This blog averages about 30 readers a day, which, to me, is a surprisingly large number of people who actually come to my blogger blog page. I'd guess that between this page, google reader, and facebook maybe 50 people see my posts on any given day. All that to say, nobody is waiting for my response to the furor over Rob Bell's yet unreleased book entitled "Love Wins." You can read some of the responses here, here, here, and here.
But all of the ugly debate, vitriol, arrogance, etc. that has been thrown around by all sides (with the glaring exception of Rob Bell himself) I feel compelled to ask a question that seems to undergird the words of Peter in the Epistle lesson for Sunday. He says, "We did not follow cleverly devised myths..."
And so, in the midst of angry speech over a topic none of us can know the answer to I ask here and now "Where does faith end and cleverly devised myth begin?" It seems to happen in a lot of ways. In my denomination, for example, it often happens around the trappings of worship (what we call liturgy): are we wearing the right clothes, saying the right words, moving our hands at the right times, etc. Elsewhere, like in the world with which Rob Bell is associated, it happens around the use of words: does what you say (or write) line up with what the establishment has deemed proper? Is your view of hell right? Is your understanding of atonement right? Is your "The Bible says it, I believe it" bumper sticker stuck to your car correctly?
This is the problem with religion, not faith, religion. At some point in our efforts to pin down who we are, how we do things, and what we believe about our faith we always step over the line from faith to cleverly devised myth. Always. We all do it. The problem comes when somebody calls us on it and we get all defensive and angry and snarky.
Which is probably why a lot of people don't like religion. I don't like it a lot of the time. The stuff of faith is too big for us to know fully. God is beyond any box we might even think about building. Our salvation is worked out, not by us, but by the Triune God. When we pretend to know things that we can't possible understand, we delve into cleverly devised myth, and when we tread there God loses and Satan wins and people who might have been seeking Jesus decide that we're all just a little too ugly for their taste.
As Jason Boyett says in his blog post on the Rob Bell issue (here) "This is why people hate us."
So, my dear readers, whether you believe in hell or not. Whether you think hell is the place of fire described by Dante or not. Whether you think there is anyone in hell or not. Be careful as you tiptoe the edge of faith because those cleverly devised myths are the stuff to fear, not your brother or sister who might hold a view that is different from you.
A little humility goes a long way.