I come at this article from a place of doubt in my own faith. I want to start with that because I do not want to be unfair, or mislead anyone. I watched Religulous (2008) from liberal comedian, and talk-show host Bill Maher, back in 2011. This is what really spurred me towards forcing questions that I already had, but was too afraid to ask. I, no doubt, watched that movie because of my questions and I was curious what perspective an atheist might have. Now, there were plenty of obvious errors in that film where ironically Bill preaches viewpoints as fact, which have no factual basis (Horus, Egyptian God having same story as Jesus). It was also obvious to any Christian of a “normal” congregation that he picked the most outrageous and minority insane points of view that makeup Christianity and other faiths that he picked on as well. I certainly left that movie feeling like there was no doubt that Bill Maher hates religion of all forms. He does though make a point that is genuinely hard to deny and that is the hypocrisy of Christians and, dare I say, the inconsistencies in the Bible. I fear that a bolt of lightning may strike me just for suggesting that, but it is hard to deny. Yes, I realize in our seminaries we have these fancy ways of dismantling this idea that there are these errors, but I feel the explanations fall short for anyone that does not come at these questions with anything more than “Christian logic”. Forgive me if I am sounding insulting, but I am honestly not trying to. I have used only “Christian logic” in my understanding of issues, and find it a much easier road to take when trying to justify some of the more outlandish things of the Bible. Now, to the point of the article that is Rob Bell and his message.
As you can see from the paragraph above it is not difficult, if you remove yourself from presuppositions of Christianity, that you can go far down the rabbit trail. As a matter of fact, it is effortless to end up questioning the whole entire system of religion almost immediately. I find it astounding that someone would have a problem with simply reading information from Rob Bell. If you do not know who Rob Bell is, he is a former pastor and founder of Mars Hill Bible Church in Grandville, Michigan. He has long had a pretty large following of believers for his out of the ordinary approach to scripture and faith. Some of his books like Velvet Elvis and Jesus wants to save Christians gave him a jolt to the national spotlight and started the controversy over some of his more debatable viewpoints. Those books were pale in comparison to the controversy started over his book Love Wins where he asserts that the Bible is not 100% inerrant, and that it does in fact have errors. He goes on to state that there is no hell. The aftermath of these claims has left Rob Bell in the same category of men as Ted Haggard (banished evangelical pastor who admitted to stealing money from his church and using it to pay male prostitutes to perform sexual acts). As the red headed stepchild of the Christian evangelicals, Rob Bell, and anyone who even suggest he says anything of merit are constantly ridiculed and discredited as heretics.
I wonder though, in a world of Westboro Baptist Churches, why in the world someone who claims that God is a God of love is a more dangerous messenger then “God hates…” anyone who does not agree with Westboro Baptist Church. The world is full of hate, and unfortunately not just from liberals. Recently, I read an article from The Christian Post where they were writing about Rob Bells view on the word “Christian”. Rob Bells point was that this term, “Christian”, had been hijacked and turned into something that he does not recognize anymore. Therefore, Rob states that he does not like to identify himself in that way because of the negative connotations that it brings. I shared this article on my Facebook page and received a few comments suggesting that I not look at his material, and to be careful. While I understand the concern to a point, I find it awkward that someone would think to suggest to a 30-year-old man to be careful about who he is reading. Not to mention I accepted Christ when I was 9 years old and have been reading, and studying the Bible for 21 years now. What could be so damaging about Rob Bell that I need to be careful even reading his material? Is it because he writes things that disagree with the mainstream Christian faith? How dare he. I find it funny that ideas are being mocked. Aren’t ideas different from the mainstream what started the Protestant Reformation? Are we not doing something like the Church of England, or the Catholic church in ostracizing anyone who has a different viewpoint then ours. If we are so confident of our faith why are we not able to come to the table of thought and discuss these things.
