Which God? Which Jesus? (Rob Bell, Love Wins, ch. 1)

In chapter 1 of Love Wins Bell makes several points, all of which are spot on, and all of which many intelligent pastors and teachers have been making for a very long time. I’m going to list the points / questions and elaborate briefly on them.

1.     There is a widespread phenomenon in the modern, western church (what this really means is the evangelical church, which no doubt has analogues in contemporary Roman Catholicism) and it is driving many people away from the community of Jesus-followers. It is the phenomenon of confusing and polluting the Jesus story with our corrupted stories. A prominent version of this is to adopt a mode of threat in our telling of the story, and then to assume that, of course, my community is on the “inside” of those who are favored by God.

2.     Often, our sub-stories totally lack hope for the world and for people, and this is light years away from the tone and direction of the Jesus story.

3.   To make matters worse, we bandy around the idea of salvation with no real understanding of what that idea means, much less how the Bible actually uses that word. Examples: is salvation a conversion experience? Is it having correct ideas in your head about God? Is it being zapped in your heart? Is it having a emotional feeling? Is there an “age of accountability?” If so, what is it, and how do we know? Is salvation something that happens to me as an individual or something that happens to a community (such as Israel in Rom 11)? Bell suggests the sobering truth that, again, more often than not the way we speak of salvation is light years away from the biblical story of Jesus.

4.     Which God? Which Jesus? Bell rightly points out that, when people say they reject Jesus (or God), we need to ask, “Which Jesus (or God) do you reject?” Frequently, the Jesus being rejected is a Jesus who ought to be rejected. Maybe the Jesus being rejected is an unbiblical Jesus. Maybe the Jesus being rejected is a Jesus who was associated in a five-year-old’s imagination with a man who was molesting her. Bell gives the example (p 7) of a woman whose father raped her while saying the Lord’s Prayer, from Renee Alston’s Stumbling Toward Faith:

I grew up in an abusive household. Much of my abuse was spiritual. When I say spiritual I don’t mean new age, esoteric, random mumblings from half-Wiccan, hippie parents…. I mean that my father raped me while saying the Lord’s Prayer. I mean that my father molested me while singing Christian hymns.

Surely, to reject this “Jesus” can be seen as a step in the right direction (as CS Lewis would firmly agree).

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First off I haven’t read the book that you are referring to but I have met people within the emergent church and have read “Blue Like Jazz” which seems to echo some of the points being made above. Though I do agree with alot of these points there seems to be an attitude within the emergent church that can be very bad. That attitude is to focus on the perceived negative history and stories within the Church and apologize to the secular community for these past “sins”. I remember in “Blue Like Jazz” the author who was involved with a campus ministry at a very liberal university set up a confession booth at a big party but instead of offering up prayers and giving spiritual direction to the people who actually were curious – the ministry “confessed” the past sins of the church (the crusades, spiritual abuses, etc.) and pleaded for forgiveness. I think an oppurtunity was lost here and those who were seeking truth, direction, and healing didnt find it here, but simply reinforced the ideas that they already had of the church. I see this attitude above also, in the criticism of soterology of some of the churches. I really believe all of the above are true of salvation- it is emotional, and an experience, and having the correct ideas of God, and having those long walks and relationship with God. Certainly it is not simply a prayer- or an idea it is a lifelong relationship and there are many ups and downs within that relationship. No church or christian is going to be a perfect reflection of Christ and so our own stories, prejudices, and hang ups are going to dilute the perfect story of Christ, but that doesn’t mean that the church is not a reflection at all. Whether from a backwoods Assembly of God church to the inner city Cathedral God is present and Christ is reflected I think in a way that is more real than in focusing on the wrongs of the traditional church or the perceived misunderstanding of soterology. Instead of fostering community, reconciliation, and true growth the emergent church becomes a breakaway for those who have been wounded by the traditional church. Another small criticism is that there seems to be no elders and clergy with roles defined in many of these churches, which really does not offer the same level of discipleship and accountability that a traditional church can offer (with old people), and just as the youth need the elder so the elder needs the youth in the Church. Having said all of that criticism of the emergent church – there is a real heart and desire to return to a passionate love of Christ that was present with the first christians within the emergent church and a desire to return to orthodoxy.

Jonathan,

You should read the book, then let’s talk.

Better yet, read the book and come to a discussion group that is forming at KH Gym, hosted buy the owner, Kelly Hitchcock. First Fridays of the month, at 6PM I think.

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