If you haven’t heard the fuss about Rob Bell’s new book, let me catch you up. Here’s what the fuss is all about: Rob Bell’s new book Love Wins. In the book (which isn’t out yet and thus I haven’t read it) Bell takes on the existence of hell and seems to challenge the traditional storyline of orthodox Christianity: that we have been separated from God by sin and only a relationship with Jesus can fix this broken relationship and reconcile us back to God…thus allowing us into heaven and keeping us out of hell. In the wake of its upcoming release, HarperOne released this trailer. First of all, when a book release starts getting an official trailer you know it is going to be controversial. Here is a look:
As soon as Bell’s publisher released the promo video (above) promoting the book, this blog post came out crucifying Rob Bell (which has since been re-written and a bit less attacking in tone). Then John Piper tweeted, now rather infamously, “Farewell Rob Bell.”
Farewell? For writing a book on universal inclusivism that you haven’t read yet? Hmm….
Why are we scared of people asking the question? Why does Rob’s book scare us? Can we read it first? Can we thoughtfully dialogue with his ideas? Can we agree or disagree on certain issues? Or is the answer to villify him and label him a heretic?
This is one of the things we do very poorly as a Christian church. We seem to be scared of people asking questions, and in the judgement and wrath we spew onto people with different ideas, we somehow convey that we must “protect” God from people asking questions. But here is something that I believe very deeply: we don’t have to work so hard to protect truth. Truth always prevails. Remember here, when Jesus says to Pilate “everyone on the side of truth listens to me.” And remember what Pilate says in return, almost rhetorically: ‘what is truth?’ Jesus is the truth, and asking questions of Him and reading the bible to learn more about Him, will lead us closer to this truth.
Personally I look forward to reading the book and engaging the ideas that Bell espouses. I am a huge fan of Rob Bell and his book Velvet Elvis was instrumental in God calling me into church ministry. However, as much as I’ve loved Bell’s writings and videos in the past, I fully recognize I might disagree with him after reading Love Wins. But the goal is to engage his words and ideas thoughtfully, and to respond with a heart full of grace and compassion in my measured response. If what Rob Bell “seems to be saying” is correct, that the God of the bible rooted in love would not will his people to die by being sent to hell, I have heard that argument before. For me, as I thought and prayed this morning, it seems contradictory with the larger trajectory of scripture.
This morning as I read from both the New and Old Testaments, I came across these verses. First of all, Jesus says in John, “Truly truly I say to you, he who hears My word, and believes Him who sent Me, has eternal life, and does not come into judgement but has passed out of death into life.” Later in the same chapter Jesus says, “You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life, it is these that testify about Me, and you are unwilling to come to Me so that you may have life.” Clearly Jesus identifies Himself as the way into eternal relationship with God. And call it heaven or hell or something else, but Jesus clearly seems to say that there is “life” in coming to Jesus or “that which is not life” in not coming to Jesus. I’m not sure how Rob Bell is going to reconcile this. I look forward to reading more and finding out how he wrestles with Jesus on this.
And though I too squirm at times when I read of God’s judgement, I turned to Psalms this morning and came across this in Psalm 7: “The Lord judges the peoples…For the righteous God tries the hearts and minds…God is a righteous judge.” This again seems to reinforce the notion that yes, our God does want His people to love as our #1 priority, but that there will also be accountability for the choices we’ve made in this life to submit to the leadership and authority of Jesus Christ or deny Him. This seems to be a consistent theme of the bible. Not the most important theme (which we have often made it in western Christianity) but a consistent one none-the-less.
Through the Old Testament as God intervenes with His people, the nation Israel, God continues to affirm the notion that “our choices matter”. What we do with our life matters a lot to the God who created us. When you read the statutes that God gives His people in Leviticus, we learn “Thus you are to be holy to Me, for I the Lord am holy; and I have set you apart form the peoples to be Mine.” Again, it seems clear to me as I read the general flow of scripture that God affirms the power of our decisions. We are to choose God and be a people set apart, which seems to imply that there will be another people that will not choose God, and in those decisions will face judgement.
To me, this belies the point where I started: this is why we read scripture and wrestle with issues and seek to learn more about the God who we serve. And from Old Testament Levitical laws to the Psalms to Jesus’ words Himself, all scripture is God breathed and teaches us more about Father God and Jesus Christ and Holy Spirit. Books like Rob Bells should encourage or challenge us and force us deeper into scripture to more clearly understand what we believe. We don’t have to be scared of ideas that we don’t agree with. And we don’t need to villify. The truth always wins out, not by us saying farewell to those that ask hard questions, but by engaging the questions and allowing the truth of Jesus to be made known.