on April 27, 2011
I am not a Rob Bell fanboy; however, I do have a generally positive opinion of the little exposure I've had to his ministry. When Love Wins was first being reviewed and its author was being held up in many quarters as satan's chief apostle my first instinct was ignore it. (There are only so many books one can read.) Finally, the clamor reached so close to home that I had to give in and read it for myself. I don't like to let third parties do my thinking for me.
The uproar is understandable. Bell has a habit of asking hard questions. He also has a tendency to not provide definitive answers to the hard questions he asks. And when those questions concern the issues of heaven and hell and the possibility of universal salvation...well, the sacrificial fat is clearly sizzling on the altar.
It is hard to pin down Bell's position and I am strangely OK with that. I suspect the reason is because these are some very complex questions and the Bible is somewhat lacking in absolute clarity. Where the Bible is lacking in absolute clarity we extrapolate dogma at our own risk. Honestly, when it comes to eternal things I think the Bible gives us the best picture we can possibly process from our finite frame of reference. Sometimes that picture seems confusing because things that seem exclusive of each other in this world can actually be essential to each other in the various dimensions of eternity. (What sense does it make in this world to die in order to live?)
Do heaven and hell exist? Of course they do, and Bell would be one of the first to assert their reality. He does have a little different take on what, and when, heaven and hell are but he certainly doesn't deny their existence. Far from making them smaller and less meaningful he actually makes them bigger and more meaningful. I think there is room for disagreement among true believers on this topic especially since none of us have ever really been to either place. I actually find Bell's concept of heaven to be challenging and somewhat more exciting than big mansions and streets of gold.
The real problem most Evangelical believers will have with this book concerns the question of universalism. Is everyone going to be saved? Can a person find redemption after this life? My inclination on both of these questions is to say, "No." However, "No" does give rise to some legitimately serious questions and both positions can be argued from scripture with some powerful verses backing up each camp.
At this point I feel compelled to point out that Bell's position on universalism is essentially identical to the one held by C. S. Lewis. Having read almost everything by Lewis my thoughts had already turned to The Great Divorce and The Last Battle as well as various quotes from his lectures. I was not at all surprised when Lewis was cited in the end notes. Both Bell and Lewis seem to essentially hold the position that God is going to save everyone He can. They both believe that a person can go to hell but they have to really want to go there. That assertion is not as strange as it may sound. Lewis' The Great Divorce is a fantastical story but it shines a big bright light on human nature.
Am I comfortable with the notion that if everyone is going to be saved, or can be saved after this life, then strenuous efforts need not be made to bring people to Christ in this life (and the sooner the better)? Not at all, and that is not what I hear Bell saying. Am I comfortable with allowing God the right to do what He wants however He wants and would I be thrilled if everyone did get in to heaven? You bet. Do I know exactly what God is going to do about all of this? No, but I trust Him.
This is a short book and Bell doesn't even try to tie up all the loose ends. (I would be quite interested in hearing his take on the "second death".) What he does do is open a conversation that the vast majority of Christians who have ever lived would be comfortable having. It is only in the Western (mostly North American) church and over the last two to three hundred years that these issues have been considered resolved and beyond discussion. Hopefully once the journalistic hype and reactionary hysteria have died down this little book can make a positive contribution to the advancement of God's kingdom. Frankly, after all the hate and vitriol in the current Evangelical dialogue I'm quite ready to see love win.
on March 20, 2011
First of all I want to say that I have greatly admired the preaching and books that Rob Bell has put out before "Love Wins". I will continue to recommend "Velvet Elvis" and "Sex God". He is a brilliant communicator of God's Word. I listen to his podcasts more than any other preacher.
I applaud Rob for taking a risk and writing about this extremely important, touchy, weighty, and often not talked about topic. It is a topic upon which Evangelicals are underdeveloped in their thinking. In writing about this topic publicly Rob gives us permission to talk more freely with each other about it.
The more thinking and study of this topic the more we will be careful in our sometimes overly simplistic views or verbal slams against others.
Bell writes, "I've written this book because the kind of faith Jesus invites us into doesn't skirt the big questions." Amen. Completely agree.
The book is favulous, compelling writing. Bell paints pictures, turns a phrase ("It's as if we're currently trying to play the piano with oven mitts"), illustrates, and illuminates the biblical text in a way few others can.
