The latest battle in the Christian community pits Conservative Christians vs those from the Emerging Church. This is well seen in the comments from Franklin Graham, the son of Billy Graham, about Rob Bell (about Rob Bell's views on Hell) and Rob Bell's defense of his views on Hell (defense).
Rob Bell appeals to the words of Jesus to defend his view of Hell. Bell sometimes gets specific, but for the most part, he appeals to abstract concepts of God. For all of his selective use of details when defending his position, Rob Bell has a point that should be listened to. That point is that Conservative Christians have an escapist approach to life. For such Christians, there is no need to either be involved in or troubled by the world because they will be raptured while the world experiences the ultimate barbecue. This belief leads those Christians to seek a double escape. The first escape is while they are alive on earth and the second one is when they are taken up. We can call such people Snagglepuss Christians. For like the character Snagglepuss, they are always leaving when times get tense. Only Snagglepuss Christians live life by saying "exit, stage up, up, and away."
Now there are far better people to read on how not to be such Christians. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, for example, was no slacker on Biblical details and he gave us a new look on faith and a sanctified involvement with a troubled world--though thanks to the Nazis, his world went from troubled to psychopathic. And it is very easy for most Christians to pay lip service to Bonhoeffer's point here regardless of any theological misgivings they have about him.
Bell, however, has made a living from providing chicken soup for the restless, young professional soul. He has made Christianity about being just and generous for one's own sake. His views on social justice cannot compare with Bonhoeffer's. For Bonhoeffer believed that Christians should work for Social Justice for the sake of the other. He rightly demanded that the Christians of his day stand with the too dangerous to stand with oppressed, the Jews of Europe, He did this because, back then, both liberal and conservative Christians of Germany ran away from them for safety's sake.
Neither do Bell's views of social justice match what Martin Luther King challenged us to do. For King, even mere generosity meant far more than tossing x number of bread crumbs to the poor. In contrast to Bell, King charged us to stand against and challenge the system that causes poverty. Like Bonhoeffer's standing with the Jews, King's opposing the system meant taking risks and suffering blows, even fatal ones. For both King and Bonhoeffer, working for social justice meant taking up a real cross of death. For both, one either took up this cross or they loved the world.
Though Franklin Graham is correct in his assessment of Rob Bell's views on Hell and the Christian life, Graham, and those who stand with him, probably prefer Bell's concept of Social Justice to the living examples provided by Bonhoeffer and King. This is because American Conservative Christianity has been preaching a gospel of having one's cake and eating it too. This gospel allows one to both escape hell and flee from a dying world while enjoying the same world a bit too much.
Thus, Conservative Christians have reduced taking up one's own cross to crucifying personal demons. Such Christians become suspicious when anything more is associated with bearing one's cross. This is partly due to the American emphasis on individualism. But it is also because we live in a very prosperous country and we like to attribute that prosperity to our "Christian" heritage. Thus, there is a built in link between Christian values with being well off. And nothing threatens that state of wealth like challenging the status quo. That is because in the end, much of our wealth can be traced to the status quo.
Though American Conservative Christians are frustrated with the falling away by some in the Emerging Church Movement, like Rob Bell, we have only ourselves to blame. By emphasizing faith as being merely an escape from Hell, we have provided nothing for the current life except the spiritual emptiness of being righteously selfish. At this point, we need to be specific in our compliments and applaud Rob Bell and those in the Emerging Church Movement for recognizing the emptiness of a sanctified materialism and self-centeredness. Though it seems that their call to us to work for Social Justice can be just as self-centered, for it revolves around self-fulfillment, they are calling us to task on our materialism.
Evidence that the objections American Conservative Christians have to Bell's call to Social Justice are due more to our ties to materialism than any spiritual concern can be seen in the fact that we act as if working for Social Justice contradicts the Gospel and our faith, but it does not. There is nothing implied by working for Social Justice that contradicts what Jesus and the apostles said. But again, we act as if it does. Here, we seem to object too much to Bell's call to work for Social Justice and we do so for no real reason other than Bell might have hit an exposed nerve.
|This Month's Scripture Verse:|
Whoever loves money never has enough;
whoever loves wealth is never satisfied with their income.
This too is meaningless -- Ecclesiastes 5:10