Psalm 144:4 Man is like a breath; his days are like a fleeting shadow.

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Late to the ‘party’

The other book I had with me on holiday was Rob Bell’s (in some circles – controversial) book “Love Wins”.

Yes, I’m pretty late reading it and passing comment and I’m sure that all possible comments have already been aired on the book, but I wanted to share some thoughts on what ended up being another fairly rapid read.

Interestingly, going back to read Rob’s earlier book ‘Sex God’ since I’ve been back from holiday and remembering a fair amount of ‘Velvet Elvis’, ‘Love Wins’ is really just further development of a thread that runs through a lot of Rob’s work.

Rob came in for a lot of criticism having written this and was called all sorts of things even before its release, even by people that hadn’t actually read the book (a dangerous policy if you ask me).
The first label levelled at Rob was that he is a ‘Universalist’. I didn’t get that impression from reading the book. Rob is definitely not saying “everybody gets saved in the end regardless”, he does however ask the question “what kind of God do we believe in?” Do we believe in an all powerful God that can find a way to redeem everything and everybody in His own way, or do we believe in a God that isn’t powerful enough to find a way to restore all things to himself?”

That’s quite a different thing and its quite a fundamental and important question.

There’s some very good explorations if what we understand by Heaven and Hell also. For example, in summing up the chapter on Hell:

“To summarize, then, we need a loaded, volatile, adequately violent, dramatic, serious word to describe the very real consequences we experience when we reject the good and true and beautiful life that God
has for us.
We need a word that refers to the big, wide, terrible evil that comes from the secrets hidden deep within our hearts all the way to the massive, society-wide collapse and chaos that comes when we fail to live in God’s world God’s way.
And for that,
the word “hell” works quite well.”

Rob writes very gently and graciously and even if you don’t agree with his position, you would need to work hard to take offence, the book is more about asking the questions than specifically finding the ‘right’ answers.

Rob likes the parable of the prodigal sons and he uses it in this book because it highlights both extremes of ‘heaven’ and ‘hell’, coexisting in the same place: it’s purely our response to God’s love and grace that defines which place we chose to exist in. Rob rounds up the story by saying:

“Neither son understands that the father’s love was never about any of that (being good enough to deserve the father’s love or bad enough for it to disappear). The father’s love cannot be earned,

and it cannot be taken away.

It just is.

It’s a party.

The final chapter closes with a great passage that encapsulates both the continual restoration of all things into God’s “shalom” and our response to God, His love, forgiveness and grace.

“I believe that the indestructible love of God is an unfolding, dynamic reality and that every single one of us is endlessly being invited to trust, accept, believe, embrace, and experience it. Whatever words you find helpful for describing this act of trust, Jesus invites us to say yes to this love of God,
again and again and again.”

The book is definitely worth a read, I have barely scratched the surface in reviewing it here, it is also the perfect companion to ‘After Magic‘ by Kester Brewin if you want to read two books together!


I’ve deliberately taken a long time to throw anything into the blogosphere regarding the recent furore surrounding Rob Bell’s most recent book “Love Wins(affiliate link)

I figure that firstly, I have no public voice or any kind of authority on the issues, secondly, I have no formal training in either theological college, bible school, seminary or other, thirdly, I didn’t want to get caught up in the nasty mudslinging that people calling themselves Christians seemed to be getting into and lastly, I hadn’t read the book.

My angle on the whole uproar isn’t actually on the theology or ‘correctness’ of what has been written, in fact it only really came to mind off the back of another book I haven’t read – “Erasing Hell” by Francis Chan. (affiliate link)
I listened to the Simi Valley podcast (by the same name as the book) where Francis and Preston Sprinkle (the other author), talked about the book and basically their response to Rob’s book. So I speak from this perspective.

Rob intimates in his interview with Cathleen Falsani and Francis directly says it in the podcast mentioned above that they both feel that the books they have written were prompted by God, that they felt like God laid it on their hearts to write what they wrote.

The only other thing I get from the two perspectives of the two – Rob and Francis – is that Rob does his thing and minds his own business, I’ve listened to the Mars Hill podcast for over four years and I’ve never hear Rob criticise another person, especially another Christian pastor. Francis is very careful with his words on the podcast but listening to the whole thing a few times, I can’t help but hear him say between the lines that he thinks Rob is a ‘false teacher’. I’ve seen plenty of other stuff over the web that calls Rob a ‘false teacher’ or ‘wolf in sheep’s clothing’, and it seems that Francis and the other people on the podcast are effectively subscribing to the same view.

Now, how do we as ‘normal’, unschooled, non-professional Christians weigh up the two points of view?

Both men feel like God has laid their books on their hearts.
Both feel like the spirit of God has moved them to write what they have written.
Both are deeply spiritual guys who spend hours studying and praying alone and with other Christians.
Both have written books deeply embedded in scripture and with reference and knowledge of the cultural, historical and other influences on both the original bible writers and the church over the years.

But they have come to different conclusions on one issue of interpretation.

Do we go with the one we like, because it fits with what we have been taught and how we have been brought up?
Do we go with the opposing view to the one we always held because it is a majority view?
Do we assent to the less popular view because ‘when have the majority ever been right’?

It’s a tension, a bit of a pickle, the kind of tension my dear brother over at held.in.tension regularly wrestles with in his blogging.

So what are my opinions?

I don’t really know. The only thing I can say is to repeat the words of Gamaliel from Acts 5:38-39

“…in the present case I advise you: Leave these men alone! Let them go! For if their purpose or activity is of human origin, it will fail.
But if it is from God, you will not be able to stop these men; you will only find yourselves fighting against God.”