He clearly sets the gospel in its cosmic framework, not just its human salvation framework. Jesus came not only to save sinners, but to redeem the world--every atom. He articulates a gospel that transforms trees as well as people. This is a good thing and should stretch Evangelicals to understand what Colossians is getting at when it says, "This is the gospel that you heard and that has been proclaimed to every creature under heaven" (Colossians 1.23). "A gospel that leaves out its cosmic scope will always feel small." (p. 135) Agreed.
"At the center of the Christian tradition since the first church have been a number who insist that history is not tragic, hell is not forever, and love, in the end, wins and all will be reconciled to God." (p. 109) Well, if universalism has been at the "center" of Christianity since the very "first church" I guess it's strange that there's such controversy around this book! Come on Robby, this isn't intellectually honest writing. The whole reason this book is swirling in controversy is because universalism has not been at the center, it has not been a belief from the beginning, and the first Christians did not think hell was temporary. It's one thing to present different views and theologies, it is another to do so with revisionist history.
In Matthew 25, Jesus the judge separates the sheep from the goats and sends the goats to "eternal punishment". Only, this doesn't fit with Bell's theology so he simply translates the phrase differently. He says "eternal punishment" should be translated as "a period of pruning" or a "time of trimming"!
"The goats are sent, in the Greek language, to an aion of kolazo. Aion, we know, has several meanings. One is "age" or "period of time"; another refers to "intensity of experience". An aion of kolazo. Depending on how you translate aion and kolazo, then, the phrase can mean "a period of pruning" or "a time of trimming", or an intense experience of correction. In a good number of English translations of the Bible, the phrase "aion of kolazo" gets translated as "eternal punishment," which many read to mean "punishment forever," as in never going to end. But "forever" is not really a category the biblical writers used." (p. 91-92)
First of all, he doesn't even quote the Greek text correctly! He says the phrase is "Aion of kolazo". That's not how the Greek text reads! It reads, "Eis kolasin aionion." The Greek word "aionion" is a different word than "aion"! This is very misleading. I can barely believe that he wrote so erroneously. It's as if he wished so hard that there is no reference to eternal punishment in the Bible that he found a way for it to go away.
The actual word used in Matt 25.41, 46 is "aionion". Now, it is true that the root word of "aionion" is "aion". But, they are two separate words, with two different meanings. For Bell to go on and on about "aion" meaning "age" and not "eternity" is completely irrelevant since he is talking about the wrong word!
"In a good number of English translations of the Bible, the phrase gets translated as 'eternal punishment'". Understatement of the aion! NIV, NRSV, NASB, KJV, New Living Translation. How about Eugene Peterson's "The Message" since Peterson endorsed Bell's book? The Message reads "eternal doom". Bell is off his theological and exegetical rocker when trying to get this verse not to mean what it actually means: "eternal punishment".
But imagine for a moment that he's right. Let's imagine that this verse isn't about eternal punishment, but just an "age" of time. So, theoretically, after an "age" or two of time, the goats will be set free. However, the sheep are sent to "eternal life" in the same verse. It is the same word used for the sheep as it is for the goats: "aionion". If Bell is right then "eternal life" is temporary. It's the same word used in John 3.16 "everlasting life". So whosoever believes in Him should not perish but have temporary life? I don't think so.
Rob Bell is not a biblical scholar or a theologian. He has no credentials to write his own translation of the Bible. I pray that there is not a Rob Bell Study Bible complete with a "fresh" translation of the scriptures coming our way in the near future.
If Bell is interested in raising more than just questions and really wants a thorough re-evaluation of hell, it would be helpful if he would either publicly debate other public figures, or co-write a book of "various views" on heaven/hell that includes other, more qualified, theologians and biblical scholars to help us all get a better handle on the topic.
I am also surprised that he keeps saying that he is not a universalist when that is what this book is about. "Love Wins" is a declaration that God's love will melt all hearts eventually, and all will be saved (maybe not right away but given enough time). If you go to the mars hill website they defend that Bell is not a universalist as well, but under their "download a resources list" they list "The Inescapable Love of God" as a good resource to help the reader understand "Love Wins" better. But the book "The Inescapable Love of God" is a book arguing for universalism. So, which is it? It's a strange mixed message.
