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Rob Bell’s Love Wins

So.  Have you heard about Rob Bell’s new book Love Wins: A Book of Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived yet?  No?  Have you been hiding in a closet somewhere?  You can catch up with these two articles, written before the book even hit the shelves.  CNN’s Eric Marrapodi’s article “Rob Bell Pushes Back Against Claims of Heresy” and his earlier article “Christian Author’s Book Sparks Charges of Heresy.”

Bell, who’s the pastor of Mars Hill Bible Church in Grand Rapids, Michigan, has been called a heretic and a universalist (oh heavens, not that!).  Even John Piper (who can be downright nasty sometimes) tweeted, “Farewell, Rob Bell.” Really?  Seriously?  We’re going to excommunicate a person because he doesn’t believe in a heaven or hell, at least in the same way we’ve been taught since we were yea high?  Really, if you believe that Jesus came to wipe our sins away, it’s a relief to think that Jesus came to save everyone (yep, you read that correctly!), and that we’re making our own heaven or hell here on earth, in this lifetime!

Let’s go over this again.  No one knows, for sure, what he or she believes is absolute truth.  No one.  Let me repeat that.  No one.  You can have inklings or hopes that you’re right, but you don’t know FOR SURE.  So, when you shut down someone who has another opinion or another thought (about God, religion, politics, you name it), you’re shutting down viable options, valuable conversations, that may help that person or someone else make sense of what she has been taught all of her life.

There are so many passages from the book I’d like to share, but I’ll choose a few, so you’ll know what you’re in for, should you happen to crack it open. Whether you side with Bell or not, it’s a stimulating read, one that’s sure to prompt many discussions with family and friends.

I’ll begin at the beginning.

Several years ago we had an art show at our church.  I had been giving a series of teachings on peacemaking, and we invited artists to display their paintings, poems, and sculptures that reflected their understanding of what it means to be a peacemaker.  One woman included in her work a quote from Mahatma Gandhi, which a number of people found quite compelling.

But not everyone.

Someone attached a piece of paper to it.  On the piece of paper was written: “Reality check: He’s in hell.”

Really?
Gandhi’s in hell?
He is?
We have confirmation of this?
Somebody knows this?
Without a doubt?
And that somebody decided to take on the responsibility of letting the rest of us know?

This brings up some disturbing questions, of course.  It brings up the question of whether it’s about belief or action.  Can people live a “godly” life but miss the boat because they don’t believe in Jesus?

People from my background might insist we can’t understand the ways of God or that God did give people a choice.  These are unsatisfactory answers to me.  They don’t mesh with the God I know.  And if I were to say that last comment to the people in my past, they would retort that I’m turning God into something I want him to be.

More from Bell.

This doesn’t just raise disturbing questions about God; it raises questions about the beliefs themselves.
Why them?
Why you?
Why me?
Why not him or her or them?

If there are only a select few who go to heaven, which is more terrifying to fathom: the billions who burn forever or the few who escape this fate? How does a person end up being one of the few?
Chance?
Luck?
Random selection?
Being born in the right place, family, or country?
Having a youth pastor who “relates better to the kids”?
God choosing you instead of others?

What kind of faith is that?
Or, more important:
What kind of God is that?

In the past, I’ve remarked that I’m quite flummoxed why God would come to save such a small percentage of the population.  My Christian friends would say, “Well, but it’s not up to him; it’s up to each individual person to make that choice, because he or she has free will.”  And this is when I want to interject that whole thing about how they believe that everything is predetermined by God (meaning God KNOWS what choice you’ll make), and isn’t that self-defeating?  Because if he knew how few people would say, “I believe in God and his son, Jesus Christ,” then what kind of God is he?

Bell makes the point that we need to be careful which Jesus we’re celebrating.  It’s an important distinction that needs to be made.  Even after reading the examples Bell uses, catch yourself, because there are other examples we could use, which would hit a little nearer home perhaps.  Think about it.

One way to respond to these questions is with the clear, helpful answer: all that matters is how you respond to Jesus.  And that answer totally resonates with me; it is about how you respond to Jesus.  But it raises another important question: Which Jesus?

Renee Altson begins her book Stumbling Toward Faith with these words:

“I grew up in an abusive household.  Much of my abuse was spiritual—and when I say spiritual, I don’t mean new age, esoteric, random mumblings from half-Wiccan, hippie parents…I mean that my father raped me while reciting the Lord’s Prayer.  I mean that my father molested me while singing Christian hymns.”

