Actively bringing about much needed change in our communities and hope to the broken and disheartened.
My last book review went over fairly well among the few dishwashers who’ve read it (see my review of David Platt’s book “Radical here: https://2dishwashers.wordpress.com/2011/02/18/totally-radical-dude/ ) so I decided to try another go at it.
Many of you know all about Rob Bell. Many of you have read his books.
Have read them.
(If you’ve read his books, you get the joke.)
So his most recent book, Love Wins, has caused a lot of controversy thanks to the likes of John Piper and many other mainstream pastors. I hope all these guys will take or have taken the time to read the book. I, like many others, walked into the book super skeptically, and walked out of the book with…well…you better just read further to find out.
I began reading with the intention to prove to my good friend Josh W. how universalist Rob Bell’s thinking that everyone gets saved is. Universalism is really one of these subversive beliefs that never really has amounted to much of a specific following (as in, people getting together and worshipping…something…on a day of the week), but as far as adherents to some kind universalistic doctrine goes I think there are many people who subscribe to the idea that “all roads lead to God” mentality.
So I began reading with pen and sticky notes in hand, writing out every instance that I considered Rob Bell to be misusing Scripture or drawing conclusions that should not be drawn. Between the intro and the first chapter, I had ten sticky notes with Bible verses and notes and the whole thing. I saw a hundred holes in his logic from the get-go and was like “Aw man, this is going to take forever to get through with all these sticky notes I’m gonna have to write.” But I pushed through and made it to the chapter on Heaven.
So Rob’s view on Heaven is not unique to Rob. He talks about Heaven not being “some other place” but rather that God will bring heaven with him to Earth. He draws the conclusion that Heaven is not the place we all go when we die, but rather that it’s more accurately the place where God’s will, and only God’s will, is done. He would argue that Earth, as it is right now, is full of everyone else’s will being done – your will, my will, your neighbors will, Steven Curtis Chapman’s will, and everyone else’s will. Now being sinful people, our will is diametrically opposite of God’s will. We don’t want what God wants and we don’t do what God does. We by nature destroy and hate and kill and lust and have greed and all of those things, while God by nature loves and restores and rebuilds and reconciles and heals.
Robbie Rob essentially is saying that our thinking about heaven is off – heaven is not some place we aspire to go to in the clouds…heaven is where God is – and God will someday restore and renew the Earth with his presence, where his will, and only his will shall be done. That the earth will flow with “new wine” and there won’t be pain or tears or hurt anymore.
This isn’t unique to Rob, he learned a lot of it from N.T. Wright in Surprised by Hope – and I tend to think that he paints an accurate picture of heaven when he says what he says.
Not too many sticky notes there (although I had some).
Here is where Robster started to break away from my pre-conceived notions. Rob breaks down the word Jesus uses for Hell: Gehenna, which was an actual place outside the city of Jerusalem. It was the city’s garbage dump. I had heard this before reading this in Rob’s book, so I wasn’t shocked at this. But Bell goes on to talk about how Hell isn’t really what we’ve always chalked it up to be. I won’t go into all the details, but basically he goes on to challenge the idea that those who are “destined for Hell” will not spend an eternity there. We often talk about everlasting torment, eternal damnation, forever burning in the lake of fire for those who have sinned and for those who have not trusted in Christ. But Rob challenges this idea that God would punish sin that occured in a finite life, infinitly. How just is that?
This also was not the first time I’ve heard such a thing. That Hell isn’t infinite. I’ve heard two thoughts: first, Hell is torment for a time, but then God will destroy Hell and all of it’s inhabitants and they won’t exist ever again. And second (which is what Bell is ascribing to): that Hell is a purging of sorts of people’s sins before they may enter into the presence of God. If I’m not mistaken, CS Lewis ascribed to something of this sort as well. (See Lewis’ book The Great Divorce for further reading on the subject)
If I can just stop talking about Rob and start talking about me for a second I will. Can I be honest? I want that. Yeah, I want that to be truth. It makes more sense to me. It seems like, why bother making people if your just going to let them burn in Hell for all eternity? Why let people die without hearing the gospel so they can one day sit in anguish forever and ever and ever, without even the chance to respond? I’m not saying that it’s truth, or that it’s good theology – because frankly I don’t know. All I’m saying is that if it were me, that’s what I would do. Sin is no joke. God hates it. And hate is a strong word, especially for God – but I think Rob is right, God doesn’t hate people. He hates their sin. God never punished people in the OT stories without a chance for redemption (I mean, look at Israel and how many times God let them be totally raked over, only to bring them back out of slavery, captivity, and lostness to redeem them to himself). Doesn’t it seem like God would do the same once we’ve died? That he would allow people to suffer for a time, but ultimately its suffering for a purpose, not just punishment, but a pruning of all that is sinful.
It’s not what we’ve been taught. But something in my heart cries for that to be the truth of it.