on March 27, 2011
People who are decrying this book and Rob Bell because of his (rather vague) stance on hell or because of his so-called universalism are entirely missing the point. Even if you altogether remove those elements, Bell is still making a powerful statement about what it means to be a Christian. We are so concerned with where we're going when we die that we're ignoring what we're doing while we're here. Jesus didn't come to reconcile us in some unknowable future--he came to reconcile us to God today, which is why he came as a healer. In the OT times, sickness was considered to be curse or disfavor from God/gods. Jesus came with power, which could only be from God, and healed the sick. He took away the curse and reconciled us. Regardless of whether you think everybody is saved or if there is a literal heaven or hell, Bell is trying to get you to understand that "our eschatology shapes our ethics." In other words, believing that it's all about going to another place makes us unwilling to do what we're called to do right here, right now. This life isn't just some space-holder to save time before we can be with Jesus. Jesus is already here, transforming us through our baptism. We were placed here with purpose by God! Bell is sounding the call for Christians to get off their backsides and BE CHRISTIANS instead of just pining for heaven or being satisfied that they won't burn in hell. I don't understand how anybody can malign that message, and condemning it just proves his point--many Christians are using their admit-one to heaven as an excuse to avoid being who we're called to be now. When was the last time you fed the poor or comforted the grieving? Or don't you think the suffering of those people matters?
As a seminary student and a lifelong Christian, I am appalled at the ability of some people to live like every other hedonistic person in the world while still being okay with that because they're 'saved.' Conversely, those who live pious lives and look down on those who don't, following all the rules and poo-pooing everybody else aren't getting it either. It's not about the doctrinal debates! It's not about heaven and hell or election. The point is to live in Christ today, serving, being a follower, and not being so hung up on what happens when you die that you forget that today matters too. You may have an eternity in heaven, but you don't here. Salvation starts now.
on April 5, 2011
There are plenty of reviews talking about the actual content of the book, but I have yet to see one really focus on the larger context of the discussion within Christianity in which the book takes part. Because I think this is critical to actually understanding what Rob Bell is saying in this book, I want to focus on the wider context in this review, rather than specifics which are mentioned in other reviews.
Before the book had been released, and even read, there was already a firestorm of controversy from names as large as John Piper suggesting that, in so many words, Bell was a universalist, heretic, false teacher, and, though not mentioned, perhaps the Anti-Christ. Ok, not the Anti-Christ, but needless to say these were not positive thoughts. Aside from the fact that the entirety of the pre-release negative criticism was perpetrated by people who hadn't (and, if I were a betting person, probably still haven't) read the book, Love Wins occupies a place in a much wider debate and context than most reviews acknowledge. Understanding the wider context can, I think, make a little more sense of how Love Wins is intended to function, and, ultimately, what it is trying to say.
Roll back to the early days of the Reformation. John Calvin, expanding on St. Augustine, puts the Doctrine of Election at the center of his systematic theology. Specifically, Calvin's view of Election centers around the idea that, before the foundation of time, God has predestined some to be saved, and some to be condemned (also know as "double-predestination"). As Calvin's theology was worked out, particularly at the Synod of Dort, this became one of the central tenets of Calvinist belief, and has influenced the Reformed tradition, and by extension a large majority of Evangelical Christianity to this day. God, the story goes, chooses of his own free will some (the Elect) who he will save. Those not chosen by God are condemned. God remains just in doing this because all have sinned - all stand guilty before God. God is not obligated to save anyone - he is well within his rights to condemn everyone. The fact that God saves anyone, then, is Good News.
Even from the beginning, however (and even going back to St. Augustine), a wide variety of Christian thinkers have been skeptical of this position, primarily because Election, when seen from this perspective, really doesn't sound like Good News. If you aren't part of the Elect, in particular, it sounds like very bad news. Thus, for the overwhelming majority of people who have ever lived, the "Good News" of Jesus is, in effect, a sentence to never ending torture and torment throughout eternity. For all but a very small few, it is, to be sure, a Gospel of Bad News.
