Friday, March 18, 2011

A Review of Love Wins

Every time we pick up a book, whether it is a Bible, a work of theology, or a work of fiction we bring to it our own presuppositions and even prejudices. This is especially true if the work in question as stirred controversy. These presuppositions and prejudices include, but are not limited to culture, education, tradition, expereince, and denominational dogma. My reading of Love Wins and this review contains my own presupposition and prejudices. The controversy surrounding this book has revealed presuppositions and prejudices in the Church. One can call this divide conservative vs. liberal, modern vs. post-modern, evangelical vs. emergent, or whatever you like, but Bell's book has angered many because they see Bell has a traitor, trading one side for the other. In any case, how you feel about Love Wins we depend on which side of the divide you find yourself. If you read Rob Bell's book looking for heresy, you will no doubt find some and if you read the Bible looking for prophetic codes and verses proving that Obama is the Antichrist you will find them as well.

In Love Wins, Bell asks questions. He questions the dualistic dogma of Heaven and Hell and how a loving God fits into the notion of eternal punishment. These questions were not shocking or really all that new to me because these are the same questions I have asked myself, heard in seminary, and read in books by N.T. Wright, Brian McClaren, and C.S. Lewis. For some these questions are a blessing, those who struggle with their own questions will be relieved and empowered that a man in Bell's position also wrestles with the same questions. However, for those whose preaching, teaching, evangelism, missions, basically their entire ecclesiology, is grounded in that dualistic dogma of Heaven and Hell Bell's questions are a threat to their way of doing business. The exploration of Bell's questions and other questions is vital to the future of the Church. If we are not willing to ask and struggle with the big questions of God we will find ourselves irrelevant. The Bible says it, I believe it, that settles it, does not cut it anymore. An unwavering, unquestioning faith is not really faith.

Bell brings ideas from C.S. Lewis, N.T. Wright, and others and weaves them into a book that is easily digestible and palatable to the average lay person. You do not need an M.Div to appreciate what Bell is doing in Love Wins. Bell's ideas are also as grounded in Scripture and tradition as any "What We Believe" section on a church website and they remind us that perhaps the Bible is not as clear cut on this issue as some claim. Bell explores the idea of Heaven and Hell in the Old and New Testament and challenges conventional evangelistic ideas like "turn or burn", judgment houses, and fire and brimstone preaching that is still popular in some circles.

Bell does not make any definitive statements on univeralism, plurality, and inclusion, but Love Wins infers that people are exposed to Christ in ways other than direct evangelism and that ultimately through Christ people can reconnect to God. Bell leaves the door open to the idea that Muslims, Hindus, and people of other religions meet Christ in their own ways, but he is clear that Jesus Christ and the cross and Resurrection is the catalyst to salvation.

I wanted Bell to go further in his exploration of these questions. Specifically, I wanted to see Bell wrestle with the tough verses, those verses that seem to promote an exclusionuist idea of salvation and seem to make acceptance a prerequisite to salvation. I feel that sometimes Bell skirts the tough issues and tough verses and sticks with those that lend themselves to his assumptions. In a lot of ways, I don't think Bell challenged himself enough and I wonder if he expected the kind of backlash Love Wins has received. If he did, I wanted him to speak to those challenges and perhaps cut them off at the knees.

Ultimately, this book is not the end of the discussion, but the beginning. Rob Bell does not offer this book as a replacement of Church dogma, but he does give voice and legitimacy to that growing section of people who wrestle with those tough questions. It took courage and faith for Bell to write and publish this book. Love Wins will no doubt cost him members at his church and respect amongst evangelicals. It also takes courage and faith to read this book witout a condemning attitude or to condemn Love Wins without reading it in the first place.