That Jesus?

When one woman in our church invited her friend to come to one of our services, he asked her if it was a Christian church.  She said yes, it was.  He then told her about Christians in his village in eastern Europe who rounded up the Muslims in town and herded them into a building, where they opened fire on them with their machine guns and killed them all.  He explained to her that he was a Muslim and had no interest in going to her Christian church.

That Jesus?

Or think about the many who know about Christians only from what they’ve seen on television and so assume that Jesus is antiscience, antigay, standing out on the sidewalk with his bullhorn, telling people that they’re going to burn forever?

Those Jesuses?

Do you know any individuals who grew up in a Christian church and then walked away when they got older?  Often pastors and parents and brothers and sisters are concerned about them and their spirituality—and often they should be.  But sometimes those individuals’ rejection of church and the Christian faith they were presented with as the only possible interpretation of what it means to follow Jesus may in fact be a sign of spiritual health.  They may be resisting behaviors, interpretations, and attitudes that should be rejected.  Perhaps they simply came to a point where they refused to accept the very sorts of things that Jesus would refuse to accept.

Some Jesuses should be rejected.

Bell does a nice job (using scripture, of course!) of explaining how heaven and hell can be seen another way.  He does a nice job of pointing out how faith can be seen differently.  Because you have to read the book to understand, and because I don’t want to give it all away here, I’m closing with another passage that may stir something up in you.  And that’s a good thing.

At this point some would step in and remind us in the midst of all of these questions that it’s not that complicated, and we have to remember that God has lots of ways of communicating apart from people speaking to each other face-to-face; the real issue, the one that can’t be avoided, is whether a person has a “personal relationship” with God through Jesus.  However that happens, whoever told whomever, however it was done, that’s the bottom line: a personal relationship.  If you don’t have that, you will die apart from God and spend eternity in torment in hell.

The problem, however, is that the phrase “personal relationship” is found nowhere in the Bible.

Nowhere in the Hebrew scriptures, nowhere in the New Testament.  Jesus never used the phrase.  Paul didn’t use it.  Nor did John, Peter, James, or the woman who wrote the Letter to the Hebrews.

So if that’s it,
if that’s the point of it all,
if that’s the ticket,
the center,
the one unavoidable reality,
the heart of the Christian faith,
why is it that no one used the phrase until the last hundred years or so?

And that question raises another question.  If the message of Jesus is that God is offering the free gift of eternal life through him—a gift we cannot earn by our own efforts, works, or good deeds–and all we have to do is accept and confess and believe, aren’t those verbs?

And aren’t verbs actions?

Accepting, confessing, believing—those are things we do.

Does that mean, then, that going to heaven is dependent on something I do?

How is any of that grace?
How is that a gift?
How is that good news?

Isn’t that what Christians have always claimed set their religion apart—that it wasn’t, in the end, a religion at all—that you don’t have to do anything, because God has already done it through Jesus?

I, for one, would love to be able to wipe away everything I’ve been told or read, and sit down to reread the Bible with a fresh and untainted mind.  I think I might read the stories and texts very differently.  There are myriads of ways to decipher and translate them, and I’m wondering if I’ve focused on all the wrong things.

[Post image: Everybody has their cross to bury by dimitri_c on stock.xchng]

44 Comments


  1. kristi
    Mar 29, 2011

    i love the way you end this post, and i completely agree. it stinks that we can’t do this. or–if everyone realized he or she was coming to the table with preconceived ideas, notions, colored glasses. if we just had this, i think such amazing discussion could take place.


    • Elissa
      Mar 29, 2011

      Amazing, CHARITABLE discussions, don’t you think?


  2. Angie Cox
    Mar 29, 2011

    “Perhaps they simply came to a point where they refused to accept the very sorts of things that Jesus would refuse to accept.”

    That pretty much sums it up.


    • Elissa
      Mar 29, 2011

      I liked this, too. It’s a sort of “spiritual health” to reject dogma that doesn’t match up (or treats people as inferior than yourself)….

      Applies to SO MANY things, doesn’t it?