The most major challenge to this view of Election came from the twentieth century Swiss theologian Karl Barth. Barth's theology is far too complicated to boil down to a few paragraphs, let alone a few sentences, but I will try to summarize the most relevant bit to this particular discussion. Barth re-forms the Doctrine of Election, and applies it first and foremost to Jesus Christ - this is, after all, Christian theology. Barth's thesis in his Doctrine of Election is that, in choosing (electing) Jesus Christ, God has, in a sense chosen who He will be - and importantly he has chosen that he will be for humanity, rather than against it. Christ is predestined for God's "no" in his death on the cross, but also predestined for God's "yes" in the event of the resurrection. In Christ's cross, God says "no" to humanity, as God's humiliation overturns (and says "no" to) our pride, but in the resurrection, God says "yes", exalting Jesus, and in some sense all humanity also joins with that. As a result, Barth has commonly been criticized as promoting a sort of "soft" universalism. To think about it in a different way, consider John Owen's argument for the Doctrine of Limited Atonement (i.e. Christ didn't die for everyone, he only died for the Elect): "If Christ died for everyone, he failed - because he clearly didn't save everyone." Barth essentially calls a bluff on this position and says, "Are you so sure Christ didn't save everyone? What if he did? Why not? Would that be such a bad thing?" Barth's position is that, in Electing Jesus Christ, God is making Good News for the whole human race. All humanity is, in some sense, "saved" in Him.
Barth's work is extremely influential in academic circles, but clearly hasn't caught on much in the broader evangelical context. Interestingly, Love Wins can be read as a repainting of Barth for the masses - but fully exploring that would take more space than we have here.
The sort of "cold war" between Barth and Calvin stayed relatively dormant in wider circles until the rise of what has been called the "New Perspective on Paul" (NPP), spearheaded most prominently by the Pauline scholar N.T. Wright, who is the former Anglican Bishop of Durham, and current Professor of New Testament and Early Christianity at St. Andrews. As with Barth, it would be impossible to summarize the views of all NPP scholars in a couple of sentences, but again I will try to hit the highlights that matter for the discussion of Love Wins. The two most important consequences to our discussion rising out of NPP scholarship are 1) a re-examination of Justification Theories in general, and 2) a proposal to shift from a "Jesus came so you could to go to heaven after you die" eschatology.
The specifics of how NPP scholars make these arguments is lengthy and perhaps the subject of future posts, but for now assume that Wright and company more or less suggest that Luther and Calvin made certain assumptions about Paul which then colored everything that followed, and notably produced some significant tensions within the text. If you change those assumptions, different systems follow. An example to give a flavor of the type of thing a NPP scholar might say: if Justification Theory readings of Paul are correct, there seems to be an inherent tension in the epistemology of condemnation and salvation. The claim in Justification Theory, at least, is that everyone is condemned, because everyone stands in willful opposition to God and his ways (an assumption that itself has internal problems). The epistemology of condemnation, in other words, is universal: everybody is damned, and more importantly they know it. It is self-evident simply from observation of the universe (Paul: "all men are without excuse..."). The epistemology of salvation, on the other hand, is not universal, but particular. It arrives only in knowledge of the historical person of Jesus Christ. Concretely, all people are condemned by the fact they are alive, but you are saved only if a missionary manages to make it to your village. The problem rests in that while you are condemned by examination of the universe, you can't save yourself by that same process - there are, in short, two epistemologies at work, which from the standpoint of a theory, is very problematic.
Needless to say, there are plenty of people who aren't thrilled about the deconstruction of traditional doctrines, and who aren't going to take it sitting down. After the publication of Wright's Paul: In Fresh Perspective in 2005, Neo-Calvinist Pastor and author John Piper fired back, going so far as to name names with his 2007 book The Future of Justification: A Response to N. T. Wright. In 2009, Wright responded with Justification: God's Plan & Paul's Vision, devoting significantly more time to presenting a rigorous view of his Pauline theology. In 2008, Wright also published Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church. Does the subtitle sound familiar? Each of these books deserves a full review in its own right, and there are many reviews all over the internet if you're interested. The main point is that there is a significant debate about these points right now with good, honest, bible-reading, smart people on each side.
Here's the bottom line: read in a vacuum, Rob Bell's Love Wins seems like a "cool" mega-pastor inventing a completely new idea about Jesus, then spinning it off so he can sell a few million more books. Read as a part of the larger discussion on Election, Justification Theory, and Christian eschatology over the past 100 years, Love Wins is the latest salvo in what is increasingly becoming a "hot war". Bell, like Wright and Barth, is questioning beliefs which have marked the social boundaries of Christian communities for hundreds of years. Just like wars between countries take place along geographical boundaries, conflicts over social boundaries almost always flare up to be ugly battles. Therefore, while Bell's book may not be anywhere as new, revolutionary, or crazy as his detractors would like to present, it shouldn't be at all surprising, given its place in the discussion, that it's generated the kind of response it has.
