Steve Brown June 23rd, 2011
What follows will sound a bit like what I wrote last month…Sorry.
What I wrote last month about my debate with Shane Claiborne got me thinking (often a dangerous thing!). After I wrote to you, I started to work on a series of sermons about the subject. I will, of course, preach those sermons; but mostly, I wrote them for myself. The titles are: Why Can't We All Get Along?, Why Can't We All Agree? and Why Can't We Sing the Same Songs?
I'm not sure why I can't just let it go. Maybe it's the Holy Spirit. Maybe it's indigestion. Whatever. If it's from Jesus, he'll use it. If it's not, the angels will laugh and say among themselves, "Look, Brown's at it again! He just won't let go. We must talk to the Father about his obsessive nature."
At any rate, as I said last month, we really do need to learn how to love one another without compromising our convictions.
Every month or so, I'm a guest on Brant Hansen's radio network morning show, Mornings with Brant. Brant is one of my favorite people and I like talking with him. He's winsome, informed and thoughtful.
(I do a lot of those kinds of interviews and sometimes they're so boring-for both me and the person doing the interview-that I'll play solitaire on the computer while I do them. And if you say I said that, I'll say you lied.)
Brant brought up the subject of Rob Bell's new book, Love Wins: A Book About Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived.
Talk about a controversial book! While Bell isn't a Universalist (someone who believes that everybody will eventually end up in heaven…albeit with the scent of smoke on their clothes), he does "smell" like one.
Reading the reviews, I've discovered that there are people who think that Bell is the devil incarnate and has destroyed the church, America and motherhood. And others are just as sure that Bell will retire when there is a vacancy in the Trinity. I have friends in both of those camps and, as the politician said, "I stand with my friends."
Next month, I plan to say something about the book's content, but this month I want to speak to the reaction to Rob Bell as a person and a brother in Christ.
(The short version on the content is that, while I have some serious issues with a lot of what Bell writes, I like him a lot. I even thought about tweeting, "Everybody who doesn't like Rob Bell is going to hell!" Sorry.)
My first reaction to Bell's book was, "I don't believe I would have said that!"
My second reaction was, "How could he say that?"
My third reaction was irritation.
As you know, I'm probably the most conservative/orthodox friend you have. I came to my convictions the hard way and, believe it or not, paid a major price for those convictions. I don't change easily (if ever) and I'm not altogether happy with anyone who questions what I consider the eternal verities of the Christian faith.
That's when Jesus showed.
I tried to ignore him because Jesus "messes with my mind" and, frankly, I don't like Bell or anybody else doing that. The problem with Jesus doing it is that he's the High King of Heaven. He's gentle, kind and gracious, but he's also right…and right all the time. He's also opinionated and doesn't ever give me any "wiggle room" or ask for my vote.
"So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love…In humility count others more significant than yourselves…Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross" (Philippians 2:1-3, 5-8).
As if that weren't enough, right after the "come to Jesus" conversation, a friend who is working with Key Life on some new projects was in my office. Mark mentioned that he had lived in Grand Rapids and attended Rob Bell's church for two or three years. He said that Rob Bell was the "real deal" and had had a major effect on his life. Then I remembered some dear friends in Atlanta who were able to survive spiritually during a very hard time in their lives because of the ministry of Rob Bell.
That was the process I went through before Brant's interview.
Brant asked, "Do you think Rob Bell is a Christian? Is he saved? Is he your brother?"
I said in my normal and kind way: "Are you a fruitcake? Of course he's a Christian, my brother and saved."
"So," Brant then asked, "you haven't taken him off your list?"
"Of course not," I replied.
Then Brant said something I've thought about ever since. "Steve," he said, "you're old (I get no respect) and everybody I know who is wise (well, some respect) has a shorter list than he or she had when he or she was younger."
Brant told me about a prominent Christian teacher who even tweeted after reading Rob Bell's book: "Farewell, Rob Bell."
What? Who made you the one to decide? "Who are you to pass judgment on the servant of another? It is before his own master that he stands or falls. And he will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make him stand" (Romans 14:4).
I was just getting ready to have a major attack of self-righteousness when Jesus interfered again. He reminded me of the time when, as a young pastor, I was quite critical of the shallowness of some Christians with whom I disagreed (I don't even remember who they were now). One of my staff members said, "Steve, if you don't get off your Calvinist hobbyhorse, you're going to kill this church."
I fired him.
Okay, so I'm not throwing rocks here; but frankly, I like Rob Bell a whole lot better than those who don't.
I also had a fourth reaction to Bell's book: "I'm not sure he's right, but I wish he was." I'm glad he opened the conversation. We really do need to talk. So next month, I want to address some of the issues in Rob Bell's book: Is there a hell and who is going there?
Brant said something else that was insightful. We were talking about the pro and con, and "over the top" comments about the book. Brant said, "It's messy…kind of like family."
That's the point.
Other than you and me (and I sometimes worry about you!), God has made some very weird and irritating choices about who is and who isn't a part of his family. But we're stuck with one another. And the lab Jesus gave us is the church. In John 17, he prayed that we would be one and love one another "that the world might believe," and he promised to help us.
In other words, if we want our friends, colleagues, neighbors, wives, husbands, sons, daughters and parents to know Christ, we have to somehow learn to deal with Rob Bell…and those who can't deal with Rob Bell.
Don't you hate it?
He asked me to remind you.