It's ironic that I am finally finishing Rob Bell's Velvet Elvis just as the controversy over his new book Love Wins has gotten everyone's attention. It seems that every day I am hearing another person (or group of people) react to Bell's thoughts on reconciling God's love and God's judgment (also ironic, don't you think?) . I can't wait to read it for myself.
At the close of Velvet Elvis, Bell reflects on the early church's role in continuing the renewal (the "putting things back together") that Christ began in his time here on this earth. I was particularly challenged by these words:
"It is important to remember that we rarely find these first Christians trying to prove that the resurrection actually occurred. ...They [early Christians] understood that people are rarely persuaded by arguments, but more often by experiences. Living, breathing, flesh-and-blood experiences of the resurrection community. They saw it as their responsibility to put Jesus' message on display. To the outside world, it was less about proving and more about inviting people to experience this community of Jesus' followers for themselves." (Velvet Elvis, 64)Those early Christians certainly lived in a different time and place, but I imagine that we faced some of the same challenges. There were competing theologies, cultural oppositions, and enormous obstacles to the reception of their message. What challenges me about these early believers is the evidence that their focus was not on arguing or persuasion, but rather was on living as a resurrection community - on letting the life of Christ determine how they lived together and how they invited others to join in new life.
All of the debates over Bell's new book have really gotten people's attention, but I can't help but wonder how many of the arguments will just end up being distractions (although, I do think many transformative conversations will be had over this book!). As Christ-followers, when will we get it? Arguing about whose right or wrong, in or out, can be great distractions from living out the life and ministry of the One who came to put things back together. What would it look like if we followed the way of these early believers and were ruthlessly dedicated to putting things back as they should be? How much better would the invitation be heard and received?
May it be so in our lives as Christ-followers and in our communities who gather in Christ's name!