Dig Deeper: Building Community through Discussion

We build community at the Chapel Center in a variety of ways.

There is, first and foremost, the shared Eucharistic meal, a chance to worship together and gather around the Lord’s table for the bread and cup each week.

Then there is the communal supper afterwards, an opportunity to share in mutual service (cooking, setting the table, clearing the dishes) and enjoy the kitchen fellowship of casual conversation over the stove, table, and sink.  Not having come from a large family myself, I often see this as something like an extended family gathering–often noisy and chaotic but also comfortable and loving.  Much like a family gathering, our suppers sometimes are a bit hurried too, as students and teachers dash in and back out to meet the responsibilities of the coming week.

What I treasure most are those nights when, for a few extra minutes, no one jumps up right away from the table but instead we sit and talk as a group.  Perhaps something in the day’s scripture or sermon or current events has triggered a reaction and, as a community, we explore some new ideas together.  That is the basis for a new discussion series we are starting at the Chapel Center next week.  Dig Deeper will be a chance to meet weekly to fellowship and explore books and films by Christian writers and theologians.

And, of course, what better way to start a lively discussion than by exploring Rob Bell’s best seller, Love Wins: A Book About Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived?  Rob Bell, evangelical pastor (until just recently) of mega-church Mars Hill Bible Church, suggests in his book that “every person who ever lived” might just have a place in heaven, an idea which set off controversy in evangelical circles.   After all, does this mean, as Times reporter Jon Meacham asks in the title of  his recent review of this book, “Is Hell dead?” If we believe in a loving God and that a loving God would not consent to damn his own children to eternal suffering, on what slippery slope do we find ourselves?  What does salvation mean?  Why would we need to be saved?  If we seek to avoid religious exclusivity, does that mean that “everyone gets in” in terms of heavenly afterlife? R. Albert Mohler Jr, president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary speaks for his evangelical brethren when he called Love Wins “theologically disastrous” and refers to it as the “tragedy of non-judgmental mainline liberalism.”

Meacham suggests that main source of controversy in this book is that it comes from within the evangelical inner circle and speculates that “it is difficult to imagine that an Episcopal priest’s eschatological musings would have provoked the volume of criticism directed at Bell, whose reach threatens prevailing Evangelical theology.”  So what should a discussion group of (mostly) Episcopalians make of this work?  What do we believe about atonement and salvation, about heaven and hell?  Who do we say Jesus is?

A number of years ago, I was privileged to help host a library discussion series on world religious texts entitled Common Grounds.  The series was built on a foundation of open discussion and shared learning, with the weekly opening reminder: “Everyone listens.  Everyone speaks. Everyone learns.”  It is my hope that Dig Deeper will likewise be an open forum for shared growth,building a community of fellow students engaged in the study of life’s most important lessons.

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