  3. f451
    Mar 29, 2011

    “Let’s go over this again. No one knows, for sure, what he or she believes is absolute truth. No one. Let me repeat that. No one. You can have inklings or hopes that you’re right, but you don’t know FOR SURE. So, when you shut down someone who has another opinion or another thought (about God, religion, politics, you name it), you’re shutting down viable options, valuable conversations, that may help that person or someone else make sense of what she has been taught all of her life.”

    I do.

    This was a diffiucult article to read. There were so many false analogies, speculations, and assumptions, it can’t even be taken seriously. I read it from a critical thinking point of view, not religious.

    “The problem, however, is that the phrase “personal relationship” is found nowhere in the Bible.”

    That’s not the issue. People including Christians get it wrong constantly. What is the issue that this author misses completely is the realization that hey, I’m not a good person, I need redemption. That’s it. REDEMPTION.

    If there was no need for redemption, Jesus’ death was a self righteous suicide and he misled the entire human race.

    We can speculate and philosophize all we want. In the end there is but one truth. Not many.
    Most people will read this and discard it like garbage, and go on reading their feel good quotes and living their life as how they see fit with no moral compass but their own.

    It’s almost surreal to see the gospel of Jesus Christ as the ONLY religion that people dismiss and turn away from. All other religions want to unite, hug each other, and reaffirm each others paths which leads to destruction. So be it.

    love to all but damn…do some heavy researching on what you believe and why. Your future depends on it.


    • Don Rogers
      Mar 29, 2011

      Nice to know you have the absolute truth. People of your ilk is why I finally convinced myself to to leave an organization that had been my life for 59 years.


    • Elissa
      Mar 29, 2011

      I don’t think Christianity has been the only religion that people dismiss. Take you, for instance, F451. You haven’t dismissed it. And that’s YOUR journey. Bottom line: YOU may “know.” But unfortunately, you don’t know. No one does. No one knows what went down so long ago. You can feel it’s true in your life. You can really, really believe it, but if you’re honest with yourself, you don’t know.

      It doesn’t mean we get rid of all belief. It just means we have to start at that point. Not knowing. FOR SURE.


  4. Zac Parsons
    Mar 29, 2011

    Elissa,

    I’ve been wondering about you during this whole Rob Bell saga. I’m glad that you have shared some of your thoughts on this.

    Also, I was wondering if you felt like your were on Bell’s “side” on this (forgive me), or if you felt like more of an outsider watching the Christians duke it out.

    Just curious.

    Thx.


    • Elissa
      Mar 29, 2011

      Well, since I’m still doing my research on the divinity of Jesus and so on and so forth, I’ve held myself as agnostic for a while (purposely, so I could do the research), so I was on Bell’s “side” (if I end up believing in the divinity of Jesus), and I was also an outsider, watching these mean-spirited people rip him apart. I got to wondering what makes people do that. What’s all this you-vs-me mentality? When did it become more about what I believe IN FRONT OF YOU, rather than what I believe IN FRONT OF GOD, or whatever the case may be? Why do MY beliefs and MY decisions trigger such hatred in you? Whether or not you believe (in God), the way you respond to another indicates more about you than anything else. Does that make sense? Was that more than you bargained for, Zac?


      • Zac Parsons
        Mar 30, 2011

        Wow. Your response was almost identical to mine. I’m probably more prone to not believe in the divinity of Jesus at this point, so I really felt like more of an outsider. But, as an outsider, I still knew all of the major players in the debates and I could still speak the language. I almost feel like a refugee from a foreign country who returns to visit years later, finally coming to the conclusion that the decision to leave was the right one.

        You’ve inspired me to put down some more of my own thoughts on this on my site. Thanks!

        BTW, have you seen Mark Driscoll’s sermon response to the drama? It’w worth checking out.

        Zac


        • Elissa
          Mar 30, 2011

          OK, I’ll be looking for your thoughts, too…and in the meantime, I’m traipsing off to find Mark Driscoll’s sermon. I haven’t seen that yet…thanks for the heads-up!


  5. Renae C
    Mar 29, 2011

    “Frantic orthodoxy is never rooted in faith but in doubt. It is when we are unsure that we are doubly sure.”

    Reinhold Niebuhr


  6. Don Rogers
    Mar 29, 2011

    Elissa-” No one knows, for sure, what he or she believes is absolute truth. “ I like that! I’m getting Rob’s book as audio. I haven’t been so anxious to hear something in a while! Thanks for making me salivate even more!


