Friday, April 29, 2011

Love Wins: The Balance We Lack

I just got done listening to a Gospel Coalition roundtable of biblical scholars and genius’ reflect on Love Wins. How to explain what the GC is…They are the Keepers of the Truth, the orthodox of the orthodox—and I greatly respect them.

They made a number of good points. Tim Keller made the one that most resonated with me, and that was, why the hostility towards traditional Evangelicalism? To paraphrase, he said: “As I understand it, the primary rule of engagement is this: You state your opposition’s case in the strongest possible form, that way your opposition feels they’ve been listened to and they’ll at least take your rebuttal seriously…If I’m going to disagree with my wife, I don’t begin by ridiculing her position, I know that I can’t get anywhere if I do that…when I read the opening chapter to his book I was just honestly hurt by some of the things he said and the way that he said them.” That was very genuine, and I hurt for Tim when he said that.

What troubled me the most in the roundtable was the lack of any acknowledgement that Bell had anything worthwhile to say. If you can’t say that Bell had at least a few constructive and helpful points to make, then I’ll have a very hard time respecting you. Now, I don’t know that any of these men wouldn’t say that, but there wasn’t a hint of it in this 48 minute roundtable. And because of this I was reminded of a wonderful John Wooden quote: “When everyone is thinking the same, no one is thinking.” It’s true that I have an unrepentant iconoclast that lives inside of me, but I still believe that the groupthink present in the roundtable would be apparent to many. Are you serious, there is not one person there with the courage to say, “Well, this was a good point, this point wasn’t so good”?

The one disheartening sentiment I come away from the roundtable is this: We’re not listening to each other—and that goes for Bell and his crew as much as it does for the GC and our ilk.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

You Will Miss Most Good Things

Some time ago I did a post very similar to this one that I found, but her’s is much better. She provides me with reason #683 to hang it up, pack it in, find a monkey and start grinding an organ, to do something other than this wretched business of articulating your soul in the written tradition.

But enough of the sulking—my acute sense of inadequacy is not why we're gathered here. The subject is cultural consumption, and the facts of the case are dire. She writes eloquently and beautifully about the fact that we’ll miss most of the good stuff in this world. May we all choose the path of surrender.

I got it from this piece on the same subject that is also very good.

More, Please

Sometimes I’m not so sure that Tim Keller is not the second coming of Jesus. Now, I know that’s bad and I shouldn’t say it and, if he were here, he’d tell me to shove a statement like that up my ass or something, but I sometimes wonder about it nonetheless. I have listened to thousands and thousands of his words, and I’ve never heard a misfire. I’ve never heard him be off, or off balance, he is always on point, always nails it, never wastes a word and never wastes your time.

Here is just a little more of his awesomeness, on a subject near and dear to my heart, which is the tricky intersection of politics and religion. May his words find fertile ground, and may his tribe increase:

Jesus’ Tim Keller’s words on what Christians should be doing when it comes to politics.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Love Wins: The Best Review so Far

Yes, I'm still talking about it. This probably chagrins some of you--get over it. The journey Love Wins has sent me on has been incalculably rewarding to my faith. I wouldn't trade it for all the marbles in your collection. It has caused me to think and dig deeper than almost any other book I've ever read. It has introduced me to wonderful people, like NT Wright. It has given my mom and me the most thorough theological discussion we've had in years (and simultaneously knocked me off my theological high horse, "Crap," I thought to myself, "my mom knows a ton of crud I don't know about, gotta do even further catch up").

Anything that broadens your thinking is a great gift indeed. Listening can be dangerous, but I suggest there is no other way forward. I'm afraid of all of the ideas and philosophies my one-year-old will be bombarded with, but protectionism is not the ultimate answer. That will always be a failed strategy; informed engagement will be my weapon of choice (until I change my mind again, that is). I try to be a careful thinker, I haven't abandoned my tradition for whatever it is, and isn't, that Bell is advocating. Yet, like a poor but giddy teenage girl, I am trying the dress on very carefully, turning this way and that, seeing if it will work, pounding out the calculus in my brain to see if it is perfection, and therefore worth the cost. We won't ever know what perfection looks like in this life, but, to smash the metaphor, perhaps some of the better bits of the dress can be harvested and grafted onto the current thelogical garment I'm donning.

