Skip to content

Saint Augustine, Martians, Rob Bell, and Jesus

I’ve always found myself to be a rather rebellious Christian. I’m the son of a former west coast hippy, now theological doctor and a retired biology teacher who is the daughter of immigrants. I was taught to question authority, ask questions, seek answers, and always do my research in order to make whatever I believed, my belief and not the belief of others. I’ve adopted this mindset of my own, and I am extremely thankful that my parents not only made that a priority in my learning, but also had the patience to deal with the many questions I had.

I remember having multiple conversations as I was growing up and learning as we would talk on the car ride home about disagreements they had with the pastor and why, or when I was learning about evolution, I was eager to write off all science leading up to and surrounding it. But I was told that just because they came to the incorrect conclusion, doesn’t mean their research or methods were off. I remember being given my science book, and I had to discover where the evidence for their assumptions were. Little did I know this technique would carry on as I debated with my friends of all backgrounds. I discovered the importance of reading and citing material they accepted. While it often handicapped me, it forced me to interact with and learn the opposing points of views – sometimes, even better than them.

My parents were Bereans, and they taught my sister and I to be Bereans. We look at the material, affirm the truth, and reject that which is false. It’s what Bereans do. The Bereans, if you aren’t familiar with them, are an interesting group of people from the city of Berea that Paul encountered in Acts 17.

“And the people of Berea were more open-minded than those in Thessalonica, and they listened eagerly to Paul’s message. They searched the scriptures day after day to see if Paul and Silas were teaching the truth.”

Acts 17:11 (NLT)

This isn’t just something that my family does, it’s been argued for throughout Christianity and was officially advocated for by Saint Augustine of Hippo. Saint Augustine believed that all truth is God’s truth, we should accept that and reject that which isn’t truth.

“Nay, but let every good and true Christian understand that wherever truth may be found, it belongs to his master and while he recognizes and acknowledges the truth, even in their religious literature, let him reject the figments of superstition, and let him grieve over and avoid men who, ‘when they knew God, glorified him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened.”

On Christian Doctrine – Saint Augustine of Hippo

This acknowledgement of truth is essential to Christianity and in our teaching and evangelism.

Martians, Rob Bell, and Evangelism

As I’ve been on the search for a new pastoral or teaching job, I find myself constantly reviewing and articulating my philosophies and how I arrived at them. Growing up in the church, I remember how important it was to have Christian alternatives to everything; Christian music, movies, TV shows, and culture. It’s up to parents to determine what is and isn’t appropriate for their children. However, if Christians pretend that the only redeeming music, movies, and culture that exists is Christian and everything else is inherently flawed and evil; it does young Christians a great disservice and is ultimately doomed to fail. Because, eventually, when that student moves out or encounters something non-Christian that contradicts what they were taught, it often leads to their questioning what else they were taught that wasn’t right. This doesn’t mean the exact opposite is desirable either.

We’re called to be in the world, not of the world and there needs to be clear and visible differences between the Christian and those who aren’t. To expect young Christians to go into the world and fight for Christ after refusing to interact with the world condemns these Christians to the same fate as the Martians in H. G. Wells’ The War of the Worlds.

In The War of the Worlds the Martians had lived in sterile settings, unaware of and with no exposure to the everyday germs that we Earthlings have become very familiar with and mostly immune to. Therefore, when they encountered the germs and bacteria, they quickly became infected by the various viruses and fell.

This immunization is what I wanted to do with my high schoolers. After getting to know my high school students, and with pastoral approval, the first series I started with my youth was one on the bible. I made sure everyone had their own personal copy of the bible, and after doing a basic crash course, we examined some commentary and critiques of the bible using existential techniques of questioning basic beliefs about and stories from it. But we didn’t stop there; we then explored the ramifications of these beliefs.

The acknowledged founder of Existentialism, Soren Kierkegaard wrote a book called Fear and Trembling in which he explored faith. He asked questions about what would have happened if Abraham had done different things, if being willing to sacrifice your child made you morally evil, and whether or not faith was truly attainable. Rob Bell’s book, What is the Bible, addresses some important but often times avoided questions, the most important, in my mind, involving whether bias in the Gospel delegitimizes the accounts. John clearly stated that his reason for writing was so you may believe.

“Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.”

John 20:30-31 (ESV)

This was done is a guided, safe, and controlled environment where students learned what questions to ask, how to find the answers, and make their parents’ faith their own. We took the Saint Augustine approach; we accepted that which was truth and rejected that which wasn’t and were able to interact with the questions and issues that many Christian adults who live in the world (but not of it) will have to face.

Often times, the very same Christians who lament the great falling away that happens when Christians leave the church en masse after graduation will at the mention of Rob Bell feign for their invisible pearls to clutch. It would seem that in their mind, Bell, who has fallen away from Christian Orthodoxy, can only corrupt others with his heresy.

