Rob Bell: Beloved Fundamentalist Sweetheart

Almost a year ago, Kurt Willems posted Rob Bell’s first sermon at the brand new church plant, Mars Hill. This is really interesting. I would say that there are undertones of a more fundamentalist, Bible church Rob Bell, but they aren’t undertones.

Definitely not the Rob we know and love today. Not that any of that is bad. It’s cool to hear a sermon I’ve heard him preach again since, but through a rather different theological lens than he has these days

Take a listen and tell me what you think!

In case you missed the link cleverly hidden in the above sentence:
Click Here!

**you can check out Willem’s original post here. Thanks, Kurt!

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reconciliation means suffering, that’s a promise

Saul got up from the ground, but when he opened his eyes he could see nothing. So they led him by the hand into Damascus. For three days he was blind, and did not eat or drink anything. In Damascus there was a disciple named Ananias. The Lord called to him in a vision, “Ananias!” “Yes, Lord,” he answered. The Lord told him, “Go to the house of Judas on Straight Street and ask for a man from Tarsus named Saul, for he is praying. In a vision he has seen a man named Ananias come and place his hands on him to restore his sight.” “Lord,” Ananias answered, “I have heard many reports about this man and all the harm he has done to your people in Jerusalem. And he has come here with authority from the chief priests to arrest all who call on your name.” But the Lord said to Ananias, “Go! This man is my chosen instrument to proclaim my name to the Gentiles and their kings and to the people of Israel.
I will show him how much he must suffer for my name
.” [Acts 9:8-16]

As a reading on reconciliation, the story of the conversion of Paul is exemplary. Here we have a type A persecutor brought low, blinded, dependent upon the guidance of his servants all the while breathing the borrowed breath of a gracious, forgiving Savior.
For some reason, myself and most people I know think that good relationships should be painless ones. We also have this tendency to think that life, and especially life in Christ, is about protection, safety and feeling secure. Nothing could be further from the truth.

I have some friends who wanted a child more than anything. Their desire was not reconciled to nature…until they conceived. What a joy! What a Blessing! When their daughter was born, they noticed something was not quite right. She was born with Cystic Fibrosis.

I have some other friends that fell in love and got married. They were living the dream…until he was involved in an accident in which he walked away with his life, but not without a good deal of brain damage.

Once, I got cast in a lead role. My star was rising. Finally, people were showing respeC (with a capitol C). My game was on and I was a starter. That was just about the moment that my family informed me that we were moving across the country.

My wife and I, in our forties, adopted a perfect and beautiful baby boy from Ethiopia. Our desire for a child and God’s desire for caring for the widow and orphan were perfectly reconciled. Well, he’s not a baby anymore. HE’S A TODDLER! Whack-A-Mole! The pain is on…but we knew it was coming. It’s a kind of ‘suffering’ that’s a mixed blessing.

Jesus was concerned with Paul. Jesus wanted to be in relationship with Paul and it is clear from Acts 9, 22, 26; 1 Cor 15:9; Gal 1:13-14; Philippians 3:6; and 1 Tim 1:13, that Paul seriously wanted a relationship with God. So Jesus takes him to task, reconciles him to himself and to the church that he was previously persecuting. BUT not without a promise: that a reconciled relationship would mean suffering.

That even when it was good, it would hurt.
That even in the best of times, there would be pain.
That doing what he wanted meant destruction for others,
but aligning himself to the will of Christ meant destruction for himself.

I know people who keep others at arms length because they are afraid of being hurt. They are confusing isolation with anesthesia. Christ does not call us, his body, the church, to be numb — But, instead to feel every cut and scrape of relationship and community. Love, for Christ, felt like thorns and nails and spears. Why would it be different for us?

If it doesn’t hurt, then you’re not feeling it.

That’s why forgiveness and reconciliation are so important: only in that state do we experience the full and dynamic range of relationship. In this act, we look beyond ourselves and, say, care about something like human trafficking — there’s insufferable pain involved with that. And immeasurable blessing. There’s no getting around having to feel anything. Imagine what Ananais felt as he submitted to the request of the Lord. How do you think he felt about being the scab who crossed the line and shook hands with power? How might he have felt laying healing hands on a man who had laid his hands on his brothers and sisters with such great violence? Ananais did what Jesus asked him to do. He was obedient, and obedience in this case looked like forgiving the enemy and reconciling him to the family of Christ.

