“Honey, I figured it out!”
“Well, it’s about time,” my wife replied. “You’ve been addicted to these discussions long enough.” said my loving wife.
I’ve recently been captivated with the tension in the Christian Community over Rob Bell’s newest book, Love Wins. My addiction, per my wife, to the recent tense, hurtful, and “loving” dialogue stirred my soul so much it actually affected my productivity. Even last night, our minister and I texted about it until I learned he was driving, so I thought this was enough – I was obsessively putting others at risk.
Then, it hit me: I do not believe this disconnect is over the theology of heaven and hell.
Let me state upfront: I’m no theologian. The closest anyone has ever come to calling me a theologian was in class when a student interrupted my lecture and asked, “Mr. Sansing, are you a preacher?” Though flattered, I replied that I had been accused of many things in my life, but being a preacher was not one of them.
My family and I were part of a congregational birth in 2005. We say “birth” because we do not want anyone confused and think the congregation originated from a “church split.” The old congregation met in a small building and, being “land-locked,“ a new group was “birthed” to accommodate numerical growth.
I promise, all this relates to my epiphany…
See, I love our former church. They welcomed my daughter back to celebrate her marriage in their building. They welcomed my family and me some 15 years ago when we were financially bankrupt and unsure of our financial, legal, or spiritual survival.
Likewise, I love our new congregation. We are evolving as a non-traditional, multicultural, welcoming, and affirming community of faith. Perfect? No. Loving? Yes. Growing? For sure. Do we love the Good News? You bet!
But more than I love our whole congregation, I love the small group that comes into our home. When one of us hurts, laughs, or cries, we all hurt, laugh or cry. We know more about each other than we want the larger community to know.
We experience something I believe the early church experienced. I would lay down my life for one of these brothers or sisters. Some nights we have little Bible study; we just share refreshments, laughter, tears, and prayer.
So, how do these ramblings relate to the recent tension in our broad Christian community regarding Rob Bell?
I believe it is about the type of community people have experienced.
Because of my experiences, I am cautious about saying, “Well, the Bible couldn’t be clearer about this or that.”
I believe with all my soul the Bible is God’s Message; Jesus is God’s Son, and the only way to God is through Him. However, I have seen good, mostly rational people almost come to blows over what the Bible “clearly” says. When asked why we no longer plant Holy Kisses, some agree we cannot take everything literal – we have to know the context. Only problem? They usually get to define the context.
Recently, good, honest, God-fearing folk have spiritually beaten up each other. Risking what I try to avoid, the Bible seems clear to me about real love (John 15:13), judgment (Matthew 25: 31-46), and the great commandments (Matthew 22: 34-40).
Remember, I’m no theologian. However, I have experienced a type of Christian Community that is rare. For I was alone, broken spiritually, broken financially, and even afraid for my life. Then, a stranger came by my bed and said, “I am from the Christian Community. We are going to care for you until you can care for yourself.”
When that type of community is experienced, your focus can’t help but change.
That experience compels me to draw others into the community. I can but simply love, and I leave the judging to God.
Is Bell right or wrong? I do not know, but I do know there is nothing better in me than you that would cause God to draw me to Him instead of you.
Does love win? I am not sure it does in the sense I have read and/or heard about lately, but I know if I am to err in any way it better be to love “too much.”
One last thing, all this time I used worrying about the discourse over what Rob Bell says (or doesn’t say), I should have been spent praying for Japan. I am not nearly as afraid of Bell being right or wrong as I am about the consequences of misplaced priorities toward those alone, naked, hungry, thirsty, and/or in prison.
Hell’s bells! It’s about community, people!
William Sansing is a guest contributor who lives in Starkville, Mississippi, and works and teaches at both the local university and community college.