Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Rob Bell's "Love Wins"

I read the book (which already puts me in rare company for people giving opinions on it). 

Perhaps my biggest thoughts upon completing the book have to do with other issues than what was in the book itself.  Here's a couple:

1)  Orthodoxy

It's amazing the amount of anger that Rob Bell has drawn from the evangelical Christian community with this book.  People who consider themselves leaders in the evangelical Christian community have been launching angry rhetoric against Rob and the book since even before the book was released!  The biggest claim thrown out is that Rob Bell is a "heretic" for making claims that don't fit with "orthodoxy."

For those of you unfamiliar with the term, orthodoxy refers to the way the Church has traditionally understood God and scripture through the years.

Here's the funny part to me: these cries of "heretic" and "unorthodoxy" come from the Evangelical protestant community whose heroes were "unorthodox heretics".  You see, back in the day the Church was just the Catholic church until along came some guys who said, "I'm not sure if the church has gotten things right all these years, let's go back to scripture and make sure."  And sure enough, the early Reformers came to some conclusions that quite differed from the Catholic church.  They came to different conclusions than Church tradition...they were "unorthodox" (and as such excommunicated from the Church).

These Reformers have become the heroes of the Protestant Church.  Churches name themselves after Calvin, Luther, and Wesley...all men who strayed from orthodoxy to go back and look at scripture with fresh eyes.  And now their unorthodox positions are the standard for orthodoxy.  Ironic, isn't it?

And now Bell does no different.  He attempts to look at the scriptures (in this case regarding heaven, hell, justice and love, and, yes, he covers them all), not through the lens of what Luther, Wesley, and Calvin thought about them, but through the lens of what Jesus, Paul, and the other biblical authors might have been trying to say in their context.  And he's being labeled as unorthodox.

And it begs the question:  Is unorthodox always a bad thing?

Do we think the church got it wrong for fifteen and a half centuries until a handful of Reformers righted the ship to the one true way God meant things to be?  And that they didn't miss anything?  Even though they lived just outside of the dark ages and had little access to sources that shed cultural light on the context in which the Biblical authors lived?  Even though they didn't have access to documents like the Dead Sea Scrolls and other historical documents that have shaped our ability to accurately translate ancient Greek and Hebrew?  

People will no doubt read this book just to find out if Rob Bell contradicts orthodoxy.  The problem with finding out if someone is orthodox or not is the assumption that orthodoxy is necessarily correct. I don't care as much about whether or not Rob agrees with Calvin, Luther, and Wesley as I do with whether or not he agrees with what the Biblical authors were trying to say. Those may or may not always be the same thing.

2) Correct vs. Beneficial

There are also many who will read this book who are just trying to find juicy quotes where they think Rob is incorrect. In the process, they would likely miss out on the parts that are still beneficial.

Whether you agree with 100% or 0% of this book, I believe it to be profoundly beneficial. Before Bell suggests responses to these difficult issues, he raises difficult questions--and these are questions the world is asking!

It saddens me that so many inside the church brush away the questions of the skeptics as illegitimate. If we are ever to truly love our neighbors, we must first understand the questions they are asking to be legitimate.  

In school, I was taught, "perception is always true." If someone says, "i feel unloved by you," then that is true, whether you were intending to or not. We need to be aware of this.

As such, I hope that people can be discerning thinkers in all areas of their learning and pursuit of God. Bell says in this book that, "he's just trying to add to the discussion," not set the new standard for theology. Take that for what it is. See the benefit, even when you may disagree with some of the conclusions.


I haven't said much about the book yet, but I really liked it. I'm thankful that he voiced many questions that challenge us to continue to think and pray through the message of the gospel. I don't know that I agree with everything, but I'm pretty sure no biblical interpreter (including myself) has gotten everything "right". Either way, I recommend you read this book and think, pray, and discuss in your church communities--not to see if Bell agrees with the reformers, but to see what truth and benefit might be present in this book.

(SIMPLE REQUEST: I realize that this note will get sucked into Facebook from my blog. However, I am not using Facebook until late April. If you feel like asking questions, commenting, or discussing this, I would prefer that take place on my blog (ryanyazel.blogspot.com) so that I can participate :)

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Two Sides

Every situation has multiple sides.

God has allowed me to share life with people as a pastor for almost 7 years now and this is perhaps the biggest lesson I've learned and biggest change in my heart.

Here are some lessons that I have learned as a result:

1)  When you see strength, look for the weakness.
  • There are so many times I run forward thinking that I see nothing but green grass ahead, only to be surprised by the amount of mud I encounter.  You see a person, full of great qualities and you think, "This is perfect!  We'll conquer the world together in no time!"  Whatever those qualities are-- charismatic leadership, boldness, courage, stunning good looks, intelligence--they almost lure you to forget that people are human.  But things that are seen as strengths often stand out because they are out of balance.  As they say, a jack-of-all-trades is a master of none.  Accordingly, the masterful strengths carry with them a corresponding weakness (e.g. my ability to talk and teach brings with it a tendency to talk too much, listen too little, and teach where it hasn't been invited).  Learn to expect it...not to be cynical, but to be prepared with understanding when the weaknesses present themselves.
2)  When you see a weakness, embrace the strength in it.
  • It's amazing to me how many conversations I have had with people about their weaknesses, only to have them describe to me the very things I love about them!  My wife Robin, for example, often mourns her inability to take charge in a group or speak out publicly, but her behind-the-scenes meekness and humility is exactly what makes her approachable and drives her empathy for others on the fringe.   Similarly, I often find myself complaining about a quality in someone, where I benefit from that quality in other contexts.  For instance, I know someone who is a bit too close at times--they make me nervous.  They often show passion and zeal that I really don't know how to handle.  However, that passion for others, including me, also plays out in the form of fierce loyalty and intense support that I appreciate so much it times of trial.  
3)  When it seems like a people problem...it's often a preparation problem.
  • I love the Fundamental Attribution Error.  It explains that when problems occur in our lives we attribute it to our circumstances, though when they occur in others we attribute them to that person's poor internal character (he brought it on himself)...and it's called an "error" for a reason.  I have learned that most of the problems I see in people take place not because people are bad or stupid, but because they are unprepared to deal with the situation they are in.  Instead of criticizing, and looking around for new people, help prepare those around you for the circumstances they face!
4)  ...the other times, it's usually a communication problem.
  • serving as a mediator, as my position often entails, it's strange hearing two sides of the story in separate settings.  Almost without fail, each side misrepresents the other and I find myself thinking, "really?  you think that's the problem?!"  There are so many ways misunderstanding creeps in.  Words mean different things to different people, people place varying values on certain priorities--the expectations we envision likely look different for the same goal.  The point is, when it looks like someone just doesn't get it, good ongoing communication can usually right the ship.

All in all, I've learned that life is much more complicated than it ever seems at first.  So take a deep breath, withhold judgment, get the bigger picture, and understand that everything is a process.

I guess this is why my grandpa listens so well.