On to the point: If you've been paying attention you know that I am a big fan of David Dark. I remind you so that you know I'm biased on this one; of course I love his review, I'm in love with him. But I do think, my heterosexual crush not withstanding, that it merits my high praise. He does the best job of anyone I've seen so far of holding together Bell's take on God's mercy (love), just as much as God's justice (judgement). He reminds us that it's a point that's been lost in the shuffle, Bell is not getting rid of hell, so don't let your mind go there. I hear Dark picking up on Bell's cue and deepening what it means to be a Christian here on earth. I think that effort, more so than anything else, is Bell's biggest contribution, one that should be listened to by all Christians, and one that I have no problem whole-heartedly standing behind.

Here is the review, you should probably read it twice, lord knows I needed to.

Monday, April 25, 2011

They Cry so Loud

These Cheez-its are calling my name from the drawer; not unlike the way murder victims must cry from under the floorboards to those who have done them wrong...i don't know that I'm going to make it.

~Sent From My Cool Phone

Moderate Sized Loser

See that waist line? Well get a good ganders because it's going the way of my hairline; only in this case, that's a good thing.

I started at my new job just in time to qualify for their "Biggest Loser" contest. I have been waiting 10 years for this to happen. You see, the problem with me is this:

If I don't have a force outside of myself to motivate, then I won't do it. In high school I ran track and wrestled. I went to state for both my senior year, and I was a physical specimen to be celebrated and studied.

The day of the state track semifinals would be my last day of serious workout up until this point. I'm embarrassed to say just how long ago that was, so let's just say I had my ten year reunion this last fall. Yes, of course I have worked out since then, but never more than two days in a week, and never more of that than two weeks in a row. I believe the last "run" I went on took place sometime in the second term of the Bush Administration.

"Doesn't he have, like, no will power when it comes to food?" Someone, WHO SHALL GO NAMELESS, asked Jess this when told I would be going on a diet. The problem is that it's true. I believe I've blogged about this before, but I do live my life shamelessly as a self-diagnosed food addict. Food is how I tell people I love them, food is my favorite recreational activity, "good" is what I keep writing instead of "food" because that's all it is in my mind, a bunch of really good stuff that will make me feel really good.

So my joyous relationship to food has saddled me with about 40 pounds that I didn't have the day I left high school. Yes, some of that was "filling out" weight, but just how much is hard to say. Over the years I've thought it would be nice to maybe shed some of that, but there was no real way to do this because, as I said, if it's up to only me, then it's not going to happen. But if the challenge is issued from outside of myself, and especially when you tell me there is a prize for the winner, I temporarily fold up and put away the loser I really am in a drawer somewhere, and the claws come out.

What I really came her to say was this: I'm anticipating going through some type of serious withdrawal action. If you've seen Trainspotting then you have an idea of what I fear is on the way. I have to cut back on my food and my beer. It's easy enough to write as I sit here at the sterile comfort of my workspace, but being in the mostly anonymous confines of my home, I know, will be a different story. I'm thinking that if I exorcise my titanic desire for the real American good groups, salt, fat and sugar, through my pen, that might just give me a shot at success.

I may morph into a creature unrecognizable on this blog over the next couple of weeks, but thank you for taking part in my pain, I suspect you won't regret it.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Good Friday: The Salt Mine is Closed

A meditation on what was accomplished on Good Friday from Between Noon and Three:

"'Ah yes,' you say, 'a lovely story. How nice to think of what it would be like if, in the thick of my sins, I were told that I stood uncondemned by a love that would not let me go. Thank you for diverting me; it has been a pleasure meeting you. But now, alas, I must get back to the salt mine.' . . . Saint Paul has not said to you, 'Think how it would be if there were no condemnation'; he has said, 'There is therefore now none.' He has made an unconditional statement, not a conditional one--a flat assertion; not a parabolic one. He has not said, 'God has done this and that and the other thing; and if by dint of imagination you can manage to put it all together, you may be able to experience a little solace in the prison of your days.' No. He has simply said, 'You are free. Your services are no longer required. The salt mine has been closed.'

