Doubting Thomas and the Emergent Church
I don’t mean to continue the ongoing debate about Rob Bell and Universalism. I think that everything that can be said about that has either already been said, or will be said by people who are much more knowledgeable than I. With that said, Rob Bell is an archetype that I would like to investigate further, and then compare them with the life of Thomas the Apostle. There are some very odd similarities, and even more so, some very particular differences.
Many an evangelical has rebuked Bell for his leading questions pertaining to the thesis of his new book. These open-ended, “searching” questions are something that defines the Emergent Church Movement. To search and be on a perpetual journey with no specific destination is something that defines postmodernity in the Church. Here is a list of questions Bell asked in light ofhis new book:
“Will only a few select people make it to heaven and will billions of people burn forever in hell?”
“…and if that is the case how does one become one of the few?”
“What is God like? Because what millions and millions were taught is that God is going to send you to hell unless you believe in Jesus…what get’s sort of subtly caught and taught is that Jesus somehow rescues you from God. But what kind of God is that that we would need to be rescued from this God? How could that God ever be good? How could that God ever be trusted? And how could that ever be good news?”
Obviously Bell is trying to convey a thought by presenting these questions. He isn’t looking for answers. He knows what he believes, but seeks to lead people through ambiguity. Again, I’m not trying to continue a firestorm on Mr. Bell, but rather paint the picture of an archetype for the emergent church.
One can plainly see the similarities between “a question asker” and the infamous “doubting apostle”. Thomas “the Twin” had quite the reputation for asking questions and being skeptical. So much that he has been immortalized into American Idioms as “Doubting Thomas”. Asking questions isn’t wrong. Certainly God expects us to “work out our salvation” and ask questions concerning our faith. Paul told Timothy to “study to show thyself approved”, obviously researching and learning about what he believes. This type of question asking is and will be glorifying to God. We are seeking to know Him better. John 14:1-7 puts it plainly:
“Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. 2 In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also. And you know the way to where I am going.” Thomas said to him, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you had known me, you would have known my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him.”
One would even be as bold to wonder if Christ would have continued teaching on the Gospel if Thomas wouldn’t have inquired further. He was seeking to know more about how to follow his Lord.
Herein is the difference. The Emergent Church seeks to ask questions to which they don’t seek answers. They wander in ambiguity asking questions with no intention of answering them. Furthermore, it is interesting to whom they are asking the questions. Thomas sought to ask the right source. He went to the greatest teacher the world has ever known to ask his questions. He didn’t seek public opinion or social philosophy. He wanted to know what the Creator of the World had to say about his questions. The Emergent Movement asks rhetorical questions to no one, but we have the example of Thomas to ask questions to the highest authority there is.
So ask questions. Work through your faith. Seek to better understand God, His Gospel, and your relationship with Him. But understand that that only comes through interaction with Him. We don’t get our questions answered if we ask them rhetorically to society. We don’t get good answers when we ask the current movement of the world. We get perfect answers when we ask the Lord of Heaven and Earth.