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Embarking Blog

...on the journey towards restoration of all things

Filtering by Tag: Rob Bell

Movies by Christians


There have been a number of movies by Christians over the past several years. It seems that the movie industry is taking notice of either a new genre, or a new market. As we get close to Easter, who could forget the firestorm of media attention and box office dollars that The Passion of the Christ by Mel Gibson generated several years back. Rob Bell broke into the market with the Christian short films, the Nouma Series. Apparently this was a new market that Christians have excelled at, and now it looks like Rob is headed to make his tv series, and has left Mars Hill Church to do so.  I've been privileged to know a few people who are trying to make their way in the film industry as Christians, and its not an easy road. Money is hard to come by, and even harder it seems, are good films. I've watched a number of "Christian films" and been sorely disappointed. One that I was disappointed in is one of the most famous of Christian films - Fireproof. Though I loved the concept and the message, the filming wasn't very good, the acting was rough, and the spirituality was gratuitous and felt contrived. I appreciate the desire to grapple with real life issues, and am thankful for films that are doing so set in the real life, the real world, and with the real people we know. I long for films made by Christians that touch the heart, evoke the imagination, stimulate thinking, challenge assumptions, offer hope, and do so in a way that is as complex a reflection of the year world we live in while still simple threading the power of the gospel through image, music, and evocative storylines. And I also long for Christians who are thoughtful about film in their critiques, rather than being reactionary because a particular formula hasn't been followed. Here is an article about the forthcoming movie, Blue Like Jazz based on Donald Miller's book.  This feels like the same argument we have about CCM (Christian Contemporary Music) back in the 80's and 90's. Subculturizing Christian culture with particular rules and dividing sacred and secular in these unfortunate ways not only divides Christians, but makes us look pretty silly to the world around us. Is that too much to ask?

Maybe. Maybe not. And there are a lot of questions. What makes a Christian film? Is it the actors? The producers? The money behind it? What happens with the proceeds? The truth and beauty portrayed? The story line? Whether or not there is an altar call or clear salvation line by a key actor or actress? This gets to a deeper question about culture that makes my mind sing. What makes Christian anything, and was Christian ever meant to be an adjective... or was it meant to describe the ones who call themselves followers of the Way?

I had a question the other day that someone asked about how our family deals with secular and sacred, or Christian music. I used to talk about that debate a lot, and now that I'm raising kids, we haven't really talked about it much. This question caused me to pause and think about what we do with our kids. Here's what I realized... we aren't teaching our children about "Christian" music, as if some things are baptized and others are not, or that somehow the sacred realm is divided from the secular in clear lines and demarcations. Those of us who live in the real world no better, intuitively. I realized that my reality is that there is good music, and there is bad music. There are good lyrics, and there are bad lyrics. There are ones that are honoring to God, and those that are not. There are great riffs, chord changes, and surprising sub-melodies or sub-texts. Some of these are written by Christians and some are not. God presents himself powerfully in ways that catch us unaware if we are paying enough attention, and we need to pay attention because there is a lot of garbage that's bad for the soul out there. But there is also much beauty, wonder, longing, and even reflexive response to the Creator by those who don't know him, yet.

This is a problem we've been grappling with for a long time - what is Christian, and how do Christians relate with culture. Great questions that require much more thinking, engaging, responding, creating, critiquing, and imagining.

Here are a sampling of some interesting books I've enjoyed on the topic of Christianity, Culture, and Creativity:

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Poets, Prophets, and Preachers #pp09