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Love Wins: Lured Back to Safety

Jess surprised me with this book (also Tina Fey's "Bossypants" yes!!), and in it were inscribed these words:


I decided you needed some straight orthodoxy after your recent fling with 'Love Wins' and figured Keller's the one do to it. :P

Jess <3"

What can I say, the woman knows me.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Resurrecting The Machine

Today I broke ground on my first short story in several years. I've wasted too much time waiting for the fear of failure and inferiority to be gone before I take another step, so now I just have to pretend that it isn't there and press forward into the darkness (I understand this is what some call faith).

Normally I would never do this; it is bad form to build expectation and reveal a work that so far comprises a sentence or two. Don't care. What do I have to protect?

Here is my beginning, hopefully I'll add to it sometime soon:

I awoke to him standing at the foot of our bed. It was God it was my father it was him who gives me my name.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Law & Grace

Good lord I've been doing a lot of religious blogs lately. I know, it even makes ME uncomfortable. What can I say? I'm a prisoner to my desires, and so you'll have to trudge through this one with me as well. It's another quote from Between Noon and Three:

"All I'm saying is that our obsession with guilt makes us spend more time on law than on grace and therefore that the church has to work harder on grace than the law. It has to work on both; but grace is the bigger job."

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Fear and The Church

Remember about three months ago I told you that I started to read a book that, only a few pages in, I knew would be life changing? It has not failed to deliver on my prophecy. Some of these gems just burst through me and I have no choice but to share them with you. So here is a quote from page 149 of Between Noon and Three:

"If we are ever to enter fully into the glorious liberty of the children of God, we are going to have to spend more time thinking about freedom than we do. The church, by and large, has had a poor record of encouraging freedom. It has spent so much time inculcating in us the fear of making mistakes that it has made us like ill-taught piano students: we play our pieces, but we never really hear them because our main concern is not to make music, but to avoid some flub that will get us in Dutch.

Friday, April 8, 2011

The Way of All Flesh

Five years ago, for really no reason at all, I read a novel called The Way of All Flesh. I had no idea that it existed before I stumbled across it, and I decided to read it because I thought anything with a title that good must be worth the while.

Worth the while is an understatement.

With the benefit of hindsight it is quite easy to see God guiding me to this book. Why he did it was simple, he likes to give his children good gifts. It's plain to me now that I was meant to meet Samuel Butler (the author), that he and are kindred spirits, but more on that in a moment.

Two years ago I happened across a copy of the book that was published in 1945 (it was originally published in 1903) in a Goodwill and I snatched it up. Onto my shelf it went and I haven't had much cause to think about it since.

For some reason I started thinking about it today. From work I texted Jess and told her that I would begin reading one page a day to her until it was done. There are three prefacing pieces to the novel. This quote from one of them tickled me so thoroughly that I thought I would gift you with it:

"The starting point of his thinking was this: Whatever is generally held to be truth is in error, whatever is generally held to contribute to the good of life is full of evil, and whatever is generally held verifiable is compact of humbug and fallacy."

A smile will rest upon my lips as I rot in my grave if the same, or something close, is said about me after I've left.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Skipping to the Looney Bin?

The most common question I ask myself is probably, "Is this normal?"

It doesn't really make any difference to me if it is or not, I'm stuck with my behavior...but, you know, a guy gets curious. So please respond by the numbers with a yes or no.

