It’s a good thing we don’t worship Rob Bell

My former pastor unfollowed me on twitter. I’m not sure when exactly he unfollowed me, but I noticed it last week. I’ve been slowly dipping my toes in the political world and slowly venting my frustrations with the evangelical community on twitter, which really is probably not the best platform, but it’s my home for it.

Anyway I know we don’t see eye to eye, this pastor and me. I suspect due to the nature of my departure, he does not have the highest opinion of me. But I didn’t think we were at the opposite ends of the spectrum, politically and spiritually, yet here we stand.

I started listening to Rob Bell again.

He was once highly respected in the evangelical church in which I grew up, but now is *obviously* a heretic. We even held an entire Sunday school class which was devoted to explaining all of the reasons why Rob Bell was a heretic.

Well, I like Rob Bell. Sorry not sorry. I enjoy his commentary on scripture and his insights on how to become more human, in the best way possible. I also enjoy that he allows for grey in a world that I had always been told was black and white.

The black and white way of life is not working for me anymore. Where my former congregation would have panicked, Bell encourages us to be at peace with uncertainty; to learn and grow from it.

And I am learning. I am growing. Perhaps it’s taking a different route than my former congregation expected, but today I am a more loving, more peaceful person than I was a year ago. That has to count for something.

Most importantly, at a time I most need to hear it, I am learning to break free of a lie that I have been taught:  That modern evangelicals have learned the proper way of understanding God and scripture, and that because I have left the church, I am lost. The evangelical church was an exclusive club–with acceptable reading material from only certain commentators, certain acceptable political parties or ways of dressing and speaking.

I’m learning a lot from Rob Bell, and not just him. Rachel Held Evans, Johnathan Merrit, Julie Rodgers, Vicky Beeching, Matthew Vines and others. A mixed bag of people who are wrestling in the gray world, just like me. They’re published authors, people with their own convictions and ways of seeing the world. I’m not sure I agree with all of them and that’s okay.

Some (my former pastor, I believe) will accuse me of trading one batch of commentators for another (who are, by the way, heretics). The difference is that people I choose to follow never claim to have it all right. Their statements and writings may be based on personal convictions, life experience, a word from God, who knows. But they accept that everyone is bringing something slightly different to the table and act accordingly.

The commentators I grew up reading had no sense of humility. Their statements and writings contain a matter-of-fact tone. ‘I know this, based on the Bible.’ This has never sat well with me. By that model, we should see the commentators as gods, or at very least, prophets. What makes their brain better than mine? What makes their interpretation of scripture any better than Julie Rodgers’? What makes them so special that we’ve chosen to elevate their words alongside the Bible?

Here’s the thing– we don’t worship the commentators.

Since when are the writings of John Piper given the same weight as the words of the Apostle? Since when did we stop admitting that Piper is not perfect? Even John Calvin was just a human.

With commentators, you can pick and choose what you believe. If we’re accepting of shortcomings, accepting of humanity, then we should be comfortable sifting through what thoughts we do and do not subscribe to. To pretend that any one human on this earth has it completely correct is delusional. If God wasn’t somewhat of a mystery, he wouldn’t be God.

It’s a good thing I worship God, and not the commentators. And the last time I checked, that was all that was required of me.

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It’s a good thing we don’t worship Rob Bell

Dear everyone: I don’t know.

 

“To say ‘I don’t know’ is the beginning of faith, for me.”  – Kent Dobson


Dear parents,

Dear pastors,

Dear youth leaders,

Dear teachers,

Dear friends,

I don’t know.

I’m sorry if this makes you feel like you’ve failed in some way. I know for 23 years I was a faithful consumer of valuable teachings from all of you. I know I was sort of the golden girl; someone your children could look up to and you could trust that I wouldn’t lead them astray.

And you were right. For all accounts, I was the image of a Godly woman. I tried to follow all the rules.

And in a way, you’re still right. I do try to keep up the image of a Godly woman, no matter how much that feels like lying.

But here, let me tell you I’m sorry, because I don’t know.

There’s a lot that was taught in my evangelical church, my tribe, that I do not subscribe to. (like, a LOT). But I don’t know exactly what I do subscribe to either.

