Wednesday, March 23, 2011

A Loss of Perspective

I can't decide if this is in the series of posts on Civil Discourse or not. We'll say not.

I'm about to start reading Love Wins by Rob Bell soon and I'll have a review done ASAP. There are already a 1000 reviews out there already but I was reminded the not everyone goes around reading reviews of bloggers that they don't know so a review from me could still serve a purpose. This isn't that review even though it's on a related issue. I want to raise a question:

Have we lost the ability to know which issues are essential to the Gospel and which issues are non-essentials?

This issue came to mind when in the midst of all of the reviewing of Love Wins and charges of universalism going on I saw an interesting response from someone. This person is someone I respect and I know loves Christ and serving in His Church. His response to the controversy was to post a link to a blog. This blog came to the conclusion of all of the universalism hubbub that it was a sign of a split in the Evangelical church.... between legalists that cared about attacking anyone different from them and progressives that wanted to love their surrounding communities.

Uh... really?

I can safely say that both my friend and that blogger missed the point of the debate completely. I think I know why they missed it though. The most interesting part of the Martin Bashir/Rob Bell video that went viral last week (YouTube it if you missed it) was that Bell admitted that this book was largely a response or working out a reaction to the way he was raised. I think that my friend and the blogger are doing the same thing.

I think we all do the same thing to an extent.

Many who grew up in the American Christian world can remember what their churches stood against when they were growing up and most of the time it resembled either a Republican platform or petty differences much more than it reflected Scripture. What kind of music you listened to, what translation of the Bible you used, what kind of clothes you wore were the issues that drove the debate for many in the past. Many of us would love to run away from that past and be Christians that are not forcing people to take on our extra-Biblical convictions when they come to Christ.

Augustine probably didn't say this but he's credited with saying: "In essentials, unity. In non-essentials, liberty. In all things, love." We're finding out that in the past we quarreled and shut out people over the non-essentials. We aim to correct the problems of the past. The problem that some come to is that they not only correct the problems of the past, they over-correct. They don't want to disagree or debate or call out any position. They basically treat every issue as a "non-essential."

Why is this a problem? It's a problem because what happens when we refuse to stand against false teaching, when we refuse to say that anyone is wrong, we project a Christianity that will not be appealing to anyone outside the church. Why would anyone want to be part of something where two people can say completely opposite things about the core of the Gospel and neither side cares? We think we're showing love but we're actually showing that there's no substance to what we have to offer.

To close, there is one issue left. How then do we determine which issues are essential to the Gospel and which issues are non-essential. How do we keep from overcompensating from a past where every issue was essential to a world where none of them are? I won't aim to frame orthodoxy in the space of a blog but I do think we can look at some conclusions that the reformers came to.

Salvation is by faith alone, by grace alone, in Christ alone. Scripture alone is our final authority on what God has to say to us and we live for the glory of God alone

Regardless of where Rob Bell stands on the issue, universalism is much too serious a strike against the core of the Gospel to be considered a non-essential. We should we wary of shifting to a world where we no longer stand for those core truths in the name of unity.

If that's the case, what are we unified about?


  1. Love it. Can't wait to hear your review. I've contemplated writing one myself. I still might but from a secondary perspective.

  2. Well put. Honestly, I do see the divide the blogger was referring to... but I've lived through divides before, and so has the Church. (Though knowing that doesn't seem to be making it any easier.)

    Interesting that you bring up the "solas" -- I saw one commenter on a Catholic blog say this kerfuffle reveals "the bankruptcy of sola scruptura." Yikes.

    And in response to the essential/nonessential question, I have to give you this great quote:

    "Oddly enough, you cannot even conclude, from my silence on disputed points, either that I think them important or that I think them unimportant. For this itself is one of the disputed points. One of the things that Christians are disagreed on is the importance of their disagreements. When two Christians of different denominations start arguing, it is usually not long before one asks whether such-and-such a point 'really matters' and the other replies: 'Matter? Why, it's absolutely essential.'"
    C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity