Photo by fradaveccs
On Saturday, I was surprised to see that pastor and author Rob Bell was trending on Twitter. In the rush of a busy day, packed with taxiing kids and entertaining an house guest, I didn’t have time to dig into it, but I got the gist: Some prominent Christian thinkers were condemning Bell for his next book, about heaven and hell (Love Wins). The book, by the way, hasn’t even come out yet. (Here’s an overview of the issue.)
I was furious. It was a perfect Christians Against Christians moment for me (that’s a catch phrase I was playing with a while back and then decided to move away from but can’t quite let go of). Why so much in-fighting and pride and hatred? Why are people who love the same God and supposedly want the same thing for the world tearing each other down? And why on earth are intelligent people like Justin Taylor and John Piper condemning a man for a book he wrote that they haven’t even read?
Several angles for a post filtered through my mind for the next 24 hours. I couldn’t wait to dig into the issue more and write my own ranty piece. So many possibilities! So much to be angry about! Reading Rob Bell’s book Velvet Elvis in 2006 had marked a turning point in my faith. I was on his side, feeling protective and ready to defend.
Time to listen, not rant
Then I went to church on Sunday, and do you know what God told me? “I don’t play favorites. I don’t take sides.”
Well, God told Pastor Jim and Pastor Jim told the rest of us. I’m pretty sure Pastor Jim hadn’t even heard about the Rob Bell hubbub—his grandchildren were visiting, and somehow he was also preparing his teaching and organizing one of our church’s big annual events, an auction that supports our Habitat for Humanity work in Mississippi and other service-oriented trips and conferences. In fact, Pastor Jim’s teaching was all about service—the importance of leaving our tribe to have meaningful encounters with others—but the text also spoke powerfully to me on this whole Rob Bell issue. It told my heart to open up and my rant to take a seat.
The text was from Acts 10, when Peter, a strict observant Jew, has an encounter with Cornelius, a Roman centurion. First Peter is all worried about clean and unclean foods—he’s been having dreams about them because he seems to have missed much of what Jesus was teaching him during their time together. As if that’s not upsetting enough, then the Spirit tells Peter he’s supposed to go see Cornelius, a “righteous and God-fearing man,” but completely unclean from Peter’s perspective. As Peter enters Cornelius’ house, where a whole crowd of Gentiles have gathered, he says this (Acts 10:28):
“You are well aware that it is against our law for a Jew to associate with or visit a Gentile. But God has shown me that I should not call anyone impure or unclean.“
One thing we can know about God: Love
When Cornelius asks Peter to tell them all what God has sent him there to say, what does Peter do? Try to convert them to his ways? Show off his knowledge of the scriptures, or brag about the years he spent with Jesus? Peter had the knowledge and the stature to convince them that he was right and they were surely going to hell if they didn’t change their ways. But this is what God sent Peter to say—this is where he begins (Acts 10:34-35):
“I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism but accepts from every nation the one who fears him and does what is right.”
Especially not when it comes to all the little doctrinal details and beliefs, whether nit-picky or central to our faith.
And this is where the story ends (Acts 10:44-45):
While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit came on all who heard the message. The circumcised believers who had come with Peter were astonished that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on Gentiles.
Even on the Gentiles? <gasp> Even on the Rob Bell’s and all the others who love God and seek to do what’s right, even if it doesn’t look exactly like John Piper’s “right”? Yep. I’m pretty sure God has plenty of Holy Spirit to go around. He doesn’t need to rank believers and ration it out.
So when will we stop comparing ourselves to others, and thinking in a right vs. wrong paradigm? When will we stop choosing sides and creating tribes and sub-tribes that seek to tear one another apart? When will will start focusing on God in such a way that his love burns it’s imprint onto each individual heart, allowing us to do what is right and not worry about what “right” looks like to someone else?
From what I can tell in the Bible, our only job, in regards to others, is Love. And Love will win, whether we want to help it or not.