I've spent the last couple of days in Grand Rapids at the Conference Poets, Prophets, and Preachers by Rob Bell.  Today is the last day, I'm really looking forward to it.  This is a preaching conference, and it's been great to be around mostly young pastors from around the world because this is a representation of the next generation of preachers - and they are on fire.  It's been a delight for me, too, to see some friends from our time in Ann Arbor who came up from Georgia and Alabama to be here, as well as to see friends from seminary and a bunch of other local friends, too. To the conference:  I remember when I first began hearing about Rob Bell.  I was a pastor in Ann Arbor, Michigan, working with college students when Mars Hill was really growing in the early years of this decade.  Many of my students were from Grand Rapids, and sometimes they would go home for the weekend - and their home church was Mars Hill.  They would often come back and say, "You gotta hear this Rob Bell.  You guys think about and say a lot of the same things."  That was fine and dandy, but I didn't realize then what an impact Rob was beginning to have and would eventually have on the future of the church.  These students would bring me stuff from services and I started to listen to his podcasts and eventually read many of his books.  So, I've been reading and listening to Rob for years.  3.5 years ago I moved to West Michigan to serve in a church just a few miles from Mars Hill.  Interesting thing about the history of this church.  During the rise of Mars, this church went through a huge crisis in leadership and well over 1000 people left the church.  Many of them went to Mars Hill.  In the last 8 years, we've lost many young adults to Mars Hill, not to mention many disaffected with the church.  Though I heavily lamented the loss of so many young adults to our church (remember, I was in campus minsitry in Ann Arbor for years), 2 years ago, I remember just being thankful to Rob and Mars for providing a place for our disaffected young adults and those who were hurt by leadership division.  So I thanked Rob and the church in a sermon for this, and called for a greater unity among the churches and our brothers and sisters in Christ who are seeking the same things.  I hope to see greater unity and cooperation with one another in our community in the future.

Now, I know that Rob has gotten a lot of criticism.  I, too, don't agree with all of his theology - even if I thought I could know what it always was or is.  I would venture to guess that my friends don't always agree with all my theology either.  But let me say this.  On a number of fronts, Rob has taken some hard hits.  One of those is that Rob doesn't believe in the resurrection, that he preaches just from the Old Testament and avoids speaking of the resurrection.  Now, let me just say this to my conservative evangelical friends (and I don't mean that tongue in cheek, you are my people in so many ways):  that's slanderous.  I have not heard recently a preacher more passionate about the resurrection than Rob Bell.  His teachings at this conference on the place or resurrection, the power of resurrection, and the lamb who was slain seated on the throne are in my mind orthodox without question.  Where some of you miss the point is that Rob is teaching a more holistic gospel rather than an often prefered abbreviated, truncated gospel of the contemporary evangelical church.  He is preaching way better than I could about similar things that I've written about often in these blogs concerning the holistic gospel.  Rob understands and is teaching what was visceral to me in my conversion through Paul's words "In him [Christ] all things hold together."

Sometimes Rob is alsosometimes said to be a universalist.  I'm sorry, that's also slander and just not true as far as I can see.  Sure, he believes that all truth is God's truth wherever it shows up, and that all beauty and all goodness are from his good creation and under his reign and attributable to him.  So do I.  That's not universalism.  In fact, those of you who are reformed should recognize the Kuyperian resonance and reformed theology that undergirds this as well as Rob's understanding of the wide breadth of the sovereignty of God.  Don't mistake innovation in words, culture, or even sometimes theology to necessary mean heresy.  Fear is the enemy of the good.

I have a lot more to say, but maybe later.

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How Deconstruction Saved My Faith 2


I was reading an interview with Brian McLaren on his book Everything Must Change from The Other Journal, and I read something in his narrative from the early 90's that is very similar to what I was going through during 1990-1999.  Here is what he says:

[Lost people's] questions re-opened for me something I had encountered a long time ago in graduate school, and that's postmodern philosophy, and this cultural shift from modern to a postmodern culture.  So in the early nineties I started grappling with that shift, and it was really tough... If you want to use a term that comes out of that postmodern world, the word would be deconstruction.  I was undergoing a deconstruction.  Not a deconstruction of my faith as a personal trust in God, but of my theological categories and of my theological methodology.  So that's not an easy thing to go through, but once you do a lot of deconstruction, then you have to start reconstructing or else you end up with nothing but a bunch of fragments.