As for what the book actually says...
I'm sure you can find plenty of information to support whatever viewpoint you like in the other reviews here.
There are two kinds of people in the world: those who love questions and those who love answers.
Question-lovers focus on the ambiguity and uncertainty of belief. Reality is bigger and more complex than our theories about it. Consequently, we must be humble in the face of mystery, knowing how much we do not know.
Answer-lovers focus on the clarity and certainty of belief. Reality may slip the grasp of theory at the margins, but theory has a firm grip on reality at the center. So, we must act courageously in the world on the basis of what we do know.
Rob Bell loves questions. His critics love answers. This difference between them--a difference that is both temperamental and methodological--illuminates the controversy surrounding Bell's new book, Love Wins: A Book About Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived.
Bell asks, "Does God get what God wants?"--namely, "all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth" (2 Tim. 2:4). He further asks, "Do we get what we want?" A "yes" answer to the first question makes you a universalist, that is, a person who believes that God both desires the salvation of all people and realizes that desire. A "yes" answer to the second question makes you a proponent of hell, that is, a person who believes that we can be separated from God for eternity.
A "yes" answer to both questions makes you Rob Bell, a hell-believing universalist.
If that description of Bell strikes you as an oxymoron, you are probably an answer-lover who longs for clarity and certainty. To you, belief in universalism and belief in hell form an incoherent set. Either/or but not both/and.
But Bell is a question-lover comfortable with ambiguity and uncertainty. God will get what God wants. And we will get what we want. Either way, love wins. "If we want hell, if we want heaven, they are ours. That's how love works. It can't be forced, manipulated, or coerced. It always leaves room for the other to decide. God says yes, we can have what we want, because love wins."
Read that quote again. If we want heaven, love wins. If we want hell...love wins there too?
In my opinion, Bell can make that statement only by redefining hell. The Christian tradition--Orthodox, Catholic, and Protestant--defines hell as the sentence of eternal punishment rendered by God against the unrighteous. One of the source passages for this definition is Matthew 25:31-46, Jesus' parable of the sheep and the goats. In that passage, Jesus teaches that he himself will separate the righteous and the unrighteous and render judgment. "Then they [the unrighteous] will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life."
Bell thinks the tradition has misinterpreted Jesus' words in verse 46. There, Jesus contrasts two fates: kolasin ai'nion and z''n ai'nion. The standard English translation of these two phrases is "eternal punishment" and "eternal life," respectively, although the words everlasting and forever occasionally appear instead of eternal. According to Bell, the "word kolazo is a term from horticulture. It refers to the pruning and trimming of the branches of a plant so it can flourish." And ai'nion describes either "a period of time with a beginning and an end" or "a particular intensity of experience that transcends time" (emphasis in original). According to Bell, then "the phrase [kolasin ai'nion] can mean `a period of pruning' or `a time of trimming,' or an intense experience of correction."
If the tradition defines hell as eternal punishment, then Bell redefines it as temporal or particularly intense pruning. The former is ultimate and retributive. The latter is penultimate and remedial. What Bell says about the interplay of human sin and divine judgment in the Old Testament captures the gist of what he's saying about hell: "Failure, we see again and again, isn't final, judgment has a point, and consequences are for correction."
There are several problems with reasoning about hell in this way: First, Bell commits "the root fallacy" when he thinks the root-meaning of kolaz'/kolasin determines its meaning. In the New Testament, kolaz' and kolasin are translated as "punish" and "punishment" in the four instances where they are used (Acts 4:21, 2 Pet. 2:9; and Matt. 25:46, 1 John 4:18, respectively). The root-meaning in and of itself cannot determine whether that punishment is remedial (which is what Bell intends by "pruning" or "trimming") or retributive. Second, the word ai'nion must be translated the same way in both of its instances in Matthew 25:46. If hell is temporal, so is heaven. If hell is an intense experience that transcends time, so is heaven. Obviously, Bell desires to limit the duration of hell, but in doing so, he ends up limiting the duration of heaven at the same time. Third, the problem of citing the Old Testament interplay between human sin and divine judgment is that this interplay is corporate and historical. In other words, it applies to the nation (Israel) or city (Jerusalem), not every citizen or resident. And it applies to that corporate body's experience in this age, not necessarily in the age to come.
