My God, My God! Why have you forsaken me?
Eugene Peterson on the Bell-Hell controversy:
I don’t agree with everything Rob Bell says. But I think they’re worth saying. I think he puts a voice into the whole evangelical world which, if people will listen to it, will put you on your guard against judging people too quickly, making rapid dogmatic judgments on people. I don’t like it when people use hell and the wrath of God as weaponry against one another.
The whole interview is short, and really worth a read for its concise power. But because of its conciseness, many of Bell’s detractors seem overly-confused. So let me try to clarify.
Questions. Are. Biblical.
To not allow questions is un-Godly.
Peterson is not saying that if you don’t agree with Rob Bell’s conclusions, then you are a moron in need of a shrink. Nor is he arguing the time-worn Na-na-nana-boo-boo defense. Pastor Peterson is merely stating the fact that dogmatism has no room in a living, breathing community.
See, in the end it doesn’t truly matter what our beliefs on hell are* – because they are not central to the Gospel. Jesus is. And Jesus and God are bigger than our questions, bigger than our doubts, bigger than our insecurities, and bigger than our securities.
The bible is God’s story with us. And as it is the finite and limited and suffering and broken humanity coming into contact with the infinite and great and holy God, it leaves us with many, many questions. Not nice questions. Not tidy questions. Not easily answered questions. And certainly not binary, yes-or-no questions.
photo © 2008 ryuu ji | more info (via: Wylio)
Anybody who thinks differently either has his ears and eyes closed to the suffering of the world (think Japan. Think of the thousands dying this morning from starvation while we suffocate on pizza. Think of bombs or mines going off on children this afternoon. Think of cancer-survivors in your family. Think of abandoned and neglected on your block), or has her eyes and ears closed to half of the Bible.
The searing suffering of Job and the Psalms. The madness of Ecclesiastes. The Father of Nations who dared ask the Lord to spare Sodom. The Jesus who dared ask his Father to spare his fate.
To ask questions of authority – whether that authority is God or the Church Fathers or, in this case, a particular strain of Catholic and Protestant theology – is necessary. It’s part of our Christian walk as we follow the steps of Jesus.
But to tell us that we can’t ask questions?...
A place where there is certitude – as Peterson notes, perhaps a bit irritably – is when Jesus confronts the religious leaders of his day. Not for being lax, not for their questions. But because they put restrictions on the people which limit their access to God (whom Jesus himself delivers them to):
They tie up heavy, cumbersome loads and put them on other people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to lift a finger to move them…
“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You shut the door of the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to.
“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You travel over land and sea to win a single convert, and when you have succeeded, you make them twice as much a child of hell as you are.
A favorite passage of the Doctrinal Police, however, is in Galatians 1:
But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let them be under God’s curse! As we have already said, so now I say again: If anybody is preaching to you a gospel other than what you accepted, let them be under God’s curse!
But the immediate and proper context makes it clear that this isn’t about points of doctrine (which is unfortunately how it became standardly interpreted in the Greek-and-Roman-influenced West), it’s about more burdens between Jesus and his followers. For instance, in the next chapter we find this:
You and I are Jews by birth, not ‘sinners’ like the Gentiles. Yet we know that a person is made right with God by faith in Jesus Christ, not by obeying the law. And we have believed in Christ Jesus, so that we might be made right with God because of our faith in Christ, not because we have obeyed the law. For no one will ever be made right with God by obeying the law…
My old self has been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me. So I live in this earthly body by trusting in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. I do not treat the grace of God as meaningless. For if keeping the law could make us right with God, then there was no need for Christ to die. (NLT)
But of course you don’t need to go there or the next chapter, since just before the curse verse is this gem:
I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you to live in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel — which is really no gospel at all. Evidently some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ.**
It’s Christ – Jesus – who is in the center of this all. It’s not Christ’s gospel, per se. And it’s certainly not, “My interpretation of the Bible.” It’s the Good News of the Ascension of the New and Real Lord, Jesus Christ.
Now: why do I care? I’m not a pastor. I don’t have a financial stake in the Evangelical field. Why am I up at the Lordforsakenhourof 1:30am writing this?
I can’t help it. Christians are my family – brothers and sisters. Even when we have spats. Even when I disagree strongly with my literal blood brothers, we’re still familia. So I want to go beyond the simple talking points and certainly beyond the anger and frustration. (not so sure I can do so at 1:30, though…). Galatians 3 saiz:
For you are all children of God through faith in Christ Jesus. And all who have been united with Christ in baptism have put on Christ, like putting on new clothes. There is no longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male and female. For you are all one in Christ Jesus.
* I don’t want to say they’re not important. They are. But they’re not the end-game. They’re not the litmus test. There is no indication of that whatsoever in the Bible and to point to that being the case is stretching.
** All the translations are in NIV unless otherwise mentioned.