Monday, February 28, 2011

Another Post on Rob Bell

Saturday afternoon I sat down at my computer and surfed over to Twitter to see what as going on in the world. To my surprise Rob Bell was trending along side Justin Bieber and Lady Gaga. By now most of you know the story that Justin Taylor wrote a blog post and John Piper sent out a snarky little tweet (Farewell Rob Bell) to his Calvinist horde and boom pow Rob Bell is now a heretic for a book few have read because it does not come out until March 29. Now, there are reactions to those posts and reactions to the reactions and the Christian blogosphere is buzzing. Well I am throwing my 2 cents into the ring with some reactions to this controversy.

1) There are a lot more Christians on Twitter than I first supposed. I never would have imagined Rob Bell trending on Twitter unless he walked into a McDonald's with a sawed off shotgun.

2) There are some people who just love Hell. They love the idea of Hell. The love the idea that there will be people who go to Hell for eternity. The love the idea because it gives them a sense of superiority over others. "Well, you might say this and that now, but you'll sing a different tune in Hell." There are some Christians that love the idea of Hell more than they love God. The idea of God's grace love being offered universally is nauseating to them because Hell is all they have to go on. How can you sell fire insurance if there is no threat of a fire?

3) Christians wonder why the world thinks we are ignorant, reactionaries who condemn books and moves we've never seen (i.e. Twilight series and Harry Potter). Get a clue folks. Before you jump all over the guy, wait a few weeks read the book and then make a judgment call.

4) People, especially conservative Christians, love to proof-text. If I had a dollar for every time I've heard Galatians 1:6-10 quoted I the last two days I would be a rich man. Here's the thing about proof-texting, for every verse you can quote supporting your side, I can quote another to support my side. This can go on ad nauseum.

5) If our goal is to bring people to Christ's love, this is a pretty piss poor way of doing it. I mean "Farewell Rob Bell" what the heck does that mean John Piper? Are you excommunicating him from the Church? Do you really think you hold that kind of power? Are you condemning him to Hell? Do you really think you hold THAT kind of power? If your goal is to perpetuate the stereotype that Christians are willing to condemn things they do not understand or will even take a moment to try and understand then congratulations, you've succeeded.

All this aside, no public relations or marketing firm could pay for this kind of publicity and as the saying goes, "there is no such thing as bad publicity." As for me, I have pre-ordered the book (See what I mean about publicity) and I will read it with an open mind and I (and everyone else in the Christian blogosphere) will write a review. Until then, let's not burn Rob Bell at the stake for something we haven't read yet.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Conservitanity: The New American Religion

Two stories came across my computer screen this week that speak to something I have been saying on this blog for awhile. One is a story from Politico detailing a speech given by former Senator Rick Santorum about "Christian Values" and the other a blog posting by Robert P. Jones of the Public Religious Research Institute discussing the strong connection between the Tea Party and the Religious Right. Each of these stories bring to light a phenomenon in American Christianity that has been going on for about a decade (although it could be longer). This phenomenon is the conjoining of post 9/11 pseudo-patriotism which I discuss here and a form of conservative pseudo-Christianity into something I call Conservitanity.

This new American religion focuses solely on Conservative religious topics like homosexuality and abortion while ignoring Biblical topics like poverty and justice. This aspect of Conservitanity has been going on for decades beginning with the Moral Majority in the late 1970s. Conservitanity not only agrees with all conservative political ideologies, like tax cuts for the wealthiest 10%, but it also attempts to use Biblical proof-texting to make the claim that their ideas are not just of human design, but are also Divinely inspired rendering them inerrant. Conservitanity calls these ideals "core American values" and any critique of these ideals is not only an attack on America, but on Christendom itself. (See Santourum's speech above.) It is the duty of the followers of Conservitanity to champion these ideals to every corner of the world, violently if necessary. (Remember when Bush call the "War on Terrorism" a "crusade.")This is the new movement in Conservative America and while the pawns on the ground scream and shout about birth certificates and Muslims those pulling the strings (I'm looking at your Koch Brothers) run off with all the money.

Another aspect of Conservitanity is the purity of the past. One must maintain that the United States as a nation and Christianity as a religion have perfect records and any nasty little dark spots (slavery, Native American genocide, the Crusades, the Inquisition to name a few) must be white washed from memory. Conservitanity begins the process by changing the history books and by reminding the people of a past that never existed.

