The Common Good

What Do You Mean, 'Open,' Rob? (Rob Bell Blogalogue Part 3)

(The Controversial figure Rob Bell has created another firestorm with his latest provocative book What We Talk About When We Talk About GodRaven Foundation Education Director, Adam Ericksen and Tripp Hudgins will share our thoughts on the book in this blogalogue. We invite you to join the discussion by leaving a comment below.)

Open-mindedness illustration, yeahorse / Shutterstock.com
Open-mindedness illustration, yeahorse / Shutterstock.com

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Thanks for your post, Adam. As usual, you cut to the quick. Rivalry. Tribalism. It's a long-standing human trait and we're very good at it. Rob is, I agree, trying to point that out and suggests that the ongoing Christian struggle is with that very impulse. Us or Them. Are you for us or against us (Matthew 12:13)? It's tricky business. The next chapter is entitled "Open" and is about science and religion and, well, not about science and religion. 

This is going to be a problem.

There, I said it. 

This is going to be a problem. This chapter on faith and science and quantum mechanics is going to be a problem. Why? Well, because this faith and science thing has been done to death. Did you know that the Vatican has an observatory and that one of the authors of Red Shift Theory was a Jesuit? Yep. The famed Scopes Monkey Trial was more than a century ago and those of us in the Protestant Mainline have long ago made peace with it. The Vatican apologized for the oppression of scientists, most specifically it said that Galileo was right. Scientific inquiry and Biblical interpretation are not the same thing. So what's Rob's purpose for this chapter?

Well, it's manifold. He's an evangelical. He's writing in some ways to other evangelicals, specifically those who have felt cut off from the tradition. Here in the States, the classic evangelical line holds echoes of the arguments used during the Scopes Monkey Trial. Some in that Christian tradition are still fighting that fight. Heck, some progressives are, too. Powerful (if false) dichotomies have been established. 

There’s a giant either/ or embedded in their questions, an either/ or that reflects some of the great questions of our era:

Faith or intellect?
Belief or reason?
Miracles or logic?
God or science?

(Kindle Locations 266-269)

Rob is desperately trying to help us get past the false dichotomy of head and heart. Did you know that the head is part of the body? Did you know that the heart is part of the body? It's rather difficult to think without the heart and to feel without the brain. There are some basic biological principles at work here that are hard to deny. Yet, we are quick to take up these dichotomies. Rob is trying to help us gather the shards of centuries of debate and offer us a holistic Christian vision of what it means to be in this world. He's asking for a little humility. He's asking for a little poetic imagination. He's asking for some curiosity. 

In short he's asking for us to embrace awe and wonder and to be open to the possibility for many things ... even seemingly contradictory things ... to be true, beautiful, and good. 

This is where he has a word for us progressive mainline folk. I have heard it said many times, "faith and science are not talking about the same thing." Or, "science is the 'how' and faith is the 'why.'" I like both of these tropes. But Rob ... he's asking for more (*shakes fist at the tall evangelical guy*). Faith is more than a metaphor. Science is more than a checklist. They both attempt to embrace the totality of life Higgs Bosun particles to miraculous healings. We are encouraged, he says, to remain "open." He warns of dis-integration. 

This dis-integrated understanding of reality— the one that puts God on one side and not the other, the one that divides the world up into two realms— it’s lethal, and it cuts us off from the depths and separates us from the source. Because sometimes you need a biologist, and sometimes you need a poet. Sometimes you need a scientist, and sometimes you need a song. (Kindle Locations 930-932)

We are more than neurons and atoms. We are more than creeds or personal faith experiences. It is all infinitely and beautifully more complicated than we habitually allow. 

Your turn, Adam. The next chapter: Both. Are words actually enough? Ha! Write about that. Words. Words. Words. 

Read Part 1: An Open Letter to Rob Bell
Read Part 2: The God Of Jesus: Beyond Religious Tribalism

Tripp Hudgins is a doctoral student in liturgical studies at the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, Calif., and associate pastor of First Baptist Church of Palo Alto, Calif. You can read more of his writings on his longtime blog, "Conjectural Navel Gazing; Jesus in Lint Form" at AngloBaptist.orgFollow Tripp on Twitter @AngloBaptist.

Image: Open-mindedness illustration, yeahorse / Shutterstock.com

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