…by the Bell, Conclusion: Hopes and Fears
Read part 1 – Preliminary Discussion.
Read part 2 – Chapter 1 & Introduction.
Read part 3 – Chapter 2
Read part 4 – Chapter 3
Read part 5 – Chapter 4
Read Part 6 – Chapter 5
Read Part 7 – Chapter 6
Read Part 8 – Chapter 7
Christ and Pop Culture writer, Ben Bartlett and guest-writer, Kiel Hauck, two friends who spend their Friday nights playing video and board games in between heated theological, social, and political discussions, come together to hammer out their thoughts about a book that seems to have most other evangelicals shutting down lines of communication, intentionally or not.
Each week, they’ve read one chapter, and traded a few emails discussing the chapter. This week, they share their final thoughts.
Ben Bartlett: “God calls us to his truth. Whether we debate the latest theological musings or kid about sports or share moments of pain, my hope and prayer is that we seek the meaningful life.”
Here’s a funny little piece of trivia for you; I used to live quite close to the house Rob Bell lived in when he came to Christ as a child. And to do one better, I attended and later became a deacon at the church he went to during that time! How I wish I could meet him now and have a long conversation about the directions he has gone and the people he has influenced. But such is not to be.
You and I have had quite a ride discussing Love Wins, and I’ve thoroughly enjoyed myself. Here are a few things I think have been especially positive about it.
1. I think we’ve done a pretty good job walking the line of debating with clarity while maintaining civility.
2. I think we’ve done a pretty good job highlighting where some of the lines of demarcation in our Christian circles lie. By that, I mean that by discussing lots of smaller points, we have highlighted the larger issues at the heart of this debate; issues of how Scripture is to be interpreted, the role of truth and compassion in theological formation, and how life experiences help us identify with various ways of knowing God’s character. Things like that.
3. Finally, I think we’re about to do a pretty good job of getting over our differences while continuing in relationship.
See, within the next week or two you’re going to generously brave your allergies (as you have done so many times) and come by my house to hang out. We’ll play Settlers or Dominion or Trivial Pursuit or Epidemic. We’ll talk about our lives. We’ll discuss our frustrations with our own inadequacies. We’ll debate the finer points of our favorite television shows. I’ll tease you about the Kansas City Royals, and you’ll remind me of the painful fact that it’s hard to tease when you’re from Detroit.
As I reflected on all this, I realized what I most want to do in this last article is to tell you about my prayers for you. See, I’m an incurable planner… I’m constantly coming up with new ideas and trying to figure out ways to make them happen. So as your friend, I have a thousand hopes and dreams for you and for God’s action in your life. Here are the most important ones.
My first prayer is that you would find growing strength and confidence in the depth God is always creating in you. By that, I mean to say that you are a deep person. God has made you that way, and I love it and want to see it continue. Further, I want you to grow in confidence in your life knowing that you are not destined to a shallow existence, but that God has made yours a thoughtful journey. You have shared some intimate things in this series, and we have been able to see how you use life’s problems to think more deeply about God and your place in his world. I cannot tell you how much I admire that. Be bold, Kiel. The world needs thoughtfulness like yours.
My second prayer is that you would find joy in pursuing God’s truth. It has been a really cruddy year in your life, and I wish I could explain why God has allowed it to happen. I can’t. When it gets right down to it, nobody can. And I think that the events in your life have tinged your thoughtful struggles with God’s Truth and made the journey less than a joy. I get that, because my own journey is full of the same thing. But my prayer is that God would grant you a growing sense of joy in trying to know how he would have you live, and be, and relate to him. Already I think I can see the beginnings of that in the excellent music reviews and photography you have been doing lately… they sing the beauty of God’s world in the context of the things you most enjoy. Keep doing that stuff.
My third prayer is that you would know how high, and wide, and deep, and wonderful is the love of God for you personally. As you and I have discussed many times, this is a significant problem for both of us. We look at who we are, at what we have(n’t) accomplished, at the stories of our lives… and we struggle to see anything but failure and weakness. But Kiel, you and I believe in a God whose love is complete and whose call to humble dependence transcends the petty scales this world uses to measure virtue. We have to commit ourselves to trusting him if we are to have any hope, no matter how great the struggle. I look forward to continuing to share in that struggle together with you.