Bell doesn't draw a sharp distinction between this age and the age to come. He argues--correctly, forcefully, and with great insight--that they overlap in the present age. (He also argues--again, correctly, forcefully, and with great insight--that our eschatology should shape our ethics.) Theologians describe the overlap as inaugurated eschatology. In other words, through his death and resurrection, Jesus Christ inaugurates "the age to come" in the midst of "this age." In terms of heaven, this means that we can begin to experience "eternal life" right here and right now. "Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come," Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 5:17: "The old has gone, the new is here!" But inaugurated eschatology also applies in terms of hell. Romans 1:18 says, "The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of people." And 2:5 adds, "because of your stubbornness and your unrepentant heart, you are storing up wrath against yourself for the day of God's wrath, when his righteous judgment will be revealed." According to these verses, right now, we begin to experience either "eternal life" and "new creation" or "wrath" and "judgment."
The New Testament teaches inaugurated eschatology, but it also teaches consummated eschatology. If the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ inaugurates, his second coming consummates. Consider, again, Jesus' parable of the sheep and the goats, which begins this way: "When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him..." (Matt. 25:31). Or 1 Corinthians 15:51-52: "Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed--in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed."
Or Revelation 19:11: "I saw heaven standing open and there before me was a white horse, whose rider is called Faithful and True. With justice he judges and makes war." In these passages, and in many others, Christ's return marks a definitive turning point in the relationship between God and his creatures. In the words of the Nicene Creed, "He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead."
For Bell, there does not seem to be a definitive turning point, a crisis moment where destinies are finalized. Hell, especially, is temporal and remedial. How long one spends there depends on how long one resists God's love. "Hell is our refusal to trust God's retelling of our story." Bell draws attention to Revelation 21:25, which says of the New Jerusalem: "On no day will its gates ever be shut." Then he writes: "That's a small detail, and its' important we don't get too hung up on details and specific images because it's possible to treat something so literally that it becomes less true in the process. But gates, gates are for keeping people in and keeping people out. If the gates are never shut, then people are free to come and go." Bell sees this as an image of hope. Those who have chosen hell can choose heaven. Logically, though, the image contains a note of despair, for what stops a person who has chosen heaven from choosing hell? Absent the precipitating event of Christ's second coming and the final judgment, it seems to me that life as Rob Bell portrays it will always be an ongoing struggle between heaven and hell, with no guarantee of a final resolution.
And if that's the case, in what sense does love actually win?
on March 22, 2011
I am not a student of the Bible, or a person with a deep understanding of theology. I've never heard of this book until it was mentioned in a column in USA Today. Like millions of others, I'm a lapsed Catholic struggling with all of the questions that Rob Bell puts forth in the beginning of this book. While I search for answers that make sense, and look for a faith where I can belong and be strong, and not be lost and afraid, almost every page of this book spoke to me. I found it a compelling read, eye-opening and heart-opening. Yes, a little "over written" in the dramatic, one-sentence paragraph style. But it worked. When I finished this book, for the first time in decades, I wanted to pray. For the first time in years, I wanted to open a Bible and give it a chance. For the first time in a long time, I went to church because I felt there might be a good reason to go. So the debate can rage among the hard-cores, but I suspect this book can touch millions of hearts like it touched mine. For that reason, I will be recommending it to many friends who struggle with the same question.
on May 25, 2011
Thanks Rob (you big jerk) for coercing me to come out of the theological closet and proclaim my "liberal/heretical" views to the shock and dismay of all my fundamental family and friends. I've lost some friends along the way...
But I've found Christ in a way I've never dreamed.
It's books like Love Wins that has forever changed my faith and made me so madly in love with Jesus that I can barely obtain it. I have a faith I actually want to share with everyone. I have a joy that's contagious. I now have a comfort, knowing that answers to questions that have long insulted my soul have been answered with sound scripture.
The thing I'm so baffled about is why is there so much venom against this book? N.T. Wright wrote this book. C.S. Lewis (sort of) wrote this book. George Maconald, Origen, and dozens of other faithful Christians throughout history have written versions of Love Wins. Heck, the very first edition of Love Wins was written by the Apostle Paul! (Oh noes! I just said a heresy!)
Another thing I'm so baffled about his how some Christians can believe in things like double predestination and not many people seem to care. But oh! If someone even suggests that God isn't some bifurcated deity torn between love and justice, it's time to start burning at the stake!
