A Short Letter to an Atheist about Rob Bell and Christian Controversy

This post is a reply to Ronnie, an atheist writing on Jon Kuhrt’s blog about his experience with Rob Bell and the surrounding Christian controversy.

Ronnie,

Thanks for being so transparent with your journey. I, for one, think I need to apologize on behalf of Christians for the rancorous rhetoric and contentious conflict surrounding Bell and his latest book. Another book that gets at the heart of this conflict, I think, is Prodigal God, by Tim Keller. He explores Jesus’ parable of the TWO lost sons in Luke 15…the younger, wilder, irreligious son and the elder, law-abiding, uber-religious son. Neither love the father for himself, but rather they love him for what he can give them. In the case of those of us who identify more with the elder son, our tendency is to try to earn God’s love by our religiosity.

Sometimes, that takes the form of being overprotective of our doctrine. Now, please don’t get me wrong. I think truth is incredibly important, and doctrine is an attempt at distilling the truth that God gives us. But the Bible says in Ephesians 4 that we are to “speak the truth in love” (my emphasis). We are only capable of doing so when we aren’t reacting to challenges out of fear…fear that the right doctrine we sometimes use to earn God’s love might be lost.

Fear causes us to do all kinds of things we wouldn’t do otherwise. It draws out our fight or flight responses. When we fear losing God’s love for us because of holding wrong beliefs (or not denouncing others’ wrong beliefs) we don the running shoes or, more often, the boxing gloves. Without a doubt there is a time to speak truth that is difficult to hear. The question I wrestle with is…how do we disagree well?

Many of the naysayers of Bell’s book focused on the exclusivity of Jesus. That is, they focused on the Christian belief that Jesus Christ is the only way for us broken individuals to be reconciled to God. I think they are absolutely right, and if some of them only believed that deeper in their souls they would put their full trust in him instead of in their own ability to ‘get it right.’

As the Bible says in 1 John 4:18, “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear….” For a moment let’s put the arguments of Bell’s book aside and ask ourselves, “How would we disagree if we believed deep in our souls that we have nothing to fear?”

Kyle

Note: This post is a slightly expanded version of my letter to Ronnie.

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2 Responses to A Short Letter to an Atheist about Rob Bell and Christian Controversy

  1. Greg Smith says:

    I love the spirit of what Kyle is saying here and try to live my faith out this way.. But two things I struggle with…I don’t always (usually?) have the wisdom to know when I need to speak the truth in love to others.. ie. when has something become a fundamental point of principle or core orthodox/biblical doctrine.or behaviour.. and as a result I tend to err on the side of caution and fail to confront.. (at least if I’ve had the wisdom to take a deep breath and count to ten first ..and I’m a slow learner on that. Or secondly when I do confront someone,,,,the anxiety and the blood presure is raised.. the body language or the tone of voice (or the phrasing of the email) provoke the fight or flight response in the other. and the vicius spiral continues..

    And even if I get it right it depends on the other taking the rebuke with a measure of grace, not reacting our of fear, not digging in or at least on valuing the relationship as much as the principle. Or in some situations it is pride, status, or understanding of authority that complicates matters further..

    I guess we all know what we should be like in theory… I doubt I’m the only one currently involved in a real life situation where these values and principles are extremely hard to apply…

    • kbrooksy says:

      Greg,

      Thanks so much for your very honest comment. You are absolutely right. This is far easier said than done and requires loads of wisdom. Personally, when I err in this it is usually speaking the truth and being unloving, the very tendency my letter addressed.

      You raise many issues in your comment, but I genuinely believe that the only way for us to make progress on this difficult journey is to keep our eyes on the One who is Truth and the One who is Love. Oh it’s not easy, we may get it wrong, and we may very well not be thanked for it. But it is good.

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