Pain is not a reason to protect ourselves from reconciliation; pain is a inherent promise. Reconciliation bears the image of God. When we participate in it we look like Jesus. Withholding it, however, looks like selfishness, a warped sin-rejoicing image of something that used to resemble something that once might have been something that could have at some point been mistaken for someone that used to look like Jesus.

In this Acts 9 story, Paul is reconciled to Christ (which cost him blindness), is reconciled to the church through Ananias (which by any account was horrifying for Ananais), and the church is reconciled to history (which is the glory of Christ for all creation).

Here’s a couple of resources for a great story of Reconciliation:
As We Forgive, Laura Waters Hinson (Rwanda)

What stories of reconciliation mean the most to you?

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A play about…the conversion of Saul?

break of noon“God is talking to me at that moment and he says, ‘Don’t move. Stay where you are. All will be well and tomorrow go spread my gospel of goodness. That all men should work at this, that goodness is all that matters.’”

Last year, author-screenwriter-playwrite Neil LaBute debuted a new play, The Break of Noon. The Break of Noon takes a hard look at the emotional burden of extreme violence and the escalating occurrences of violence in the American workplace. It’s not a news piece or even an external one. This play is about the inner workings of a man who is the sole survivor of a workplace massacre by the hand of what he believes as divine intervention. While the main character, John (played by David Duchovny in New York), is evading the gunman he has a miraculous experience:

“I stop and hear a voice call out to me. Using my name, and it says to me, ‘remain here and you will be safe, John. Stay where you are and you shall be saved.’”

What I find quite wonderful is the parallel(s) between this play and the conversion of Saul. LaBute’s drama is a contemporary illustration of Acts 9 (which shades of ch’s 22 and 26). The play begins in the recall of the event and as the character develops, we learn that John, like Saul, was moving in the wrong direction. In terms of people the Junior class of Jesus High would nominate most likely to proclaim the gospel, he wasn’t one of them. In his words:

“I was not a good person. In my life. That must be obvious to you by now. There was no reason for God to single me out, use a man like me for any reason other than it being a part of his almighty and infinite plan.”

This song sings like 1 Cor 15:9-10, “For I am the least of the apostles, unfit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me has not been in vain.”

Hear Paul as he reframes his testimony for the church in Galatia, “You have heard, no doubt, of my earlier life in Judaism. I was violently persecuting the church of God and was trying to destroy it. I advanced in Judaism beyond many among my people of the same age, for I was far more zealous for the traditions of my ancestors (Gal 1:13-14).”

Paul was not moving in the same direction that God was. Even though, in the apostle’s case, he thought what he was doing was what God wanted him to do…it wasn’t. Sometimes we do the work of God, without God, don’t we?. Sometimes our own preferences empower our zeal to produce ecstatic results. But God isn’t part of that. For Paul, it was using the Law to destroy Christ. It’s almost impossible to imagine that Paul would be the person that Jesus chose to proclaim the gospel and write the score, as it were, to the New Testament. But he was. That’s the indelible bewilderment that characterizes the emotional uncertainty of LaBute’s main character.

He’s trying to figure out what to do with the knowledge that God chose him.

That question is common to the journey of all who follow Jesus.

“Will the thirty-seven dead ever be worth the lives I’ll change or any good I might do? Impossible to say. But I do know that a life half-live is better than one not lived at all and what used to be my unrepentant heart is now awash in the love of Christ.”

[By the way, if you are looking for a good book on life half-lived, might I recommend Half-Life: Die Already, by Mark Steele?]

I realize that the author isn’t trying to write a religious piece, he says as much directly in the preface. It’s just nice to see a writer put something onto the stage that wrestles with the same material that I try and put into the pulpit. Take the wacky 2 Corinthians 12:2-4 witness, “I know a person in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven–whether in the body or out of the body I do not know; God knows. And I know that such a person–whether in the body or out of the body I do not know; God knows — was caught up into Paradise and heard things that are not to be told, that no mortal is permitted to repeat.”