But isn't this theology sending people to hell? I can't seem to find anywhere in my Greek Bible that salvation is contingent upon acquiring a perfect doctrine. 2000 years of church history will tell you that finite minds trying to understand an infinite God is going to result in some variances. So maybe fighting over the ambiguity in the Bible isn't the most important part of our faith. Maybe...oh I don't know...the clear commands that came out of Jesus' mouth are more important.
But won't this theology stop people from evangelizing? Everyone I know that has acquired a more optimistic view of God tends to share Jesus more than others. I've seen this in my own life. My witness has increased by leaps and bounds.
So go ahead...casts stones, throw around labels; bring your scriptural bag o' tricks to tell me exactly why I'm wrong. Heck, troll my review in the name of righteous indignation. I don't care. I'll be too busy trying to find a tax collector to love on.
on August 30, 2011
This idea is similar to the main thesis in "Not A Fan" (by Kyle Idleman) which has also come out recently. For anyone who grew up as I did in a time of punitive religion, with sins in neat categories of mortal and venial, with purgatory looming just after death even if you had confessed everything and tried really, really hard to be good, and with the idea that Jesus is crucified all over again (and it's YOUR fault!) every Sunday at Mass, this book is going to be like a lifeline thrown to a drowning person.
Never mind the theological quibbles-- just read the Bible! The message of faith, love, and forgiveness is in there for anyone to see. Jesus said "I have not come to judge the world, but to save it." Simple. Impossible to misunderstand, right? Wrong. The Church has consistently and deliberately misunderstood it almost from the outset. I say almost from the outset because I date the day when the Church lost its holiness as the same day that Constantine decided that he was going to make it the official religion of the Roman Empire, with himself as its secular head. Suddenly the idea of Christ the suffering servant vanished, and in its place came hierarchy modeled on the pagan world, a growing distance between clergy and laity, a monstrous set of rules and myths and layers of clergy who (let's face it) considered themselves far better than the people they were supposed to serve. In fact, some of the laity was immediately reduced to the status of "non-person"-- namely, women and illiterates, peasants, and anyone who could not be relied upon to endow the Church with as much lucre as he was capable of scraping together. So Christianity in the West was treated to such abominations as rood screens so that half the time the congregation could not even see what was going on up on the altar, where the priest was doing mysterious things on a raised platform with his back to the congregation, indulgences; the worship of bits of bone and wood; a cast of saints that made pagan pantheons seem sparse; the amassing of enormous wealth; and the Church's even darker train of antisemitism, abuse, hubris, and pharisaical self-congratulation.
There are people who are happy only when fenced inside a thicket of rules and rituals and meaningless dogma, but these people are not Christians. A Christian has only two rules: love God with everything in you, and love your neighbor, and take care of him/her as you would take care of yourself. Christianity is not a religion, but a relationship, a one-on-one relationship with our "Creator, Defender, Redeemer, and Friend."
So if this book, and its cousin "Not A Fan" can bring even one person to an understanding of the love and forgiveness immediately available to him/her, it was worth the time and trouble taken to write it. A wonderful, inspiring, and true message, one guaranteed to send any true seeker to his/her grateful knees in love, repentance, and thanksgiving.
I found Christ quite unexpectedly, or rather I should say, I found that Christ had always been there, but I had been blinded from childhood by this same impenetrable thicket of rules, rituals, and punishment, and was incapable of understanding Him and Who He is. "Behold, I stand at the door and knock; and for anyone who bids Me enter, I will come in and will dine with him, and he with Me." What a beautiful promise! This book will tell you how to open that promised door and begin your everlasting friendship with your Savior.
on March 28, 2011
I am pleasantly surprised at how much I enjoyed "Love Wins". I've never been a Rob Bell fan, having started (but never finishing) "Velvet Elvis" and "Sex God", but this book is worth picking up and wrestling with. For that reason -- the value of wrestling with its topics -- it will stand as one of the more important books of the decade.
After having just read C.S. Lewis' "The Great Divorce" for the second time, I began Rob Bell's "Love Wins". The similarities are apparent. It's quite clear that Lewis' perspective on the subject of Hell has influenced Rob. However, I don't think that Bell's views of the Afterlife are identical to those of Lewis, but he's certainly not less orthodox in this area than Lewis.