(Here I go again writing one word sentences…looks like more than just his theology rubbed off on me)
So this whole time I’ve been thinking, ok Rob, you’ve plucked at some strings, but how does Jesus fit into all of this?
Jesus is the only way. He is the truth. And he is the life. No one comes to the Father except through him.
Bell talks about how this is an exclusive inclusivity. What’s that? Let me explain:
Exclusive would be that Jesus is the only way to God, and if you don’t ascribe to the life of the Christian and follow the Christian rules, you are out of luck and Jesus’ sacrifice doesn’t apply to you because you didn’t accept it.
Inclusive would mean something like, all roads lead to the top of the same mountain, and it really doesnt matter what you believe as long as your a good person.
Exclusive inclusivity mean this: That Jesus is the only way to God. But that Jesus died for everybody and his grace is given to all – whether they do anything to receive it or not. He has grace on them all. The end. Grace is extended to everbody EXCLUSIVELY through his sacrifice, and INCLUSIVELY to every human being.
Now, what’s this mean?
It means that Christ died for the sins of every person, and that it is not by our own works that we can merit it or gain God’s favor. No, he gave it. Christ died for us while we were yet sinners – it’s not because of what we’ve done.
So naturally I’m like – the Bible also says that you need to BELIEVE that Jesus is God’s Son, and know that God raised him from the dead. Then we are saved. But I think Rob’s point is valid – Our believing and confessing and knowing doesn’t change the fact that Christ’s death covers ALL sin for ALL time. At the point of conversion we are realizing our own state of sin and casting all hope, all trust, all faith into the one who died for all people, including my sin. We don’t validate Christ’s death when we believe, we simply acknowledge the saving grace and power of his death in our own life, because it was God who validated Christ’s death on our behalf. It was His redemptive plan to send Christ as the atonement for our sin.
So then, why spread the Gospel message to all people if they are already good to go?
I asked the same thing. Isn’t this a pass to do whatever the heck I want, knowing that I’ll just serve a few years purging it off and then get eternity with God?
Obviously not. The good news of the gospel extends beyond religion, beyond rules and regulations to the very depths of grace. Grace that is undeserved. So when people come to the realization of what has been done for them – something that they have not had to earn or do anything for – it changes lives. It changes them. Jesus says “If you love me you’ll keep my commandments.” Well why would we love Jesus? Because of what he did for us.
I led a Bible study last week and told my kids this (prior to reading this book) : God’s commandments are not there to stifle our style, they aren’t there to keep us boxed in and make us feel all angry. They are they because God loves us. Because he knows what is best for us. Because he knows that without proper protection, we will get eaten alive by the enemy and our lives will be lived not in joy but in regret. We ought to show our love for him by our devotion to living our lives like he lived his…i mean, that’s what we say we’re trying to do as Christians right? I think Rob’s point is that, sometimes if you’ve heard all about Jesus so many times that he’s worn off on you and his sacrifice and provision aren’t powerful to you anymore, then you try to set up rules and guidelines for how to live more like him, and then become religious and tell other people that they need to do what your doing because you know best. But when people hear the good news of the gospel for the first time, it’s one of those things that you stand there and are like – wait, so I’m completely forgiven? Who is this Jesus? And how the heck do I get to be more like him? Let me try to learn what it means to be his follower because of what he has done for me.
It’s not universalist to say that Jesus died for everyone. It’s not universalist to say that Jesus is the only way to the Father. It’s not universalist to say that we might be wrong in our thinking about Hell. It’s not universalist to think that somehow God’s plan for redemption through Christ expands beyond our understanding.
He wraps up the book with an illustration about the Prodigal Son. Without getting too wordy, he describes the story much like what Heaven will be like. The prodigal son comes home thinking “I am not good enough” – but the father redeems him and shows his love for him (even though, lets not forget, the son still has blown his inheritance and doesn’t have that any more). The party is like heaven – its a celebration thrown by the father. The second son, the religious son, tells the father its not fair because he’s been “slaving away” for his father while his brother has been out carousing the town. But the father tells the religious son, dude – all i have is yours – but your brother has returned and we need to celebrate. The religious son refuses, because he kept strict rules this whole time in an effort to earn the fathers love – which could not be earned, but was given to both sons regardless of their behavior equally. The religious son is there, just outside the party, refusing to go in. Bell explains this to be like Hell – so yes, Hell is real – Hell is when we choose to stand outside the party (heaven) because we haven’t been able to accept God’s love unconditionally – we choose to stand outside the party.
I don’t know where all this goes. I don’t know the ramifications of these thoughts. But I do know that it’s something that my heart longs for. I want to be with God forever. I want to know his love, his grace, his joy, his mercy, his peace, his passion, his son. I want all of those things for myself, but you know what – I want all of those things for all of God’s creation. His people, his planet, everything. I want to see everything reconciled to God.
Isn’t that what you want too?
I think it might be what God wants. I’ll surrender myself to him.