Here is one of my favorite quotes from my favorite book, Chaim Potok’s The Chosen. “A man must fill his life with meaning, meaning is not automatically given to life. It is hard work to fill one’s life with meaning. That I do not think you understand yet. A life filled with meaning is worthy of rest. I want to be worthy of rest when I am no longer here.”
God calls us to his truth. Whether we debate the latest theological musings or kid about sports or share moments of pain, my hope and prayer is that we seek the meaningful life and, in the way God calls us to, are someday worthy of his rest.
Kiel Hauck: “No matter our theological differences, I appreciate your willingness to hear me out and affirm me in these things. Both this and your own convictions to truth and what you believe have been what has made this discussion so robust and constructive.”
I have to admit that I was terrified at the idea of doing this email exchange about “Love Wins” for a number of reasons. First, I don’t trust myself. I am constantly underwhelmed at my own ideas and understandings of life and God. How could someone such as myself offer anything of value to such a discussion? Second, I was scared of the idea of people knowing what I really thought about some of these things. Would people think I was a heretic? Would people question my Christian faith? Would I actually lose friends by exposing myself in such a forum as this? Finally, I respect you greatly. You truly are one of the most intelligent people I’ve met. You are articulate when speaking, back up all of your opinions with wise observations, and basically just seem like you have stuff figured out. All of these things literally left my hands shaking over the keyboard when I typed these emails.
I want to thank you for your patience with me. I haven’t met many people who have the kind of grace that you have exhibited in these discussions. It’s been a blessing to be spoken to with such kindness and I hope people take note of your demeanor – it’s something all of us should be striving toward, myself especially. Even more importantly, you deserve applause for your patience with my constant self loathing, whether it be through the emails or phone calls or in person. It takes a special heart to deal with the constant cynicism and self deprecation that I struggle so hard to control. Thanks so much for continuing to bear with me.
As you noted, the past year has been more unbearable for me than I could imagine a year could ever be. I’ve spent countless hours yelling and crying out to God for answers and even more hours intentionally ignoring him and refusing to pray or even read his Word. I’ve contemplated a thousand times just throwing up my hands in disgust and walking away from the faith that often times feels painful to cling to.
I recently returned from a trip home to see my family and friends. I spent one day, as I always do, with my dear friend Shane. He’s a pastor in Oklahoma. We were freshman in college together and despite being the same age, I have always looked up to him, admired him, and revered him for his faith and his commitment to godliness. As I was explaining to him my current state and my frustration with God and my faith, he asked if there was any bright spot, anything at all that currently brought joy to my heart. I told him about “Love Wins”. I told him about the tears I shed while reading it and the hope it brought to my heart when I read Bell’s words. I told him that the book made me want to persevere and reminded me of the love that exists in Christ.
None of this makes the book “theologically accurate” or proves anything about Rob Bell as a teacher, leader, and pastor. I’m also not trying to use some emotional argument to try to make Bell’s points seem valid. But here’s what I know – Shane is a lot like you in both personal demeanor and in theological construct. Both of you aren’t Rob Bell’s biggest fans but both of you somehow seem to see the good in what he has to say and the impact he has on people, especially those who are hurting. And both of you are able to put at least some emphasis and validity on those things as being real. No matter our theological differences, I appreciate your willingness to hear me out and affirm me in these things. Both this and your own convictions to truth and what you believe have been what has made this discussion so robust and constructive.
I pray that you continue in your journey towards understanding and knowledge. You are a man of great convictions and it shines through every time you speak. Your confidence in those convictions is something that I admire greatly – surely more than you know. I pray for your continued pursuit in teaching others. You are gifted in leadership and I pray that this is something that you wouldn’t give up on or shy away from. Take every opportunity you get to utilize that and don’t ever doubt yourself.
In that same vein, I pray for your continuing journey in fatherhood. It’s such a joy to watch you interact with Isaiah and Lucy. You are an amazing father and an amazing husband to Samantha as well. I pray that your family continues to provide you with joy and that your journey with them is filled with love and excitement. I’m so glad that I get to see it!
It’s been fun working through this book together. Perhaps this won’t be the last time we do this. I look forward to our next board game night!