“Don’t turn your speculation into dogma.” // Rob Bell

Rob Bell has brought me out of hiding.

I have been following the firestorm that has erupted surrounding Rob Bell’s latest (to-be-released-tomorrow) book, “Love Wins,” since one pastor was moved to simply tweet, “Farewell, Rob Bell.”  At issue is the charge that Rob is a “universalist” preaching damaging messages for his millions of wayward disciples.

Tonight, he spoke in NYC during a LiveStream.com interview with Lisa Miller.

Already I’ve read responses both for and against his interpretations and answers (or avoidances) to questions posed by the audience and the online community.  I’ve read that there is no room for questioning basic tenets of scripture.  I’ve read that Rob himself is destined for the fires that “he seems to think are but imaginary”.

I’ve just now finished watching the interview.  As I’m scouring through my scrawled notes, I can’t find anything that I disagree with or that would make the world a worse place to be. Like Rob, I’m no theologian.  But I have a profound trust that God is primarily interested in grace and love and mercy, about generosity to the poor, about deliverance for the captive.

Early in the discussion, Rob admitted that there are hundreds and thousands of theories and speculation about what happens at the end of time – but that problems being to arise when we plant a stake in the ground and declare that which we cannot know as true.  “Don’t turn your speculation into Dogma.”  God has been redeeming people for years, delivering people, graciously “saving” people in ways that offend our constructed categories of who deserves what.

One of the concepts that turned loose the dogs was speculation that we cannot know with certainty where Gandhi is spending his eternity.  Whether I try to address this through the eyes of the stauchest evangelical or the freest liberal, I can’t find where we can have issue with this on any sort of logical ground.  We cannot see Gandhi.  We cannot see heaven.  We cannot see hell.  We cannot see the surface of Mars.  We have no idea where he is.  And yet it seems to matter to so many people that Rob Bell said what we already know to be true if we could only get to the core of why this offends us.

Tonight he said that “Grace and Love always rattle people.” And went on to ask why we seem to think that it’s about narrowing who “gets in.”  We have a real issue with widening the pathway.  I tend to think that this is a result of our church past – especially in protestant circles.  Protestants are protestants because they disagreed with some stuff and decided that they were right.  Then a smaller group of protestants thought that another group of protestants were wrong and protested against them and left.  Our trajectory has been away from grace and mercy and towards a “we’re more right than you” target.  Is that what this is about?

Take that concept further and faith begins to subconsciously develop a superiority complex.

Once that takes hold, it is offensive to ask questions.  It is easy to see how people aren’t like you, don’t believe what you believe.

Ultimately, I believe this controversy is about selfishness.  I believe that many of us feel as though we’ve got it right, we’ve got years invested in this thing, we’ve got years of trying to do the right thing and to think that some Joe-Schmoe Atheist might end up at the banquet table next to me is the most offensive heresy imaginable.  As if it’s about us.

A consequence of teaching fire and brimstone and fear of hell is that we’ve moved into preservation mode. This belief structure sets up eternity of feasts or flames and we want the former for ourselves over the latter.  Fear then overruns each part of our life.  When bad friends lead our kids astray we are afraid that our kids will spend eternity in hell.  When we mess up we become overcome with guilt knowing that the world could end at any second and, by God, we had better be ready.

Grace is hard to swallow because it takes the focus of salvation off of my good life and onto someone else’s “bad” one.  We want to know God for ourselves.  We want to get into heaven and celebrate.  We want to avoid eternal damnation.

Our perspectives, though have turned a faith based on perhaps the most selfless figure in world history into one of the most self-centered expressions of belief ever.  I believe now more than ever that we have put our own self-interests at the center of this debate.  I happen to be reading “The Prodigal God” by Tim Keller at the moment who describes (among other things) the concept of debt as it relates to the two brothers.  Both felt that a debt needed to be paid – the younger brother felt that he owed something to the father for his waywardness, and the older brother felt that the father owed HIM money since he stayed around and worked faithfully every day.  Ultimately, the father said that both “debts” were invalid.

We’re the older brother.  We’ve worked for years living a certain way, believing a certain thing, dogmatically knowing that someday our reward would be given to us.  God owes us the inheritance of streets of gold and mansions with many rooms because we have done what we’ve been told.

And it’s time to change.

It’s time to admit that Love DOES win.

It’s time we stop worrying about the destination of our bodies and trust with a “childlike” faith that we’re going to be OK, and that we want more people to come play and enjoy the innocence.

Our selfishness and interest in self-preservation has turned the afterlife from a grace-filled promise to a boisterous distraction.  We spend so much time arguing and bickering and discussing and fighting about what matters and the sad thing is that none of it really does.

Thank God that He is love.