Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Rob Bell's book, Love Wins

I received Rob Bell's book in the mail yesterday, and finished it this morning. After hearing some of the harsh critiques suggesting heresy and universalism, I am puzzled. I'm wondering if the critics and I read the same book.

If there is anything Rob claims, it's that the Bible offers the story of the God who pursues the whole world, and whose desires are the full redemption of all creation. I resonated deeply with most of the book (I should probably read it again, given my eagerness the first time through). I didn't hear a declaration of universalism, but I did hear about God being more generous than most of us have considered.

I think I'd like to offer two words of caution to my brothers and sisters who see this differently (after they have, of course, actually read the book):

The first relates to honesty. Critique if you must (that can be healthy and constructive), but do so with integrity. Make sure that you are offering an assessment of something actually written, and be civil in your engagement. After all, like the rest of us humans, you could be mistaken in your views. None of us wants to bear false witness.

The second is about something that has a significant biblical precedent. When Jesus spent time with tax collectors, prostitutes, Samaritans, and those generally classified as "sinners," he was soundly condemned by his own religious community. They were angry about the possibility of a God so generously described through parables like the Lost Son, and therefore sought to silence Jesus permanently for his heresy. We need to be careful lest we cast our lot with their kind.

Upon finishing Rob's book, it occurred to me that it really wasn't for the people who are critiquing it. It's really more for those who have stood on the perimeter of faith, fearful of stepping in because of their fear that God despises them. It's for those who gave up hope that they could ever be favored by God because of their past and even their present. It's a book for those who can't imagine a God so full of love that he would pursue the broken and the lost with fervor. I know people like this, and I will give them this book. I think Rob knows people like this as well, because he is a real pastor.

Read this book.


Ron Krumpos said...

In his new book "Love Wins" Rob Bell says he believes that loving and compassionate people, regardless of their faith, will not be condemned to eternal hell just because they do not accept Jesus Christ as their Savior.

Concepts of an afterlife vary between religions and among divisions of each faith. Here are three quotes from "the greatest achievement in life," my ebook on comparative mysticism:

(46) Few people have been so good that they have earned eternal paradise; fewer want to go to a place where they must receive punishments for their sins. Those who do believe in resurrection of their body hope that it will be not be in its final form. Few people really want to continue to be born again and live more human lives; fewer want to be reborn in a non-human form. If you are not quite certain you want to seek divine union, consider the alternatives.

(59) Mysticism is the great quest for the ultimate ground of existence, the absolute nature of being itself. True mystics transcend apparent manifestations of the theatrical production called “this life.” Theirs is not simply a search for meaning, but discovery of what is, i.e. the Real underlying the seeming realities. Their objective is not heaven, gardens, paradise, or other celestial places. It is not being where the divine lives, but to be what the divine essence is here and now.

(80) [referring to many non-mystics] Depending on their religious convictions, or personal beliefs, they may be born again to seek elusive perfection, go to a purgatory to work out their sins or, perhaps, pass on into oblivion. Lives are different; why not afterlives? Beliefs might become true.

Rob Bell asks us to rethink the Christian Gospel. People of all faiths should look beyond the letter of their sacred scriptures to their spiritual message. As one of my mentors wrote "In God we all meet."

Brian White said...

Great entry Mike. I wouldn't expect anything less.

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Mike Dunn said...

I just notice your post. I appreciate your notes. I thought I would offer my notes since we now witnessed the impact of Rob Bell's exploration. I read Rob Bell’s book two times about 2 years apart. My first read I looked for all the things I found easy to reject. The second read I tried to understand his questions, reservations, and point.

Rob Bell paid a steep price for his journey toward universality. Though there is a question as to whether he is a universalist and he does not consider himself a universalist. But he opens the door wider.

Rob Bell’s book was widely and vehemently criticized. His mega-church congregation began shrinking in panic as their pastor articulated a story of Salvation, Heaven, and Hell that ran counter to conservative traditions. After losing 3000 congregants Rob Bell resigned his pastorate in September 2011. Not likely the storied ending he was hoping for. After all he was just trying to turn the Christian gospel message into good news for the nations. He nowhere lost his commitment to Jesus nor did he lose his belief that Jesus is the way and means of salvation.

Rob Bell’s book remains the 7th top selling Christian title in Amazon history. Clearly God’s plan for salvation and the scope of His love for humanity remain relevant concerns in our secular and pluralistic world. But can the tension between God’s love for the whole world (the many) and the salvation offered through Jesus Christ (the one) be resolved without compromising the basic tenants of the Christian faith?

Rob Bell asks, “Will all people be saved, or will God not get what God wants?” Bell wrote his book, Love Wins: A Book About Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived, because he did not like the traditional evangelical Christian response to this question. Rob Bell could not reconcile a restrictive Christian message with the love of God. “Telling a story in which billions of people spend forever somewhere in the universe trapped in a black hole of endless torment and misery with no way out isn’t a very good story.

Telling a story about a God who inflicts unrelenting punishment on people because they didn’t do or say or believe the correct things in a brief window of time called life isn’t a very good story.”

Rob Bell did not walk away from his Christocentric tradition. Bell rejects restrictivism, but he shares a qualified exclusivism with respect to the particularity of Jesus Christ in salvation. Bell believes that there is salvation apart from direct knowledge of Christ. His proof text is from Exodus where Moses struck the rock and out flowed water. The apostle Paul’s commentary refers to this story about this rock, saying that those who traveled out of Egypt “drank from the spiritual rock that accompanied them, and that rock was Christ” (1 Cor. 10). Salvation is effected by faith, but not necessarily explicit faith in Jesus Christ. Saving faith has a theocentric rather Christocentric focus.

So Jesus saved without those people knowing that it was Jesus giving them the water. Interesting, there are much stronger and less ambiguous verses that could have made his point better.

My perspective is that men cannot find God apart from Christ. Jesus is the difference maker, the way, the truth, and the life. But this does not mean that God cannot find men. It seems all agree that the God of the earth will always do right. Can we also agree that the God of all the earth will do what he wants? Elevating the narrative themes that focus on God’s persistent love raises optimism regarding salvation. Is this not our hearts cry? Is this not the God that we hope for?

There is a compelling case to consider for optimistic salvation. We need not diminish the importance of the Christ but we can enlarge the wideness of God’s mercy.