A Short Letter to an Atheist about Rob Bell and Christian Controversy
September 5, 2011 2 Comments
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?”
Note: This post is a slightly expanded version of my letter to Ronnie.
- An atheist’s encounter with Rob Bell – by Ronnie Stockton (jonkuhrt.wordpress.com)