Monthly Archives: May 2011

More Than a Bible Study

Having been a Christian for ten years, studying the Bible has always been a part of my Christian walk.  During my college years my InterVarsity chapter encouraged every student to be involved in a Bible study.  Looking back on those years, the experiences that I had and the relationships that I developed because of my involvement in Bible studies were some of the most significant in my life.  Many of these friends continue to this day and I even went so far as to marry one of my small group leaders (a story for another time:p).  So when I graduated, finding a church that also valued Bible study was a high priority.  It makes sense.  Being in a small group provides instant community, encourages mutual accountability, and nurtures spiritual growth.

But what if Bible study was more than a Bible study?  What if Bible study became a place where both Christians and non-Christians gathered together and encountered Jesus?  What if Bible study became a place where we not only talked about our calling, but lived it out in community?  These were the questions that animated our discussions at this summer’s Chapter FOCUS Week (CFW).  CFW is an annual training conference for student leaders hosted by InterVarsity Christian Fellowship/USA.  This year I had the joy and pleasure of serving in a track for small group leaders.  The purpose of the track was to equip these young leaders to be more than Bible study leaders.  It was to call them into a life of mission in which they saw their small group community as a place to live our their calling to reach the campus for Christ.

Too often Christians settle for Bible studies that simply serve as a holy huddle for Christians to meet and talk about their faith with one another.  However, what we see in Scripture is that God brings His people into community for the purpose of sharing the Gospel.  This is seen most clearly in the book of Acts, where God uses Christian community to advance His kingdom purposes in the world.  One of the core texts for our track was Acts 2:40-47.  In this text we see that the early church saw itself as a place for both spiritual growth and corporate mission.

It was this vision which we sought to pass on to the young leaders at CFW.  As the week progressed, we talked about how to lead meaningful Bible studies in which people encountered God through His Word and experienced His calling upon their lives.  But we also encouraged these leaders to think outside the box and challenged them to consider how what they were learning in Bible study could motivate their small group community to reach out to their dorms, classrooms, and campuses.  At one point one of the students remarked, “I thought I was just signing up to lead a Bible study.  But God is asking us to do so much more.  He really wants us to love the campus the way that He does.”

Likewise, my own chapter members had their eyes opened to God’s calling for UIC.  “I think this year needs to be the year of the freshman, ” Rob said.  Other chapter members echoed this sentiment:  “We really need to take a serious interest in [the new people coming to campus] and let them know that we care about them and that God cares about them.”  I couldn’t agree more.  Bible study is about more than simply sitting in a room reading a book together.  It is about encountering God through His Word in a way that reveals His heart for the world and challenges us to be a part of His redeeming work in it.  It is my prayer that both the UIC InterVarsity chapters and small groups everywhere will hear this calling.  I pray that through them God might work to bring salvation to our neighborhoods, our colleges, and to the very ends of the earth.

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Tough Questions: Concerning Heaven and Hell

Here is a question that one of my students asked about heaven and hell.  It is a pretty common one:

“How is it considered that we have free will to choose God, if when I don’t choose God I go to Hell? It doesn’t seem like I have a choice but rather only can decide to follow God.”

Again, I ask these questions both to give you a snapshot of the kinds of questions that students are asking on campus, but also to hear any feedback that you might have.

A Doctrine of Ignorance?

I know it has been a while since I’ve posted, so my apologies.  Things have been pretty busy on campus with the end of the school year approaching and our chapter getting ready to head up to Cedar Campus for Chapter FOCUS Week.  So it has been difficult to be active on the web.

That being said, there is something that I have thinking a lot about in recent weeks.  This issue first cropped up surrounding the release of Rob Bell‘s new book “Love Wins”.  Bell has been a pretty controversial figure in both Christian and non-Christian circles, often because of questions that have arisen regarding his theology and methods of teaching.  So the fact that people started arguing about this book did not surprise me.  What surprised me was how few of those shouting had actually read the book.  In fact, several of my fellow seminarians asked me what I thought about the book.  I told them honestly that I didn’t have one because I had not read it.  The questions kept coming, so I ended up purchasing a copy and reading it on my trip to France back in March.

However, when I returned to campus and tried to engage these fellow students in discussion I was shocked to find that many of them were basing their opinions not on the book, but on the blog posts that had been written about it.  Others had judged the book based on the two minute and fifty-eight second promo video that HarperOne created to market it.  In fact, when I had inquired about the book at our seminary’s bookstore I was told that they would not be carrying it because of what it teaches.  (Nevermind the fact that they carry plenty of copies of Bell’s other works including his Nooma videos as well as his other book, “Velvet Elvis”).

What is so disconcerting about this is not simply the fact that these detractors have chosen willful ignorance over informed engagement about this book, but that this is happening at one of the leading evangelical seminaries in the country.  And we wonder why people call evangelicals narrow-minded?

This doctrine of ignorance worries me on a variety of levels.  On a theological level I am concerned because one of the things that Scripture tells us is that when we are saved through Christ we become one body, brothers and sisters in God’s family.  However, when Christians begin to judge and deride a fellow believer, as some of my classmates have done to Bell, based on second-hand opinions and conjecture they betray the unity of Christ.  They have turned upon a fellow sibling.  While there might be reason to correct some of Bell’s assertions and challenge his point of view, this should always be done out of a sense of humility and love for our brother or sister in Christ.

On an intellectual level I am worried because of how illogical this posture of willful ignorance is.  One of the great criticisms of Christian faith is just how unreasonable and unintelligent it is as a tradition.  By refusing to intelligently engage with those with whom we disagree we simply add more ammunition to this charge.  Furthermore, there is something to be said for being teachable and open to learning new ideas or refining old ones.  When we choose to avoid ideas or arguments that we might disagree with, we close ourselves off to this possibility.  I have found that it is when I am most challenged that I have found true reasons for faith.  In addition, these moments of disagreement have often been the doorway to true evangelism with those who have intellectual problems or objections to faith.

Finally, on a pastoral level, this doctrine of ignorance hobbles the growth of our congregations.  When we model an attitude of narrow-mindedness and fail to engage with the diverse religious and philosophical perspectives that are present in our world we do a disservice to those entrusted to our care.  For those believers in the pews, we teach them that it is acceptable to have blind faith and fail to equip them for the real challenges to belief in God which they encounter beyond the walls of our church buildings.  To the unconvinced we fail to minister to their deepest questions and objections to faith because we have shut the door to open conversation.  We also present a picture of the “mature” Christian as a person who ignores, attacks, or shuts down those with whom he or she disagrees.  Such a picture hardly points to the image of Christ, who was never afraid to engage, relate to, speak with, and even debate those with whom he disagreed.  May we live up to our calling as Christians by embracing challenges with faith, intelligence, and humility, for this brings glory to God.

So what did I think of “Love Wins”?  I’m not going to tell you.  Rather, I would encourage you to go out and read it for yourself.  My hope is that you will engage with it critically, wrestle with it honestly, and walk away with a much deeper and more reflective faith than you had before.  This is what it means to pursue discipleship of the mind and in doing so my hope is that you will overturn the doctrines of ignorance that continue to prevail in our world.

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