John articulates something similar. It’s not that people don’t have this kind of experience, it’s that you seldom hear about it and here is a mainstream author trying to work his way through something so mystical and mysterious. I’m grateful, truly I am. Listen to his words as LaBute attempts to describe the undescribable:

but I was steadfast…the voice of God was there and I could hear the…sound of angels from above. And for a moment – the briefest of tiny moments in my lifetime – I was free. No past to regret and no future of worries. Just the moment, hovering there, filled with tears and love and golden blessings. And I began to fill up…to be filled up with the goodness of a thousand tomorrows and, my God, I was floating…there I was in my suit and my tie but I was floating above it all…”

Drama has astounding potential to make us think and feel things that we normally won’t or don’t allow ourselves to. Language seldom captures the intent of faith or the experience of it. To his credit, I think LaBute really understands this. The Break of Noon is filled with ellipses and stammers, likes and really’s, inaccurate language for precise phenomena. But that’s honest. And engaging. And what I’m entirely used to and comfortable with. A real, credible witness is difficult to explain. But we have to try; to keep trying to make words do the work. That’s The Break of Noon and the conversion of Paul.

“I have a testimony now. I’m converted in a way…I don’t know! It was, like this flash and bright things or whatever. It was…this’ll sound just goofy but for a moment I felt as if I’d been lifted up…I mean, literally off the ground…like Saul on the road to Damascus, or, or…you know?”

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shoveling lava into your brain

Reading Watchmen Nee is like shoveling lava into your brain through your nose. I can read a whole paragraph of his writing before I have to reassess my whole approach to The Way (Acts 9:2-3). There is something so visceral and austere, if you will, about the way he describes the life of faith…of Christian faith. I respond to it in little bites, Neelets.

Today, our prayer reading came from a compiled Nee quote out of the NLT Mosaic Bible (this is a fantastic Bible and meditation material). Before I read it, funny enough, we were talking about a Presbyterian’s inclination to place thinking and analysis over experience and understanding. Thought I’d share:

This matter of the…Trinity of the Godhead is one which we cannot use our mind to comprehend. When the Lord was in the flesh, He told the disciples clearly that at that time He could not speak much with them, for they could not bear it; but when the Spirit of reality would come, He would lead them into all reality (John 16:12-13)…He could not come into them. He could only be outside of them. He had already told them much and if He were to tell the more, their mind would not be able to comprehend. But when He would rise from the dead…the Spirit entered into them, He would then be in them and bring them into all reality to enjoy the Triune God. We cannot…simply use our mind to understand the mystery of the Father, Son and Spirit; The conclusion of mental analyses is certainly that the Father is one, the Son is one and the Spirit also is one; thus the Father, Son and Spirit are three Gods! This is the reasoned judgment of your mind. But if you check with your own experience, you will declare that the Lord who dwells in you is surely one…If you follow your mental understanding you will be puzzled, but by your own experience you are clear that the Father, the Son and the Spirit are the three persons of the one God.

Proverb 1:7 makes a similar affirmation, “Fear of the Lord is the foundation of true knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and discipline.”

Fear is experiential; it is rooted in memory and imagination

It is thinking and analysis that move a person beyond fear; as in, “take some deep breaths.”
It is possible that thinking and analysis can move a person beyond Fear of the Lord.
And so oftentimes, it does.

If you were to put Fear of the Lord on your emotional spectrum, where would it fall? Right next to zombies and vampires? Feathers and ladybugs? Can your mind ascribe fear that is appropriate a cosmic, life-giving, soul affirming deity? Probably not. Like Nee writes, experience informs the way we relate to Christ. We can’t begin to fear him, to live in constant awe and heart stopping reverence, if we try to think our way into it.

This is why we need to experience the Lord.
To imagine.
To remember.
To confront him in Scripture and in community.
To be confronted by him in all his fullness.

Luke tells this great story in Acts about a man named Saul who encountered Jesus on the open road. He was confronted, confounded, blinded and converted with a panicked heart. It took the full reality (as Nee puts it) of Jesus to shake him from the grip of a false reality in order to experience a more real one.

Think on these things (2 Tim 2:7)

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