In just over a month two major events have hit the evangelical scene. The first, the firestorm surrounding the release of Rob Bell’s Love Wins and the May 21 Rapture prediction by Harold Camping and his followers. Though very different in theme, both events echo similar themes.
In both cases we see a group standing in opposition to mainstream. The Love Wins controversy places Rob Bell and a slightly (believe me, its not really a huge difference) different reading of the Bible against mainstream Evangelical dogma. Immediately, and even before the book was released, some of Evangelical Christendom’s leading theologians and puppets rebuked Bell and his work. The word heretic was thrown out more than a little, as where chants of Bell being against God and completely wrong on the Bible.
One of my favorite ironies in this situation is the total and complete lack of humility in the opposition. Before even reading the actual book, based entirely on a video released by Bell about the book, blogger Justin Taylor wrote in a blog also distributed by John Piper “It is unspeakably sad when those called to be ministers of the Word distort the gospel and deceive the people of God with false doctrine.” What he does not see in his very words is that in his simple dismissal of Bell’s book he is proclaiming his absolute authority to know, or have learned from God, the absolute truth. He knew Bell did not know because he does. Period.
He was not alone. Not in the least bit so. I have now read dozens of articles, watched countless videos, and read the comment arguments under each entry that poses what some assume to be an accepted orthodoxy that believes what they believe to be absolutely correct and from God. There is no true humility in this, only false displays seem to scatter the carefully crafted missiles of orthodoxy. I will write more about this on another day.
This position of absolute certainty is an extremely dangerous conclusion to make about one’s one beliefs. You have to conclude that you can not be wrong because your reading of a sacred text, despite that fact that there are thousands and thousands of interpretations available, must be 100% accurate. The idea that the very ideas and systems of God can be narrowed into a narrow and closed belief system should be astounding and offensive. There is no room to breathe. Only to elucidate and extend the conversation within boundaries.
For 1700 years Christianity has gone through periods of small to immense change. New developments become orthodoxy, then when faced with even newer ideas become violent or critical of these seemingly heretical concepts. Galileo was harshly critiqued by the church for suggesting the earth was not flat and not in the center of the universe. The very core of post-reformation theology is a major step from what was orthodoxy previous to it. There has been no shortage of changes to doctrine, theology, and Biblical interpretation over the years, but still we see the Church unable to grasp at new ideas and instead label, diminish, and dismiss new ideas and the leaders who bring them.
If Jesus had intended for theology and doctrine to be the central focus of the Christian faith, I imagine he would have focused on doctrine and systematic theology instead of loving people and teaching us how to live. The Bible is NOT a document of theology. That came much, much later and has changed continually ever since.
Moderation is a Dirty Word
The Bible, as with other major religious texts, is a living, breathing document that must be considered and critiqued as often as it is listened to. Because we are living over 1700 years from its writing, we must take the words delicately, humbly considering that because we think it so does not mean it is that. We should be astounded at people who think they know with total accuracy what God meant. Our first line of reasoning should be to consider if what the Bible says is what it actually means. Combining scattered verses and disconnected phrases, combining into a complex doctrines and saying that this is what God means is a tremendous act of human invention and creativity. You can not assume it is from God.
Too many times I’ve read or watched someone reply to the opposition with “well, that’s what the Bible (or Word) says. I’m just sharing.” We have incredibly complex brains that process more than 100 trillion calculations per second. Within every idea we consider consciously, our brain is tying together a lifetime of ideas, beliefs, considerations, histories, and needs. When you read the Bible, you aren’t just reading words. You are reading your own life as a lens.