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Friday, June 15, 2012

Franklin Graham vs Rob Bell Or Aren't There Enough Faults To Go Around

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.



4 comments:

Lambie said...

Fascinating and perceptive analysis. I appreciate the thinking.

I might add that you seem to be using Franklin Graham more as a foil for your argument than as a real person. When you see him in the middle of the killing zone in South Sudan working to feed starving people in a crisis that the world is largely ignoring, and aggressively lobbying African and Western governments for justice for these people and a longterm solution, it's hard to stereotype him as an escapist.

Curt Day said...

I think you have a good point. I didn't see him there so thank you for the information.

But many who follow him are escapists. And what is most noticeable from his public statements that I know of are not challenges to the status quo but to those in the fringes. His characterizations of Islam, for example, show status quo views. One can disagree with Islam, which I do, and not characterize it as evil, as he does.

The question I have is whether he is challenging the status quo here. If you could provide documentation for his views here and what you said about his involvement in the Sudan, everybody who reads this, and myself, would appreciate it.

Curt Day said...

Lambie,
Because of your input I did more research on Franklin Graham and found he didn't deserve as much criticism as I gave him but neither is he off the hook. He is pretty much a status quo person who does more charity work than I realized.

But we have to note that he is still a status quo supporter and that is a significant difference between how his activism and working for justice, which consists solely of helping those in need, compares with Bonhoeffer and King. Both helped those in need and as important as that is, it is also important that we include standing up and challenging those with wealth and power who create and maintain the systems that creates the need.

I also think that he could help in the Sudan more by helping in Palestine. We are not fair we we cite the actions of group not favorable to our own and yet overlook the sins of an ally. We need to get away from the partisan politics and call sin sin regardless of who commits it. I think Franklin Graham is to American-centric to do that and this can hurt his credibility in some areas.

TheCapitalist said...

Mr. Day,
In your article, you frequently mention the concept of Social Justice. What do you mean by social justice?

In your seventh paragraph (third from the end) you attack our nation's current state of prosperity. I will admit that too many of us sit back and enjoy it, ignoring the responsibilities it entails. This attitude should be condemned. However, attacking any and all wealth is simply not right. First, when the Israelites were in captivity in Babylon, God told those who were faithful to pray for the prosperity of the pagan city, as its prosperity was their prosperity. Second, much of the Book of Proverbs emphasizes that the natural way of things is for the wise man to become rich, and the fool to become poor. Now, there have been wise poor people and foolish rich people throughout history, but the normal, natural way of things is that wise people become wealthy, and foolish people become poor. This is perhaps the ultimate problem with the welfare or socialist state; they blur or eliminate this distinction.