One thing that struck me a little less than half-way through: "Love Wins" quotes from Scripture A LOT -- much more than the average Christian book. Significantly, Bell doesn't spend a lot of time trying to take verses that seem on the surface to contradict his points and show how they really don't contradict his points. Instead, he spends most of his time quoting Scripture in showing how frequently and in how strong language the Bible at least seems to indicate that eventually "all shall be well". This is significant because it's apparent that his purpose with this book is to get us to dialog about Heaven and Hell -- about the tension between how we often view world history, in light of Christian belief, as a tragedy, though the Bible in many places rises to such poignant superlatives of grandeur that seem to tell a different story. The Bible does say powerful things like:
"As in Adam all die, so in Christ all shall be made alive." (1 Corinthians 15)
"All the ends of the earth will remember and turn to the LORD, and all the families of the nations will bow down before him, for dominion belongs to the LORD and he rules over the nations. All the rich of the earth will feast and worship; all who go down to the dust will kneel before him -- those who cannot keep themselves alive. Posterity will serve him; future generations will be told about the Lord." (Psalm 22)
"Love is patient... it always protects... always hopes... Love never fails" (1 Corinthians 13)
"Having made known unto us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure, which he hath purposed in himself, that in the dispensation of the fulness of times, he might gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven, and which are on earth, even in him." (Ephesians 1)
"At the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father." (Philippians 2)
"For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross." (Colossians 1)
"But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels, for the suffering of death, crowned with glory and honor; that he, by the grace of God, should taste death for every man." (Hebrews 2)
"Behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people." (Luke 2)
"For he must remain in heaven until the time for the final restoration of all things, as God promised long ago through his holy prophets." (Acts 3)
"He will swallow up death in victory; and the Lord GOD will wipe away tears from off all faces." (Isaiah 25)
"I will not contend forever, neither will I be always wroth; for the spirit should fail before men, and the souls which I have made." (Isaiah 57:16)
"The LORD is merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and plenteous in mercy. He will not always chide: neither will he keep his anger for ever." (Psalm 103)
"For I will not fight against you forever; I will not always be angry. If I were, all people would pass away -- all the souls I have made."
"His mercy endureth forever." (Psalm 136)
Those verses sound pretty all-encompassing. And the list just goes on and on, in both Old Testament and New. The point: we need to talk about this. If we assume that what we have been told is true is indeed true, then we merely perpetuate the very root problem that got us to the point where we needed a Reformation in the first place. We really must confront the issues and admit ambiguity where there is ambiguity. Assumptions limit growth. The pursuit of truth requires a willingness to accept that which we do not already accept. Humblemindedness -- a humility of intellect and will -- this is the very foundation of learning.
My own views don't completely coincide with either Rob Bell's or C.S. Lewis'. But that doesn't mean I can't learn from them, or even learn in spite of them. I value how these two have added to our attempts at grasping after God.
on July 6, 2011
I am taken aback by the lengthy reviews quoting scripture that have nothing to do with the book itself. Preface: this is not one of those reviews.
If you are not afraid of simply thinking and asking questions, and/or are curious about what a more loving Christian faith might look like, you should read this, even if you yourself are not a person of faith. The voices of hate are so strong in American culture these days and receive so much attention that it's refreshing to read the words of someone strong enough to stand up to hysteria and calmly ask questions and reflect.
The writing is the voice of someone who is strong enough in his faith to not feel threatened simply by asking questions of it. The writing is accessible, clear, non-threatening, loving, warm, and - and this surprised me - supported by ample biblical "evidence," though the book is not in the style of "here's all the evidence, now you have to believe me." Far from it.
I am not a person of faith, at all. I don't even believe in God. But I am intrigued by the role of faith in the lives of others, and the powerful impact Christianity in particular has on politics, policy and discourse in the U.S. I am glad I let down my walls enough to read this book, which I picked up at an airport after hearing about it from my brother-in-law. He was raised by fundamentalist "Christians" in a hellfire and brimstone environment that has emotionally and psychologically damaged him beyond comprehension. Most of what he grew up learning was primarily about judging others, intolerance of others who are different or may not share the exact same beliefs, graphic depictions of what hell was like (for a three-year-old, no less), and changing ideas about what it took to get into heaven, always a moving target depending on who was doing the talking.
Unlike me, however, my brother-in-law, a very loving person, has never stopped trying to maintain and work out his faith with a vision of a truly loving (vs. judgmental and hateful God). I'm glad that he is reading this, and that he told me about it.
This is a really interesting, thoughtful book that I hope will serve as a beacon for the next wave of Christian thought and behavior.