Red Letter Christian? I think it’s worth it

Okay class, today we’re going to do some critical thinking.

I read something yesterday that really frustrated me. I knew that it was a problem- but now I’m seeing just how deep it goes. Again I’ll say it, I’m no theologian, but I really love Christ. I believe that he truly is the very Word of God- sent to show us the way. That being said, let me show you a quote from a pastor that I found yesterday, complaining about Rob Bell’s theology.

“Rob Bell makes me mad because he preaches an anti-gospel. He craftily does this by portraying the essence of Christianity as following Jesus and treating people the way Jesus did. While this is important, living the “Jesus life” is not the essence of Christianity and neither is obeying the commands of Jesus (as important as that is). The essence of Christianity centers upon the work of Christ on behalf of sinners (i.e. substitutionary atonement). This is the matter of first importance (1 Corinthians 15:3) that was the prioritized message of Jesus’ apostles (e.g. 1 Corinthians 2:2). Missing this is no small oversight by Bell. It is missing that which is of first importance! Over and over again he talks about living the way of Jesus and being like Jesus, but without the essence of the gospel, which is Jesus’ work! This is scandalous.”

Sometimes I get so frustrated at the evil rut of deception that we’ve fallen into. Somehow, we’ve made these concise little boxes to put the fullness of God in, and we keep adding duct tape and bizarre logic and reasoning. But this is God we’re talking about. The creator of ALL THINGS!!! How arrogant are we to put him in a box.

Rob Bell said in Velvet Elvis, that “…our words are not absolute, only God is absolute…” This is the sort of statement that makes the evangelicals twitch. They cry ‘relativism’… but I cry, “Have humility! Humble yourself before God and let the almighty teach you!”

Now- I’m gonna ask a couple questions that to me, make this whole idea that substitionary atonement is the center of Christianity fall apart.

So, the essence of Christianity isn’t doing exactly what Christ told us to? It’s not living the ‘life of Christ?’

Does that make anyone else scratch their heads?

And, did Christ ever teach this atonement? Because, if I’m not mistaken, he walked around preaching the Gospel… He never seemed to mention this. And come to think- the apostles don’t seem too bent on it in Acts either.

And didn’t Christ send out 70 disciples to preach the Gospel BEFORE he was crucified? So what were these guys telling people?

It just doesn’t hold water.

In his book, ‘Who Really Goes to Hell’ David Rudel explains that for a long time we’ve judged Christ in light of Paul. This is a mistake. We’ve got to learn to judge Paul- as well as everything else, in light of Christ.

And what do you get when you do this?

Well, turns out that there really is a very narrow road to walk. And Christ walked it first, to show us the way… He walked it to the death, and even kept going after that.

Christ brought us a life to live, not a bunch of stuff to stick in our heads. Everything he taught was practical and real. And I tell you the truth, BELIEVING IN HIM MEANS THAT YOU STRIVE TO DO EVERY SINGLE THING HE SAID, trusting that his words are true. And it’s funny, some say that this mentality robs the cross of it’s power. I beg to differ. This is a narrow road, and it’s a cheap faith to make the teachings of the very author of the faith, as he walked around in flesh, a secondary item to being a follower. That’s just nonsense.

Seriously… step back and take a look at that quote above. It’s typical of arguments lately. “...living the “Jesus life” is not the essence of Christianity and neither is obeying the commands of Jesus (as important as that is).” Am I the only one that finds that statement to make my brain want to pop in my weak little skull. That’s like saying “Riding your bike every day is not the essence of being a good cyclist.” Or “Eating healthy is not the essence of a good diet.” or “Listening to your friends isn’t necessary for being a good friend.” or even more applicable- “Obeying your father is not the essence of being a good son.” It’s nuts. Isn’t it? C’mon… really? That’s just nuts.

Christ brought a life, to save us from our wicked age and generation. He came to display this life and set us free. He came that we would have life abundantly. Everything he did was about a life.

I made a guy really mad the other day when I told him that we need to look at Christ first and believe him and only interpret everything else in light of him. This didn’t work for this guy. He wanted to use Paul to interpret Jesus. But I think Paul would be pretty upset at this.

Its sad how far we’ve come from truly allowing Christ to do his work. He came to show us, as a people, the Father and his nature. He didn’t want us having a warped and messed up view of him. So he walked and talked with us- to show us the truth. And then in turn, he wanted us to live out what he showed us, as a people, so that we can keep showing the world what the Father really looks like.

So is it wrong to utilize what he gave us in the manner it was intended?

No- it’s not!

Christians, it’s okay to question it all and for the whole supposed system of atonement to fall apart. I believe in the atonement… And currently, I’m relearning what it is. It may take me a lifetime to get it, but that’s okay. Understanding always follows obedience. It can look crazy at first- but on the other side, there’s illumination. I want to be okay with that. The scriptures are full of examples of people who just did not get what God was asking them to do, but they did it, and on the other side, saw his glory. This has been the case over and over and over in my life as well… how bout yours?

It’s okay to look at the compassion of Christ and realize that God is not this angry monster that Jesus had to protect and save us from. Christ said that if we’ve seen him, we’ve seen the Father- I can’t say that enough times- Christ is a picture of what God himself looks like- every action, word, kindness and teaching… So something doesn’t line up.

I believe in Christ. His way is best, and his way is the only way. Obeying him will always result in life. And I’m really grateful that I can’t put him in a box.

___________

Homework-

So we’ve all got some unlearning to do, and it’s a wonderful adventure.

Here’s a challenge that David Rudel proposed: read Mark, straight through. Mark was Peter’s disciple, and wrote the book to give people a written account of what Peter was teaching. Mark is a long version of his sermons.

Those few pages are all those people had and all that Mark deemed that they needed to know of Christ. It’s an awesome and liberating thing.

I hope that I’ve created more problems than I’ve solved today- these are good problems to have.

I pray that you open your eyes to the wonder and mystery of God. I pray that you’re in awe of him today. I pray that you meet him and believe him and do as he says.

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2 thoughts on “Red Letter Christian? I think it’s worth it

  1. John Anngeister

    Great spirit here, and humility too. This is one of the better posts coming out of that whole thing about Bell.

    I did the homework before class. It was a good start.

    Thanks again for the post, and for the blog – an occasion of reflection for me this morning.

    Reply
    1. John Cullimore Post author

      Wow John, thanks so much. I really appreciate that.

      This was one of those posts that after I hit ‘publish’- I started questioning everything. I don’t want to be just another clanging gong. I want to encourage people to look at Christ, and be amazed.

      Reply

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