Archive for April, 2011

23
Apr
11

tempting to edit

I just did a spring check-up here on abrokencup. Some links were dead, and have been removed, and other videos have been put in their place. Unfortunately, there are new and dumb restrictions that mean that you have to click twice on the different videos so as to watch them on youtube.com, but hey at least it works, and you can listen to the songs.

It was tempting for me to edit several of my blog entries as I read through them. I ran into stuff that I don’t know if I believe any more. Or at least I don’t feel like I believe it anymore. Some of what I’ve written sounds idealistic and naive as I sit here and read it on this fine Saturday morning. I am tempted to edit stuff, but I’ve chosen not to. It’s like my journal. I don’t want to edit it, I want to allow it to be what it was when I wrote it. Who knows if it’ll be encouraging for someone. Who knows if I’ll find it encouraging and true myself some other day. I need encouragements myself these days. I look and search, but I don’t find any. Sometimes we’re in valleys that are so dark and deep that they take a long time to get out of. That’s how mine feels these months. I am not easily satisfied with peoples’ wisdom and answer. It doesn’t help. I need to hear from God. I need encouragement. Somehow. Someday. Somewhere. I hold on for the ride, because I know that God is good and interested and invested in me despite what my feelings suggest these days.

I just read a very good article on Christianity Today that talks about some of the purposes of these valleys.

Happy Easter! Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! May he experientially show you and me who he really is!

Blessings, Torben

17
Apr
11

the god of paradoxes

I wrote a blog entry about Rob Bell’s book Love Wins, where I found God to be described in terms that may have made perfect sense to Rob Bell, but in my opinion is far from the more complex picture of God that we find described in the Bible:

God is love, but he is also holy.

Jesus is the lamb of God, but he is also the Lion of Judah

Life comes from death

The first shall be last

If you want to be a leader in the kingdom, serve

The real leader uses a towel to dry peoples’ feet not a stick to control people

God wants for all people to choose him as their God, and he has made provision for that to be possible through his son Jesus’ death on the cross, but he is also aware of the tragic fact that some people will not choose to receive the free gift of life and righteousness that he is offering them

Blessed are those who mourn…

These are just some of the many examples of the paradoxes of who God is, and what he is up to. I can’t figure him out completely. I don’t understand a lot of the things he does or chooses to not do. I just don’t.

God is God, and I’m not. He created me in his own image. I have a spirit that has come alive when everything in me that was against God was crucified and buried with Christ (Galatians 2:20). So I am joined to God and rest in the fact that nothing and nobody can ever change that (Romans 8). I rest in the fact that my faith doesn’t have to make perfect sense. I rest in the fact that a lot of it makes sense anyway, but I’m not inclined to desperately try to make sense out of the paradoxes that are in the Bible. These paradoxes cause me to wonder, think, chat with God, and essentially worship him.

A Christianity without paradoxes is flat, weak and ultimately very uninteresting. It may feel good for a little while, if I can explain away the things in Christianity that I don’t understand or agree with, but it has a very short shelf life, because it’s not founded in the truth of who God is. Lots of people throughout the ages of the Church have tried to explain away the paradoxes about God that they are uncomfortable with. There is nothing new under the sun, when that happens.

I will end this blog entry by quoting an excerpt from an excellent review of Love Wins from Christianity Today:

“This brings us to the other problem with liberalism: Ironically, its passion to make Jesus more accessible to the contemporary mind ends up making Jesus less interesting. To be fair, many people become Christians as a result of hearing the liberal gospel. And one suspects that Bell’s book will have this effect for some. But liberalism has never been able to win a large following for Jesus. Too often, its Jesus sounds like an ideal people already believe in, so why bother? (…)Most Christians grasp that to demythologize one doctrine is to make the others less coherent. They recognize that a Christianity that teaches about “a God without wrath [who] brought men without sin into a kingdom without judgment through the ministrations of a Christ without a Cross” (H. Richard Niebuhr’s classic summary of liberalism) does not reflect the thickness of biblical revelation nor lived reality. And they see that when all is said and done, there is no painful contradiction between the love and justice of God. That in the end, not only does love win, but justice, too.”

So, I guess, at this point in 2011, I land in an interesting, and seemingly small camp in terms of what I believe: I am a young(ish) man who is too liberal for the conservatives, and too conservative for the liberals 🙂

Blessings, Torben

09
Apr
11

not good at being happy with the happy people

That may be a slightly odd title for a blog entry, but there is a point to it. I have a confession to make: I’m much better at weeping with those who are weeping than being happy with those who are happy (Romans 12:15)!

