There’s an irony in the fact that a new book by the American preacher and church leader Rob Bell called ‘Love Wins’ should have stirred up such a bitter debate amongst evangelicals over the last month or so in America. In many ways, this has been their equivalent of the debate sparked off in the UK a couple of years ago by Steve Chalke’s book ‘The Lost Message of Jesus’.
Why the debate? Steve Chalke’s book looks at the nature of the church’s mission and challenges us to rediscover our central focus of being a loving body. Rob Bell’s book explores the nature of God, his salvation and the nature of heaven and hell with the conclusion that in the end ‘Love Wins’. I suspect most, if not all, of us with agree with those sentiments. However, in making their case, both have challenged traditional ways of understanding the nature of the Cross and salvation. This is not the place to assess their two books– for starters I have only just received my copy of Rob Bell’s book and haven’t had a chance to read it yet. I think, however, that these debates have highlighted something very important.
I have often heard the gospel described along these lines: ‘we are all sinners and Jesus died on the Cross to take God’s punishment that we deserve so that we can be forgiven and receive eternal life’. The trouble is that if we’re not careful this makes God sound like he’s angry and unloving, and fosters a selfish gospel based on the question ‘what can I do so that I can be saved’; just what the rich young ruler in Mark 10 asked Jesus. Then a conversation about the 10 commandments ensued, with the young man claiming that he’d kept the Law. In response Jesus made a searching request – go sell up everything, give it to the poor and then come follow me. The young ruler went away dejected. I wonder, was Jesus challenging this man’s view of salvation, moving him from a ME focus to an OTHERS focus?
Increasingly I’m seeing the Bible as portraying God as being the one who is striving to renew and restore the world. This doesn’t cut across the importance of personal forgiveness but changes the purpose of it. What is the Gospel message that we share? That God is angry with our sinfulness and only his Son’s death could deflect us from that and that believing in this is what you must do to be saved, or that God so loves us and his creation that he longs to redeem us and it through Christ’s Cross and calls his restored people to play their part in this through their relationships with those around them? Whatever we may think about their books, Rob Bell and Steve Chalk are right, what we believe about the Cross matters; what we believe directly affects our picture of God and our dealings with the world around us.
Church newsletter article for Sunday 03.04.11