    • Elissa
      Mar 29, 2011

      I think you’ll like it, Don. It triggers even more questions, which is a good thing, right? 🙂


      • Don Rogers
        Mar 30, 2011

        RIGHT!!


  7. Renae C
    Mar 29, 2011

    What if there is no need for redemption? What if the message Jesus actually tried to bring to the world was a recognition of the inherent worth of every life? What if his living challenged religious systems and authority and showing ordinary people that they were not beholden to those systems in order to ensure their fate? What if his death was the heroic death of messenger sent from God that points us to the sacrifice necessary to bring God’s kingdom here to earth each and every day? What if the texts quoted out of the bible to disprove any of the above were cobbled together by the very system Jesus came to disempower? What if we all chose to spend our lives in love instead of arguing about absolute truth?

    Maybe it’s a risk. The system I grew up in would have me believe that’s so. It’s a risk I’m willing to take.


  8. kristi
    Mar 29, 2011

    i think it triggers hatred because religion, like socioeconomic status and skin color and height and weight and whether we have kids and so on and so forth, is used as a way to elevate ourselves above those around us. it’s human nature. so if we have the “right” answers, then we can say to everyone else, we are chosen, we are right, we are BETTER. and that’s something jesus never said. quite the opposite.


    • Elissa
      Mar 30, 2011

      Yes. I think we’re far removed from what Jesus touted. The problem is: we’re mired in what we’ve learned, and it’s like pulling teeth to change. Some sort of transformation has to happen…and I think it starts with each individual person, then it evolves into like-minded people becoming a collective, supporting each other through the questions, and encouraging each other to live faithfully to truth–whatever that may be for each person…

      In other words, it takes time.


    • Sylvia
      Mar 30, 2011

      I believe anything, even religion, may be used or abused. I believe war is futile. any warwar in Iraq, war on drugs, war on terror…. it all breeds discrimination and hatred and no war will ever enhance the chance of our human species’ survival. I love my country and I support our troops. I detest the political lying and greed that put them where they are.”

      Written by my deceased son.


      • Don Rogers
        Mar 30, 2011

        I detest the use of the word “war” to describe anything but “war”. I agree with your son.


  9. f451
    Mar 30, 2011

    Don said: “Nice to know you have the absolute truth. People of your ilk is why I finally convinced myself to to leave an organization that had been my life for 59 years.”

    “absolute truth” is redundant. It’s either true or it’s not.
    What did I say to anger you? Your argument has no foundation or support and you painted me as an intolerant human being with a broad sweep of your emotional paint brush. I would like to see some comments that are supported with logic and a clear foundation. Up till now it’s just been dismissed with a wave of the hand and an upward turn of the nose.

    Convince me Jesus is not the way the truth and the life as he claimed.

    Renae said: “What if the message Jesus actually tried to bring to the world was a recognition of the inherent worth of every life?”

    but it’s not. Jesus’ own words refute that.
    you can’t use the bible as a spiritual buffet picking out what you want to believe and discarding the rest.

    Jesus was pretty clear about why he was here on earth. It’s black and white with zero gray area.
    Is it something about His message you all don’t like?
    Does it rub you the wrong way?
    Are you mad that He said there is only one way to God?
    Are you angry that He said you needed redemption?
    Are you upset that He laid out some moral guidelines for living?

    What part of the gospel are you running from?
    Let me know because sometimes I feel there’s a running joke known to most people that I haven’t been privileged to hear.


    • Elissa
      Mar 30, 2011

      F451, take a DEEP breath, and I mean that in the nicest way. Don is expressing his truth. He left the church because of people like you (and you’re the one who seems angry, by the way) who want others to believe what they believe. Relax. There’s no reason to get upset that someone disagrees with you. This is supposed to be a charitable discussion.

      Just because someone doesn’t see the world the same way as you doesn’t mean he’s wrong. It just means he sees the world differently.

      With regard to Renae’s question: You have to understand that Jesus’s words were written down by humans (most likely men). They had agendas. They had a religion to maintain. If you re-read some of Jesus’s words, they can be interpreted multiple ways, including the verse which reads, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No man comes to the Father but through me.” Multiple ways to read that one. Here’s one alternate reading: http://www.brianmclaren.net/emc/archives/McLaren%20-%20John%2014.6.pdf

      One more thing to think about: Just because a person doesn’t go to church OR practice Christianity, doesn’t mean they don’t believe in God or Jesus (necessarily). That person has decided that organized religion doesn’t mesh with what they read in the Bible. They can, just as well, have a relationship with God elsewhere.