I’ve read several books about the problem of pain and suffering, my favorite being Philip Yancey’s Where Is God When It Hurts that I just finished re-reading, and I know from those books and from my work as a discipleship trainer and counselor that most people struggle with the opposite problem: they don’t know how to mourn with those who are mourning or weep with those who are weeping!

I do feel a bit out of place in this world when it comes to this issue. I really don’t have problems spending time with or talking to friend or foe who is struggling. I have a natural, God-given desire to be there for those people whether they’re looking for long-term communication and relationship or just a hand as they pass through my life. I enjoy conversations about the difficult, complicated questions of life. And quite frankly, I simply don’t know what to do with people where everything is going great…

I have found many people in my life who don’t know what to do with me when I share from the bottom of my heart. My heart and my mind is filled with much confusion and much messiness. That is troubling to many people. They want my problems and questions to be gone, so they don’t have to be bothered by them any more. If we’re honest, that’s most often the reason why we want people to stop hurting in front of us: for the sake of our own peace of mind!

But again, this blog entry is about my own issues, and again, I just don’t know how to be around and have relationship with people where seemingly everything is going the way they want, or they are just very untroubled by the things that are not. I don’t know what to say. I can’t get rid of a nagging thought in the back of my mind suggesting that they’re probably not telling the whole truth….Surely they must be struggling with something! But obviously I don’t know, and it’s not my call to determine whether people are just living in escapism and denial of reality, or if they are just plain, old school happy with their lives. I don’t get anywhere making those judgments.

So, what do I do? How do I learn to be happy with the happy people and rejoice with those who are rejoicing? How can I learn?

I would love to be able to do both. Few people know how to be sad with the sad and cheerful with the cheerful. It’s a very difficult thing to do, apparently. Most people I’ve met swing one way or the other. How do I learn to live in the middle where I believe Christ lives?

I know that Jesus has been teaching me about mercy these past several years. I have learned to not automatically assume that people are terrible, just because they make terrible choices. I have learned to have compassion and understand that people have reasons for what they are doing, even if I don’t agree with them.

So I know Jesus can teach me how to be happy with the happy people. I just don’t know how at this point.

Any thoughts from any of you out there?

Blessings, Torben

09
Apr
11

a small god

Dear blog readers!

I wonder if there are still any of you out there after this very extended hiatus for my blog. Anyway, it’s not that I’ve been without thoughts, questions, insights, struggles, victories, sorrows and even some smiles these last months, and we’ll see what I end up choosing to write about these coming months.

It’s not often that I find myself reading something that’s truly hot and the thing lots of people talk about. I tend to have the perspective that I wait until the initial noise and fire is over, and then I’ll decide if it was something that was worth looking into. (And yes, I’m aware that some of you after reading that statement are tempted to write me off as a 74-year old who is out of touch with time, but in reality, I’m still only 34 🙂 )

But last week I did actually decide to pick up mega-church pastor Rob Bell’s latest and hotly debated book, Love Wins. I read it, and I’ve decided to share some of my thoughts on the book and some of the topics it talks about.

I studied at a very postmodern-focused university in Denmark, and I have studied postmodernism at length, and I’m well aware of that for a postmodern reader (which most younger, Western people are) the very fact that I choose to write my comments and choose to disagree with large portions of Rob Bell’s book means that I’m judging him. Let me make it clear from the get-go: I’m not Rob Bell’s judge. I have no intention or desire to judge this man that I’ve never met. And just because I disagree with some of the things he’s writing, does not mean that I judge him or think that everything I’m saying myself is perfect and beyond reproach. However, in order for us to be able to converse about what we believe, we also have to be honest when we disagree with what other people are saying when we find that it touches on something that’s precious to us.

Sometimes when I read or hear about somebody saying something about God or his kingdom that I don’t think is true, I think: “I think he is wrong. I hope he is right. What are the consequences if he is wrong?“. I don’t have the same thoughts after reading Love Wins. “I think he is wrong. I actually don’t hope that he is right. And I think there are very severe consequences for many people if he is wrong” are more along the lines of my thoughts after reading the book.

