After having read Rob Bell's "Love Wins", I have come to some conclusions. One of those conclusions is that there are probably many people that owe Rob Bell an apology for their scathing, derogatory and unecessary comments. Being critical is one thing, and it can be good. But some have simply gone overboard. Some have read the book and wrongly dismissed it as a benign distraction, while others have railed against it with venomous tirades. We should pause, chew on it in our generation, seek to understand and then opine if we desire, regardless of our denomination biases (yes, I use the word 'bias' on purpose).
It's crucial to understand some of the elements of the book in light of orthodox Christianity as well as, and most importantly, the Bible itself. Concerning orthodoxy, we HAVE to look at reality and know that this debate is not new. One of the early church fathers named Origen is a favorite of pastors and authors to quote. Origen was a believer and teacher of the concpet that all would be saved. His contemporary Clement of Alexandria was as well. Really, they were. Not only that but none of his contemporaries ever labeled them as heretics or sought to excommunicate them. They were not alone in their persuasion either. On top of that, there were several church councils that were held to uphold and establish for the Church right doctrine, truthful teachings and eliminate heresy. While Origen and others were quite outspoken of their beliefs in this matter, not one church council ever condemned their beliefs. I find that absolutely fascinating.
On the orthodox note, I bring up Martin Luther. He's the 'father of the Protestant Reformation'. If anyone's orthodox, it's Martin. But do we all understand what he really believed and accept it? Did you know that Martin Luther was very elitist in his approach to ecclisiastical authority? Did you know that he continued to believe in transubstantiation (the belief that communion bread and wine literally turned into the actual body and blood of Christ)? Martin Luther, in a letter to Hans Von Rechenberg in 1522 wrote concerning the possibility that people could turn to God after death, "Who would doubt God's ability to do that?" Origen, Luther, both men lived in times where they came to conclusions that, to them, what they were taught to believe was not necessarily entirely rooted in truth. Both men read the same Bible and came to understandings that shaped them and, consequently others. Both men are held by many to be heroes of the faith.
Orthodox preachers the world over hold to a 'literal interpretation' of the Bible and yet when Rob Bell disects the literal meaning of words in the Bible and comes to a conclusion that is not necessarily 'mainstream' he's verbally crucified. Here's one of America's younger and very educated contemporary pastors who has paid his dues with his nose in the books to find understanding being, what I think, totally mischaracterized. But maybe I'm wrong. Maybe he is misinformed, hasn't done his homework, not prayed or sought God and has not been led by the Spirit on this one.
Case in point, the Holy Spirit saw fit to use the Greek word 'Hades' in Luke 2:27,31 (the first time it's used in the New Testament). This first time it's used is THE time to clarify what it means in context and how the Holy Spirit wanted us to understand it. It is used in quoting Psalm 16:10. It reads "For you will not abandon my soul to Hades, or let your holy One see corruption." The word used in Psalm 16:10 is 'Sheol'. Both 'Sheol' and 'Hades' literally mean "grave". By that I mean, hole in the ground, covered in dirt - grave.
I, like millions of others were taught that it means 'hell' and by that referring to fiery torment. Rob Bell is simply initially asking, 'does it really mean that?' By the study of the words used, we have to conclude that it does not in this context (Don't get upset with me yet I'm establishing things based on the meaning of words and not jumping to my own conclusions). Then in the other times the word occurs, it seems to be, time and time again a similar meaning. Could it be that we're not entirely right in how we think about things? Is it no coincidence that none of the apostles ever preached to unbelievers the notion of fiery torture? I'm just asking because Rob Bell is asking. Instead of brushing things off as illegitimate, I think it wise for us to examine, re-examine and refine what we believe in light of new information.
So now, the book. As there are several things that seem to upset many, there are also some very crucial things that I think give it merit and these things should be examined.
First of all, when speaking of believing in a fiery, tormenting hell, Rob Bell writes on page 110, "Not all Christians have believed this, and you don't have to believe it to be a Christian. The Christian faith is big enough, wide enough, and generous enough to handle that vast a range of perspectives."
Concerning Christ and his work on the cross on page 129 "the point then, as it is now, is Jesus. The divine in flesh and blood. He's where the life is."
Concerning the nervous assumptions that he is telling us that Jesus doesn't matter anymore, the cross is irrelevant, he says on page 155, "Not true. Absolutely, unequivocally, unilaterally not true. What Jesus does is declare that he, and he alone, is saving everybody."
At the end of chapter seven, Bell reiterates the the only thing that saves us is the atoning work of Christ on the cross, not because of anything we've done, but because of his mercy. It's the gospel.
In the end, Bell champions the work of Christ on the cross as the source of our salvation and nothing else. We cannot ignore God's statement of judgement upon those that reject his ways. But, as I think all would agree and Rob Bell concludes, God's judgements are redemptive in nature. The Old Testament is replete with examples of this. He subscribes to the train of thought that the Bible says that all will be saved (eventually) based upon people's eventual response to the immeasurable mercy and love of God which he bases upon numerous scriptures. It's a conclusion that he and other learned believers in the faith before him have come to.
If people are going to take a stand against Rob Bell for his beliefs, then in the same breath they should denounce Origen, Clement and Martin Luther for the very same reasons. We have to be fair afer all.
You or I may have not come to the same conclusions as Rob Bell. Does that make one right and him wrong? Does it make one more right? Does it allow one to be just right enough because people happen to agree?
'Love Wins' at the very least should remind us of just how merciful and gracious our God is through Christ and urge us on to hope for that very thing that Rob Bell seems to be hoping for with everything that is in him that "God wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth." (I Timothy chapter 2). It seems he's really hoping God gets his way. If that's what God's love does in the end, well, that would be a win for everybody now wouldn't it?