Monday, May 30, 2011
First off, a statement about the controversy surrounding the book. Rob Bell's title is, like those of his other books, meant to catch your attention, (remember Jesus Wants to Save Christians, Too). The book Sex God ended up being a lot tamer than those of us who didn't realize it was supposed to read Sex, God (comma=crucial) might have expected. That isn't the case with Love Wins. It absolutely does "go there." Many people have been shocked, disturbed, or concerned with the contents of LW. Rob Bell openly invites disagreement, questions, and discussion. The main point of all of his writings, from what I understand, has been to encourage people to take a step outside of their mental comfort zone and consider the possibility that we don't have all the answers, and that the acknowledgement of that truth could lead to a better understanding of God and a deeper relationship with Christ. Rob Bell wants people to feel safe to discuss their doubts and concerns with things they've been taught, safe to have the conversations they may have been too afraid to have with other believers. He write in the preface to LW, "There is no question that Jesus cannot handle, no discussion too volatile, no issue too dangerous."
That being said, RB begins his preface "Millions of Us", by stating what is perhaps the most important thing for anyone to remember while reading this book: "Jesus's story is first and foremost about the love of God for every single one of us." It is hard to maintain that an individual is a heretic or a false prophet while acknowledging the obvious love that individual has for Jesus and his desire to serve God by sharing the love Jesus has for us with as many people as possible. It is difficult to assert that someone is not aligned with the mission of the kingdom of heaven while acknowledging the work for the kingdom that a congregation of believers has achieved under that someone's teaching and leadership.
To jump right into the point of the book (Major Spoiler Alert), RB writes: "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."
If you're thinking, "that's what I was taught," or "that's what I believe," I hear you. For eighteen years I never questioned that exact description of what the message of Jesus is. Now that I do question whether that is the point of Jesus, whether that can be considered a gospel of hope, I worry about whether my church will continue to support me, whether I will continue to fit in with my Christian friends, whether my family will think I'm a heretic.
RB continues, "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."
I only hope that other Christians will be able to agree that the rejection of the idea of everlasting torture for the majority of humanity does not have to involve a rejection of Jesus, his teachings, or the Bible.
As I continue to write about Love Wins chapter by chapter, I'm also going to look into what some well-known Christian theologians have said about the very questions Rob Bell raises. As he writes, "nothing in this book hasn't been taught, suggested, or celebrated by many before me. I haven't come up with a radical new teaching." C.S. Lewis, Martin Luther, and Origen, among others, have suggested ideas about "heaven, hell, and the fate of every person who ever lived" that are worth discussing, and that anyone who wonders where Rob Bell is coming from should be aware of.
My thoughts are small beans, puny potatoes and mini marshmallows compared to reading the book for yourself. Please let me know what you think about Love Wins and/or anything I've written. Grace and peace!