Pneuma, breath, the breath of God…
15 years ago, “Nooma” videos were all the rave. For every young adult pastor that needed a little more creative experience at church or just didn’t want to preach one week, Nooma videos filled the gap. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, Rob Bell, the original infamous artsy pastor, created these videos that explored various themes of life and spirituality in creative, moving ways.
He had some critics out of the gate but a lot of love early on. There were hints that he was a bit different than the typical young evangelical leader of the time. For starters, his sermons weren’t just cool; he actually grappled with the scriptures and started meaningful conversations about life. He always did so in a way that would dazzle people with the depth they were missing. Overall, he has always been one pointing people to see the beauty right in front of them.
In 2012, Rob released a book called Love Wins. In it, he questions hell, heaven and the nature of God’s judgment itself. In a way, it was his Christian climax of influence and, for many followers, his death. I specifically remember this line from John Piper on Twitter as his book was released:
“Farewell, Rob Bell.”
He would go on countless radio and TV interviews with people aggressively rejecting his teaching and his Christianity entirely.
Now let me stop and make a point here. When people set out to teach things that go outside the boundaries of what is traditionally acceptable, I think it should be appropriate in the Christian faith that there is a healthy challenge of those ideas. But I think we should also be willing to question and challenge the ideas that have become acceptable. We are responsible in our lives for entering an ongoing journey with God and truth in which we are willing to work out our salvation.
The Bereans are an interesting group we find in the New Testament. They were skilled in the scriptures, and when Paul came and talked to them, they reasoned and listened to him. Ultimately, many of them came to the conclusion that the gospel of Christ presented to them by Paul was true. The Bereans are often referenced by people who demand that we have biblical literacy in our faith, and rightfully so. But, what people often fail to see is that the basis of their story is one of questioning the norms – questioning what they previously understood and articulating truth.
This has seemed to be Rob’s genuine desire. Whether or not I agree with his conclusions, his journey has been one of bravely asking questions, even to his own demise at times.
There is a healthy way of correcting and challenging teachers like Rob that we disagree with. The way we do this is by lovingly and truthfully challenging the content that they present. What often seems to happen is a questioning of the person entirely.
Now, I know what you are thinking, Paul calls these people wolves in sheep’s clothing. But ask yourself – is Paul referring to people who are teaching things that are wrong – or is he referring to people who are teaching things that are wrong for the selfish motivation and hunger of thirst and power.
In the process of the church collectively disowning Rob Bell because of his teaching, it seems that we have collectively disowned the questions of an entire generation. I wonder how different things could have been 10 years ago had people validated the questions, affirmed the seeming genuineness of the man and disagreed with the answers.
Right now, we are having a collapse of fundamentalism in the entire western world. That seems like a big statement, but it’s true. The fear that people have of loosening up a bit with questions like these is that we will allow for heresy and teaching that leads people astray. I would argue that allowing people to wrestle their faith in the context of staying a part of the body of Christ is the very thing that enables them to come to healthy and truth-filled convictions.
It is counter-intuitive, but letting people ask heretical questions might be the best way to prevent heresy.
Recently, Rob’s documentary, The Heretic, came out. The title might be a fair description of where he is at this point, theologically speaking, but I think the documentary is not just a story about Rob. It’s a story of the increasing mass of people who have questions, are damned for their questions and then leave the confines of church community in search for authentic relationships – and in the process, lose most, if not all, the grounding of their faith.
This is a tragedy.
People like Rob who continue to openly and honestly wrestle with the issues of life become respites from judgment and control. If you listen to him talk, he champions a message of hope, beauty and truthfulness in a really believable, beautiful way. I am not advocating all that he says, but his willingness to step into the toughest conversations while maintaining a hopeful outlook is something we should take note of.
What could church communities look like if they allowed questioning? What would discipleship look like with the awareness that where people are, isn’t where they will always be? Could relaxing our control actually increase our effectiveness for keeping people on the journey?
As a pastor, I am interested in these questions because I am interested in people.
Featured image originally found here.