Oh for controversy’s sake!

I’ve been thinking lots about my personal theology, and wondering what it is that forms it/informs it. I’ve been on a long journey and ventured down some interesting paths, and I’ve come into contact with people who are quite different, who believe quite different to me. I went to an all girls Catholic school for my secondary schooling. I remember in my year 13 religious studies classes, I tended to get in arguments with my teachers about religion. I had so many questions about the faith. So many questions about the character of God.

One of the girls in my class was a Muslim girl. It’s not often at a Catholic school that you get Muslim students but she was there and she was probably one of the nicest people you could ever meet. After everything that went down with the September 11 attacks, people were pretty anti-Islam and I don’t think my religious studies teacher was any different. In one of our classes, she painted this picture of violent Islam and how that violence was prominent across all of Islam. If you knew this girl, you’d know that she absolutely would never hurt a fly. She sat behind me and I could see the tears running down her cheeks as my teacher spoke ill of her faith. She was my friend and because she was my friend, I had to say something.

So I asked my teacher how much she knew of the different sects within Islam. I asked her if it was fair to assume that all Muslims were the same. I asked her if there was ever a point in Christian history where we weren’t just as violent as the people who flew planes into the twin towers on September 11th. I asked her about the crusades. Though part of me was engaging in normal teenage rebellion against the system, part of me had a genuine love and sorrow for my friend who was feeling the brunt of a harsh religious attack.

So recently, I’ve been thinking about controversy. It seems only fair that we start thinking about these things when Brian McLaren becomes popular, or when Rob Bell starts writing books that reshape everything the enlightened church has ever known about heaven, hell and eternity. And then it gets me thinking around, why this current generation generates so much controversy. Perhaps it’s because we’re asking the hard questions. Perhaps it’s because we love to stir. Perhaps it’s because we love the idea of radicalism because Jesus did it.

But Jesus’ intent was never radicalism for the sake of radicalism. It was radicalism because he loved people. And I get that sense when I read Rob Bell. These questions that Rob Bell asks in his first chapter are real pastoral questions that people have. They’re real questions that I have. And the reason I ask the questions at all is because of my love for people. How is it that my amazing friend who is totally into redeeming the planet, who cares for people above herself is going to hell when my other friend who’s a total dick to people gets to go to heaven even though she’s a total dick to people. Whether the answers to those questions are right or wrong, there’s a sense of conviction there that tells me that both Rob Bell and Brian McLaren are trying to find answers to real questions that people have. Of course, there might be that small inkling of desire to stir something in the heart of the traditional church.

I guess the point is that I would never want to be controversial for the sake of being controversial. I don’t think that’s the point. I don’t believe that’s the point McLaren or Bell are trying to make either. It’s deeper than that. It’s a deeper searching for the character of God. Who is this God that we’re called to be in relationship with? Jesus was radical. There’s no doubting that, but it was always out of a love for his church, a love for gentiles, …love. And that is so key. If ever I get to the point that I’m simply looking for a fight, then I’ve lost the plot and missed the point. If I have all the knowledge in the world and have not love, then what am I?


3 thoughts on “Oh for controversy’s sake!

  1. I really like this post, Lani. Lots to think about, and I think you make a really good point. I’m glad you’re thinking about this stuff…

  2. Great post Lani…
    Make sure however that you widen your gaze… I hear you speaking alot about Brian and Rob, but they are only one side of a large Kaleidoscope of faith.
    Yes it is great that they ask the big question… some of which have been missed by the general church for decades… it would be good for them however to start to answer some of them.
    It’s all great to talk about Gods love… but God is more than just love… what about his holiness…what about his righteousness… what about his perfect justice???
    In relation to your muslim friend… don’t forget about Gods grace.
    In the middle of all the talk about a God of love we forget about ht mystery of God… we try and explain why WE think God should save someone we care about… the reality is… we need to trust God.
    Do you trust God enough to find a way for your friend?
    Don’t loose the mystery of God while trying to understand God… because we can never understand God, if we could we wouldn’t havew a very good God would we.
    Yes God is PERFECT love… but he’s also PERFECT justice… peace, etc…
    Jesus was controvbersial because he spoke with LOVE and Truth… that’s the balance we need to find, because it’s something that the world hasn’t seen… Jesus got under peoples skin because he spoke the truth and it wasn’t politically correct… it wasn’t feel good, it was honest… and true.

    • My main purpose for referring to Brian and Rob is that they’re both at some central point of controversy. Please don’t assume my gaze isn’t wide enough because of my reference to two authors. They just happened to be the centre of a lot of debate and therefore happen to be at the forefront of my thinking.

      And I’m not quite sure I understand your comment in reference to my Muslim friend. My befriending her isn’t because I want her to come to Jesus or a faith in him. She was my friend because she was lovely and we had things in common, including the fullness of the human condition. If anything, I was more flawed than she was. She was far nicer to people than I could ever imagine being. Perhaps in that case, she wasn’t the one that needed saving from an unloving existence.

      I think what you speak of in terms of love, holiness, righteousness and justice is great but again, to reiterate your point, we can’t understand God. We can’t understand his concept of love, of holiness, of righteousness, of justice, of divine mercy because he is mysterious. Who’s to say that we’re not going to get to some place called heaven at the end of all this and say “oh crap, there’s Mussolini…” God is a totally fair God but he’s fair not in the way that we understand righteousness. Who knows whether Mussolini is going to be there or not? I certainly don’t.

      And I get that Jesus was controversial and his ideas were controversial. And they were controversial to the people of God. While I don’t want to compare Rob Bell to Jesus, one thing they do have in common is controversy. Rob Bell seems to be getting under the skin of many church goers and it’s not politically correct at all in terms of church politics. It’s not feel good to the church but it’s honest.

      And in that, I don’t agree with all of Rob Bell’s ideas and theologies however, I get the feeling you think I stand on the same wavelength. Again, please don’t assume. I’m more well-read than you think I am.


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