Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Christian tribalism: looking forward to the "love winning" thing

For those interested in and affected by the Rob Bell/Love Wins kerfuffle, that book's editor makes several good points in an article entitled Rob Bell's Hell. For example:

As a young evangelical, I was socialized to see the biggest threat to the church as theological liberalism. But now I think the biggest threat is Christian tribalism.... Such is the challenge facing the church today and what the reaction to Love Wins reveals.
This tribalism isn't just about eternal destiny (the subject of Bell's book). It can be about so many other things. A current favorite on the divide-and-bicker list is the topic cluster of masculinity, gender roles, and sexuality.

For example, on Monday, Rachel Held Evans called out a well-known pastor who posted a polarizing statement on Facebook.* That pastor provided the "divide," and some of Evans' commenters supplied the "bicker" portion of the equation.

Later, Brian McLaren, reflecting on Evans' post, wrote about the two tribes in this Washington Post article.

Now, I want to say this next part carefully, knowing that it's likely to be misunderstood by some from both tribes.

As a preface, I come to this whole discussion with a graduate degree from a conservative seminary, including as many credits in Bible and theology as comprise a university master's degree. That's not to wave credentials around, but just to say I know a little about biblical subjects, and I try to approach theology carefully.

image: Jesus Washes the Disciples' Feet
by Julius Schnorr von Carolsfeld (1794-1872)
from Pitts Theological Library's Digital Image Archive
But before I ever took a theology class, before I ever even opened a Bible, I was an atheist from a mostly unchurched background. When I first came to Christian faith and started seeing the disagreements between (and within) churches, I was shocked.

To me, it seemed like infighting over small issues. Honestly, it reminded me most of bickering siblings (another subject in which I have some expertise).

I realize there are important theological points to be made, and we Christians don't all see things the same way. But can we please agree to disagree agreeably? When we think of our approach to relationships with our brothers and sisters in the faith, can we be less like bickering siblings and more like suffering servants?

Can we be less about polarizing rhetoric and more about self-emptying?

Less table-overturning and more footwashing?

One of the comments on Rachel Held Evans' post was pretty telling:

"Aren't Mark Driscoll and Rob Bell part of the same outfit?
I'm looking forward to the love winning thing, when's that gonna start?"

Another commenter corrected this misperception, explaining that Driscoll pastors Mars Hill Church in Seattle, and Bell pastors Mars Hill Bible Church in Grand Rapids (actually Grandville). To which the first commenter replied, "I guess I thought 'Mars Hill' was a franchise."

And indeed, it should be — at least, in the sense of outsiders being able to see some similarity between the two. Some love. Some Jesus.


* For the record, I don't disagree with everything I've heard from Mark Driscoll, and I don't agree with everything I've heard from Rachel Held Evans. In case you're wondering.



  1. I agree and disagree. The is MUCH too divided and bickers way to much, and there are several parts of the NT that admonish us not to do this. On the other hand, Driscoll's comments were bullying and the disagreement was not over theology but acting in a loving manner. I'm not sure the response was appropriate either, but I do not see the issue as being one of theological difference so much as trying to work out a way for Christians to be loving and to stand up for what's right in a postmodern culture.

  2. Absolutely, R. -- his post was out of line, and if you read today's follow-up on Rachel's blog, you'll see the call to action had some impact. This is a tricky thing, though, because Driscoll really sees this issue as being somewhat central to theology. And yet, our call as believers is to love... even those we vehemently disagree with.

  3. Anonymous1:45 PM

    "Acting in a loving manner" IS our main theology, based on the greatest and second greatest commandments. For me, this is the main issue. We think we can separate our theology and out actions. It doesn't matter how "correctly" we can theologically parse things among ourselves when the theology that the world actually reads is our practice.

    Pam, I came out of the woodwork just for you. ;) Hope you're having a great week!

  4. Thanks for your comment, Elizabeth! I really appreciate the way you phrased your thoughts.

    The struggle, as R. said, is how do we who see love as the center of theology respond when someone acts in a way that demonstrates that they see the center as something completely different -- for example, the Westboro Baptist folks? Do we call them out? If so, what does that look like?

    Because frankly, when I get riled by a fellow Christian's unloving words toward an entire group of people, showing love to that person is the furthest thing from my mind.

  5. Anonymous7:57 AM

    You're welcome. :) We know trees by their fruits, yes? To me, the Westboro folks are on a whole other level than those mentioned in the disagreements above. I would not claim them as family, but enemies. They spread hate. For me, this makes the way forward more clear. To knowingly try to love your enemy and pray for those that curse you can sometimes be easier than all the angsty emotions that come with loving our various dysfunctional-to-us family members. I tend not to expect anything from loving my enemies, other than the possibility of being surprised by God. It's because we have expectations of our family that can make loving them harder, that make being selfless harder.

  6. Wow. Good point. I'll have to chew on that a while.


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