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A Response to Kevin Miller’s Article on Rob Bell, Brian McLaren, and Donald Miller

A Response to Kevin Miller’s Article on Rob Bell, Brian McLaren, and Donald Miller

Bellmiller

A friend sent me a Christianity Today article this week.  In it author Kevin Miller takes a pot shot at three of the leading voices within, for lack of a better term, “progressive” Christianity; namely Donald Miller, Rob Bell, and Brian Mclaren. (See McLaren’s beautiful response here)  Essentially Miller uses the article to suggest that the popular theology and iconoclastic nature of the three, which exploded in popularity ten years ago, has led them (and by implication those that are influenced by them) away from traditional church structures.

Both Bell and McLaren no longer pastor churches and Donald Miller (Blue Like Jazz) has articulated a distinct lack of interest in the traditional evangelical Sunday Service in an article that went viral recently.  The article suggests that this is the eventual trajectory of people who choose this epistemology.

Says Kevin Miller:

Why has this happened? Is it a fluke, an anomaly that the three leading voices for a new evangelicalism have all, to one degree or another, left the church’s teachings and worship?

Is Miller correct?  Have 3 leading voices in “new” evangelicalism gradually gone rogue?

Church as Sport

Indulge me for a moment in a little thought experiment.  What if Jesus had said to his disciples before ascending into heaven,

Play sports regularly.  Don’t give up meeting together to play sports.”

Then Paul and the other New Testament writers reenforced that commandment for believers in their epistles; that playing sports is necessary for the health, community, and discipleship of Christ’s followers.

However, other then stating that God would lead some to become coaches so that everyone could grow in their ability to play sports, very little prescription was given in regards to what sports were to be played and how to play them.

But a lot was written about the sportsmanship that would develop in those who played sport the way Jesus did.

What if over time though, whether through cultural or personal preferences, basketball became played more and more to the point where basketball became synonymous with sports.

Sports is Basketball, Basketball is Sports

* Sports is played on a wood or concrete court of a certain dimension

* Sports involves 2 teams trying to get a ball in to their respective hoops

* Sports involves movement with the ball only while dribbling

* Sports is played on Sunday morning

Yes, there are things called baseball or soccer that can be played other times of the week but that’s not considered real sport.    You can play those other games as long as you attend Sunday Morning Basketball (either the 9:00 AM or 11:00 AM game is OK…but playing in both games can lead to an eventual coaching position)

ChurchItsATeamSport

You can see what will happen?  Those that prefer and are more skilled in other sports will begin to go through the motions for Sunday morning basketball.  Those that are tall and are talented at basketball will not only perpetuate the “Sport IS Basketball” paradigm but will see any attempt to redefine “Sport” into another type of game as opposition to Christ’s teaching or even Christ himself.

Let’s be honest, if you’ve spent your whole life coaching basketball you’re going to feel a little uncomfortable if a lot of your basketball team suddenly takes up an interest in baseball.

In fact you may regard a baseball coach the way Kevin Miller regards Rob, Brian, and Donald.

Colonization

There is a decolonization going on in the church today and it’s making a lot of people uncomfortable.  Certain texts of scripture, patterns in worship, and theological understandings that have been previously taken for granted (“This is what it means, and this is how it is done”) are being questioned.  A particular culture has colonized the church for a long time and Kevin Miller is a product of that culture.  He sees the decolonization occurring and fears the instability that it may bring.

And he’s right.

Stability is attractive (Why else did the freed Israelites keep wanting to go back to Egypt).

Colonial powers do bring stability…but at the cost of freedom.

At the end of his article Miller suggests 3 colonial strategies for keeping things on the straight and narrow :

A more robust view of the role of the minister. (Keep listening to your leaders…and learn to play basketball better)

A more robust view of Scripture (i.e. Kevin Miller’s view)

A more robust view of rejection (Ok, people don’t really like this stuff so get used to people not liking you)

Musee-de-lArmee-IMG_0976

But in the 21st century colonization has fallen out of fashion.  Guys like Rob Bell, Brian McLaren, and Donald Miller are, at the risk of sounding melodramatic, theological freedom fighters.  They dare to envision a church where people can follow God and be discipled in creative and diverse ways beyond the imposed template.

I sympathize with guys like Kevin Miller.  The world that he loves and is familiar with is disappearing.  Like a British man living in the 20th century he sees the empire getting smaller and smaller.  Colonial possessions throw off imposed culture begin to enjoy new expressions of local identity.  Alternative ways for believers of Christ to meet and gather are popping up all over.  In some circles they are celebrated, in others they are vilified.

But change is coming.

Yes, in the beginning some stability can be lost in the transition.  People will color outside the lines sometimes but the Spirit of God never stops declaring

Let my people go that they may worship me…

7 comments

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  • Andy Zenz

    Reply

    This is do good Steve. I have been trying to articulate similar thoughts of my own the last few months. I have actually just recently compared longings of being in a church community to the longings the Israelites had to be back in Egypt. I know right now I am more challenged to be spiritually engaged not attending church then to be attending yet the comforts and familiarities seem so enticing.

    • Steve

      Reply

      Hey Andy, Thanks! Yes, it is hard to leave the familiar! I also think about how Abraham left his comfortable home to go to a new place that God was leading him. Good to hear from you!

  • This is an excellent article! I have been reading so many responses from Kevin Miller’s “side” that I find this very refreshing. I keep asking the question of those from the “colonial power” group of they think the Pharasees knew they were the Pharasees when Christ came before them to question their “man-made” interpretations of God’s word. When I look in at the continue railing against the likes of Bell, Miller (Donald not Kevin), and McLaren I can’t help but think what would Christ think of the blowback they get from the “establishment”? Would it be “yeah been there done that got the t-shirt, good luck guys….”

    • Steve

      Reply

      I agree Andy, when I see the railing against guys like Bell and McLaren I think of the Pharisees who blocked their ears. Its one thing to diagree theologically with other people but when people love Jesus and love others and we call them heretics…something is wrong.

  • Adrian

    Reply

    Great blog post, Steve. The idea of post-modern thought having any kind of relevance for the church would have been tantamount to sacrilegious when I was a student in the late-nineties. Yet, that is essentially what you’re saying – test it [the church] by fire and see what remains (or what rises from the ashes). Jesus – the original post-modernist – who would have thought… exciting times, for sure 😉

    • Steve

      Reply

      Adrian…these are exciting times. Interesting to see where they will lead!

  • I am so ashamed to admit this but, some years ago, I WAS one of those pharisee’s. I was a full blown legalist. Now…NOW…Well, it’s a different story!!! I got here, to this post, because I now subscribe to the Escape to Reality blog and FB page since God in His mercy opened my eyes to His grace. But what I’ve had to endure since has been, at times, unbearable. My greatest support has come from non Christian friends encouraging me to “Keep the faith!” Where I once had religion I now have relationship and not many people in the church structure understand. It has almost cost me my marriage. But, there is light at the end of the tunnel as I see where God is going with this. He is using it all for good!

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