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.

The Bible is Not the Point

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“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

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:

Fear.

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?

Rob Bell’s Book “Love Wins” and NT Wright on Universalism

Rob Bell’s book “Love Wins: Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived” was released on March 15, 2011.

Some people think he might be flirting with universalism. Some think he may deny hell. If the latter is true, he’d be going against a New Testament scholar he seems to admire more than any other: NT Wright. In this Youtube video Wright affirms and explains his view on hell. He ends with this:

“The choices you make here really do matter. There’s part of me that would love to be a Universalist and say, ‘It’ll be all right, everyone will get there [heaven] in the end.’ I actually think the choices you make in the present are more important than that.”

If Bell’s view in “Love Wins” is far from Wright’s he may lose a number of supporters who heretofore have largely considered him to be Evangelical.

Related:

‘Basic Instinct’ Author Has Damascus Road Experience

After a lifetime of wild living…

“He felt an overwhelming peace. His heart stopped pounding. His hands stopped twitching. He saw a ‘shimmering, dazzling, nearly blinding brightness that made me cover my eyes with my hands.'”
–Joe Eszterhas, author, Basic Instinct and new spiritual memoir Crossbearer

Toledo Blade Article: ‘Basic Instinct’ author writes book about faith

'Basic Instinct' Author Has Damascus Road Experience

After a lifetime of wild living…

“He felt an overwhelming peace. His heart stopped pounding. His hands stopped twitching. He saw a ‘shimmering, dazzling, nearly blinding brightness that made me cover my eyes with my hands.'”
–Joe Eszterhas, author, Basic Instinct and new spiritual memoir Crossbearer

Toledo Blade Article: ‘Basic Instinct’ author writes book about faith

Books

I was tagged by Mike.

1.  One book that’s changed your life:

I don’t know if a book has ever changed my life, but these have changed the way I think about Christianity: Velvet Elvis by Rob Bell, and Heaven is a Place on Earth by Michael Wittmer.

2.  One book that you’ve read more than once:

-Velvet Elvis
– Our Father Abraham
by Marvin Wilson
The Challenge of Jesus by N.T. Wright

3.  One book you’d want on a desert island:

Story by Robert McKee

4.  Two books that made you laugh:

Blue Like Jazz by Donald Miller

5.  One book that made you cry:

-Some movies make me cry, but no book has yet.

6.  One book that you wish had been written:

Let Me Clear Some Things Up by Jesus Christ (published 2008)

7.  One book that you wish had never been written:

Most of the classics.

8.  Two books you are currently reading:

Not the Way It’s Supposed to Be by Cornelius Plantinga
Traveling Mercies by Anne Lamott

9.  One book you’re meaning to read:

-Try 6: My Name is Asher Lev by Chaim Potok, Surprised by Joy by C.S. Lewis, The Year of Living Biblically by A.J. Jacobs, Simply Christian by NT Wright, Walking on Water by Madeleine L’Engle, The Great Divorce by C.S. Lewis
 

10.  Now Tag 5 people:  The first 5 people who see this.

Madeleine L’Engle died on Thursday

l’engle 

Madeleine L’Engle, author of 60 books, died on Thursday, September 6, 2007.  For some reason I started reading her book A Wind in the Door last week, so this news hits a little closer than if I had not been reading anything by her.  One thing I love about L’Engle (and I’ve only read a few of her books) is that her stories imagine other worlds.  I had actually posted this quote by L’Engle on my other blog one day before she died:

“Many of us ask questions as we’re growing up, but we tend to let them go because there’s so much else to do.  I write the books I do because I’m still asking the questions…In each book the characters are living into the questions that we all have to live into.  Some of these questions don’t have finite answers, but the questions themselves are important.  Don’t stop asking, and don’t let anybody tell you the questions aren’t worth it.  They are.  Story always tells us more than the mere words, and that is why we love to write it, and to read it.”
     –Madeleine L’Engle, introduction to A Wind in the Door

Related

I wonder what dear Madeleine is doing right now:  Creating more stories for us?  Learning about life on other planets?  Who knows.  I’ll finish with these words, the last line in my favorite L’Engle book, A Circle of Quiet:

“The shadows are deepening all around us.  Now is the time when we must begin to see our world and ourselves in a different way.”