The Second Act
Some friends who have seen Steven Spielberg's "Lincoln" have come away disappointed that the film did not emphasize his faith as much as they had hoped. To that objection Stephen Mansfield wrote an insightful review in USA Today: "The challenge is that Lincoln lived through widely differing stages in his journey of faith. There is always the temptation to see his entire religious life through the prism of only one of these stages. To do this means missing the grand tapestry of faith that Lincoln wove during years of spiritual struggle."
As I read the latest New Yorker article on Rob Bell titled "Hell-Raiser," I wondered if the same is true of Bell. Bell is the author of "Love Wins," former founding pastor of Mars Hill Church in Michigan, and bright rising star of the evangelical world. In what some would call a career ending move Rob resigned his position with Mars Hill and moved to California - not to start over but to start whatever was next.
In a three-act play each act serves a unique purpose. The first act is used to establish the main character and the world they live in. Somewhere in the opening act an incident occurs that confronts him and leads to the first turning point.
In the second act, the character attempts to resolve the problem only to find themselves in a worse situation. Here, they learn who they are and what they are capable of to deal with the defining challenge.
The third act features the resolution of the story but is also the source of the most intense point before the climax.
As I write this I am wondering if F. Scott Fitzgerald's observation that "There are no second acts in American lives" is true for Bell. Clearly, there was a second and third act for Abraham Lincoln. The Lincoln we meet in the first act of his life is far different from the man we revere as one of our greatest Presidents. Yet, if we dipped into any isolated period of his life we would have misread him. He was complex and inconsistent but he grew into who he was at the end of his life.
I thought it was interesting that the author of the New Yorker article said this in his closing paragraphs. "From a certain evangelical perspective, Bell’s life can look like a cautionary tale; his desire to question the doctrine of Hell led to his departure from the church he built. And maybe, like many other theological liberals in recent decades, he will drift out of the Christian church altogether and become merely one more mildly spiritual Californian, content to find moments of grace and joy in his everyday life; certainly, that’s what many of his detractors expect. But it’s also possible that his new life will end up strengthening many of his old convictions."
Is it "a cautionary tale" or is it the first act of a three-act life? Only time - and the second act - will tell.