Rob Bell / Love Wins Review – Chapter 4

Chapter 4 Synopsis:
This is the chapter where he begins to say things that will make some Christians uncomfortable. But making us feel uncomfortable is not a reason to call him a heretic. His case is made artfully and solidly. He gives evidence that the church fathers, the scriptures, Christians all throughout the past two thousand years have believed that God will somehow have his way in the end. He notes:
- Many hold the position that we get this life and only this life to believe in Jesus.
- Some think there is some kind of second chance after death (Luther thought this).
- Some say there will be an endless amount of time to say yes to God. He writes, “At the heart of this perspective is the belief that, given enough time, everybody will turn to God and find themselves in the joy and peace of God’s presence. The love of God will melt every hard heart, and even the most ‘depraved sinners’ will eventually give up their resistance to God.”
This third one is what theologians sometimes call “infinite subsequent chances.” Again, this is not a new idea, nor is it peculiar to theological liberals. He poses a very good question, “Could God say to someone truly humbled, broken, and desperate for reconciliation, ‘Sorry, to late’? Many have refused to accept the scenario in which somebody is pounding on the door, apologizing, repenting, and asking God to be let in, only to hear God say through the keyhole: “Door’s locked, Sorry. If you had been here earlier, I could have done something, But now, it’s too late.”
He walks through the typical argument that some people will choose evil forever (this is straight out of C.S. Lewis & The Great Divorce). “Lots of people in our world right now choose to be violent and abusive and mean and evil, so why won’t they continue to choose this path after they die.” He notes that when humans choose evil, they often spiral down. It begins to consume them totally. Evil can get its claws into us so deeply that we can’t live w/out it, and eventually that person’s humanity could simply melt away over time – they become less than human. This is where he affirms that the possibility of infinite hell is real.
He rightly points out that Christians do not all agree on how to settle the question about who goes where when and how. It’s resolved in a number of different ways, and any way that you choose will be opposed by other Christians. In his words, “Serious, orthodox followers of Jesus have answered these questions in a number of different ways…however you answer these questions, there’s a good chance you can find a Christian or a group of Christians somewhere who would answer in a similar way.” His perspective is that the Christian faith is big enough to handle these different perspectives. There is no official doctrine held by everybody.My thoughts here are that this is why we cannot set ourselves up as the gods of orthodoxy and condemn Rob Bell as a heretic. Remember this when people are passing judgment on Bell’s orthodoxy. There are sincere, orthodox, vibrant Christians who disagree with even the guys who are condemning him.
When Bell puts it to a fine point, he asks, “Will everybody be saved, or will some perish apart from God forever because of their choices? Those are questions, or more accurately, those are tensions we are free to leave fully intact. We don’t need to resolve them or answer them because we can’t, and so we simply respect them, creating space for the freedom that love requires.” It makes me wonder if maybe the tension is exactly what God wants? Maybe the tension is the only way that we can actually grow toward love.
A little commentary on my part: This is part of why Bell gets attacked. It’s not for what he says, it is for what he will not say. He will not pronounce judgment on this issue, but chooses instead to live in the tension and leave the ultimate answers – especially concerning who goes where, when and how – up to God. Here’s the deal. He’s not lowering the divinity of Jesus – his Christology is very high. He’s not adding anything new – this is not a novel idea, many have said it reaching clear back to the Hebrew scriptures. He’s not –strictly speaking – a universalist. He stops just shy of this because he still allows for the possibility that many will reject God in the end. He’s just saying that because of who God is, God will never stop trying. You can’t call him a heretic based on this belief because there is evidence of this point of view in the scriptures, the church fathers, etc. He’s not passing judgment on the issue, he’s living in the tension, while expressing complete and total confidence in God’s infinite love. For people who need certitude, this will always bother them. For those who are in search of truth and understanding, we’ll be accustomed to tension and not feel the need to pronounce our views “right” and everyone else’s “wrong.”
To conclude the chapter, Bell makes an interesting twist. He says, “Does God get what God wants?” is a question we cannot answer. But the question, “Do we get what we want,” we can surely answer. The answer is yes – we get what we want. If we want isolation, despair…etc, we get it. If we crave light, truth… etc. we can have it. This is an interesting move and something to consider.

About Tim Suttle

Find out more about Tim at TimSuttle.com

Tim Suttle is the senior pastor of RedemptionChurchkc.com. He is the author of several books including his most recent - Shrink: Faithful Ministry in a Church Growth Culture (Zondervan 2014), Public Jesus (The House Studio, 2012), & An Evangelical Social Gospel? (Cascade, 2011). Tim's work has been featured at The Huffington Post, The Washington Post, Sojourners, and other magazines and journals.

Tim is also the founder and front-man of the popular Christian band Satellite Soul, with whom he toured for nearly a decade. The band's most recent album is "Straight Back to Kansas." He helped to plant three thriving churches over the past 13 years and is the Senior Pastor of Redemption Church in Olathe, Kan. Tim's blog, Paperback Theology, is hosted at Patheos.

  • http://www.suprarational.org Ron Krumpos

    Which Afterlife?

    In his new book "Love Wins" Rob Bell seems to say that loving and compassionate people, regardless of their faith, will not be condemned to eternal hell just because they do not accept Jesus Christ as their Savior.

    Concepts of an afterlife vary between religions and among divisions of each faith. Here are three quotes from "the greatest achievement in life," my ebook on comparative mysticism:

    (46) Few people have been so good that they have earned eternal paradise; fewer want to go to a place where they must receive punishments for their sins. Those who do believe in resurrection of their body hope that it will be not be in its final form. Few people really want to continue to be born again and live more human lives; fewer want to be reborn in a non-human form. If you are not quite certain you want to seek divine union, consider the alternatives.

    (59) Mysticism is the great quest for the ultimate ground of existence, the absolute nature of being itself. True mystics transcend apparent manifestations of the theatrical production called “this life.” Theirs is not simply a search for meaning, but discovery of what is, i.e. the Real underlying the seeming realities. Their objective is not heaven, gardens, paradise, or other celestial places. It is not being where the divine lives, but to be what the divine essence is here and now.

    (80) [referring to many non-mystics] Depending on their religious convictions, or personal beliefs, they may be born again to seek elusive perfection, go to a purgatory to work out their sins or, perhaps, pass on into oblivion. Lives are different; why not afterlives? Beliefs might become true.

    Rob Bell asks us to reexamine the Christian Gospel. People of all faiths should look beyond the letter of their sacred scriptures to their spiritual message. As one of my mentors wrote "In God we all meet."

  • http://www.faithformisfits.blogspot.com Andy

    Lewis is being selectively quoted in support of love wins theology. However if you look further he says much that goes against it as well:
    Case for Christianity"Now is our chance to choose the right side. God is holding back to give us that chance. It won't last forever. We must take it or leave it."

    Also his scholarship is sloppy. He takes many quotes out of context to make historical figures appear to more strongly support his argument than they clearly do. I challenge you to be more discerning of accurate scholarship even if you agree with the author and disagree with the critics. Perhaps this is why Christians are not good at giving a gentle and respectful defense of our hope? Is it just me or do we tell the world what it wants to hear (love wins theology) or revert to a simple sales pitch of Christianity as get out of hell free insurance (fundamentalism)?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/10974397437648079481 Tim Suttle

    Andy,

    Thanks for the comment. I think the parallel I was seeing was between "The Great Divorce," and Bell's bit about the trajectory and momentum of a human life. Interestingly, in Lewis' story, those who reject God actually become physically smaller and smaller, until they are somewhat less than human; they diminish and finally extinguish their own humanity. Others move farther & farther from anyone else – light years away. All of them stubbornly maintain their posture of self-justification. You are right that Lewis clearly believes that this condition could last forever, but so does Bell. Given the whole trajectory of “The Great Divorce,” I think we have to acknowledge Lewis did seem to believe in the possibility of further opportunities for each person to bend the knee after death – that much he makes very clear.

    Both Lewis and Bell seem to agree that the trajectory and momentum of a human life which is bent on evil takes them farther and farther away from God, from any other people, and essentially isolates them. And this isolation from God and others is hell’s most profound characteristic. Bell seemed to believe this can begin during life – which is also an assertion made clear in Lewis’ writing. Consider this quote: “Not only this valley but all this earthly past will have been Heaven to those who are saved. Not only the twilight in that town, but all their life on earth too, will then be seen by the damned to have been hell,” (TGD).

    The similarities I see are in how Bell and Lewis both seem to believe that the trajectory and momentum of a human life can run completely away from God and all that is good. This begins in this life – this may go on forever, but there may be other possibilities for them to be won over. Where they would differ, I believe, would be that Lewis puts a finer point on his belief that not everyone will be saved. He writes, “There are only two kinds of people in the end: those who say to God, 'Thy will be done,' and those to whom God says, in the end, 'Thy will be done.' All that are in Hell, choose it. Without that self-choice there could be no Hell. No soul that seriously and constantly desires joy will ever miss it. Those who seek find. To those who knock it is opened.” But this does not erase the other similarities. Nor should we erroneously obscure the fact that Bell does not rule out the possibility that some might choose hell forever.

    This is part of what is so misleading about some of the critiques of Love Wins. Bell is not saying hell is not forever, nor is he saying that everyone will be saved. He’s merely saying this is what Christians should hope for, and that there is at least some biblical warrant for it.

    As for what I think, I'm more in line with Karl Barth – who is accused of being a universalist, but who was not. Barth said we cannot affirm universalism as a possibility (in our teaching), nor can we deny it as a possibility (in our teaching). Barth would probably critique Bell for affirming the possibility. But I do not believe Barth would find Bell to be a heretic.

    I’m curious, could you give an example of Bell's sloppy exegesis or historical analysis?

  • John W

    Bell certainly takes Luther’s quote of context, per http://concordiatheology.org/2011/05/does-love-win-for-luther/


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