WOW! Jesus said the Kingdom of Heaven is “at hand,” it’s “near,” and had the audacity to say it was “in us.” 2000 some years ago some Galilean carpenter said that Heaven was as close as your own hands, your own heart and all anyone had to do was reach out and touch it. I’m suspecting the non-parsing types (academics) got it. That we could indeed be in touch with a reality that is larger than any one of us, that it would connect us to our beginnings, to the present, and into the future, was the Galilean crazy?
He said it was to be based in love, love being the core reality that has the power to bind us to our best selves, to each other, and to the very One who gave us our being in the first place. It is (and I hate to use this term) trinitarian, that is the essence of God is deeply communal and interpersonal, and we are and can be drawn into that. But we also have the very capacity to resist it. Which is where non-parsing types live everyday. Jesus knew that. He knew that real people living in real places live resisting or embracing that love. Every Jesus encounter in the Gospels reveals that story. When we decide not to resist we experience Christ’s power which changes the trajectory of our living and Jesus called that abundant living.
When a person actually begins to participate in that, usually long before parsing greek theological terms, they get it, even long before they know the differences between Thomist and Augustinian thought, long before they understand the fine points of Calvinist or Armenian thought. Hopefully long before they begin to load up their iPhone with contacts with precise addresses in Hell and Heaven.
I didn’t want to weigh in on the current wave of controversy over a guy named Rob Bell’s recent book, “Love Wins.” But it has given me ample time to think through a few things, just a few. You see I’ve watched a lot of the NOOMA stuff by Bell. He is a “creative genius.” When I see what this guy churns out, well I just marvel and thank God. Now in my former days, I would “resist” what good this guy is churning out because my own feeble ego couldn’t take it.
Because of my exposure to his work I’ve always understood Rob Bell as a poet, musician, as well as a preacher and teacher who “cuts” theology with an interesting artistic and rhetorical edge (sorry Dr. Christa Beth). For those of us who are both blessed and cursed by such angles of perspective on the things of God, Bell is an angelion (that’s greek for “angel”), or messenger sent from God, like so many before him.
One of my favorite Old Testament Professors, Walter Brueggemann, wrote a book entitled, “Finally Comes the Poet.” He argues that most of Israel’s Prophets were Poets, and most were misunderstood. Hmmmmm? A Poets primary task is to assault the human imagination. Was there and is there room to imagine the things of God from another lens? Often times the Poet in the Hebrew Scriptures finds out that the typical religious type doesn’t have an imagination to assault or see the things of a voluptuous God, as a writer I recently ran across put it. I cut my teeth on another Brueggemann book, “Prophetic Imagination” dealing with the powerful ministry of Moses. The stir with Bell is that his Poetry is indeed assaulting the imagination of the masses and undercutting the dry bones of institutional Christendom grounded in a tired Reformation that is in dire need of Reform. The response to Bell from certain sectors of so called Christendom is almost as bad as going to Cuba and reading the signs along the road side about how the “revolution” continues. Are you kidding me?
Bell handles theological stuff from that same prophetic imagination bent and I think does more than an adequate job tapping into the core of the human Spirit, the human imagination linking it to the God of our Lord Jesus, who is well, enormously in love with us. My take is that Bell is wholly uninterested in the ivory towers of a failed Christendom, he is wholly uninterested in convincing those who have turned the Holy things of God into some kind of cul de sac religion. Bell’s focus is on all those who won’t hear it anymore, who will choose hell over heaven because of a tired and haughty pontification.
Those of us who have encountered Jesus in a life giving way and life transforming way should know by now that “the medium is the message.” That’s why the medium of the incarnation was crucial as a delivery system for Good News. Jesus, the true human encountering and loving other humans in Word and Deed the way God intended. Jesus’ harshest words were aimed at a stale institutional dry rot when it came to religious things. Bell is uninterested in making a case to those “mediators” who exhibit a kind of smirk and glee that goes along with announcing that many are perishing.
It really comes down to a note that a fellow named Greg offered on this “Hells Bells” discussion. “We’re talking about the process of translation and communication, and the question becomes whether Bell’s more poetic “intensity” is totally illegitimate as a way of commentating on the quality of kingdom life.” My answer to that is absolutely NOT. See Bell has a “Prophetic Imagination” and thank God, “Finally Comes the Poet.” It is very possible, yes more than possible that God is as much a “romantic,” as much a “poet” as much a “musician” as God is a law giver, equation solver, mathematician and physicist that our scientific world view demands that our imaginations be beholden to.
You see, the linear thinkers, the equation folks, the people who like propositional truths, folks who like nice and neat, a tidy and tight world have invaded not only the public school systems and academic centers of our day and time, but also the theological and spiritual centers of our day. We used to call it a Liberal Arts education didn’t we? The “Poets, Musicians, and Artists” and their WAY of seeing God and the world have been banished for a good long season. That season is coming to an end. The Bells, and he’s not alone, believe me he’s not alone, have got the Bells of Hell ringing as a WARNING. Like the siren that goes off in the city when a STORM is approaching, the high winds of the Spirit are indeed moving. The Spirit of Jesus is on the loose and the “gates of Hell” will not prevail.
In the final verses of the primary document these words are remembered and spoken . . . “The Spirit and the Bride say, ‘Come.’ And let everyone who hears say, ‘Come.’ And let everyone who is thirsty come. And let anyone who wishes take the water of life as a gift.” – Revelation 22:16-17
OH MY! A PARTY! Dare we imagine the END as such an event? A Wedding Feast, maybe in Cana of Galilee, the wine running over the top, new wineskins to contain it? Is IT OK to imagine such things? IS IT OK TO IMAGINE LOVE WINS?