I spent a lot of time as a Baptist.
Baptists love to quote Paul. The wages of sin is death, all that jazz.
That’s interesting, because earlier Jews wouldn’t have understood that. Sin meant something else several hundred years before Paul. But he updated it. That’s because he was speaking to people in his time, in his culture, not people hundreds of years earlier.
The bible describes sin as a weight.
Then it describes sin as debt.
Then it had archery imagery: missing the mark.
But why freeze it? What is sin in 2018?
It’s been described in Jonathan Merritt’s book Learning to Speak God From Scratch as:
“Anything that robs us of the fullness of life.”
“Anything that contributes to less than what God intends.”
“Death dealer.” (Dementor?)
Sin is excessive internet use.
Sin is Netflix binging when your conscience is telling you there’s something else for you.
Sin is wishing you had someone else’s Instagram life and not being able to live your own, the one God graciously gave you.
Sin is saying no to God’s endless invitations to taste and see that there’s something more than that thing you know is robbing you of life.
Nah ist und schwer zu fassen, der Gott
Near, and yet difficult to grasp, is God
–German poet Friedrich Holderlin
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.
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.
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.
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.
There’s risk in pointing out to the world one 15-second snippet of a 30-minute teaching. There’s more risk when that teaching comes forth from a specific community rooted in a specific geographic location with a specific history. And there’s even more risk when that community is often criticized either fairly or unfairly.
That being said, there are some people who are genuinely curious about what kind of place Mars Hill (Grandville) is. The teaching from yesterday by an elder, David Livermore, gives an excellent, albeit brief, peek into what’s going on amidst the Mars Hill Community.
“Mars Hill is not first and foremost an edgy, cool, hip, trendy church. Mars Hill is not first and foremost about Rob Bell. Mars Hill is not first and foremost about our wonderful staff or our faithful volunteers. It’s not first and foremost about some great guest speaker that we might have come in. It’s first and foremost about Jesus. Last I checked Jesus is still on the throne. Jesus is still working here. Jesus still has good things for us to be about.”
The entire podcast can be downloaded here.