Monthly Archives: March 2011

40 Days

Over the last few weeks, the “Rob Bell Controversy” has spawned a cacophonous onslaught of blog chatter, banter, pontificating and debate. Everyone has an opinion about Rob Bell and his universalist credentials.  For a while it seemed that if you were an evangelical with a blog, a Twitter account, or even just a Facebook page, you simply had to chime in on the debate. Defenders, accusers, brash and nuanced voices of all kinds bombarded the Internet to the extent that even the New York Times took notice.

I haven’t chimed in with a perfunctory blog post yet, mostly because I want to read Bell’s book first, but also because this whole discursive debacle has soured me a bit on the evangelical blogosphere. It seems so pointless that so much energy and time has been poured into this “debate,” with thousands of bloggers conjuring up 500-1000 words or so on Rob Bell, or giving their 140 character two-cents on Twitter, with the only effect seemingly being a more palpable animosity between various camps, and a bewildered secular public looking in on the silly evangelical bickering and thinking, “who would want in on that mess?”

Lost in the shuffle of the furious Bell debates is the reality that the most important object of our focus and energy should be the person of Christ: Who he is, what he did on the cross, and what he continues to do in and for the world.

It’s not about us. The blogosphere, the Twitterverse, the Facebook generation has made everything so much about us, about what we have to say about theology or how we interpret scripture. But I think scripture is clear that there are at least two things we should view as more important than ourselves: God, and other people. We should humble ourselves and think less of our own high and mighty, witty and scathing theological pronouncements. They have a place, to be sure, but it must all be grounded in a deep, Christ-like humility.

Lent is a beautiful season of remembering the importance of humility. It’s a season of quieting oneself and focusing on Christ–his incarnational humanity and suffering on our behalf.  It’s a time to stop pontificating and start reflecting, soberly and seriously, about the sacrifice of Christ and our own identity in him as “living sacrifices.”

Lent consists in the 40 day period leading up to Easter, a period which recalls Jesus’ 40 days of solo fasting in the desert prior to the start of his ministry. During Lent this year, I want to reflect. I want to reflect on who Jesus is, on what he might have been thinking and praying during those 40 days, and on why it was important for him to spend 40 days alone and silent before he started preaching publicly.

How instructive is Lenten reflection in our society today? Supremely. Our culture is one that beckons us to immediate declaration, to real-time opining. The extraordinary phenomenon of watching my Twitter feed during the Oscars only reinforces the extent to which reflection and restraint are lost in the race to chime in on any and every happening or conversation. We can learn from the fact that Christ, who of anyone had plenty of valuable words to speak to the world, shunned the “instant and everywhere” approach to communication and instead decided to wait to speak until he was ready.

This is something I’ve been thinking about a lot in my life. As a writer/blogger, there is a lot of pressure to be speaking into the culture and producing output, but I often feel like I’m sacrificing a patient, reflective discipline for receiving input.  Do I really have something to say about Rob Bell, especially so prematurely? Probably not. I’d rather read, listen, think more. I’d rather take things in slowly, ponder them, and then offer my two cents (if I have any).

That’s why for Lent this year, I’m going to give up blogging. For the next 40 days–apart from some re-posts of Lenten and Easter-season reflections from years past–I will not be posting any fresh content on this blog. During this season I’m going to be quicker to listen and slower to speak, meditating on the blessings of Christ in my life and drinking in his goodness in a deeper, more concentrated way. I want to slow down. I want to read more books and collect my thoughts. I want to think less of myself wherever possible, and think more about Christ’s sacrificial love–what it means for me, for my neighbor, and for the world.

Why Bother With Church?

If you’ve read any Christian books, seen any Christian statistics or just attended a Christian church recently, you’ve perhaps noticed that a lot of younger evangelicals are growing disinterested in the whole “being plugged in at a local church” thing, even if they might have a vibrant faith otherwise. The reasons for this are extensive and widely documented. Church is seen as too inconvenient, boring, out-of-touch, irrelevant, inauthentic, hypocritical, too much of a performance, and so on and so forth. These are mostly valid criticisms, and I can’t really blame people for being lackluster about the local church.

But, as a lover of the Church and a believer in the biblical call to following Christ in community, my question is: How do we make the case for attending church? Rather than throw up our hands and declare the end of the local church, what can we do to re-articulate the kingdom dream of Christ, which involves us not just as individuals but as the church body?

I explore these questions in a new article in Relevant, whose 50th issue is out this week. My article is on pages 82-87, and here’s a little excerpt:

Part of the difficulty people have with committing to a local church is that our society has for centuries been on a egalitarian trajectory of asserting individual rights over against institutions, notes Sumner. “We’ve been in a long revolt against authority ever since the Reformation,” she said. “The whole trajectory is about me and my power. We have authority problems.”

It’s an uphill battle to overcome our deeply ingrained consumer mentality and fickle tendency to abandon a church the minute it becomes too difficult. But the truth is, no matter how long someone shops for the perfect church, they’ll never find it. Instead of succumbing to inclinations that churchgoing is about “me” and that it must meet “my” needs, believers should instead look at churchgoing as a chance to get outside of self-serving bubbles and join in something bigger and grander.

The Church is this mind-boggling, mystical, relatively new phenomenon of history in which the God of the universe, through His Son and with the power of the Holy Spirit, inaugurated a revolutionary new kingdom on earth. A kingdom not of kings ruling by force, but of pockets of people united by selfless love, charity and a steadfast hope in rejuvenation and renewal. This church welcomes us into its arms so that, together, we can join Christ in the bringing of light to a dark world.

Read the full article on Relevant‘s website.