Karl Marx called religion the "opiate of the people" meaning that the people's beliefs in a higher power kept them quiet and satisfied while the controlling bourgeoisie used them for their own gain. Conservitanity has the same idea. While the people are mesmerized by the displays of Conservitanity in the form of red, white, and blue displays in the bookstores and aerial fly overs and while they spend their time "defending" their country against the "evil" liberals, Muslims, illegal immigrants, and non-white people in general they do not notice that the income disparity has grown by obscene amounts. If someone points this out to a follower of Conservitanity they are automatically labeled a socialist, Marxist, or liberal any of which are "bad." We can see the beginnings of this with the Park 51 or "Ground Zero Mosque" controversy and the neo-McCarthyian Muslim witch hunts heading by Rep. Peter King of NY.

Look in almost every facet of American life and you can see the creation of Conservitanity. It's clergy include Glenn Beck, Sean Hannity, Ann Coulter, Sarah Palin, and others. Although it contains elements of Christianity and it uses the name of God and Jesus many times it is nothing more than an idol. Conservitanity is dangerous when political ideology becomes so intertwined with religious beliefs than the two are indistinguishable from one another, especially when its followers are armed.

Addendum: One criticism of my post is that the Left does something similar. This very well might be the case and I would invite you to gather your evidence and make your case. Politics is not a zero sum game, just because one side has problems does not mean the other side is without problems.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

A Proposed Solution to the Current Political Climate.

In light of recent events, specifically the shooting in Tucson, AZ, there has been a lot of talk about the negative and sometimes violent speech in politics. Although, no link has been found between political rhetoric and the shooting in AZ, this does serve as an opportunity for introspection and discussion. There are those who claim that political rhetoric is too vitriolic and angry and it has the potential to cause violence while others claim the exact opposite that angry speech gives people an outlet without restoring to violent behavior. While my personal opinions fall more toward the later than the former, I do not believe that governmental intervention is the solution.

The solution to the virulent political rhetoric is not a new one. In fact, it is a solution that many of us learned in Kindergarten and some of us in Sunday School. The solution to this problem is obedience to the Golden Rule, "Do to others as you would have them do to you." While this particular quotation comes from Luke 6:31 this maxim is not unique to Christianity. Most ancient and modern religions and ethical standards include some form of the Golden Rule. Its form is childlike in its simplicity, treat others like you want to be treated, and yet its mastery can take a lifetime if at all. This moral was one of the basic ideas of Jesus' teaching. It requires humility, respect, love, and sacrifice for others above self. Use of the Golden Rule is not as satisfying as firing back and matching insult for insult. It requires discipline, something that few of us have.

No one wants to be called evil. No one wants to be referred to as the enemy of their country. No one wants to receive death threats or have their children threatened. So why do we do these things to those we disagree with? There are conservatives and liberals alike who love their country and want to see the United States improve. This is not a call for an end to criticism. Criticism can be positive and sometimes while criticism can seem harsh it is not without purpose. However, we can criticize without making false accusations. We can complain without cursing. We can treat those we disagree with like we want to be treated.

Will this ever happen? Not likely. The 24/7 news channels, blogs, and talk show hosts know that controversy, anger, and venomous speech equal ratings and ratings equal cash. In politics, unfortunately, the nice guy finishes last. This is an indictment of the American culture as a whole. We love a good fight even when the results can be tragic.

Friday, December 31, 2010

Here Goes Nothing 2011

So another year is coming to a close and another year approaches with lightning speed. It is hard to believe that Christmas has come and gone and tomorrow will be another year. This time of year New Year's resolutions become as common as Auld Lang Syne and stupid hats. The diet and quit smoking industry are bombarding us with their wears and trying to make their money. But I always make resolutions and I usually fail miserably. So this year instead of making the obligatory lose weight or read more resolution I am making a change that hopefully will be a lasting effort.

