Love Wins

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

2 thoughts on “Love Wins

  1. Why is Rob Bells book‭ ‬‘Love wins‭’‬ so‭ ‬controversial‭?

    The obvious answer to this question is that Rob Bell seems to be questioning long held Christian beliefs about the‭ ‬judgment of God and more specifically the concept of Hell.‭ ‬I doubt‭ ‬whether‭ ‬many Christians have‭ ‬easily‭ ‬accepted‭ ‬the idea of the Christian God of love sending people,‭ ‬who might well be redeemable,‭ ‬if not in this life but perhaps in the next life,‭ ‬to a place of eternal suffering.

    It was only‭ ‬72‭ ‬years ago that the‭ ‬Second World War was waged against a man who had the intention of creating a‭ ‬super race and destroying or enslaving those that didn‭’‬t either qualify or refused to accept him as‭ ‬their father‭ (‬Fuhrer‭)‬ there‭ ‬would seem to be many similarities‭ ‬between‭ ‬Hitlers‭ ‬death camps and the‭ ‬lake of eternal lake fire except that the death camps were not eternal.

    If we are honest we try not to dwell on the‭ ‬judgment of God too much and prefer to preach‭ ‬forgiveness‭ ‬and‭ ‬to‭ ‬live in the light of his love.‭ ‬Rob Bell has demanded through his book‭ ‬‘Love‭ ‬Wins‭’‬ that we look again at what the bible teaches about Hell‭ ‬and God‭’‬s‭ ‬judgment‭ ‬and naturally‭ ‬because‭ ‬we don‭’‬t like the subject very much it becomes controversial.‭ ‬He seems to be asking us to consider another interpretation other than the one that is most commonly taught.

    I don‭’‬t see how this makes‭ ‬Rob Bell into‭ ‬a‭ ‬Universalist,‭ ‬which is a very unpopular label in the Evangelical Christian world.‭ ‬A true Universalist believes that‭ ‬whatever religion or philosophy one‭ ‬adheres to will get you to God in other words‭ ‬‘all roads lead to God‭’‬.‭ ‬This is of course‭ ‬unacceptable‭ ‬to Christians who believe that Jesus is the only way to come to know God the father.

    In another sense though,‭ ‬the bible does teach that the breath of God‭ (‬Ruagh in Hebrew‭) ‬that abides in every man and animal will return to the Father when the man or animal‭ ‬dies‭ ‬..‭ ‬so whatever road or religion‭ ‬or philosophy‭ ‬you may choose,‭ ‬according to scripture,‭ ‬cannot prevent the‭ ‬returning of something‭ ‬in you‭ ‬( soul or spirit‭ ?‬) to God.‭ ‬There seems to‭ ‬be‭ ‬no escaping one day having to meet with ones‭ ‬maker..‭ ‬there‭’‬s‭ ‬nowhere to run.‭

    One‭ ‬could assume that the purpose of the breath of life returning to the father is so that we can be judged as to whether or not we are worthy to live with him eternally however if death nor life can separate us from the love of God perhaps the redeeming work of Christ continues beyond the grave.‭ ‬I personally would very much‭ ‬like to think so but it isn‭’‬t‭ ‬100%‭ ‬clear one way or the‭ ‬other,‭ ‬therefore making it‭ ‬‘open‭’‬ to interpretation‭ (‬open as in permitted‭)‬ There are some‭ ‬valid viewpoints on both sides of this controversy.

    I would like to say that I have struggled with this question‭ ‬for the entire‭ ‬36‭ ‬years that have passed since‭ ‬I become a Christian but the truth is I have ignored the question as much as humanly possible‭ ‬feeling,‭ ‬perhaps,‭ ‬that to dwell on it too much would just churn up other‭ ‬tricky‭ ‬questions and become rather depressing.

    If Rob Bell isn‭’‬t a Universalist then what is he‭ ? ‬I suspect that he is a brave man who wants to find the truth behind this question and isn‭’‬t afraid to pursue it nor to share his findings so far with others.‭ ‬Why is it so hard for other‭ ‬‘Christian‭ ‬writers,‭ ‬preachers, teachers etc:’ to accept this‭? ‬Why does it provoke them to label this man‭ ‬a‭ ‬heretic‭?

    Jealousy maybe a factor behind some of the reactions,‭ ‬one cannot ignore that Rob Bell is a fine communicator,‭ ‬and has‭ ‬an effective ministry and that his books are easy to read and well liked. ‘Oh, why is God blessing this mans ministry more than ours ? ’ …. maybe it’s not God who is blessing him but the Devil at work ? …. whatever .. let’s get him! NB: If that is a factor then beware because Jealousy IS the devil at work !

    A more likely reason for the controversy is that many Christians see themselves as defenders of the faith and they are worried that this book will upset the way the church is viewed by the world and CNN news. It’s more likely that the controversy over the book is more damaging to the Churches ‘image’ than what is written in it. More people are going to read ‘Love wins’ because of the controversy than because they are actually interested in the content.

    I have to say in closing that I think Rob Bell may be right and that we will, as CS Lewis wrote in The Last Battle, be surprised at who actually gets into heaven. I also believe that our God is a just and merciful God who will move heaven and earth to redeem mankind and we have yet to see how this will pan out.

    1. Thank you for your reflections. I have finished reading ‘Love Wins’ – it wasn’t a long read. I found it a provocative book, clearly driven by pastoral concern and out of a desire to face the hard questions of the Bible that those outside the church may ask of us. I believe he is right to feel free to question commonly held views – didn’t Jesus do that all the time; just because something is commonly believed to be true, doesn’t necessarily mean it is. It is important to keep going back to the Bible and reassessing our interpretations of it.

      I haven’t written a review yet, I will do in time, but am minded not to rush into it with the heat around this book in some circles.

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