Tuesday, March 15, 2011

same kind of different as me

Sameness. I think I hate it.

I used to have a habit when going to restaurants with large groups of people I would try to order something off the menu that no one else in the group had. I’ve always had the habit of falling in love with the most obvious girl in the room. I once had five earrings and blue hair.

I like being different. I value diversity. And more often than not, in the evangelical Christian circles I find myself in, it has caused me problems.

There are strands of evangelical Christianity that take great pleasure and expend great effort in silencing new ideas. As if opposition to motion can prevent the future from arriving. It’s Hoover Dam Christianity holding back a massive wall of water so that we can control what areas of land remain dry. In some ways, it has its place. There are reasons why we need to enforce our will on that water. It is powerful and not easy to manipulate and can easily overwhelm everything else.

But what if God is in that water? Do we want to hold Him back too?

Somewhere in the divide between Gen X and Gen Y, there came a point where a generation started to be willing to ask questions again. We wanted to challenge the assumptions that were made for us and undertake the task of rebuilding the foundation from which we will judge truth. It’s a predictable part of the evolution of every generation no doubt… as is the predictable response from the generation that comes before us. “We already know what’s true. You’re wasting your time. And worse than that, questioning what we have already established is dangerous.”

This generational shoving match plays out before us every day. It plays out in our politics, literature, fashion, technology, religion and all kinds of other ways. If we’re going to rebuild from the foundation already established, we’re going to have to knock out a wall here and there to do it.

Most recently, I’ve seen this struggle play out in the context of Rob Bell’s new book Love Wins. It’s “A Book About Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived.” It only came out today. I haven’t read it and I can neither defend the author not critique him.

What I have seen are at least a half dozen articles and blog posts calling Bell every name under the sun, slandering his work, and generally aiming to silence his message. He’s called everything from unscholarly to arrogant to heretical and accused of lying, manipulation, and blasphemy.

As a general rule, I assume anyone being opposed so strongly has something incredibly important to say.

But that’s just the thing with Bell. His general M.O. is to ask questions and employ the Socratic method to get his readers to explore a topic more deeply and study more thoroughly the scriptures that should inform a Christian’s opinion on the matter. Now whether Bell is a universalist (he says he’s not) or whether he sets out to create controversy (he says he doesn’t) is up for debate. I just don’t think those are the true reasons he is being opposed.

People hate it when you mess with the systems they have worked so hard to mold. You can’t question these things. They just are. They have always been.

My pastor even made a point this weekend of saying that “the gospel can be summed up in four words.” A four word systematic theology. Alright, so it can. But should it be? Is the gospel four words deep? Or it is it deeper than all the water we can hold back with the Hoover Dam? Do we create our little systems to better understand God or to better control Him?

Bell at one point deflects the criticism he expects by saying there is a reason that many evangelical Christians don’t appreciate good art or throw good parties. Those things require someone to accept new ideas, to come in contact with diversity, to be challenged, and to relish the opportunity for genuine conversation. We cannot live a full life without being confronted by these things and yet so many of us continue to avoid them.

As a Christian, I don’t find it acceptable to fear other people’s ideas. I can’t fear questions. We have birthed a generation of critics rather than creators. People who live off criticizing the ideas of others instead of creating their own. It’s ugly. It’s unoriginal. And it is devoid of grace. Not to mention that fearing a challenge to the things I say I believe only exposes my insecurity about the allegiance I truly hold to those beliefs.

You know how Jesus responded to questions? He answered them. I’m reading through the Gospel of Luke right now and one thing I have noticed is there are a lot of questions in this book.

How can this be, since I am a virgin?

Why is it that you were looking for me? Did you not know that I had to be in my Father’s house?

Why do you do what is not lawful on the Sabbath?

Who then is this, that He commands even the winds and the water, and they obey Him?

But who do you say that I am?

Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?

Jesus shatters our systems, our preconceptions, and our previous knowledge. He is the answer to many of our questions. But we must have the audacity to ask them.