I want to live healthier and not just in the physical, but mentally and spiritually as well. So I am going to unpack these goals and set smaller goals to meet by my birthday which is March 13.


Those of you who know me personally know that I have struggle with my weight literally my whole life. I cannot remember a time when I was not chubby, plump, overweight, or pudgy. Now I weigh more than I have in my entire life and it is starting to affect my health, my life, and my work. You see I have been told that I will not be ordained until a lose a significant amount of weight. I am not going to argue whether this is fair or unfair, but in any case I need to lose for me and my family above and beyond any other reason. So in addition to going to the gym and moving more, I am going to try and eat healthier, not in a diet sense, but in a lifestyle change. I am going to at more fruits and vegetables and less fast food. I am also going to work on portion control which is something I also struggle with. My goal is to lose 25 pounds by March 13. I think that is an achievable goal and I am going to keep you posted on how it is going.


I want to read more and not just in theology and church related matters, but also I want to read some of the classics of literature that I *ah-hem* skipped over in high school and college. I would love to engage in a book club, but I don't know if there is one available in Pulaski. I also want to being my ordination papers in the hopes that the physical goal comes through. My goal is to read 5 classic novels by March 13.


I must confess that I have slack off on my daily devotionals. Often the only Bible verses I read are the ones I preach on Sunday morning. I want to get back to journaling and prayer, which I have also slacked on. My goal is to do these things daily and keep doing them.

Why I am sharing these personal things with the world? I am sharing them because I want and need your help. I want you to pray for me. Pray that I can remain disciplined and focused to meet my goals. I am going to hold myself accountable on this blog and I will need all the help I can get.

Last, but not least, I want to wish you and yours a safe and blessed 2011.

Monday, December 20, 2010

A Response to Judson Phillips Founder of the Tea Party Nation

A blog post by Judson Phillips, founder of the Tea Party Nation and Nashville DUI attorney, is stirring some controversy amongst United Methodists. Assumedly, Mr. Phillips walked by the United Methodist General Board of Church and Society building in Washington DC and saw a sign that read "Pass the DREAM Act." The DREAM Act would give the children of illegal immigrants a pathway to citizenship through college or military service and is opposed by conservatives. Mr. Phillips's response was "I have a DREAM. That is, no more United Methodist Church." He goes on to say that the UMC is the "church of Karl Marx," which is funny because Marx was an avowed atheist, and that the Methodist church is "little more than the 'religious' arm of socialism." It seems whenever a conservatives sees something they don't like it is automatically socialist. He also decries the UMC because Hillary Clinton is a member in good standing. Mr. Phillips obviously forgot that George W and Laura Bush as well as Dick Cheney are good members in standing of the UMC.

I am not going engage Mr.Phillips on his ignorance of the United Methodist Church or his blatant over-generalization of all the members of the UMC as people who hate American. As an aside, I dare you sir to step into my church on Sunday morning and tell our veterans they hate America. Nor will I debate Mr. Phillips's stance on the DREAM Act or any other legislation. I will only ask Mr. Phillips why HE hates America and democracy? I only make that assumption because Mr. Phillips seems to dislike the way a democratic government works, that is debating and discussing the issues of the day instead of condemning an entire denomination because of one sign outside one building. Also, he obviously does not care for the First Amendment that guarantees freedom of religion and expression. I think Mr. Phillips would much prefer a theocratic dictatorship where only his views on government and God are allowed. His vast over-generalization of the UMC as a whole would be laughable if it were not so sad and pathetic. Mr. Phillips wants to hate 8 million Americans who belong to a denomination because of one sign outside one building in that denomination.

Mr. Phillips is exactly what is wrong with America, not because he is a Conservative or a TEA Party member, but because his first reaction to a sign with a differing opinion than is own is condemnation and hatred. He does not want to enter into a discussion or debate. In his blog, he does not even attempt to explain why he is right. He just condemns those who disagree with his extreme point of view. This sort of attitude is not limited to conservatives or Tea Partiers, but has become more prevalent in political and theological debate and discussion with both conservatives and liberals. We can all learn a lesson from Mr. Phillips. His reaction will not cause people to leave the United Methodist Church, but it will damage his own credibility, what little they had to begin with, as a political figure and the credibility of his group.

