathing remarks about the faculty of Southern Seminary in those days, especially since I know some of the faculty from that era, but considering the shift in the SBC during the last 30+ years, the remarks are not unfounded at all. I didn't attend a "liberal" seminary but like iMonk I made it through an M.Div. program without any practical instruction on weddings, funerals, the Lord's Supper, baptisms, deacon meetings, etc.
iMonk Classic: Those Magnificent Young Men in Their Pastoring Machines (2)