So it’s the final day of 2015. Many bloggers are looking back on their year of blogging. The first anniversary of my first blog post is just a few weeks away so I’ll put off the sentimental reminiscing and meaningless statistics for a little while longer. What I am reflecting on today is where I have grown this year and it’s led me to realize I owe Rob Bell an apology.
Please understand, he and I have never met, emailed, messaged talked or otherwise communicated. He is currently strolling though life blissfully unaware of my existence. I don’t think I actually cause Rob any harm (apparently we are at least on a fist name basis). But really what I’m apologizing for is strong stance I’ve taken in the past on the ideas that he represents. When I first read “Love Wins” I was taken back by what I considered to be a radical shift in a Christian theological perspective – so much so that I wasn’t even sure it was still “Christian”. If God is all about love and only love, then there is no hell, with no hell, there is no spiritual death, with no death no need for a resurrection, with no resurrection no need for a cross, with no cross no need for an incarnation…and I could walk all the way back to the very concept of sin in humanity and our relationship with God. The shift Bell was suggesting what like pulling a thread that unravelled the sweater of my faith.
Then God got big. Really big.
God became so large in my life that there was no longer room in the box I had built for “God”. Things that I had assumed to be “true” both no longer confined God or really seemed to matter much in the way I relate to God. The purpose of my relationship with God became solely the experience of Love and Grace as only God can offer it. The purpose of my relationship with the world around me became an exercise if living out that love and grace and not to be global classroom for dispensing some remnant of spiritual knowledge.
I don’t think I owe the idea of Rob Bell an apology for not thinking that it’s right, but rather for adamantly assuming that it was wrong; for believing that my school of thought has such a monopoly on the concept of God that I has some sort of obligation to call out any differences from people who claimed to follow the same Christ that was. I’ll have to reread Rob’s and many others books with new filters. I don’t feel a compelling need for an image of God that never separates or judges anyone, but I am no longer opposed the concept either.
Ultimately, the nature of God is no longer confined to my ability to grasp or explain God.
Still Not Ashamed
When I was a freshman in high school, I memorized Romans 1:16 – 17. “I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes, first for the Jew, then for the Gentile. For in the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed; a righteousness that is by faith from first to last. Just as it is written: “The righteousness will live by faith.” (I also memorized the poem Jabberwocky that year which makes me a hoot at parties!).
For most of my life I have taken that verse at face value and lived with a blind contentment as to what that passage in Romans meant and what I believed the Gospel to be: Christ came, died and rose again as a means of paying the penalty for our sin. Eventually I began to ask too many questions and the answers weren’t holding up.
What does it mean to believe? What is sin? Who gets to decide that their interpretation of the Bible is the definitive word on what is and is not sin? What does it look like to live by faith? The prosperity gospel people seem to have one idea and the Roman church quite another. What is salvation? Is it for now as we engage spiritually in this life or is it purely as a means of eternal security? Why first for the Jew? As an adopted child of God am I any different than the Jew to which the passage is referring?
What deconstructing my faith meant to me was letting go of all the assumptions I have about answers to these questions. Centuries of thinking, writing, teaching and potentially distorting the truth that God intended for us had to be set aside. I have never wanted to discount the wisdom of those who have journeyed ahead of me, but at the same time I wanted to know God without the filters of their culture, their time period, their biases. I wanted to learn to read scripture as close as I could to the way God inspired it so that I could know and worship God as Christ said we would, in Spirit and in Truth.
This led to letting go of the need for answers to all those questions.
I have beliefs and convictions; I have some understandings that I’d be glad to discuss with people. But those tenants are no longer the core of my faith. The essence of my Christianity has shifted from the apologetics of Romans to the experience of John where Christ instructs the disciples with this: “A new commandment I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, that you love one another.” (John 13:34-35).
I’m not suggesting that one paradigm exists without the other, but for me it has been a matter of focus. Is the gospel more about me assessing the behavior of others or about me expressing the love that I have been given. Is it about me leading others to bear fruit or about bearing fruit out of my own personal, intimate relationship with a God who put love as greater that faith or hope?
What drew me away for the answer seeking, scientific approach to God’s Word that I found in the white vs. black Christianity that I grew up with and was educated in was my inability to reconcile the command to love with the pretense of law and rule centered behavioral judgment. My journey is far from done, and I pray it is never finished. But by embracing the mysteries of God learning to sit with the questions I have about God, I am finding a bigger, greater more loving God that I have ever known. That’s what I want others to see and know. That in my love, which overflows from God, I am God’s disciple.
We hear so much talk in evangelical circles of this “God shaped hole” in our hearts. I’ve come to believe that my hear, mind and soul are not big enough to contain a “God shaped” anything. When I let God in, God takes over, consumes and begins to define me; not the other way around.
My Sincere Apologies
I don’t think the handful of people I talked with about this over the years did any damage to Rob’s book sales or reputation. Truly, I was so conflicted myself that I doubt I ever came across as very convincing to anyone! But, more for my own healing – Rob: for the many debates I had with those reading your books and the intense fear in which I responded to the mere suggestion of a different concept of our Christian God, I apologize.
I look forward to a new year filled with great questions, new ideas and experiencing God in bigger, bolder ways than which my finite mind could ever dare to constrain such infinite Love and Grace.