The United Methodist Church in the United States is a cross-section of America. We have liberals and conservatives and we disagree on a lot of things and there are many within the denomination who disagree with the stances taken by the General Board of Church and Society. However, we also feed the hungry, clothe the naked, provide nets that stop the spread of malaria, we dig clean water wells in Africa, we educate children, we save lives, and we proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ. For Judson Phillips to condemn the United Methodist Church wholesale for one sign on one building is not only unChristian, but unAmerican.

But I will pray for you Mr. Phillips. I will pray that the love and grace of God, who I and the UMC serve, will touch your heart and that you see the error of your ways not because I disagree with you, but because you persecute me because of that disagreement.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Dear Mr. President,

Dear President Obama,

Two years ago, I cheered you historic election and the prospects for some real change in the United States. Although I voted for President Bush twice, I became disillusioned with the failed policies of his presidency including but not limited to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the torture of detainees in Guantanamo Bay and other black cites around the world, and corruption within the White House. I felt that we, as a country, were better than this. So I voted for change. I voted in the hope that those who were especially vulnerable, the poor, the disabled, the sick, would once again have a voice with those in power.

I was not so naive as to believe that your presidency would be without naysayers and opponents. I did not expect the potency of the vitriol and venom from the political Right. While I believed the Republican campaign slogan of "Country First" was a farce, I was not prepared for the extent to which those on the Right would try to damage not only your presidency, but also this nation. I truly question whether these people have any love for country left in them. Their lies become the false reality for so many people in this country and now a large percentage of the public will believe any story told in any medium, up to and including the Easter Bunny, as long as it sheds you in a negative light. 1 in 5 of my fellow Americans believe that you are a Muslim and about the same amount believe that you work for the destruction of this country. Many of them do not believe that you are even an American. They not only oppose your policies Mr. President, they hate you sir. The loathe you with every ounce within them. The Republicans have stated, publicly, that their main goal in the next two years is not bringing this country out of a recession, not ending the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, not protecting the United States against another terrorist attack, but to make your presidency one term.

Mr. President,as much as you might try, there is no bipartisanship. There can be no cooperation with the Republicans and they have stated this publicly. For every inch you give them, they will take a mile and then ridicule you for giving an inch in the first place. You refused to pursue an investigation of the previous administration's mishandling of intelligence and lying that led us to war in Iraq. Now billions of dollars are wasted and more importantly thousands of lives are lost. You refused to investigate the previous administration's role in the torture of detainees and possible war crimes. You did this in the hopes of bipartisanship. They called you a Kenyan and demanded you prove your citizenship, something unheard of previously. You gave up on a public option or a single payer health care system in the hopes of bipartisanship. They spread lies about what was in the bill. They told the people that you wanted to kill babies and grandmothers. Now, you have extended the Bush era tax cuts for the wealthy for another two years. You extended tax cuts for people who do not need them and who will not create jobs with the money they save. What will they call you now? God only knows.

The Democrats lost control of the House in 2010, not because the Republicans had a better platform. They have no platform except to critic and lie about every move you make. You lost because you refused to stand by your principles. You lost because the people lost confidence in you. You cannot win these people over. Even if you give in the every Republican whim in the next two years they will still hate you. They will still spend billions of dollars and even second trying to send you home in 2012. What we need is leadership. What we want is leadership. We want a President to stand firm and say that enough is enough. Are you that leader? I thought you were two years ago, but today I am not so sure. The people need you. Those who are going hungry need you. Those who cannot feed their kids need you. Those who scrape by with scraps and then see the exorbitant amount of wealth controlled by 2% of the people. We need a voice. We need someone who will stand on their principles. Will you be that person Mr. President? I hope so, but time is running out.