      People who come to my site come with clear heads, thinking heads, logical heads (although you might disagree). They’re working at their faith (or no faith) vigorously. Please know this. You happen to have all the answers, nicely cinched up for yourself, which is YOUR journey. Others live in the questions and want to be able to ask them, in a safe place, and it doesn’t help when they run into a person who wants to “tell” them how to live. [And I know you’ll say the Bible “tells” them how to live, but you’re interpreting the texts much differently. Again, you might consider that YOUR interpretation might be up for discussion…a nice, friendly discussion.] 🙂 Do you think you could help me out here?


    • Don Rogers
      Mar 30, 2011

      Sorry to be “redundant”. Just following the common usage of that which you speak. “Anger”, I have no anger with you because I’ve been there. I recognize all the phrases, all the terms, all the apologetic strains. I am happier than ever. You have your journey, I have mine. I just wish that you fear less and live in joy more. I’m not here to convince you of anything. How you see the man called Jesus is your own call. Oh, by the way, you called me a painter of broad strokes. I couldn’t paint a straight line with a ruler. I have found that my many friends in conservative Christianity have trouble dealing with those who see things different from them. And, you know what that’s OK. We’re all on our own journey; mine is not yours, and yours was mine, just no longer. Cheers my friend!


  10. f451
    Mar 30, 2011

    and Sylvia that was a good post.
    /agree


  11. f451
    Mar 30, 2011

    and cheers to you Don


  12. Renae C
    Mar 30, 2011

    F451 said:
    “you can’t use the bible as a spiritual buffet picking out what you want to believe and discarding the rest.”

    Oh, I didn’t realize that was against the rules. So you are leaving the corners of your fields to be gleaned by the poor. You are caring for orphans and widows and the least of these. You are rooting out adultry in your religious community the same way you root out homosexuality. You are giving slaves the treatment prescribed by various new testament passages.

    EVERYBODY contextualizes scriptures, F451. Just because I contextualize them different than you doesn’t mean you are right and I am wrong.

    I’m not angry. I’m not afraid. I’m not running. And I live by moral guidelines. The primary one being Love God and Love your Neighbor (defined as EVERYONE – especially the outcasts) as you Love Yourself.


  13. peggy
    Mar 30, 2011

    ” No one knows, for sure, what he or she believes is absolute truth. No one. Let me repeat that. No one. You can have inklings or hopes that you’re right, but you don’t know FOR SURE. ”

    Are you absolutely sure about that?


  14. Old Pete
    Mar 31, 2011

    Elissa said:
    I, for one, would love to be able to wipe away everything I’ve been told or read, and sit down to reread the Bible with a fresh and untainted mind. I think I might read the stories and texts very differently. There are myriads of ways to decipher and translate them, and I’m wondering if I’ve focused on all the wrong things.

    I’ve often wondered why, but I can now see that I have had almost that privilege after I was forced in 1995 (when I was no longer employed) to reconsider just about everything I had ever been taught. It was in that year that the church that I had been a member of announced that much of its theology had been misguided. I had never been in a leadership position and had had no formal theological training, but even at the age of 14 I was questioning the validity of the teaching of the trinity – and I seem to have had a bit of a reputation ever since for asking the awkward questions to which there are no easy answers.

    Elissa is wondering if she has been focusing on the wrong things. Towards the end of last year I put together on my blog “Some of the Awkward Questions” This list has been compiled (and changed several times) over the years.

    I’m a 75 year old Brit with many American friends (and we have even spent 27 nights in the States without having to pay a single hotel bill). I’ve found the ‘uproar’ over Rob Bell’ book interesting. In many ways it is a repetition of the ‘outrage’ that occurred in some quarters when “The Shack” was published a few years ago.

    Let me suggest that if anyone wants to reconsider the foundation of their FAITH (as opposed to the Christian RELIGION they had been taught) that these dozen or so questions would be a good starting point.

    We are all on different journeys. Don and I have been on somewhat similar journeys but Don is a reader and a bit of an academic – I’m not. In one sense that gives me an advantage – I didn’t have so much to unlearn (and I don’t have to worry about crossing all those t’s and dotting all those i’s) – and I’ve had 16 years of retirement to put these thoughts together.

