"The Bottom Line"
Quite a while ago, Rob Bell wrote a book called The Velvet Elvis. It was pretty widely acclaimed and seemed to bring in a new era of Christian thought. It was cool, Rob was pretty edgy in his look and his thoughts, but he was a megachurch pastor, and people really connected with what he was saying. His journey really took him through a great deal, and he ended up leaving his pulpit and some would say that he left faith altogether.
What probably broke him from the rest of the Christian world was his book called “Love Wins” in which he questions the idea of hell and eternal torment. This drove people crazy and the Dallas Theological Seminary even put together a team of theologians called “team hell” in order to do the apologetic work for the concept of eternal torment and punishment. But Rob’s journey didn’t allow him to believe in that anymore.
You may not have heard a great deal about that in SDA circles due to the fact that he was saying some things that we pretty much already believed. (If you are wondering about our stance on hell–and I know this sounds weird–watch the movie “Hell and Mr. Fudge.” It will be worth your time.) We come from an annihilationist theological understanding that aligns much more with what Rob was discovering than with what “team hell” was trying to protect.
Why do I tell you this story?
Rob had to go where God was leading him. I can’t say that anyone agrees with everything he wrote and discovered, I’m not saying that you should or I should. But what I have always been impressed by with Rob is that he was willing, to be honest, regardless of the cost. He trusted in God, even as his understanding of God was changing from the evangelical understanding that he grew up with into something else.
Does what you believe about God make a difference to your faith IN God? It probably does. But do we have peace in our faith that transcends our understanding of God? Can we go through a change in knowledge of God, and still have faith in God? I know this is pretty nuanced but stick with me on this.
We know that we are human, and so whatever understanding we have of pretty much anything is going to be flawed. I mean, I trust my car and couldn’t begin to understand how it all works together. Can we trust in God even if we don’t understand how things always work?
This last question is important, and I would posit that you already do this. Even for all of your theological work over the years, there are things you don’t understand, but you have chosen to trust anyway. So this exercise in a peace that passes your understanding is not something you are unfamiliar with. Rather, it is something you have been doing, you have just been telling yourself you understand more than you do. At best, you have been honest about this. At worst, you have let the body of knowledge that we call the 28 Fundamental Beliefs do your believing for you.
It is nice that they are organized so you don’t have to think about them too much. The question of “what do we believe” falls into this category. There is a body of work that tells us what “we” believe. It makes things easy. But do you really know what those beliefs are, and why do you trust them? (not that they are not trustworthy, but are they?)
Can you consider them, study them, understand them, even disagree with them and still trust and believe in God? It must be a both/and proposition rather than an either/or situation.
Can you choose to trust God through uncertainty as much as you can through certainty?
- What makes you trust in God?
- Does your knowledge trust for you?
- What is your relationship with the 28 fundamental beliefs?
Certain life experiences that I cannot explain make me trust God. My instinct leans toward trust. I know this is somewhat shaped because I had good earthly father figures… but there’s more to it than that.
I don’t really know or remember much about the 28 fundamental beliefs, but I’ve always found comfort in believing that a loving God wouldn’t burn His beloved ones eternally.
I'm looking forward to watching "Hell and Mr. Fudge". Intrigued. The best explanation of what Adventist's believe in regards to hell that I've heard is from non-Adventist Pastor Tim Mackie. You can watch it here https://youtu.be/qwNfH_SOWKA
I used to teach Senior Bible at an Adventist Academy. I liked to use Edwin Abbott's ideas from his book "Flatland: A Romance of Many Dimensions" to describe the dichotomy of not understanding but having faith. If I were still teaching I'd be using this series. Thanks so much for asking the hard questions and asking each of us to know what we believe.