I want to finish this article with a few thoughts on where this is all stemming from. Obviously, I am where I am in my thoughts because I am consciously choosing to entertain these thoughts, but I am no different than anyone else. I am influenced by my circumstances and experiences. Where I am in my thoughts is taking everything, I have personally seen and experienced into consideration. Let me see if I can attempt to put this into something easy to comprehend. First, let me explain that life as a Christian minister is a lot different than life as a Christian who is “simply” a member of a church. When I was in the military I got a divorce from my first wife who was habitually cheating on me and showed no signs of stopping. As a matter of fact, she even stated that her hope was that I was so against divorce that she would continue living this same way until we were married for 10 years so that she could divorce me and get alimony and child support (she had a two-year-old daughter from a previous relationship). I am unaware of whether she could have succeeded with those intentions, but I decided to not give her the chance and filed for divorce instead. Even though my ex-wife started these actions literally the night that we were married, and continued until I divorced her, I still prayed intently about this decision and was extremely burdened with this decision. I was fearful of what mess I had gotten myself into and the implications this would have on any future ministry. You may be sitting here thinking that I made my bed and so I should have to lay in it. Well, I do want to mention that I was only 19 years old when all of this occurred. This woman was 25 or 26 and she was extremely manipulative. Clearly, I am still responsible for my decisions, but my point is that this was not a normal situation. I made mistakes, but last time I checked, we all do.
After nearly seven years in the military, and doing lay ministry all over the world, I separated from the military in 2013. I separated with the thought that God was calling me towards full time ministry and that I needed to seek out a church to minister in. This was truthfully what I felt God was placing on my heart over much prayer and seeking His will. After getting out of the military I put my bio on a few of my denominations website and started almost immediately getting phone calls of interest. These were for positions all over this country, and a large majority of them were for senior pastor positions. The total phone calls were 13. 13 churches that contacted me, and seriously interested in having me come to preach “in view of a call” (with the intention of considering me for the position). However, before any of this could begin, first, I would have to answer a series of phone questions. Most of these questions were basic, such as years married, and how many kids I have. However, the only question in relation to my “sin” was whether I was divorced. When I answered yes to that question all 13 churches suggested I go find myself something else to do with my life. What I found ironic was that never was there a question of addictions to pornography, alcohol, tobacco, or food. They did not care whether I beat my children, and they certainly did not care whether I had any vices of any kind. There sole concern was whether I was divorced. This idea stems from a verse in 1 Tim. 3:2 where the idea of “…husband of one wife…” is introduced as a requirement for a preacher (Bishop, Overseer, Pastor). However, I know that when God called me at 15, if scripture is correct, God knew that one day I would be divorced. In Romans 11:29 scripture tells us that God does not make mistakes in who He calls. Of course, this should be easily understood to anyone who believes that Gods will is always accomplished, and that He knows everything that has happened and will happen. I guess though for me, He made a mistake. Everyone is allowed a few of those I suppose. All of this really made me question my ability to hear the will of God in my life, and left me trying to figure out how I could have misunderstood it that severely. Additionally, it left me confused with the church, and specifically the Baptist faith.
Then came Donald J. Trump. I quickly pushed my support behind Texas senator Ted Cruz and was hopeful that I could persuade others to join behind a true, proven conservative. However, this election turned out to be a turning point in our nation, and most specifically that definition of what a “true, proven conservative” really is. The vitriol with which so many came out passionately defending and supporting Donald Trump amazed me. This, of course, continues to this day, and I feel as though I am living in a nightmare. I do not know that I understand anything anymore. I see so many people, not just willingly, but adamantly throwing their support behind this divisive person. Apparently, I was too sinful to pastor a church of 20 members but Donald Trump somehow became the voice of this same deep south, Baptist, conservative, evangelical movement that threw me out to the wolves because I am divorced from a woman who had no other intention then to suck the life blood out of me.
Is Rob Bell dangerous? Is the message of love overshadowing the all-important message of hell? I do not know if I agree that his message is dangerous. I know that whole thing about itching ears and all, but I see it being done every day in the church. I see preachers condemn homosexuality, but they won’t preach against living together before marriage because the deacon’s daughter is currently living with another church members son while only engaged (at least they are going to get married, right?). I see “Christians” loving TV series such as Game of Thrones, which I must admit is an amazing TV series, but does nothing to honor God, nor is it something that any southern Baptist, conservative Pastor would likely be able to support with the Bible. I see “Christians” coming out in droves to watch “Magic Mike” because the men have their movies with scantily clad women (a true statement), so why can’t they have their fun too (I have a tough time disagreeing with that statement)? Yet, for some reason I should not be reading Rob Bell? I know grammatically a question mark does not fit there, but I think logically it does. Because that question mark perfectly defines where I stand at this moment with my faith. I could go on, but I think I will leave it with just that…
In someone who I want to believe, but fellow Christians give me every reason to question,