    If you have any questions please feel free to ask – and if you think I’ve omitted any vital questions I’d like to know


    • Elissa
      Mar 31, 2011

      Those are EXCELLENT questions, Old Pete…and necessary ones, if you’re going to delve into why you believe what you believe. [For those of you reading, simply click on Old Pete’s name above, and his website will come up!]

      I agree wholeheartedly that faith is different from religion. I also agree that you don’t have to find it in the church. At least I hope not, because I’m not attending one. 🙂

      We’re in the same boat, rowing hard, trying to make sense of what we’ve read and learned and heard…thanks SO much for sharing these questions, Old Pete (I feel like I’m being SO disrespectful calling you “old”)…


  15. Old Pete
    Apr 02, 2011

    Feel free to call me Pete – I chose the name Old Pete nine years ago – and I haven’t had a full time job for 21 years – and I’ve been using the internet since 1997 – granddad doesn’t mind being old!


    • Elissa
      Apr 03, 2011

      It’s whatever you want to be called. 🙂 But I’ll call you Pete!


  16. Rachelle Mee-Chapman
    Apr 04, 2011

    Hi Elissa,

    Good on you for this thought article and for the pastoral, mindful way you are engaging in the comments.

    It’s really lovely for me to read the comments of those who are exploring their Faith all the way out to the edges. These folks are living in the diaspora and it can be hard for them to find a tribe to call thier own. I’m trying to gather a few up via my Relig-ish posts. Seeing some of them comment here was an encouragement to me today.

    Much Warmth

    Rachelle


    • Elissa
      Apr 04, 2011

      Hi, Rachelle,

      Oh, I know YOU know what a wonderful (and confusing, at times) journey this is! I’m glad you made it here. And yes, so diverse–all of these comments. I love that! xo


  17. terry
    Apr 06, 2011

    I’m kind of new to the party here. Interesting site and quite controversial post. But then, everything about Rob Bell’s book has been controversial.

    I’ve come from a background just the opposite from yours – I grew up in a family that had a completely different faith – but over the course of 10 years am quite comfortable with being a believer in Jesus. A believer of the Holy Trinity. A believer of the Bible. A believer that there is a truth separate from what comes out of the morass of humanity. Yet, none of my family is in this place. So it’s not a comfortable place, all of the time. And, I can relate to some of your questions in that I had to work through them to get to where I’m at today. So there’s my disclaimer.

    You addressed a couple of things in your post that I wanted to ask you about. I’m aware that Christians really should be reflections of the faith, showing fruits of the spirit. Yet I find they are often short of the mark. Quite short. Like you pointed out, so many examples of people committing atrocities in the name of Christ. You can go back through history and find so many more. It’s horrifying in many ways. Do you think that should be what we judge Jesus by, though? Or should Jesus be judged by his character that we know about, which I’ve only seen defined in the Bible?

    Also, the idea of a “godly” life…do you think sometimes we confuse a “moral” life with a “godly” life? I think we can live moral lives regardless of which faith we are part of. I’ve seen that with Muslims, Jews, Buddhists, Hindus, you name it. Living a Godly life to me has meant really just giving God the glory, the credit, regardless of the situation. Maybe this is too simplistic, but if I base being godly on my actions, then it’s hit or miss because my actions vary from day to day because of my mood, others’ moods, or circumstances.

    Just a couple of comments on points you made – thanks for letting us post and participate.


    • Elissa
      Apr 06, 2011

      Terry,

      I’m so glad you’ve posted. Welcome. And I can completely understand not being in a comfortable space, seeing as your family doesn’t believe what you believe…and I’m glad you’ve had an opportunity to ask lots of these questions already. So glad for that.

      Yes, of course we shouldn’t judge Jesus by his followers. That was the point of the middle of my post, where Bell asks, “Which Jesus?” He’s referring to the fact that there are many different Jesuses people are worshipping and giving their lives to. The wide array of Jesuses we’re seeing doesn’t seem to mesh with the “real” Jesus. So, I think that’s why you have a lot of people leaving the church now—not because they don’t believe anymore (although there are some of those), but because they want to get away from people who aren’t living a life resembling the one touted in scripture. Does that make sense? A person can just as well (in my humble opinion) believe in God and Jesus and not be going to church. They may, in fact, find their church in other people, other places that seem more genuine and open to them.

