God is Silent and Nearby

Nah ist und schwer zu fassen, der Gott
Near, and yet difficult to grasp, is God
    –German poet Friedrich Holderlinlauren


You could dedicate your whole life to finding, knowing, loving, and sharing God with others, yet deep down inside still have days or years when He seems awfully absent. You know in your head that God is near, but it doesn’t feel like He is, and it doesn’t seem like He is. Author and professor Lauren Winner has dedicated her entire life to serving and knowing God, teaching religion at Duke University and serving as priest at a local church. And yet she says,

“I have never, not once, felt anything at the Eucharist. Not a thing. I have never felt stirred, or joyful, or peaceful, or sad. I have never felt closeness.”

Near, and yet difficult to grasp, is God.


Orthodoxy and Christianity


“We all have glimpses of the truth, but, to echo Paul, this side of the grave we all ‘see through a glass darkly.’
Craig Detweiler

If you grew up in conservative American Christianity you would expect Paul to say “we see through a glass nearly perfectly,” we being our particular denomination. But the reality is that no matter how much we think we understand, and we do understand some, even illuminated by the Son and Spirit, our eyes are dim.

And yet there is a continual chorus of Christians saying, “Is that Biblical? Is that Orthodox?” These are not bad questions to ask, but somehow they’ve become so prevalent that other questions and topics are subjugated to the litmus test of the strongest personality in the room’s interpretation of “biblical” or “orthodox.” And the church suffers because of it. Just turn on Christian radio for a sample. And if you’re still not convinced, rent ANY deliberately Christian movie.

“The desire to appear orthodox has led to a dearth of creativity in virtually every realm of the contemporary Christian experience, particularly the realms of theology and music. This streak of perfectionism, which runs deep in the American religious mindset, creates atmospheres of fear and trepidation, especially in regard to new ideas. Experimentation is a key ingredient of a contemporary theological construct.”

Maybe some questions we should start asking alongside the orthodox one are

  • Is it fresh?
  • Is it good?
  • Does it lead to more life?
  • Does it ring true to the human experience?


What is Christianity?

Here is something exciting and frustrating: If you ask a hundred people what Christianity is, you’re likely to get 75 different responses. (Which is at least better odds than Judaism; it’s been said that if you ask two Jews, you get three opinions. Maybe Christians are just better at Math?) Exciting because you realize that different people have different experiences with God. Frustrating because sometimes you just want a simple answer.

Some say the purpose of Christianity is to introduce others to Christ so that they escape hell when they die. A ticket to heaven is the point. But when you realize that when the Bible speaks of heaven it refers to “the other, hidden dimension of our ordinary life,” as NT Wright says, the get-out-of-hell-free card loses its luster.

One opinion on the whole purpose of Christianity is that the Christian life is a quest to recover our humanity (See Michael Wittmer’s book Heaven is a Place on Earth).

If indeed the Christian life is about recovering our humanity, the Christian can confidently and curiously explore everything the world has to offer, keeping both eyes open to whatever smells like life, whether it’s Buddhist, Hindu, Jewish, Atheist, or even Southern Baptist. Whatever is good.

Attractive Christianity


A long time ago in a land far away there were people who believed in God and people who didn’t. The people who didn’t believe in God heard stories about a god in Zion, and they became interested in the activities of this god inside one community’s life, and so they traveled to Israel by choice. Missionaries did not come to them. The people of God were emitting a certain kind of light, an attractive kind of life, and it drew people from darkness.

Missionary activity existed, but it was the life of the community as it embodied the powerful working of a curious Spirit that validated the missionaries’ words.

What does this attractive life look like today? It has to be winsome, curious, seeking, and creative, among other things.

The Bible is Not the Point

“Sticking to the Bible at every turn, like it’s an owner’s manual or book of instruction, as the way to know God misses what Paul and the rest of the New Testament writers show us again and again: the words on the page of the Bible don’t drive the story, Jesus does. Jesus is bigger than the Bible.”

–Peter Enns, The Bible Tells Me So

Francis Chan on Rob Bell’s Love Wins

Francis Chan has joined the ranks of Christians responding to Rob Bell’s recent New York Times Bestseller Love Wins.

