Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Covered in dust.

I was watching a Rob Bell "Nooma" video called "Dust" at a Bible study last night. I had seen the video before, and had enjoyed it. But as I watched it last night, I started to question some of its conclusions.

I should stop here and state: I used to be a huge fan of Bell's. I read (or heard on CD) both of his books, and I've seen all but the newest Nooma. But in the past few months, as I've read some of Bell's other statements, and really dug into what he was saying in a lot of these videos, I started having reservations. So now, I approach Bell with a lot more caution. He's very educated on historical Biblical culture, but some of his interpretations of Scripture worry me. Case in point last night.

In "Dust," Bell talks about the relationship between rabbis and disciples in the first century, and how this relationship transferred over to Jesus and his disciples. He mentions that rabbis chose disciples who they though could carry out their work. So Bell continues that Jesus chose as disciples guys who failed to make the cut with any other rabbi, and gave them the mission to do what He did. Bell talks about an old saying from the time, a blessing on disciples, that they'd be covered in the dust of their rabbi, because they follow him so closely.

I'm on board with that. That's right.

Then Bell takes this idea and starts talking about faith, in the context of Peter's walking-on-the-water experience. He says that one possible explanation for Peter's willingness to jump out of the boat is that, like any true-blue disciple, he wants to do what his rabbi does. And I can go along with that explanation.

Yet Bell says that when Peter sinks, and Jesus says Peter has little faith, Jesus wasn't talking about Peter's little faith in Him, but his little faith in himself. Bell goes on to say that not only did the disciples have faith in Jesus, but also Jesus had faith in His disciples, that they were able to do the work of His church. Bell then exclaims, "And they did it! They were able to do this amazing work, these rejects." Then Bell issues his usual "May you..." challenge at the end of the video, and in this case, it was an exhortation to have faith in ourselves, as Jesus does, and to be covered in His dust.

The rabbi/disciple thing, I get. The dust thing, I like. But here's where I think this concept breaks down.

The disciples didn't do the work of the Church by themselves. They were incapable, by themselves. It was the power of the Holy Spirit within them, which enabled them to preach and teach the Gospel, and lead multitudes to repentance and life in Jesus. Jesus didn't choose these men based on their inherent qualities. He didn't choose great orators or leaders of men; he chose men who would be obedient vessels, willing servants to work and strive and suffer and die for His kingdom.

I'm not saying God doesn't believe you or I can do what He's commanded of us. But He knows, and you and I should understand, that it's not "us" that makes the work of God happen in our lives. It's the Spirit of God living in us, giving us life and enabling us to be like Jesus.

It's not like God lucked out in some free-agent draft when he picked you and I for His team. He takes us, failed scrub players with no prospects or chance of success, and teaches us, trains us, molds us, and fills us with Himself, so that the success we have is not because of who we are, but because of what He has done for us, what He has filled us with, and who He is in us.

So, I agree, be covered in your rabbi Jesus's dust, and follow Him closely. But remember that He didn't choose you because you were the best and most capable disciple He could find. He chose you and I because He wanted to show His goodness, grace, and power through us (even in spite of us!), by making us into better disciples than we could have ever been on our own.

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