Message & Media (part 6) – Further Reading

Following on from the workshop at the weekend which I sincerely hope you found useful, here are a few books that I showed you and I would recommend them as great reads if you want to dig deeper into the understanding and analysis of media, especially within the context of church and outreach. I’ve listed them in order of importance regarding my opinion of how much they speak into this conversation on media and church.

The Hidden Power of Electronic Culture: How Media Shapes Faith, the Gospel, and Church – Shane Hipps (affiliate link)
Get a Grip on the Future without Losing Your Hold on the Past – Gerard Kelly (affiliate link)
Flickering Pixels – Shane Hipps (affiliate link)
Flickering Pixels (Kindle Edition) – Shane Hipps (affiliate link)
Twitturgies – Gerard Kelly (affiliate link)
Six Habits of Highly Connected People – Gerard Kelly (affiliate link)

This next one is a challenging and excellent read, completely in keeping with Tim’s message from the weekend and it’s all about someone who is completely living the message, Shane Claiborne understands totally that he is the media and the message.
Irresistible Revolution: Living as an Ordinary Radical – Shane Claiborne (affiliate link)
Irresistible Revolution: Living as an Ordinary Radical (Kindle Edition) – Shane Claiborne (affiliate link)

I’ll throw this last one in as it has an excellent parable called “Translating the word” that drives at the heart of us being the Message and the Media.
The Orthodox Heretic: And Other Impossible Tales – Peter Rollins (affiliate link)
The Orthodox Heretic: And Other Impossible Tales (Kindle Edition) – Peter Rollins (affiliate link)

I will, over the next week or so, try to summarise some of the thoughts we shared in the workshop and some of the extra things I shared on digital projection / use of slideshows as I felt like there was some excellent input from all of you people and it would be good to record as much as possible for reference.

Hope your fire keeps burning brighter and brighter.

God bless you all and thanks for sharing the hour and a half with me, I enjoyed it and hope you did too.

p.s. if you have any book / other recommendations, other comments etc, please continue to throw them into the pot in the comments section here.

Message & Media (part 4) – Modern Relics

We live in the ‘post-modern’ age, yet we remain profoundly influenced by the modern age.

As an example, a huge amount of our education system is based on books, reading and writing.

The printed page is possibly the most long-lived relic of the modern age, with the invention of the printing press being perhaps the most profound turning point in post-resurrection history because of the effect it had on the world at the time and the effect is still has.

The onset of printed page immediately gave much greater access to not only dissemination of ideas, thoughts and concepts, but also to the effective ‘privacy of knowledge’. By this I mean the possibility to take a book or printed document away from everyone else and learn it privately, individually, away from community.
Print, the large-scale reproduction of information based on the phonetic alphabet intensified an ability to explore abstract concepts and linear and ‘logical’ thinking. When reading print, the media itself gives you the impression that what is written is rational, it encourages linear thinking as the words follow a linear pattern on the page. The gravity and longevity of an idea are emphasised in a printed document, more so in the early years due to the significant cost of getting anything printed.

This had an impact on faith and Christianity. It led to the introduction of the ‘Faith Train’ model.
Faith train model: Fact-Faith-Feeling
The train can run without the third carriage but it would not run if you tried to pull it by the third carriage!
It leads to people saying things like

“We Christians don’t depend on feelings or emotions but we place our faith in the trustworthiness of God and the promises of his word.”

This model of faith relies on knowledge being used as building blocks –
“All truth is derived from a single foundation
Knowledge is added on top of this foundation
Knowledge builds in one direction from the foundation upwards
It becomes a one-way, sequential metaphor where the foundation determines everything above it.
It also directly mirrors the one-way, line-by-line letter-by-letter printed page.
It is directly derived from the print age or modern age.

The problem in this model emerges when you take one bottom or low down brick out, the whole lot falls down. Rob Bell, in his book ‘Velvet Elvis‘ described this model of faith as ‘Brickianity’.

In 1970, Willard Quine, an American philosopher, introduced a new model of understanding knowledge in a book called ‘The web of belief’.
In the book, Quine described knowledge to be conditioned by truth claims and experience.
Truth claims have multiple interconnections.
The web is bound by but not rooted in experience.
There is no specific foundation but the web is legitimised by its coherence, i.e. the more interconnections there are, the more the coherence of belief and therefore the more rational it is to believe.
Belief shapes experience and belief is shaped by experience.

This mode of thinking was derived from the post-modern electronic age, the age of the telegraph and other information technologies.
Willard Quine's 'Web of belief"

This model is more like the trampoline concept explored also by Bell in ‘Velvet Elvis’: Interconnections between truth claims should be tested, if they fail, there are others to support faith and be strengthened or others can be created that are coherent and cohesive.

I think it is a more robust model of faith, one that can be much more flexible, yet remain much more true and faithful to and serious about the bible overall.

Naturally, there is also a danger in the model:

In the age of post-modern electronica, context is removed, history & context is seen to be largely irrelevant, there is generally no percieved rational basis for valuing one thing over another as, for example, news is presented as equal articles on a news website.
Knowledge can become a purely experiential and relative web and at same time, the sense of metanarrative (organising story that unifies other truths) can be eroded along with the concept of ‘absolute truth’.

Your task for today: Explore the effects of Printing on Christianity. Using the McLuhan analysis method

What does the medium of the printed page extend / enhance?
What does the medium of the printed page reverse into?
What does the medium of the printed page retrieve?
What does the medium of the printed page obsolesce?

Please get stuck in!

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