Do you do this?:

1. Visualize yourself having a stroke.

2. Feel something funny in your brain and wonder if the stroke will hit at any moment.

3. Ask a question when you know the answer for no apparent reason.

4. Realize that you're hungry, not because you feel it in your stomach, but because you notice that you keep having the thought, "i'm hungry!"

5. Decide to get mad at your wife, it seems to me sometimes, just for the hell of it.

6. See a weird cloud pattern in the sky and expect the Rapture will be hitting at any moment (bonus points if you're like me and are pretty sure you don't even believe in the Rapture).

7. Are kind of annoyed that you can't even tell if someone of the same sex is attractive (like that John Hamm guy, I don't get it. Clooney? He just looks like a guy. Brad Pitt I understand).

8. "Sample" an occasional mushroom at the grocery store.

9. Won't stop thinking about how cool it would be to be friends with Tina Fey.

10. Afraid to admit your opinions on movies, music & TV to people that you want to like you.

11. Are inordinately afraid that a stroke will cut you down in the closest thing to the "prime" of your life (or as a secondary fear, MS).

Not Titled

Sometimes life needs to be distilled into a bad poem.

Sometimes life should be expressed by a bad poem.

Most of the time all I can think of is a bad poem.

Bad poems are more common than good ones.

I learned that by remembering all of my thoughts.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

An Apology

Here is an offering to put you right and make up for the previous post:

Beholding the Underbelly

When John Kennedy Toole was 16 he wrote a novel called The Neon Bible. He killed himself at 31.

The following passage is from that book--see if you can't recognize some form of the description in your own communities. I am somewhat convinced that this is an eternal human condition. I don’t care your religion, I don’t care your politics or view of man, I don’t see how humans have ever or will ever sustainably get beyond this kind of evil which is common to every community (“Jese Jason, why don’t you just tell us all to go eat rat poison and die miserable and alone?” Sorry, I callzum as I seezum):

"But I knew the way the people in town thought about things. They always had some time left over from their life to bother about other people and what they did. They thought they had to get together to help other people out, like the time they got together about the woman who let a colored man borrow her car and told her the best place for her was up north with all the other nigger lovers, and the time they got the veterans with overseas wives out. If you were different from anybody in town, you had to get out. That's why everbody was so much alike. The way they talked, what they did, what they liked, what they hated. If somebody got to hate something and he was the right person, everybody had to hate it too, or people began to hate the ones who didn't hate it. They used to tell us in school to think for yourself, but you couldn't do that in the town. You had to think what your father thought all his life, and that was what everybody thought."

Monday, April 4, 2011

Love Wins: The One Thing That Baffles Me

So I've been trying to keep an open mind about all of the controversial topics that Rob Bell has kicked up. On most of them, if you put a gun to my head at this moment, I would have to side with my "camp." Though I am intrigued by Bell's theological reasoning, at this moment not much has changed: I still believe that hell is eternal, that lot's of people are going there, and that they can't or won't leave for eternity.

As I've said before, I'm not happy about this. It doesn't sound palatable to me. But as my main man Michael Patton says, "The palitability of a doctrine does not determine its veracity." Say what now? It just means that even though something sounds awful and ugly to our ears, that's no reason for why we should doubt its truth. There is no basis for rejecting a proposition because you have a negative emotional reaction to it. "God would never send someone to hell because he's a loving God." That statement is based purely on emotion, not on logic or truth. How do you know? What is the criteria by which someone ends up in hell? Have you studied this? The original statement acknowledges that you believe in both, so why do you get to agree there's a God but state that you know what he should and shouldn't be doing?

All that to say that there is one thing that has kind of tripped me up a bit. In my Evangelical tradition we universally affirm the following: What earns you eternal damnation are not the sins you've committed, but your non-acceptance of Jesus Christ as your savior. We say that you cannot save yourself, that no one is a good enough person because God requires perfection, and the only thing that saves you is to admit that you need Jesus/God to save you. That's it.

