Saving Jesus Redux

“Living the Questions” has produced a trailer for “Saving Jesus Redux,” a revision of their popular 12-session DVD-based small group exploration of a credible Jesus for the third millennium.

The people who appear of this clip present many comments on God, the Bible, Jesus and progressive Christianity that relate to our group discussions.

Love Wins

I just received a copy of this post from the blog “Living the Questions” which is produced by a group that has published a series of video studies on progressive Christianity. Here is what they have to say about the Rob Bell controversy:

The evangelical blogosphere is all aflutter over Rob Bell’s soon-to-be-unleashed book “Love Wins.”

Having perused an advance copy, we can say that what’s news in evangelical circles is downright passé to most mainline and progressive Christians. For many evangelicals, heaven and hell are at the heart of their so-called “good news,” resting in the comfort that their told-you-so reward is all the more satisfying in the knowledge that countless others are being punished for eternity by an all-loving but sadistic God.

On a practical level, Bell is messing with the evangelical “business model.” Promising a reward in heaven or threatening people with torture in Hell keeps plenty of butts in the seats of countless mega-churches. But more than that, Bell is threatening the very core of evangelical Christianity’s purpose. Denying Hell’s existence leaves evangelicals to wonder, “Why be a Christian?” After all, what’s their understanding of the gospel if it’s not simply glorified fire insurance? Could Jesus’ life and teachings amount to something more than a Get Out of Hell Free card? We progressives like to think so.

In a recent interview for Living the Questions’ new “Saving Jesus Redux,” Diana Butler Bass echoes Bell’s concern that the Church has put too much emphasis on “right beliefs.” Whether the topic be Hell or Jesus, the old understandings have got to go:

“And I think the shift from having faith in Jesus to having beliefs about Jesus was a negative thing for the Church. And to have a person’s orthodoxy, a person’s right relationship with God tested on the nature of what we believe about something is deeply troubling to me. And it’s troubling to me as a Christian; it’s troubling to me as a post-modern person; and I just don’t think it works anymore. I think that we are coming to a different place in our understandings of Jesus and that believing about Jesus is beginning to be replaced by having an experience of Jesus. And I hope that that shift continues. It’s time to leave beliefs about Christianity, in the past.”

Despite the Bell-inspired tantrums (dare we say a hellabelloo?) on display among conservative Christians, there’s nothing they can do about the reality that Christianity is a-changin’ – and it’s not a new phenomenon. Even back in 1922, Harry Emerson Fosdick observed noisy fundamentalists arguing over inane points of “right belief” and asked, “What can you do with folks like this who, in the face of colossal issues, play with the tiddlywinks and peccadilloes of religion?”

So, while blogger John Piper recently tweeted, “Farewell, Rob Bell,” we offer a hearty “Welcome, Rob Bell!” Welcome to a Christianity that has left behind the fear-based, exclusive, and literalistic burdens of right belief in favor of a gospel that is open, inclusive, and grace-filled. It’s a way of following Jesus that you might even say is hell-bent — on naming and mending the injustices and hells that people suffer this side of death.

Welcome, Rob Bell!

Why follow Jesus?

Our discussion on Tuesday night led to an excellent question by Frank. I’m not good at capturing a verbatim of a conversation, but the gist went something like this: If the kingdom of God is the goal of the Christian life and heaven is not, if we no longer have the carrot of heaven and the stick of hell to motivate us, why would anyone choose to work for the kingdom of God? What is the motivation? Why follow Jesus if there is no tangible reward?

(Frank, I hope that this summary is fair to the essence of what you were asking.)

The traditional form of Christianity has obviously been organized around eternal reward and eternal punishment. As we discussed, if eternal punishment is off the table (per Ron Bell), and if a loving God brings everyone to heaven—even non-Christians (universal salvation)—and if we don’t have to do anything or believe anything to qualify, why should our lives be moral? Why should we care about social justice? Why should we do anything about poverty and ecological destruction? Why not just live for ourselves?

We talked a bit about the intangible rewards of working to bring about the kingdom of God. For instance, it was mentioned that in building a Habitat house for someone in need of decent affordable housing, there is a sense of satisfaction from knowing you have helped someone experience a better life. I guess what we are dealing with here is altruism—a selfless concern for the welfare of others. It is the opposite of selfishness. But why not be selfish, if we get to heaven regardless? Many non-Christians are altruistic. What motivates them?

For me the motivation is Jesus. It is found in taking Jesus seriously. It is seeing Jesus not as an instrument whose death and resurrection gets me entry into heaven, but rather as a model of the godly life. Jesus is a model of what it means to be fully human, and I want to be as fully human as I can be.

Frank’s question was excellent and I need to do much more thinking about how to better answer it, because it is essential to progressive Christianity. I’m wondering how others in the group would respond.