The difference here for me from McLaren is that I actually discovered a more personal trust in God after the deconstruction of my theological categories and cultural history.  In about 1993, I began the reconstruction even as I continued the process of theological, cultural, and denominational deconstruction.  In fact, I think today I still go through a continual process of deconstructing.  I would prefer to call it reformata et semper reformanda - reformed and always reforming.  And here is the key to so many things right now for me (and for people like Roger Olson, John Franke, Stanley Grenz before he passed, Kevin VanHoozer, Nancey Murphey, LeRon Shults, John Stackhouse Jr., NT Wright, Rob Bell, Scot McKnight and many many more people).  I could probably write a book right now about how so many people in the evangelical world are misunderstanding some new theological and practical movements in the emerging church as heretical, when what these people are honestly trying to do is reform the church according to the Scriptures.  In fact, they're trying to re-read the Scriptures in a way that takes seriously the impact of cultural and theological history upon our reading in good ways and bad.  More on this in a couple follow-up posts to come.

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Rob Bell in Time Mag


Rob Bell in Time MagIn case you didn't see this, Rob Bell was featured in Time Magazine in early December.  It's a nice article about Rob and stays away from all the controversy.  Although I didn't like the sense of Rob as a rock-star pastor.  He's much more than that.  However, he does probably earn the reputation because he seems to work hard at being hip.  I think it's in order to reach a wider audience and to be heard, not just for his own props or to be cool. 

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Lining Up


One of the things that has always bothered me, and that continues to bother me is the ongoing segmentation of the church.  It seems that we evangelicals in particular have a penchant for either creating new litmus tests, new groups with whom we need to affiliate in order to be orthodox, or in order to be a part of the true, pure, right and holy group of Christians. It's been interesting because so many young people have lamented the fact that the church is so broken and disunified, and yet no, many of us are falling into the same trap.  Recently, I've seen this in the desire to protect the church from sermon pastors.  The emerging church is now splitting into multiple categories depending on who you agree with.  Are you a Bellist?  Or a Driscollite?  Do you ascribe to Piperian Baptist Reformed theology, or are you dabbling in McLarenism?  Are you falling prey to Seayanic visions of the missional church, or are you a Kellerite?  Does McManustic theology intrigue you or is Hirschology forming you? Is your church designed around Coletic discipleship, Seeker-sensitive Hybellianism, suburban Warrenics, urban Claibornest new monasticism, or McNealian simplicity?  DA Carson, Stanley Grenz, or NT Wright?  Clark Pinnock or Wayne Grudem?  Scott McKnight or Spencer Burke?  Mars Hill Graduate School or Trinity Evangelical?

Those are just a few of the things I hear in my own circles.  I find myself feeling like I always have to choose and line up or I'll be labelled a heretic at the next turn.  If I agree with something Rob Bell is doing or saying, am I heretical?  If I like Radical Reformission by Driscoll, but I disagree with where he draws the line for what's orthodox, am I out? If I like a lot of what McLaren says in Generous Orthodoxy and I think Bill Hybels is a great evangelical leader, whose camp am I in?  And how do we figure out who's with who?  Is Donald Miller with Rob Bell or Mark Driscoll?  Is Erwin McManus with DA Carson or Chris Seay?

I guess one of my frustrations is that we are continuing to throw out the word "orthodox" as if it's a word that has a pretty solid, hard and fast meaning.  So, where's the list?  If it's drawn from the Nicene Creed, then when we use it, we certainly expand the content.  Who decides what and who's orthodox?  What does orthodox really mean, anyway, because it seems to me lately to have a pretty wide semantic range.  And we seem to be quite afraid that the church is going to go to hell in a handbasket even though Jesus said quite clearly that the gates of Hell wouldn't prevail against it.  I'm not saying that theology, boundaries, truth, and orthodoxy don't matter.  In fact, I'm quite convinced they do.  But the way we are currently talking and treating one another by forcing each other to line up is getting a little tired.  It's particularly frustrating, for instance, when people get accused of being unorthodox because they are seeking to deeply enflesh the gospel in a culture of poverty while "solid" evangelical churches are deeply heretical in their praxis of encouraging personal success or other theologies. 

Paul said it best in 1 Corinthians 1:10-13

I appeal to you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another so that there may be no divisions among you and that you may be perfectly united in mind and thought. My brothers, some from Chloe's household have informed me that there are quarrels among you. What I mean is this: One of you says, "I follow Paul"; another, "I follow Apollos"; another, "I follow Cephas"; still another, "I follow Christ."  Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Were you baptized into the name of Paul?

How about we start talking about what it is the unifies us?  How about we start talking about how Jesus is being displayed in the world? 

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