What Rob Bell says is that there are three passages in the Bible that are direct references to hell. Take a look at them:

Luke 16:19-31

Matthew 25:41-46: “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. 42 For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, 43 I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ 44 Then they also will answer, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to you?’ 45 Then he will answer them, saying, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ 46 And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”

Revelation 20:11-15: Then I saw a great white throne and him who was seated on it. From his presence earth and sky fled away, and no place was found for them. 12 And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Then another book was opened, which is the book of life. And the dead were judged by what was written in the books, according to what they had done. 13 And the sea gave up the dead who were in it, Death and Hades gave up the dead who were in them, and they were judged, each one of them, according to what they had done. 14 Then Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire. 15 And if anyone's name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.

Did you notice a common theme here? The common theme is that each time hell is referenced, the reason people are being sent there are for ACTIONS or DEEDS that they have committed—not for things they believe or have failed to believe. Now, the only Christian response I'm aware of is the following: "Yes, they are going to hell for the action of not accepting Christ. Those other bad actions are just evidence of their one true failure, and that was to not accept what Christ has done." While feasible, I don't find this very convincing. I just don't. Christians, after they are saved, continue to do terrible things to themselves and other people. Now. This is not to say that people don't turn corners when Jesus smashes into their life, because they do. But even still, becoming a Christian is not a guarantee that you will not commit evil acts, so in light of that the explanation just isn't doing much for me. 

I think the point Bell makes—that the Bible suggests hell as punishment for contradictory reasons that Evangelicals assert—deserves a robust response. Let me know if you have, or are aware of one.

P.S. You may be left thinking, "Ok, so Rob Bell admits that people do go to hell?" Not exactly. What he says about these passages is that they emphasize the importance of the way we live our lives today and right now. He says it's Jesus stating that the way we treat people is more important that we can possibly know. And therefore he uses strong imagery to emphasize that, but he's not actually telling us where people ultimately end up for eternity.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Love Wins: Bell is Only Ripping Off C.S. Lewis?

"There’s not one controversial idea in [Rob Bell's] Love Wins that is not clearly voiced as a real possibility by the most popular evangelical writer of the last century, C.S. Lewis."  --Jeff Cook

Wow. I wonder if that's true? Lewis ain't Jesus, but you basically woudn't know it from listening to people in the circles I run in (myself included).

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Love Wins: Two Different Gods

Look, I'm no dummy. Because of this fact, things like the following really do scare me:

"At the very heart of this controversy, and one of the reasons the blogosphere exploded over this book, is that we really do have two different Gods. The stakes are that high. If Bell is right, then historic orthodoxy is toxic and terrible. But if the traditional view of heaven and hell are right, Bell is blaspheming. I do not use the word lightly, just like Bell probably chose “toxic” quite deliberately. Both sides cannot be right. As much as some voices in evangelicalism will suggest that we should all get along and learn from each other and listen for the Spirit speaking in our midst, the fact is we have two irreconcilable views of God."

This was taken from Kevin Deyoung's 20 page review (!) of "Love Wins." I don't know that Deyoung is right, but I do know that it is certainly possible that he is right. I'm not screwing around or having fun, I agree that it is almost reasonable to say that "lives are at stake."

All I know is that, for better or for worse, I am a person that often says "Look, I'm just not going to believe something, no matter how much my friends and loved ones tell me that I should, until I'm really, really convinced in my own mind that thus and such is true."

I'm not even close to saying that Rob Bell is right, I'm just not ready to say that he's wrong.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Love Wins: Avail Yourself of Everything

I'm a firm believer in listening. To listen best, especially when it comes to controversy, means to listen to both sides.

This is the best explanation I've found so far for the biblical basis of where Rob Bell is coming from. You will probably disagree--and remember at this point I'm only listening--but I think what's important to keep in mind is that this guy, though his rhetoric is sometimes harsh, is not your enemy. He is someone who is taking the bible seriously and extrapolating answers based on biblical reasoning (which is not to say he's right). That, I believe, is to be respected and honored.

Team Hell gets loud