Tuesday, March 29, 2011

The Last Word on Bell (until I actually read the book)

I wrote a few posts on Brian McLaren's latest book A New Kind Of Christianity about 8 months ago. I found his quest for a fresh biblical narrative (he wouldn't use the word metanarrative because he's one of those postmodern types who go by Lyotard's "incredulity towards metanarratives") compelling. After describing the traditional rendering of the biblical story, McLaren had this to say:

Few of us acknowledge that this master-narrative starts with one category of things, good and blessed, and then ends up with two categories of things, good and blessed on the top line and evil and tormented on the bottom....Can we dare to wonder, given an ending that has more evil and suffering than the beginning, if it would have been better for this story never to have begun?

After quoting this I added that "this is a heartfelt question that musn't be swept under the rug." But to paraphrase Bertrand Russell, most Christians would rather die than think about the kind of story they're telling, implicitly and explicitly. 

This is why I welcome Rob Bell's new book. 

It forces us to re-think what we think we know. 

This is good, because the story we think we know is one that ends quite horrifically from most people's perspective. It is a story that needs to be re-imagined. Not re-imagined through the mind of Rob Bell, but re-imagined by seeing afresh the kind of Jesus who has been witnessed to for two thousand years. The Jesus of the Gospels, whose love extended to the most unlikely folk.

This isn't about watering-down the gospel, making it more appealing. 

Besides, the sign of gospel fidelity isn't that it appeals to the least amount of people. 

The sign of gospel fidelity isn't that the judgement of hell is clearly articulated. 

If it was, then those missionaries whose stories are recounted in Acts were deeply unfaithful, because their sermons failed to clearly mention the threat of hell even once. Gospel fidelity can only be measured against the person of Jesus. Is our witness faithful to him as he is? One way we might know that it is is the following:

if we are quite uncomfortable about what we are saying
    because we are talking about someone who is quite unlike us in many ways.

Rob Bell's portrait of Jesus has made many religious people angry, sad, and fearful. I don't know if Bell's portrait is faithful, but I do know that its fruits point in that direction. Of course Bell himself makes many religious people angry, sad, and fearful, so perhaps he's recasting Jesus in his own mould. 

Just like the rest of us. 

Whatever the case, we who think we know not only what we say when we say "God" but also what we say when we say "Jesus" ought to consider the thought that we don't yet know as we ought to know. That doesn't mean we have to read Bell's book to know the truth.

It means we have to read N.T. Wright's book - Jesus and the Victory of God.


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