      You make a nice distinction between “godly” and “moral,” although I haven’t done enough thinking about that to comment if it’s right or not. 🙂 [Actually, I’ve done lots of thinking about it, but I’m not prepared to lay it all out here. I really need to do a blog post on it, so my thoughts are organized…] I’m really struggling with the fact that I much more admire some of my friends’ moral lives than some of my other friends’ godly lives. And I know this (the latter) can be chalked up to human nature, but I still have difficulty with it. [Please note that I include myself in everything I say, so I can easily and readily say that I’m not the best example at all times either!] That said, I know it’s different around the country…and that there may be pockets of Christians who are open-minded and accepting and loving. I’ve found individuals here and there, but never groups that are this way.

      I’m so happy you’ve asked these questions. You’ve made my brain start whirring again…if I haven’t answered clearly, please feel free to ask again.


  18. terry
    Apr 06, 2011

    Thanks Elissa! I guess one more thing I would say is that I’ve found if I’m in a church that preaches scripture as it’s laid out, rather than veering from the actual text, I don’t see how leaving the church helps me be “godly” because I’m left with my own interpretation of it, and I might apply it in ways that really are, well, works-based rather than grace-based. Also, my interpretation varies based on my age and experience. I find that if I’m not surrounded with believers that I trust (which I realize are hard to find, but they ARE out there), I lose sight of what’s Godly with a capital G; I can’t believe everything I read on the internet, after all ;).

    Please post your thoughts on being godly vs being moral!


    • Elissa
      Apr 06, 2011

      Terry,

      I’ll add that to my list of must-do blog posts! 🙂

      But I DO think you’re selling yourself short on what you call your “interpretation,” unless you truly feel that your opinion is based on what others around you believe. In my humble opinion, if the common layperson is not able to interpret the Bible or scriptural texts, then we’re in a pickle. I’m not sure God’s design was to have a bunch of learned men (thankfully, now women, too!) translate everything for us. If God’s message is unclear to me—a non-seminarian or official theologian—I’m skeptical of either the message or his ability to converse with someone he supposedly loves.

      The reason we have so many denominations is that preachers’ messages vary—significantly. So, when you say “preaches scripture as it’s laid out,” I’m assuming you mean that the preacher preaches as he or she sees it laid out. There are smart, very “Godly” people on all sides of the equation (again, in my humble opinion). Whether we like it or not, we’ve picked and chosen the parts we want to believe. Hence, the many factions of the church. I think God would be sad about that…

      And come on…the internet’s not SO different from all those church-going friends you have (other than that you’ve come to trust them more than me maybe)…:)


      • terry
        Apr 08, 2011

        I had to do a little research…when I was talking about preaching scripture that way, what I meant was “exegetical preaching” – I knew there was a fancy theological word for it. I think it’s much easier to read scripture (well, any book for that matter), by knowing the context related to it. I agree with you that from a denominational standpoint, there are wide variances between how it’s interpreted, but I think context is a big key as to how a line of scripture SHOULD be interpreted.

        As far as trust…I’m a big Agatha Christie fan, and her Miss Marple character used to “trust no one.” I think that’s a good indication of how I relate to people – kind of sad, I know, but I’m a skeptic with everyone!


  19. Elissa
    Apr 08, 2011

    Yes, and I’m thinking that you could study up on historical context just as well as a preacher could, no? 🙂 Meaning, I think, that the only reason to go to church (in my humble opinion) is for a sense of community (if you fit in) and for the rituals you’ve come to love and appreciate. But many people (who’ve left the church) have been able to find these things elsewhere…and yet they still believe in God…does that make sense?

    And yes, I didn’t mean that I could be hurt that you wouldn’t trust me. Of course you wouldn’t trust me, until you got to know me better…and maybe not even then. 🙂 And that’s quite all right. I have to earn your trust.

    What’s your favorite Agatha Christie book? Sadly, I’ve never picked one up, but I shall, if you’ll recommend one…

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The quote I live by

Have patience with everything that remains unsolved in your heart. Try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books written in a foreign language. Do not now look for the answers. They cannot now be given to you because you could not live them. It is a question of experiencing everything. At present you need to live the question. Perhaps you will gradually, without even noticing it, find yourself experiencing the answer, some distant day.
--Rainer Maria Rilke in Letters to a Young Poet

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