Yesterday, a friend sent me a link to an article in Christianity Today by Mark Galli titled, “Rob Bell’s ‘Ginormous’ Mirror.” In it, he criticized Bell for believing “our knowledge of God is grounded not in doctrine, the Bible, the preached Word, the sacraments, our institutions, or even what Jesus revealed…but in our experiences and our intuitions.” This theological system is what Mark calls “the religion of experience” that “tempts us to make feeling an idol” and “leads nowhere except the barren desert of the self.”
As proof that this dangerous emphasis on experience has spread farther than Rob’s reaches, he points to Margaret Feinberg and her new book Wonderstruck: Awaken to the Nearness of God. This immediately caused confusion because I’ve read both Margaret’s and Rob’s most recent works. Anyone who infers that these two authors are cut from the same theological cloth or believes that Margaret is promoting an experience-based faith simply isn’t paying attention. Her books and sermons are always grounded deeply in scripture as the ultimate source of knowledge of God, though she believes as most Christians do, that knowing God should lead us to experience God regularly.
Since this forum is a place of civil dialogue on matters of faith and culture, I asked Margaret to offer her response to Galli’s piece. She graciously agreed:
Over the past few years, Rob has become a lightning rod of controversy. Wherever his name is mentioned the Internet snipers come out to play, and I’m allergic to haterade. That’s why whenever I tackle controversial topics on my blog, I try to do so with gentleness, grace, and respect—attempting to ask the questions people aren’t asking, reflect on the irony, and offer a different perspective on the matter. (Though admittedly, I don’t always do these things as well as I’d like. Insert sad emoticon).
But most of all, I always make sure that I’m returning again and again to the Bible to mine the rich wisdom we find there as the foundation and filter for our lives. I’m an author and a Bible teacher, not a mystic. In fact, I haven’t even been able to read Rob’s book yet because I just finished leading people to read through the entire Bible in 40 days for Lent. The stacks of unread books at my house are out of control.
So how did Wonderstruck get lumped into this article?
Mark Galli writes, “God’s seeming absence is what so often characterizes the life of the saints from John of the Cross to Mother Teresa. But evangelical readers are most fascinated with the practices that will awaken us more deeply to God’s daily, hourly presence. One recent example is Margaret Feinberg’s latest book, Wonderstruck: Awaken to the Nearness of God.”
Galli, who acknowledges in the article that he endorsed my book, is concerned that Christian teachers oversell God placing God in a position where he will “under deliver.” He writes that there is “no way anyone can ‘live each day in wild amazement of God’” quoting from Wonderstruck. But the partial sentence fragment is pulled out of context. The full sentence reads,
“As followers of Jesus, we have the opportunity to live each day in wild amazement of God. If we pay attention, we can begin discovering the wonders all around us” (p. 173).
Galli is concerned that in living with such expectations and strong desires to experience God that we’ll begin “manufactur(ing) something very similar to a genuine spiritual experience,” that those who don’t experience God will feel “there must be something wrong with me,” and that the real issue is “boredom with the life God has given us.”
I think all of the dangers Galli mentions are real, but to be honest, I fear a greater danger.
Namely, missing out on the opportunity to become more like Christ each and every day—and yes, even in the seemingly mundane.
Galli is concerned that our generation is trying to encounter God too often, in too many places. I wish that were the case. All to often, it feels like our generation is too caught up with busyness and materialism to look for God at all.
I believe that God calls us to live with a sense of divine expectation and spiritual alertness that He will meet us today.
The divine expectation that today when we open the Bible and begin reading that God is going to speak (2 Timothy 3:16-17).
The divine expectation that we don’t live by accident, but by divine orchestration (Psalm 37:23).
The divine expectation that today God has laced this world with moments of spiritual awakening that make us long to know Him more. That our God will use everything from burning bushes to talking donkeys to doubting Thomases to little kiddos get our attention and draw our hearts back to Himself.
The divine expectation that when we crunch on a wafer and sip on juice, we are partaking of the body of Christ.
The divine expectation that when we gather together with the saints during a weekend church service, we’re celebrating as Christ’s bride. And that perhaps this weekend, once again, the pastor will deliver a teaching of Christ in such a way that we’ll be transformed by the renewing of our minds.
The divine expectation that today God wants to work in and through our neighborhood—right where we live.
The divine expectation that today when we choose to forgive through the power of God’s grace, Christ’s clemency flows through us (Matthew 18:21-22).
The divine expectation that today the heavens are declaring the glory of the Lord, and we are all invited to join in the chorus (Psalm 19:1).
The divine expectation that today just may be the day of Christ’s return (Revelation 22:20).
So if someone wants to throw me under the bus as someone who is seeking, praying, hoping, longing to encounter and experience God today and every day, then go ahead and pop that bus in reverse and back up over me again.
I receive it as a huge compliment.
And to Mark, I say, our home is always open to you, my friend. Leif makes some awesome barbeque. Let me know when you’d like to come over.
If you’d like to explore this topic more, I (Jonathan) encourage you to read for yourself Wonderstruck: Awaken to the Nearness of God.