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SBL Annual Meeting Paper Accepted

So, I just did a whirlwind tour to Cleveland and back today for a regional SBL meeting, leaving at 5am, presenting at 1:30pm and 3pm, and then, driving all the way back and getting home around 10pm. Long day for SBL stuff to say the least!!! However, I just checked my email and got some more good, SBL news, here's what one email said: "Dear Michael, Congratulations, your paper, 'Decoded: Exploring Rap's Use of Biblical-Apocalyptic Rhetoric,' was accepted for the 2011 Annual Meeting program unity Bible and American Popular Culture." So, in addition to creating and hosting the session titled "Tipping Points" that has a list of stellar scholars, I now have confirmation that I'll be presenting some of my research. I'm super excited because this paper is a bit different from the types of things I usually do; I think it's going to be quite fun!!!
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Does Rob Bell Need To Go Back To Seminary?

Well, that's what Asbury Theological Seminary's president, Dr. Tim Tennent, suggests. But probably not for the reasons you might expect. Anyway, you can check out the 4-part review of Bell's Love Wins at Tennent's blog by clicking the following link (only the first part is posted so far): Tennent's Blog. In my opinion, it is this type of fair-handed treatment that Christians should be offering up, not the reductionistic, judgmental, close-minded and hateful reviews/interviews like those HERE and HERE.
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Bell, Bashir & Reductionism

The last couple of days, the Bell-Bashir Battle Royale video has been floating around the internet. Unfortunately, for the last 7 days I have been incredibly ill, so, I've missed a lot of the conversation. I've barely been able to follow the Tsunami, which is quite a bigger deal, I think, at the moment. Actually, in the Bashir interview, that's the first thing Bashir asks Bell about; he wants to know if God had some kind of hands-off, hands-on role in the whole thing and whether or not God is culpable either way.

Sticking with the overall tenor of the video for a moment, I really think Bell and Bashir are interesting to watch. Bashir just comes out swinging from question #1 and really, honestly, I think that Bashir's "isn't it...isn't it" forceful type of questions are quite frankly, unfair. Why? Well, I see in them every bit of our world's love for reductionism. What I mean by that is the desire to want to whittle everything down, to reduce everything down to a simple, one or two word answer (or 140 characters, if you like).

The truth is, much of what we deal with in theology and especially exegesis, cannot be explained (and carefully at that) or unpacked in the matter of a split-second yes or no answer. Yet, that's what so many want and if one person can make it appear that another person is unable to do that, then the one who doesn't answer, will stand to lose some credibility: 1) For not being able to think quickly on their feet, and 2) For not being able to offer a straightforward answer; they look like a waffler.

And so, kudos to Bell for not giving into that temptation, which Bashir hurled upon him. The fact is, the questions Bashir was asking have been debated for thousands of years and in this short interview, he wants split-second answers from Bell; anyone with half a mind can see that this is just absurd. Bell did a superb job in keeping his cool, entertaining the questions and being gracious. Still haven't seen the video? Here it is:


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Saved From? Saved For? Saved By?

Ok, so, I'm going to do my best to keep this brief and to the point. I have been putting this post off for days but since I was just interrupted 5 minutes ago, I thought I'd go ahead and post it. Who was I interrupted by? A Southern Baptist preacher and his wife. That's right, at 7pm in the evening, they knocked on my door. When I opened the door, he did the first thing a good Baptist does: Handed me a tract. After that, he told me he was a pastor and then told me about his church. I told him I was a pastor too; he didn't know how to respond. So, I said, yeah, I am a teaching pastor at a new Methodist church. His silence ended as soon as I said that. So, what did he say when he found the words to speak again? You probably guessed it, that's right, he said, "Well, are you saved?" Yep! As soon as I said the word "Methodist" he questioned my salvation. He went on, "Even some pastors aren't saved, did you know that? They can have pastor in front of their name and not know the Lord. Do you know the Lord?" I started to get a little irritated with his abrasiveness but I simply nodded and said yes. Having done his so-called kingdom work of advancing tracts, he left feeling like a winner.

This situation, which happened just a few minutes ago, is quite similar to what's going on with all of the Rob Bell stuff. Bell's video for "Love Wins" is quite provocative; I actually showed it to my students in class today and we took a few minutes to cover some of these issues. Anyway, Bell addresses the issue of salvation here, but evidently, some, like John Piper and others were able to infer from the 3 minute video that he was a heretic. John Piper and Justin Taylor both need to issue public apologies as far as I'm concerned. But alas, if God planned for Piper to assault Bell, well, there's nothing that can be done about it, I guess. Anyway, the whole Baptist door-knocker and Bell thing have shown me the centrality of soteriology of salvation in all of this.

In his video, Bell raises these issues, even if kind of indirectly. Essentially, some questions that professed Christians should ask and be able to answer are: What are we saved from? And what are we saved for? And who are we saved by? In my estimation, these questions are not just at the base of Christianity, they are, in many ways, at the very heart of it. These are incredibly significant theological/spiritual questions. Are we saved from God? Hell? Satan? Sin? Self? All of the above? Are we saved for Afterlife? Now? Mission? Evangelism? Are we saved by God? Confessions? Beliefs? Choices? Actions?

Now, I'm not going to deal with the three tenses of salvation as described in the New Testament here (e.g. "have been saved," "are saved," "are being saved"). Instead, let me say a few other things, namely, some things about the questions just raised. As a Christian, I believe that by and through Christ and his faithfulness, we are saved "from" being forever separated from God, Christ's father. This separation is reconciled by way of Christ's work, the truth of which the Spirit reveals and makes known to us. We are saved "for" the purpose of being in relationship with God, Christ's father; ultimately, a relationship that brings him glory. And so, who are we saved by? Well, when it is all said and done, really, we are saved by God the Father. Again, Christ's work makes this possible and the Spirit reveals the validity and veracity of Christ's work to us.

When we go talking about issues of salvation, these, I think are some significant questions worth asking and answering. Really, how you answer these questions is going to say a ton about what you believe about many other things. But the truth is, a concept such as salvation can never really be boiled down to the trite door-to-door knock and tract of a Southern Baptist preacher, who asks, "So, are you saved?" You don't know how bad I wanted to ask him these things: Saved from what, sir? For what, sir? By whom, sir? And what do you mean by "saved" as if it is final? What about the tenses of salvation? What about the choice to step outside of salvation? But really, I knew it would have been a fruitless endeavor to interrogate him in the same way he was interrogating me.

But if I may, let me ask (unassumingly), How might you answer these questions?