Please don’t mistake this for an abandonment of faith. In fact, I feel as though it’s the exact opposite. I am finally leaning not on my own human understanding. I’m no longer leaning on anyone’s understanding, really. I’m just accepting the fact that I have. no. clue. 

The stuff that theologians have tried to explain, that teachers have tried to sort through, the tough questions about God and the world and our own souls…. I don’t know about any of that stuff. I can’t even describe God in my limited human vocabulary. I can’t even comprehend God in my limited human brain.

To pretend otherwise anymore is lying to myself.

So, I’m sorry to say, I don’t know. If that sounds like nihilism or agnosticism or what have you, I’m sorry. But I’m using my God-given brain, my God-given experiences and my God-given soul to arrive at these “conclusions”. Sorry if that sounds like I’m a lost cause.

I don’t think I am. In fact, I feel more connected to faith, to spirituality than I have ever been. It is pure faith. I can’t explain any of this stuff, I can’t show it to you. I’ve never seen God or heard Him. This is faith; to say I don’t know.

But I do believe in God, even if I can’t explain Him or understand Him. I believe in Jesus. I believe in the Holy Spirit. I believe in the resurrection. I believe in Love. And I’m trying to channel God’s love through me unto others.

I’m okay with leaving questions unanswered. Maybe I’ll arrive at more concrete conclusions as I go through my life. Maybe I won’t.

Parents, friends, teachers, I’m sorry that I no longer subscribe to the black and white world in which I was raised. God painted the world in all hues and shades. To confine him to a binary system does nothing for me any longer.

Dear everyone: I don’t know.

The time I lost my church VIP status

In my youth, I was a bit of a church hot shot.

I checked all the boxes. I dressed conservatively, I didn’t date, didn’t swear. I volunteered for every mission trip and befriended all of the unpopular kids.

Because of my squeaky clean image, I got asked to do a lot of things around the church; reading during the service, helping with the younger youth, teaching Sunday school…  I didn’t realize I was ‘flagged’ as an important up-and-coming member of my evangelical church.

I’m not sure what that would have looked like. Did they have an eye on me to be an elder? Surely not, since the shift had already started towards disallowing women in leadership roles. Perhaps a deacon? No idea.

Looking back, I can pinpoint the exact moment I began to lose my VIP status. I graduated high school in 2010. In 2012, I was invited back to speak at my former high school’s baccalaureate service; a church service for the soon-to-be graduates.

I was supposed to give a speech on living out your faith in college; holding fast in your morals after leaving our conservative community.

I knew what they wanted to hear. The leaders of the conservative Mennonite and evangelical congregations wanted to put a shining example of purity on the podium.

Unfortunately, I wasn’t interested what the leaders wanted to hear. I was there for the kids; the high school students, most of whom would be going one of two ways, as so many of my classmates had done.

The ultra conservative kids–my peers–would either enter the secular world and become enamored with it or reject it completely. They see only two options because we were taught only two possible outcomes. Either you are in the world, or you are apart of it. In college, you reach a fork in the road, and you either reject the church’s teachings and fully immerse yourselves in the world of debauchery or you flee from that, decide that the secular world is too much and retreat into missionary work in Costa Rica.

I wanted to impart on the students that there are more than two options. The world isn’t really that black and white. I told the students that in college you do have options; to live out your faith or to not. But living out your faith doesn’t necessarily mean passing out tracts with the Intervarsity group or arguing with the science teacher about evolution.

I told the students that I didn’t fit into the campus Christian group. The people I felt most blessed by the presence of? My atheist friends. My Muslim friends. My Buddhist friends. My gay and lesbian friends.

At the word lesbian, there was an audible gasp and murmur from the back of the crowd where the adults sat. For once, I was speaking what I actually believed, and it was “not appropriate”.

Essentially my conclusion (from my notes):

“Don’t be afraid. Jesus calls us to be in the world. I show the love of God and the radical love of Jesus by loving those that the church has rejected  have not had positive experiences with the church. It doesn’t have to be a big deal.”

[If I were giving the speech now, I would have used stronger language].

I said it. I stood up there and actually said what I believed. It was freeing and confidence building, both of which my evangelical church would say is wrong. Lean not on your own understanding and all that jazz.

