the last thing anybody needs to read is another blog attacking rob bell. it’d be kind of like beating a dead horse and somehow raising it back to life, just to shoot him.
we all live in a world of reactions. cause and effect. i don’t sleep, i am tired. somebody cuts me off on the freeway, i get angry. rob bell advertises a short video, and the Christian world goes berserk.
when we react, more often than not, we are not thinking clearly. our emotions get in the way of our rationale, and many a “mistake” are made and we often end up finding ourselves apologizing for things we “really didn’t mean.”
a different approach to reacting to things that bother us, challenge us, upset us, or anger us, could be responding to them. though quite similar in their definitions, a response is something that requires some prior thought before speaking. shutting up before speaking up; the Bible (especially in the Proverbs) calls this, wisdom.
there are plenty of ministries within Christianity whose sole purpose is to react and attack everything they see that is “wrong.” Bible police. in Jesus’ day, they were called Pharisees. in our day, they are called, religious people. a few examples from the book of Luke:
“the Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, i thank you that i am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. i fast twice a week; i give tithes of all that i get.'” Luke 18:11-12
“but some of the Pharisees said, ‘why are you doing what is not lawful to do on the Sabbath?'” Luke 6:2
“and the scribes and the Pharisees watched Him (Jesus), to see whether he would heal on the Sabbath, so that they might find a reason to accuse Him.” Luke 6:7
are non-followers of Jesus more familiar with what He was against, as opposed to what He was for? are Christians more prone to react to things of this world (or in the church!) in attack mode, or do we instead respond to them in a way that shows great love, great patience, and great faith in a God who can overcome any and everything for His glory and our good?
theologically, God at times has quickly indeed reacted to sin in the world, such as in the sudden death of Uzzah when he touches the ark of the covenant (2 Samuel 6:5-8). many people would see this and say (and do say) how is it fair that God does this, it is amazing that He would kill people spontaneously like this! if this is something you struggle with, i would challenge you by saying there are one of two things you may not understand: the glory of God revealed in the Bible and ultimately in His Son Jesus Christ, or the depravity of man revealed in our hearts through sin. the question isn’t how could God take anyone’s life, the correct question is how could God let anyone live, and still maintain His role as God?
Romans 3:25-26 are some of the most precious passages in all of the Bible, and actually teach that God is not a God of pure reaction to sin (though He has every right to be), but instead that God delayed His reaction because of the ultimate response He had thoughtfully, perfectly, and graciously planned out to our great problem of sin, death, and hell. His response came not when Adam and Eve sinned (though there were immediate consequences), but came when He poured out His wrath against sin on Jesus at the cross of Calvary, satisfying His holy justice, and gave His own righteousness to His children. This was His great plan of response to the greatest wrong, planned “before the foundation of the world” (Ephesians 1:4), and we can learn much from God’s words, but just as much from God’s delayed response, or His temporary silence.
according to Spurgeon, “calm endurance answers some questions infinitely more conclusively than the loftiest eloquence. the ambiguous and the false, the unworthy and mean will soon enough confound themselves, and therefore the true can afford to be quiet and find silence to be its wisdom.” Jesus said much in His silence, and “like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so He opened not His mouth” (Isaiah 53:7). He chose not to react, but be not fooled, He did respond.
