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“Does God punish people for thousands of years with infinite, eternal torment for things they did in their few finite years of life?” –Love Wins, Rob Bell, p.2
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Okay, when I finished reading the first chapter of this book, my head was spinning. With so many questions in this first chapter, it’s hard picking out what to talk about. There’s so. many. questions. Some of them were interesting things to think about, some of them were rhetorical questions based on out-of-context, extreme logic, and some were flat-out bad. But such is the nature of these things.
Needless to say, much of what Rob Bell has to say is worth discussing. So let’s jump in.
If I had to pin it down, this chapter is about Salvation. What does it take to be saved? Bell attacks many of the traditional Christian ideas by challenging our understanding of God’s love and grace as it relates to our eternity. I must admit, his leading question of whether God will offer an eternal destination based on deeds in our “finite” years on Earth (p. 2) is the first thing that got me truly thinking. When Bell brings this up, he uses “punish” which, I guess, is the first soft spot for me in conversations like this. In fact, “punish” is the key word to this idea. If we fix it, the question is no longer necessary.
In addition to “punish” though, is the recurring idea that we “earn” heaven or hell. Bell doesn’t use “earn” but the implication is there because of the use of “punish.” Is not a punishment simply one getting what they deserve… what they’ve earned? Perhaps this is the point Bell wants to make… that we cannot possibly earn Heaven or Hell. I partially agree with the statement, but not with Bell’s reasoning.
As I read, I notice Bell stayed on the “works vs. grace” them for quite some time. I’ll give my opinions more on this with the quotes down below.He then went into the “Jesuses” which I found completely unworthy of reading or discussing. I’m still trying to figure out his point. A bad Christian does not sully Jesus. It might sully the Church, or the perception of a Christian, but there are several surveys that reveal that society is smart enough to make the distinction. Jesus doesn’t need a new image, the Church does. That said, I agree that we must be careful how we represent God and the Church, and I will say that our misrepresentations in the past have made it much more difficult to reach a society growing in skepticism.
On a conceptual level, Bell is all over the map. On one hand, and at some times, he asks great questions that force us to look hard at traditional understanding of scripture, and on the other he lays out straw men so easily knocked down, they aren’t even worth mentioning. As a pastor, Bell sorely misrepresents the meaning of several scriptures… which is really a shame given his mental abilities. In these occasions, I couldn’t tell which I was more disappointed in: what he was saying, or that he was saying it.
In a couple places I wondered what point he was making. There are times where there seems to be no point. For instance, he mentions that the demons where the only ones not confused about Jesus, but I never really fully understand why he needed to mention that. He goes into how Jesus seems to contradict himself, but doesn’t say what he thinks that means. Maybe he will later. Perhaps the point was simply that, since we are not demons, we cannot be sure about what Jesus said and meant. Jesus seemed to confound those around him, But if that is the case, I’d say that’s a pretty postmodern viewpoint and ask how He is certain of anything in the red letters of the gospels.
In the end, this chapter does what it’s supposed to. Ask questions and get us ready for his answers. I hesitate to take on all of the questions he asked, because I suspect he will give us the opportunity to do so again as we read the book.
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Quick Thoughts on my favorite quotes:
“Is that the message? Is that what life is about?” Going somewhere else? If that’s the gospel, the good news – if what Jesus does is get people somewhere else – then the central message of the Christian faith has very little to do with this life other than getting you what you need for the next one. (Love Wins, p.6)
Having listened to a few interviews, and then reading this, I suspect we are headed down a “Heaven on Earth” road. If I’m right, then we will have much to talk about later. For now, I wondered how this quote stacked up against John 14 where Jesus tells his disciples, “I go to prepare a place for you.” What place? Whatever, or wherever, it is, Jesus certainly makes it sound like it’s somewhere other than here. Further, when Thomas asks how they can know the way to this place (Thomas seems to be thinking about here too), Jesus says “I am the way…” and that no man comes to the Father except through Him. Which of course implies that The Father is in the same place Jesus is prepping his disciples for.
“the real issue, the one that can’t be avoided, is whether a person has a “personal relationship. However that happens, whoever told whenever, however it was done, that’s the bottom line: a personal relationship. If you don’t have that, you will die apart from God and spend eternity in torment in hell” (Love Wins, p.10)
This one is particularly interesting to me because I hold relationship with God as such a fundamental piece to my ideas of Christianity, our purpose, and how we relate to God. Bell goes on to claim that the ideals of relationship with God (at least that exact wording of it) doesn’t show up in scripture. He is correct to say that “personal relationship” is absent as a two-word clause. But the implication of relationship is so spread throughout the entire Bible, it’d be foolish to ignore or disregard it. Click “play” on the player below for my a few examples given in a podcast I did in response to Rob Bell’s interview. Oh, and by the way, relationship is the why in the salvation equation, not the how.[ti_audio media=”1022″]
“Accepting, confessing, believing – those are things we do. Does that mean, then, that going to heaven is dependent on something I do? How is any of that grace? How is that a gift? How is that good news? (Love Wins, p. 11)
I suspect this will come up often, so I won’t spend a ton of time here. I will say that Grace is a one-way street. That is, grace alone is predicated on the idea of merit, or rather the lack thereof. Grace is unprompted. Grace is undeserving. Grace is unconditional, if the giver of it so chooses to make it so. Grace itself does not require effort by its benefactor, but the minimum requirement of the benefactor is that they receive it. Again, in the podcast above (in my response to Rob’s interview) I offer an explanation. Check it out. Oh, and by the way, I find Jesus requiring many to “do” something to demonstrate their faith. “Go wash your eyes…” he said to the blind man, “come unto me” he calls to the heavy-laden.
Is your future in someone else’s hands? Which raises another question: Is someone else’s eternity resting in your hands? (Love Wins, Page 9)
This is an excellent question and I am really curious about what you guys think about it. I’ll only add that Jesus did in fact tell his disciples to go out to the “utmost parts of the world.” If they hadn’t, well…
“What about people who have never said the prayer and don’t claim to be Christians, but live more Christlike life than some Christians? (Love Wins, Page 6)
This statement worries me. I wondered how Rob defines a “Christlike life?” I am curious because for someone who is not a Christian, it is near impossible. Christ gave his life to the will of God, wherever that took him. Jesus’ “perfection,” for me, is not in the idea that he performed morally for his entire life. Nor is it even in his loving of people and healing of their ailments, even raising some dead. Christ’s perfection lies in his obedience to the Spirit of God that ran through Him. The same Spirit Christians are given when they are “born again.” A Christ-like life is defined by obedience to God’s Spirit, not by philanthropy or morality (though they are often a apart of it). If Bell was thinking like this, I don’t think this statement would have been said. And if Bell is thinking like this, like the primarily life Christ modeled is one of simple morality and philanthropy, then he’s the one that has the “wrong Jesus.”
Tell me what you think about my observations, or bring up your own (Lord knows there was plenty I left out).
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