In a sense there is little point to writing my thoughts on this book by +100,000 Facebook fans pastor Rob Bell. Who cares what I think? If I disagree with him, I risk being ostracized as being ‘negative’, ‘judgmental’, ‘legalist’, ‘hateful’ or whatever the term might be. Couldn’t I just leave it to people to make up their own minds about his book and issues of salvation, Heaven and Hell? Sure, and I don’t have any illusions about my opinion being particularly relevant to other people, but I do believe that Rob Bell touches on some things that are dear to me, and where I do find it important enough to voice my concerns.

I don’t think that Rob Bell purposefully is trying to deceive people with his theology. I believe he believes what he believes. I am, however, troubled about some of his opinions and his ways of sharing it.

I enjoy books by authors such as W. Paul Young, who wrote the bestseller The Shack, and C. S. Lewis with his many books touching on issues of eternity including The Great Divorce, The Chronicles of Narnia and others. These are all works of fiction. And how I wished that Rob Bell would’ve written his book as fiction. Because, quite frankly, a lot of it is a lot more fiction than theology! C. S. Lewis writes in his preface to The Great Divorce: “I beg the readers to remember that this is a fantasy…the transmortal conditions are solely and imaginative supposal: they are not even a guess or a speculation at what may actually await us. The last thing I wish is to arouse factual curiosity about the details of the afterworld“.

Rob Bell, however, writes Love Wins as a book of theology. He is asking lots of questions, and he gives what he says are biblical answers to these questions. Some will read it and be relieved. Some will read the book and be happy. Some will just be utterly confused.

I read the book and came away with the thought: “that sounds like a very small God“.

Everyone of us stand in immediate danger of falling into the trap that the French philosopher, Jean-Jacques Rousseau described like this:

God created man in his own image. And man, being a gentleman, returned the favor

I felt I read 200 pages about a god created in Rob Bell’s image. I didn’t find that god very attractive.

I could write lots of examples of why I didn’t find the god or even the world presented to me very attractive. I just don’t think that serves a point. I do want to make a comment about the usage of the Bible in the book. I found it troubling that even though it’s in perfect line with a postmodern understanding of how we view literature and meta-narratives where we believe we can pick and choose and respect the context when it works for us, and ignore it when it doesn’t, it was sad to see how that’s how I saw the Bible being used in Love Wins.

Whenever the context of the primary hearers and readers was useful to stress a point it was used, and whenever the context would complicate matters or even disprove the point that Rob Bell was trying to make, the context was ignored or misunderstood. That I find troubling.

We already live in a day and age where most Christians know the Bible very poorly. I remember a couple of years ago where I asked long-term Discipleship Training School Leaders at various Youth With A Mission missionary training centers in Asia, Europe and North America the same question: “what is the biggest difference between Discipleship Training School students today and 10-15 years ago?” Every single one of these missionaries answered in a similar way: “the students know God and the Bible less and less, and we have to almost start from scratch and assume that they simply don’t know the God they claim to believe in, or the Biblical truths that they claim to follow

We know the Bible less and less, and that’s where I find it troubling when pastors, leaders and authors exemplify pick-and-choose-Bible-reading. It is, after all, part of our calling as leaders to be responsible about not misleading people we have a position of authority over.

If you want to read a long review that talks about some of the many questionable points in Love Wins, you can read Kevin DeYoung’s blog here. I disagree with some of his points, and some of his tone is a bit too harsh, but especially some of the points are spot-on and very important aspects to consider (see point 2 – Historical Problems, point 3 – Exegetical Problems, and point 7 – A Different God).

I hope Love Wins will cause the readers of the book to chat with God about who he really is and what he really does have to say about salvation, Heaven and Hell. I have fears that people will be mislead. I have fears that there will be sad consequences for buying into some of the messages of this book. But at the end of this blog and at the end of each day, I choose to believe that God is still strong, and his Spirit is alive and well in all his children and will help them discern what is Truth which will set them free (John 14:6, John 8:32), and what is just wishful thinking-theology, which we are all in danger of buying into.

I want to know Christ deeper, and if the conversation about these questions lead people who don’t know Jesus at all as their Savior and Friend to get to know him and experience life in him here and in the afterlife, and if it leads people who know Jesus already, but don’t know him well to get to know him better, I rejoice. If that’s not the case. And I fear it’s not. It makes me sad.

Blessings, Torben – I’ll write another blog entry about why it’s problematic when we create a god in our own image, and why a God that makes perfect sense in my eyes, and is without any paradoxes, is a small god




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