yet, to be fair to the Christian communities and believers and ministries who have rightly called Bell out for some of his outlandish, unorthodox views, this can be absolutely necessary when the purity of the Word, the gospel, and the protection of the sheep of God’s flock are at stake, and only when done in love. Paul named names:
“you are aware that all who are in asia turned away from me, among whom are Phygelus and Hermogenes.” 2 Timothy 1:15
“for Demas, in love with this present world, has deserted me…” 2 Timothy 4:10
so i leave you not with a review of Bell’s book, “Love Wins,” but instead several quotes directly pulled from it. i want you to hear Bell speak for himself, this is the least of what he deserves. instead of a prescriptive post (telling you my thoughts), it is instead a descriptive one (so you can formulate your own). i’d then encourage all to be discerning in your understanding, diligent in your Bible searching, and loving in your response…
Excerpts from Love Wins
“there are a growing number of us who have become acutely aware that Jesus’ story has been hijacked by a number of other stories, stories Jesus isn’t interested in telling, because they have nothing to do with what he came to do. the plot has been lost, and it’s time to reclaim it.” P. vii-viii
“a staggering number of people have been taught that a select few Christians will spend forever in a peaceful, joyous place called heaven, while the rest of humanity spends forever in torment and punishment in hell with no chance for anything better. It’s been clearly communicated to many that this belief is a central truth of the Christian faith and to reject it is, in essence, to reject jesus. This is misguided and toxic and ultimately subverts the contagious spread of jesus’ message of love, peace, forgiveness, and joy that our world desperately needs to hear.” P. vii
“of all the billions of people who have ever lived, will only a select number ‘make it to a better place’ and every single other person suffer in torment and punishment forever? Is this acceptable to God? Has God created millions of people over tens of thousands of years who are going to spend eternity in anguish? Can God do this, or even allow this, and still claim to be a loving God?” p.2
“what if the missionary gets a flat tire? This raises another, far more disturbing question: is your future in someone else’s hands?” p.9
“… or the woman who wrote the letter to the Hebrews.” P.10
“how could it be heaven without sports?” p.24
“the day when God says ‘ENOUGH!’ to anything that threatens the peace (shallow), harmony, and health that God intends for the world… (his definition of the day of the Lord)” p.37
“everybody is a brother, sister. Equals, children of the God who shows no favoritism.” P.76
“what we see in Jesus’ story about the rich man and lazarus is an affirmation that there are all kinds of hells, because there are all kinds of ways to resist and reject all that is good and true and beautiful and human now, in this life, and so we can only assume we can do the same in the next.” P.79
“will all people be saved, or will God not get what God wants? Does this magnificent, mighty, marvelous God fail in the end?” p.98
he seems to sum up throughout our great dilemma or problem as “our choice of rejecting our ‘God-given humanity’” p.104
“at the heart of this (my) perspective is the belief that, given enough time, everybody will turn to God and find themselves in the joy and peace of God’s presence. The love of God will melt every hard heart, and even the most ‘depraved sinners’ will eventually give up their resistance and turn to God.” P.107 (using matthew 19, acts 3, Colossians 1, 1 corinthians 15, titus 2, romans 5, 1 john 2, john 12, john 6, with no specific verses however)
“central to their (clement, origen, Gregory of nyssa, eusebius, Jerome, basil, and Augustine) trust that all would be reconciled was the belief that untold masses of people suffering forever doesn’t bring God glory, restoration brings God glory; eternal torment doesn’t…” p. 108
“which is stronger and more powerful, the hardness of the human heart or God’s unrelenting, infinite, expansive love? Thousands through the years have answered that question with the resounding response, ‘God’s love, of course.’” P.109
“many people find Jesus compelling, but don’t follow Him because of the parts about “hell and torment and all that.” Somewhere along the way they were taught that the only option when it comes to Christian faith is to clearly declare that few, committed Christians will ‘go to heaven’ when they die and everyone else will not, the matter is settled at death, and that’s it. One place or the other, no looking back, no chance for a change of heart…not all Christians have believed this, and you don’t have to believe it to be a Christian. The Christian faith is big enough, wide enough, and generous enough to handle that vast a range of perspectives.” P.110
“will everybody be saved, or will some perish apart from God forever because of their choices?” p.115
“what Jesus does is declare that He, and He alone, is saving everybody… and then He leaves the door way, way open. Creating all sorts of possibilities. He is as narrow as himself and as wide as the universe.” P.155
“hell is our refusal to trust God’s retelling of our story.” P.170
“because if something is wrong with your God, if your God is loving one second and cruel the next, if your God will punish people for all of eternity for sins committed in a few short years, no amount of clever marketing or compelling language or good music or great coffee will be able to disguise that one, true, glaring, untenable, unacceptable, awful reality.” P.175
“hell is refusing to trust, and refusing to trust is often rooted in a distorted view of God.” P.175
“many have heard the gospel framed in terms of rescue. God has to punish sinners, because God is holy, but Jesus has paid the price for our sin, and so we can have eternal life. However true or untrue that is technically or theologically, what it can do is subtly teach people that Jesus rescues us from God. Let’s be very clear, then: we do NOT need to be rescued from God. God is the one who rescues us from death, sin, and destruction. God is the rescuer.” P.182
“we shape our God, and then our God shapes us.” P.184