Archive for the ‘books’ Category

This past weekend much of the world’s chatter online and around town was about the Academy Awards and the seeming insanity of one Mr. Charlie Sheen as he seemed to appear on every major – and minor – media outlet in the world to spout nonsense and just generally get noticed again.  As I am a pretty regular talk radio listener I could not help but hear a fair bit of the discussion surrounding both those events and everyone’s uneducated opinions on both matters.  The major topic of discussion that interested me though over the past few days has nothing to do with either of these things, but has held interest and created discussion in Christian theological circles on a similar level: the as of yet unreleased new book “Love Wins: A Book About Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived” by Rob Bell.  Rob Bell may not be adding Twitter followers at the rate of 500 per minute like @charliesheen is, but he certainly has pumped up discussion – and likely sales – for his upcoming work.

A lot of the opinion and tirades started here, then were rebutted here, and then finally found some balanced opinion and sanity here.  Just as quick reminder – this book has not even been released yet.  No matter where you wind up on the issue of the destination of people when they die – and there is a fair bit of leeway on that will let you be considered orthodox regardless of what some might say – I think the biggest story coming out of this issue is not even the issue itself but how it seems to be handled more and more often within the church and society as a whole.  People are quick to jump to quick and brutal opinions which they wield like a blunt object without ever feeling the need to fully explore a situation or contemplate the facts and what the best course of action is.

What ever happened to thoughtful meditation and consideration over a shock and awe approach to Christian discourse?  Digital media certainly enables a lot of great things to create and continue discourse among otherwise disconnected people, but I think this kind of infighting shows the dark side of what it can do and unfortunately emphasizes the things wrong with the church instead of what it can be when it is great.  I do not write this to express an opinion on the matter yet, I have not yet read the at this point still unreadable book, but I do right it as a call to grace and charity when any discussion of the things of God is to take place – especially if it is in regards to a topic held dear.

John 13:34-35 – 34 “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. 35 By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”

I would like to consider myself a reasonably avid reader – although I would honestly like to be an even more avid reader if it were not for the Siren’s song that is the Daily Show/Colbert Report duo which ensnares me nightly – that tries to read things that will challenge my ways of thinking so I will continue to grow as a person.  In that pursuit I have read a lot of ministry related books by ministry related authors that a number of others in my circles would probably like declared anathema.  Fitting squarely into that category are the many works I have read, owned, and loved by Brian McLaren.  While I served on the Board for Faith and Life for the Mennonite Brethren Conference of Saskatchewan I received at least a few requests for his books to be banned from our church libraries altogether – requests which I was quite firmly against.

I can not say that I have read everything that he has written, but I’ve read at least seven or eight different books he has penned in his writing career and have been challenged and pushed to be better by all of them.  I deeply appreciate his heart for bringing Christianity to the world we now live in and attempting to frame it in terms that are meaningful and bring the God’s story to a world that needs him deeply.  I will not question or try to besmirch the man’s character or intentions for a moment.  I think he is truly doing and teaching what he believes to be true and right.  For years I have enjoyed being challenged by his often purposely ambiguous forays into questioning commonly and traditionally held views of the Christian faith.  I have spent hours and hours defending his work and assertions with friends and strangers, and that makes this all the more difficult because his new book A New Kind of Christianity has broken and is breaking my heart.

Many of his previous books were notorious for their ambiguity on a number of subjects, many of the most popular of his works being written in a kind of pseudo-fictional style allowing him to broach subjects thought untouchable without coming out and directly asserting anything.  This was great for starting discussions – which I believe was his real aim – but was not as great for helping people to clearly understand what he was actually trying to get at at times.  A New Kind of Christianity is an attempt to get past the murkiness and state exactly what he thinks the real discussions need to center around as the faith moves forward.  I will not try to get to everything that I have real concerns and heartaches over to this point as they would be far too numerous to get to here (I’m actually keeping them in a file that I plan on mailing to him in a letter once I’ve finished the book completely.) so I will suffice it to say that he has succeeded in confirming a number the worst case scenarios of his version of Christianity that I had maybe naively denying would be the case.  Whether it is his view of the nature of God, Jesus, Scripture, or even the over arching narrative of God’s story as a whole many of my biggest concerns have been confirmed instead of laid to rest.  If you want to discuss things more in depth, read the book and we will get together a book club of sorts.

Brian,

I want to love you as a brother in Christ, but the version of the faith you are espousing in this book is looking less and less like a faith I can accept as being faithful to Jesus or the story of God I believe is revealed in Scripture through the Holy Spirit by the page and chapter.  I promise I will write you to let you know everything I am struggling with, and I will still listen to you into the future, but your version of Christianity is look less and less like a viable answer to the problems our faith faces in this world.  I love your heart for people, ministry, mission and desire for truth, but the God you seem to be following is looking less and less like the one I do or could follow.

Sadly yours,

Ben

For years now I have been a professed theologian.  My bookshelves are full of works by authors whose names I can barely pronounce writing about topics and using words from languages I cannot speak.  I have always enjoyed reading books of great depth and importance and this has kept me almost exclusively in the camp of serious non-fiction.  I occasionally made some time for some fictional works or less serious reading, but I usually felt guilty like a diabetic eating chocolate cake – it was fun but I was pretty sure it was not healthy for me or profitable.

That being said, this current admission comes with no feeling of guilt of pangs of conscience: I love good stories more than anything.  It may be fiction or non but I can read a book full of good stories with the kind of joy and tirelessness that should accompany only Homer Simpson at an all-you-can-eat buffet.  And I’m not necessarily talking about biographies here.  They are often filled with a lot of boring minutia that only the authors’ mother could love.  I have fallen in love with Donald Miller‘s disarming and self-deprecating honesty, Douglas Coupland‘s strange but unbelievably insightful stories about post-modern life, and most recently Matt Mikalatos‘s funny and poignant book “Imaginary Jesus“.  In all honesty I’ve been finding far more food for thought and more life changing insights in the stories than I have by keeping on reading the seemingly never ending debate over the same church related issues in every book I have read over the past five to ten years.  It is not that I do not still read more traditional non-fiction ministry related books – they will always have their place and I do enjoy them- but I have found that these stories have been causing me to think more and change my life more than many other kinds of books have in recent history.

I still think that there will always be a place in my life and my studies for more traditional non-fictional didactic teaching type books, but if Jesus thought that teaching through stories was a good idea once in a while there is probably some space to be made in my reading for stories too.  If ever you want to take me out or invite me over for a beverage of some description make sure to bring your good stories with you.