Tag Archives: what do you say

The Return of Rob Bell

Rob Bell, what do you say, I suppose something along the lines of “when your entire persona is built around being the innovative cool guy…”. It is hard to express how much I appreciated this guy, and how much I respected his biblical knowledge and insightful probing. Even with Love Wins I’d defend him. His take on Hell in that book is not Augustine/Aquinas/Luther mainstream orthodoxy, but it was an ancient small branch that orthodoxy never really did away with or declared heretical. Even someone like Richard John Neuhaus held it privately. He would say he hoped with a small h that it was right, but he would admit that he could not capital H Hope as it was not a revealed theological truth. But Rob has a new book to sell. The first one without the hindrances and claims of leading a flock. This is the trailer…

So the God of the Nicene Creed (c. 381 AD) and the Apostles Creed (c. 200 AD) that the catholic church has been proclaiming for 2000 years, that Israel proclaimed for 2000 years before that, who outlived the Hittites, Assyrians, Babylonians, Persians, Greeks, Romans, the medieval dynasties, the early modern empires, the colonial era and the colonists transmission…that God is an Oldsmobile complete with 8 track. If He doesn’t catch up with Rob Bell he’s going to just go away. And all you haters who hold on to creeds and confessions, don’t you see the hate and harm you are spreading.

And what does God need to catch up with Rob on? Love, baby. I’m ok, you are ok, we are all ohhh-kayyy. God loves us just as we are. He’s with us and for us and around us…and he’s okay with us. Now that is a neat little phrase stealing Paul stealing the Greek poets, “in whom we live and move and have our being”, but that was not exclusively Jesus’ message. There is this thing called the cross. We called to pick ours up and follow. Forgive me if giving in to the culture and getting glowing things said about you in the New Yorker doesn’t look like the path to Calvary.

We’ve heard this all before. This guy does a good job of running down the references from the smoldering heap of oldline protestantism. He forgets that Rob Bell doesn’t do footnotes. He’s “not really writing theological treatises, just pointing out questions” is the shtick. Rob is out in California now. He’s got some great surfing pictures now and then. While he’s applying for the seat of this guy he should probably take a look at the end of that road. As well as the history of that God who’s been called an Oldsmobile before.

Formation & The “What Do You Actually Say” file…

In Bible study this Sunday we were reading Psalm 37. One of the points of discussion was what I labeled Christian formation. Psalm 37:3-4 were the original jumping off point with the question being what comes first: delight in the Lord or receiving the desires of the heart? There is some formation of proper desires taking place. The psalmist continues occasionally with that subtle theme like Psalm 37:16 which urges us to think what is true abundance. Christians here are primarily concerned with trying to see with the eyes of faith. The psalmist doesn’t deny that it might look like the wicked prosper, but encourages new eyes. Eyes focused on the action of the Lord and not our efforts, eyes tuned to peace and the abundance of the land, eyes focused on the promise of the Kingdom and its abundance. All things that those who plot against the righteous (Psalm 37:12), or who prospers in his way (Psalm 37:7), can’t actually have because what they posses is transitory at best. Like the glory of the pastures they vanish – like smoke they vanish away. (Psalm 37:20)

Sometimes when I read things like this I usually figure it was written by the onion. A seminary, or a divinity school, is a place of formation. In fact, it is supposed to be a “seed bed”. A dean of such a school is to be about teaching things that should ground and guide for an entire career. In Lutheran thought that might be “rightly dividing law and gospel” or the felt conflict between the hidden God and the revealed God. I could see a good Baptist formation being in preaching and clean living. I could see a good presbyterian formation being in wrestling with election (God’s choosing) and elections (how to govern a session). A good Catholic formation being monastic in nature with a heavy emphasis on living a life that is being poured out sacrificially (2 Tim 4:6). Now some of those descriptions might be poor expressions for someone who is deep in those traditions, but reading this description from the new Vanderbilt Divinity Dean, I have a hard time imagining where this finds its place in the formation of pastors.

I’m a social ethicist who uses womanist ethics to do my work—meaning I look at race, gender, class, sexual orientation, and so forth to figure out what we should do to create just worldviews. When working with committees, I would break down the issue as I would a social problem, looking at the context, the history, who has been and has not been involved, how they talk about it, what we hope for, and what are the other options.

What I always want to do, both in the classroom and as an administrator, is be in conversation, give people a sense that there’s more than one way to talk about religion, and help the school move into the world in a more active and public way than it is already doing.

I would not want to put down the active role of mercy in the life of a Christian, but that calling is always derivative of the seeking and wrestling with God first. The Dean’s description sounds fine for a social work curriculum or even a non-profit MBA type curriculum. But for formation of those who theoretically have a divine call to the Word of God that is completely off. The Lord favored Mary over Martha (Luke 10:41-42). If we want to correct our churches maybe we should return to our first love (Rev 2:4). Which might include Deans who like to talk about religion in specific ways as truth (as compared to ‘more than one way’) and can parse the Greek of the Word of God as well as parsing the race, gender, class, sexual orientation and so forth.

But what do I know, call me crazy. Even within the LC-MS, the only pressure on seminary heads is for better practical training. Martha is popular…she just tends to burn out and confuse how the Kingdom actually comes. (Hint, it is not by our efforts.)