Can’t We At Least Talk About It?

English: Rob Bell at the 2011 Time 100 gala.

Author Rob Bell is blowing my mind right now.

Bell is a speaker/creator/musician/entrepreneur/filmmaker and former pastor of one of the fastest growing churches in America. In 2011, he was named to Time Magazine’s list of the 100 most influential people in the world. That same year he landed on the magazine’s cover for setting a doctrinal wildfire in the evangelical community.

In his book Love Wins, Bell challenged the orthodox Christian view of hell and suggested Christians should leave room for uncertainty on the matter.

Big trouble. Sides were chosen, tweets were tweeted, the word heresy was affixed, but in our frantic, digital infotainment age where everybody knows everything with 100% certainty at all times, I thought it was refreshing to hear somebody say, maybe we don’t know for sure, let’s talk about it.

After all, what good is doctrinal certainty if it drives people away from the gospel?

I don’t have an opinion on Love Wins because I read only half of it. I put it down because I couldn’t handle it. It was confronting my early, fragile beliefs about Christianity and when things are fragile you tend to build walls around them.

Bell calls that bricklaying in his first book, Velvet Elvis and he advises against it.

“Each of the core doctrines…is like an individual brick that stacks on top of the others. If you pull one out, the whole wall starts to crumble. It appears quite strong and rigid, but if you begin to rethink or discuss even one brick, the whole thing is in danger.”

Alternatively, Bell says, knowing God should be like jumping on a trampoline – a giddy and consuming experience made possible by the springs holding the mat and frame together. The springs, Bell says, are the doctrines of Christian faith that give structure to the experience, and he believes they are designed to flex. He reminds us that The Bible has already withstood centuries of communal scrutiny and debate, and in fact, that’s how early Jews and Christians settled their issues of faith –  through study, reflection and discussion within their communities.

My understanding of God is springier now than it was a year ago when I put Love Wins down. I’m more comfortable hearing opinions that mess with mine, because I’m bouncing more than I’m hiding behind bricks. The most interesting Christians I know are doing the same thing.

Even if I wind up disagreeing with Bell’s opinions, I admire his willingness to wrestle with scripture and challenge conventional wisdom in a public forum. That’s brave, especially given America’s touchy religious climate. Love him or hate him, Bell is a seeker who isn’t censoring his findings in order that people like him.

“The ultimate display of our respect for the sacred words of God,” Bell says, “is that we are willing to wade in and struggle with the text – the good parts, the hard-to-understand parts, the parts we wish weren’t there.”

 

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