Here is Chan’s video, with his book-length response coming this summer:

Chan has a genuine concern for the people involved; for him it’s not just a doctrinal issue, it’s a serious human issue, though his doctrine is much the same as several other Christian leaders who have disagreed with Bell’s book.

Unfortunately Chan commits a classic college freshman-level philosophical error. He points out (though not by name) that Bell is appealing to his own sense of right and wrong while he himself (Chan) is simply looking at the Bible. The glaringly obvious shouldn’t have to be pointed out, but since Chan bases much of his argument on this error, here it is:

Francis Chan is not unbiased. Rob Bell is not unbiased. Both Chan and Bell approach the Bible with conceptions of what God is like, and their reading of the Bible further shapes their understanding. Bell has searched the Scriptures and decided God is like this, while Chan has searched the Scriptures and decided God is like that. Neither are unbiased. Neither are relying only on what they think God is like or what they want God to be like.

Chan is saying that he’s just reading the Bible for what it says and taking God at his word, but this isn’t true at all, and here’s one of many reasons why: Jesus said that if your right eye causes you to sin you should gouge it out. Does Francis still have two eyeballs? Yes. So he is either disobeying Jesus or he doesn’t sin, right?

No, this passage must be interpreted. Chan has read the words of Jesus and interpreted that Jesus doesn’t actually mean what he says, not literally anyway. He gets to keep his eyeballs. Is Francis putting himself above God by saying, “Surely Jesus couldn’t have meant what he said?” No, he’s making interpretations.

This says nothing about Chan’s or Bell’s interpretations on Hell. It’s possible that Bell is completely wrong about Hell, but unfortunately the crux of Chan’s argument rests on a simple, blatant error: that he himself is simply reading the Bible and taking God at his word while Bell is only relying on his own mental faculties.

What Does Rob Bell’s Love Wins Reveal About Evangelicals?

Amidst all of the controversy surrounding Rob Bell and his book Love Wins, one thing has given me pause above everything else, and it involves the reactions from the Evangelical Christian world.

The release of this book is a good thing for Evangelicals, and here’s why:

Thousands of us are having our faith held under a light and exposed for what it is:


It has become apparent that what has been masking as faith, as Christianity, for some of us for a very long time, is revealing itself in Twitter updates and Facebook links for what it really is:

We’re actually quite a frightened group.

Our theological systems, constructed over the years with bricks of books from authors we agree with, is being tampered with; holes are being poked in our houses of theology; a strange wind is blowing in and we don’t know what to do, and so we react in the only way we know how: attack. Make fun. Look to friends who are saying the same thing for affirmation.

“Defend” God and the Bible.

Who is this weak God needing defenders?

Amidst all the Scripture that comes to mind throughout this ordeal, one has continued to press upon me.

The setting: a few men were preaching about God in a new way, and this angered the religious gatekeepers of the day, the ones who defined Orthodox theology. So much, in fact, that they wanted them killed (they’re preaching heresy, afterall!)

And then something amazing happened.

One of the religious teachers, a man named Gamaliel, stood up to reason with his Orthodox clan. He did not point to the Scriptures in this instance; he did not cite Bible verses to back up his argument. He did not try to defend God. He simply said this: Brothers, before you continue in your tirade against these new teachers, carefully consider this:

“Some time ago Theudas appeared, claiming to be somebody, and about four hundred men rallied to him. He was killed, all his followers were dispersed, and it all came to nothing.  After him, Judas the Galilean appeared in the days of the census and led a band of people in revolt. He too was killed, and all his followers were scattered. Therefore, in the present case I advise you: Leave these men alone! Let them go! For if their purpose or activity is of human origin, it will fail.  But if it is from God, you will not be able to stop these men; you might even find yourselves fighting against God.”

This is calming wisdom.

Not, “These are heretics!” (Though they may be)

Not, “These people are misinterpreting the Bible!” (Though they may be)

Simply this: Leave them alone. If this is not of God, it will pass away soon enough. But if by chance it is of God, your efforts are in vain. In fact, you may soon find that you could even be fighting against God.

Are there religious gatekeepers–that group that defines what Orthodoxy is–in our day?