So I got Love Wins in the mail yesterday. Full disclosure: I like Rob a lot. Short story: I was really struggling in my faith a few years ago, and I had heard a sermon from him that caught my attention. So I called him at his church. And he answered. Rob spent about 45 minutes discussing faith, theology, and doubt with me over the phone. I had never met him, he didn’t know who I was, and we lived across the country from each other. I didn’t know back then how popular and busy he was, but it didn’t matter. Is he the rock star of Christianity? Maybe. But he didn’t act like it to me. He acted like a pastor.
Love Wins is a pastoral book. It is not going to be well received in the academy, because those of us there have already made up our minds about all of this stuff. What Love Wins will be able to do, which no detached theologians will be able to do, is to bring the questions that theologians have been asking into the church – where we have all been afraid to ask them.
The furor over the book is something I will address later, but suffice to say that I am glad for it. It exposed much of Reformed Christianity for what it is: a power play for the souls of people. Every Neo-Cal (read: the New Calvinists) that I hear on a sound-byte is quick to denounce everyone who disagrees with their interpretation of “reformed” theology, as if that is some monolithic ideal presented with a bow within the scripture itself. This isn’t the case. Reformed theology is as big and wide as the reformed theologians that have made claims on it, including Calvin, Barth, Piper, and yes, Jacob Arminius.
Regarding the book itself, I found the first chapter to be a refreshingly honest discussion starter using questions about God that nearly every reflective Christian I know has asked at one point or another. While many people in Christian leadership discourage asking questions that they don’t have easy answers to, Bell invites discussion on them because, “There is no question Jesus cannot handle, no discussion too volatile, no issue too dangerous.” Unless you are Martin Basheer, but that is not the point of my post.
The questions raised by Bell in the first chapter can be summed up by questioning why we believe what we do about how people get “saved.” Surely, every denomination or flavor of Christianity has its own particular formula for what it means to inherit “salvation,” and Bell calls them out on it. There is no judgment here, but there is a long list of questions that follow each formula.
Common Christian reflection. – Bell’s Question:
- God chooses who is in and out. – What kind of faith is that? What kind of God is that?
- Many Christians claim that some are in and many are out. – Why are the ones making the claim most often the “in” crowd?
- Some believe that kids who die before an “age of accountability” will automatically go to heaven. – Shouldn’t we then kill every child before that age so everyone goes to heaven?
- After the age of accountability, when someone dies without Christ, they go to hell. – What if someone dies right after the AoA? What Kind of divine justice is that? Why do some get lifetimes to accept Christ, and others only minutes?
- All you need to do to accept Jesus into your heart is pray the sinner’s prayer. – Where is that in the Bible, again?
- We are responsible to bring the gospel to everyone else. – Is their eternal destiny on our shoulders, even if we get a flat tire? What if we don’t say the exact right words?
- Grace is a free gift, we don’t have to do anything. We just have to accept, believe, or confess it. – Problem. Aren’t “accept,” “believe,” and “confess” all verbs? Aren’t verbs “doing” words?
- Heaven will be like a never ending church service. – What if the music sucks?
Perhaps more than the questions that Bell asks in this first chapter, the hope he speaks of resonated with me. Far from saying “heaven” is not a real place, he validates it. And uses the Bible to show how it has been co-opted by others and janked out of its original usage. He talks about “the age” and “the age to come” which in his usage lines up exactly with what I have learned about these concepts from historians and theologians.
This “age” in which people are mistreated and abused and used, will not last. The “age to come” broke into our world at the same time Jesus did, and heaven came with it. I can picture Jesus as Wyatt Earp in Tombstone when he says, “You tell ’em the law’s comin’. You tell ’em I’m comin’. And Hell’s coming with me!” Except for Jesus, it is heaven that came with him.
I make no move to hide my doubts and my fears on this blog. And anything that can sway me towards faith, I will always give fair hearing to. As such, the first chapter of Rob’s book both indulged my fears and my doubts, but…I was made to hope just a little bit more, reading Bell’s first chapter, that perhaps love may indeed win.
more to follow.