But it strengthened my understanding of God. Of Jesus. Of what I’m supposed to do on this earth. It was the beginning of a new chapter of my faith.

It was the end of a chapter as well. Afterwards, I was told that my speech caused “discomfort”. Good. That’s what I wanted.

I learned that the church is scared of lesbians in particular. And I was never asked to speak at a church function again.

Hopefully my speech helped someone.

The time I lost my church VIP status

Dissenting views are not productive

Everything is political. Life, by very nature, is political. Every choice you make is political.

But here, for a minute, please understand I am not talking about American political parties, or socialism, or communism, or any other mainline political system. I’m not talking about propaganda from the top government.

Lets talk about religion–American Evangelicalism to be specific.

Dissenting views are not helpful to our cause.

The church I grew up in was the strict conservative type of Evangelical, rather than charismatic. The congregation was full of academics and theologians–very smart people.

When I was in high school, I was encouraged to think critically about theology and what I believed. Discussion was actually lively in our high school Bible studies and groups. However upon graduating into the ‘adult’ world, I found that studies suddenly became much more like lectures; one side presenting a view point and leaving it at that. No one argued. No one questioned. A few times I wanted to say something in response to what had been presented, but I felt that, being a young person, my views would not be valued, especially if I happened to disagree.

Unfortunately, it only seemed to get worse as I got older. The teachers of these adult classes seemed to always want to “invite discussion” but couldn’t figure out why no one was discussing.

For instance; I had come come from college once to class where an elder had just presented a rousing lesson on the tenants on marriage, ending of course, with the condemnation of homosexuals and harping on the slippery slope that this country was going down.

“Questions?”

“Opinions?”

I had sat there, quite full of opinions. All of them dissenting. But as I looked around at the older, politically conservative crowd, I realized that my voice would be a whisper at a Baptist revival; swallowed by the noise and quite powerless to reach anyone.

I couldn’t fight all of these people. I could’t argue my opinions–my feelings– against church elders, seminary graduates, and teachers.

Whether or not others felt a similar way, I would never know. The environment that had unfortunately been created was a spiral of silence.

 The spiral of silence theory is a political science and mass communication theory proposed by the German political scientist Elisabeth Noelle-Neumann, which stipulates that individuals have a fear of isolation, which results from the idea that a social group or the society in general might isolate, neglect, or exclude members due to the members’ opinions. This fear of isolation consequently leads to remaining silent instead of voicing opinions.  [Wikipedia]

 

This theory is not only proven in Evangelical circles time and time again, but this spiral of silence is detrimental to any semblance of diversity in a group. It forces conversations on the hard-hitting issues out of the church’s doors.

If church is supposed to be a family, or at very least, a community, then I find it very sad that these conversations cannot be held within the community.

I had to go elsewhere to talk about depression, anxiety, LGBTQ rights, women’s rights… hell, even education in any type of depth.

The fact is, God influences the way I think about all of these issues. The love of my Heavenly Father and the grace I have been shown affects the conclusions I’ve come to and the questions I still have about all of these things.

Christ impacts my worldview. So why can I not discuss my worldview with my brothers and sisters in Christ?

Perhaps if I were braver, I would have stood up and said that same sex marriage isn’t what’s dragging the country downhill. Perhaps if I had more confidence, I would have stood up, as a young woman, and stood before the gray-haired elder, asking if he would still say these things with a gay person in the room.

But I’m not brave. Fortunately, the responsibility doesn’t lie solely on my shoulders. We can all do our part (conservative and liberal alike) in embracing differences. We can have grace for one another. Have grace for one another’s viewpoints.

We’re all human and we all arrive at different conclusions because we all walk different paths in life. But these paths have led us to each other; to a community of fellow believers who have come together to fellowship and worship our creator.

If Evangelicals are truly Calvanists and truly believe in predestination, then they are predestined to having this diversity in the room in which they’ve found themselves. And if my Evangelical brothers and sisters pride themselves on their theological education, I pray that they can be confident enough to listen to another’s viewpoint. After all, John Calvin, in his day, was just a man with an opinion.

Dissenting views are not productive