But the truth is, much like the approach my parents had, we shouldn’t be afraid of learning about things or from people who believe differently, in many ways that’s essential to both apologetics and evangelism as evidenced by Paul in his journey to Athens. In Acts 17:16-34, coincidentally right after leaving the Bereans. While talking about Jesus and the resurrection, he was invited to the Areopagus, also known as Mars Hill, to share his ideas with the Epicurean and Stoic philosophers amongst others there.

Paul does a few things that make this interaction stand out. First, he acknowledges the religious nature of the Athenians (starting in verse 22) and uses their own religiousness to springboard into the truth of his faith as he basically says, “You have an alter to an unknown god? Let me tell you about him.” Second, he acknowledged the truth in their poets and prophets quoting both Epimenides of Crete and Aratus in verses 28, but showing how what those poets said was truth, but only in the context of Christianity. This led to the final thing of note, which is that doing this got him mocked by some, but others saw that truth and believed.

Fallacies, Tests, and King David.

I think that Saint Augustine’s words also make sense in the context of Christian things in Christian circles as well. Shows like The Chosen or songs from worship groups from Bethel, Hillsong, and Elevation church have been under fire as they’ve grown in popularity some of the criticisms are more legitimate than others. Some people don’t like it because it doesn’t perfectly align with exactly how they believe it should be, there’s a scene or actor they don’t like or a reckless word they don’t like in the song and those criticisms should be taken with a grain of salt. Others, don’t like the fact that a production like The Chosen has LGBTQIA+ friendly crew or the controversy/scandles that have come from some of the churches that host these worship teams. Whatever the reason, legitimate or not, should we personally boycott the show, or refuse to listen to the songs?

I think the answer is clear.

“Nay, but let every good and true Christian understand that wherever truth may be found, it belongs to his master…”

When Rob Bell was pastor at Mars Hill, he proposed a litmus test to see if something had merit. He proposed that when we look at a teaching, song, movie, whatever, we should ask ourselves, “Does this make me or others I know love Jesus more.” I think there’s truth to this, and I would propose the following amendment and make it two part. Because I think there is a fundamental flaw in it by itself, which has led many to fall away as they used it to justify sin or sinful lifestyles.

A. Does X help me or others love Jesus more?
B. Is X justifying or leading others to sin?

If it helps people love Jesus more and isn’t justifying or leading others to sin, I think it’s worth examining using Saint Augustine’s view and finding the truth.

It’s important to note
doing things differently
doesn’t make it sin.

I have a former seminary classmate who loves to perpetuate the association fallacy with Elevation/Hillsong/Bethel worship, arguing that the songs should be avoided because the worship band is wicked. The band is wicked because the church is wicked. The church is wicked because the pastor is wicked. Through this line of thinking he concludes that all of that worship coming from these places is bad.

I want to acknowledge the truth that there are things said and done by the pastors, staff, and even worship leaders of Bethel, Hillsong, and Elevation that are not in alignment with scripture and in some cases illegal. I don’t think this should prevent us from celebrating Jesus with the truth of their messages, nor should we ignore the sovereignty of God by ignoring his ability to redeem the work of those have done evil.

It would be foolish to call songs like “The Blessing” or “Lion” from Elevation Worship wicked when the majority of the song is straight from Scripture, and while the creative language of “So Will I (100 Billion X)” isn’t for everyone, the sentiments absolutely are from the bible.

And when the lyrics from “Praise” mirror that of David’s 103rd Psalm, we should join in celebrating. Sometimes, amid sorrow and tribulation, we have to tell our souls to praise, because it doesn’t naturally flow forth. And when I apply my litmus test to see if the song has value enough to find truth in it. It doesn’t matter who wrote the song or what church it came out of. What matters is that I went to a conference where it was played and there were dozens of young men jumping up and down, singing with all of their might to praise the Lord.

“Praise the Lord, oh my soul. I won’t be quiet. My God is alive. How could I keep it inside. Praise the Lord oh my soul. I’ll praise cause you’re sovereign, praise cause you reign, praise cause you rose and defeated the grave. I’ll praise cause you’re faithful, praise cause you’re true. Praise cause there’s nobody greater than you!”

Praise – Elevation Worship

These young men were from all different races, backgrounds, socio-economic statuses, and even countries. It didn’t matter that society would tell them that one group hated the other because of their skin color, or that another group had more privilege than the other. They, while singing a song that comes from a church with problems, were united in Christ. I got to see the joy on their faces as they acknowledged God is faithful, and feel the power of their voices as they praised the Lord.

I know it to be true that God is faithful, that God is alive. And that song makes me and others love Jesus more…

So, praise the Lord oh my soul, and let us all seek for the truth in what is said instead of trying to find fault with things.

Published inPersonal MusingsTheological Musings

Be First to Comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *