“Once an idea has taken hold of the brain it’s almost impossible to eradicate.” – Inception
It’s important to know the times we are living in. It’s good to be aware of the unique point in the Christian tradition we are currently experiencing. If you look at any point in history the people in that time had questions that concerned them and they made their best attempt to answer it based on the understanding they had at the time of their faith, their culture, their understanding of science, etc. Right now there are some long standing beliefs being questioned about the bible. They aren’t going to go away and they are going to change things. Permanently. They will take years to work out but it will change things.
Next week there will be a book on the best seller list with the title, “What is the Bible?” It will be read by millions. Books will be written against this book. Videos and pastoral letters will be written to argue against the book. They will make character assumptions and attacks on the author. There will be ideas that have been around for a while which are going to become bigger and louder than ever. Part of the reason is because of the subject matter and part of the reason is due to it’s author, Rob Bell. He was thought of as an evangelical pastor when he wrote “Love Wins” which made the attacks on him vicious. He was seen as a traitor. Even if that tradition sees him as “no longer one of us” this book is still about what they consider to be “their thing.” It is going to start the discussion on a whole new level. Two things will happen right away.
- People will love it: A large percentage of those in church know something isn’t working. Many of them left over questions they weren’t aloud to ask as people gave them circular responses to their questions about the bible. They’ve been told things they know in their bones can’t be true. They’ve seen people abused with scripture. They don’t want to abandon the faith but they know what’s not working. This book will free many of those people to be able to move forward where they have been stuck. It will be a revelation to them and they will be able return to the bible again for the first time in a long time.
- People will hate it: Sacred cows are hard to kill because the beliefs around them are thought to be more than opinion. They deeply believe God agrees with them. They believe it’s not their view but God’s view and they have submitted to it. They will become afraid and the fear creates anger. They are going to start Facebook fights and Twitter wars. They will quote 2 Timothy 3:16 that says “all scripture is God breathed” as if that poetic Genesis reference somehow overthrew the questions. They will not notice their circular arguments of “the bible is God’s word because the bible says so because the bible is God’s word because the bible says so.” Many who hate the book most will not have read it but only what someone else wrote about it because they are afraid if they read it, there might be a question that disrupts the faith they currently have and they are afraid of “being deceived.”
All of this is part of the process. This is part of how we move forward. People need to have their experience. When I first started looking into these questions I was terrified. I wasn’t sure there would be any faith left on the other side and I had no idea who I was without that. I’ve had times where I lost my health, my job, my house… what felt like loosing everything. Nothing was more terrifying than the questions that threatened my faith because faith is central to my identity. We have to give people space to feel that because all theology is personal.
A few months ago a couple hundred of us spent a day with Rob Bell on the “How To Be Here” tour in Boston. He talked about how his next book was going to cause a storm and might be the most important work so far.
He said with a big laugh, “You know how on the back of a book there are all these quotes of people praising the book? For this book I thought about sending it to all my biggest critics and asking them to write a quote and including those.”
I asked, “Like John Piper?”
Rob said, “Who is that again? (beat) Is that the guy in Minnesota?
I said, “Farewell Rob Bell- excommunitweet?”
He said, “Oh right- that would be perfect!”
We all laughed.