What to do when your friends don’t like your changes in theology

Those of us who have been on a journey with our theology have often felt alone, put upon and even shunned – by those who were meant to love us, and those we called our friends. As part of his series on how to interpret the Bible, Rob Bell offers some advice for those who have felt – or feel – this way.

This is great solice and comfort for the journey. For there is a long journey ahead for many of us convinced that we’re living through a new reformation.

Read the original here, or an extended extract below.

What is the Bible? Part 53: A Shout Out To the Lonely

by Rob Bell

Talking about music is like
dancing about architecture.

-Thelonius Monk (Or was it Frank Zappa? Or Elvis Costello? Or someone else…?)

It happened again yesterday. It happens all the time. I meet someone who is on a journey, like we all are, and they’ve recently grown in their understanding of faith. Growing up they were handed an understanding from their parents, church, college, youth group, town, etc. and as they got older it simply didn’t work like it used to and they began to be less and less engaged.

And then something happened. They read a book, they had a conversation, they heard someone speak, and for the first time they had language for what they’d been experiencing. They realized there are others way to talk about and understand faith/Jesus/God/The Bible/growth

and they’re thrilled.

And then they share what they’re learning with the people around them and it doesn’t go so well. Their friends and family and roommates don’t get it, furrowing their brow and saying things like I’m concerned about your new theology and This new direction you’re taking is troubling and the clincher Where is Jesus in all this?
Is this you?


This post is for all of you are are alive in ways you’ve never been before, learning and growing and making connections and seeing things you haven’t seen before but when you’ve shared this new faith and understanding with others you’ve been dismayed to discover that not everybody is so thrilled.

Having heard the stories of countless people like you, here are a few things to keep in mind:

You can’t take people where they don’t want to go. The thing that you are so happy to be freed from works for some people. They like it. It feels safe. It provides meaning and security. So when you challenge it and quote whoever you’ve been reading lately and ask the questions that opened new doors for you, they do not find this energizing.

Groups have a center of gravity. Families, friends, churches, offices and schools all have a dominant consciousness, a center of gravity, a party line. It’s the often unspoken agreement that keeps things running smoothly based on what to believe, how to behave, what’s acceptable and what isn’t. So when you charge in all excited about whatever it is you’ve learned, you are a disruption. And systems don’t take kindly to disruptions, often expending extraordinary energy to quell the disruption, pushing it to the edges, discrediting it. This is why some churches ban books, this is why certain topics are off limits at family gatherings, and this is often why people use words like heretic.

Because of this, some voices that you once listened to will no longer be helpful. In fact, some voices that once helped you if you continue to listen to them will hinder your growth.

It may even feel like a step backward-because it is.

This is normal. Painful, but normal. If you continue to listen to them as you get increasingly frustrated and angry, it is not their fault, it is yours. They are continuing to do and be who they have always been, it is you who have changed. It is your responsibility to stop listening to voices that hinder your ongoing growth and maturity.

You may need to create boundaries with certain people. For some people, it will appear as though you are going off the deep end and they may see it as their sacred task to rescue you. No matter how earnest they are, their constant desire to engage you may not be very life giving, and you may have to kindly but firmly say to them We are not going to have this conversation again.

Third, you may be kind and gracious and generous and you still may lose friends. You may be labeled something crazy and untrue. You may find that certain people avoid you. This can be disorienting, to say the least. In those moments, when you are feeling the cold, stiff breeze of loneliness, I want you to ask yourself this question: Would I rather go back?

Would you rather be alive and free and open and thrilled with all that is happening in your heart or would you rather go back to who and how you were before? I didn’t think so. Remember that.

It is very difficult to find words for experiences. You may be exploding with new insights and hope and life but if your friend hasn’t experienced something similar, you going on and on and on about it may not be helping them see what you’ve seen. In fact, it may be causing harm. Be patient. Don’t force your experiences on others. The moving of the spirit is a great mystery, and how or why or when certain people wake up is beyond us. Let people have their own experiences.

Bitterness is not your friend. It’s easy to become cynical, focusing your energies on them and endlessly wondering why they aren’t more evolved and why they are still stuck back there, repeating the same slogans and going through the same motions. If you are filled with pride over how free and intelligent and enlightened you are in comparison to their backwards, antiquated ways, your new knowledge has simply made you arrogant. Watch your heart carefully, because if you aren’t more compassionate and more kind and more understanding then you haven’t grown at all.

Celebrate. Think back over the last six months, over the last year, over the last five years. You aren’t the person you were. You’ve grown, evolved, opened up, been set free. Celebrate that. Not because you’re so great, but because you’re grateful. If all of the new things you’ve experienced don’t first and foremost make you grateful, then what have you gained?

For Jesus the criteria is fruit. You’ll know people by their fruit, by their life, by how they actually live in the world. Lots of people get excited about new ideas and then they shove these new understandings in other people’s faces and become the very thing they despise. (If you have bought more than five copies of Love Wins for the same person and they still haven’t read it, I’m talking about you. Haha) If a new idea or understanding or interpretation doesn’t help transform you into the kind of person Jesus is calling us all to be then it isn’t worth much. Are you more forgiving that you were? Less judgmental? More present? More courageous? Less worried and anxious, more free and loving? That’s what interesting, you being transformed. You can debate and discuss and try to prove and show who’s right and who’s wrong-but living the life Christ invites us to…that’s where it’s at.

Remember that you are not alone. Never ever forget this. Especially if you’ve tried church after church in your town and you’ve begun to despair that you’re the only one who sees it like this. You’re not alone. There are millions of us.

Are some of the dominant understandings of what it means to be a Christian going through massive upheaval?
Yep.

Is something new being birthed, something involving what it means to follow Jesus?
Yep.

Are things changing on an epic, historic scale?
I believe so.

Are we living in the midst of a new Reformation?
I think so.

Is there hope for everyone who feels like they’re the only one in their town thinking like this?

Absolutely.

Source: Rob Bell

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