The question of how God’s sovereignty interacts with natural disasters and human free will is one we should not pretend to have completely mastered. We are not God. I’m looking at you, John Piper
“And can it be, that I should gain an interest in the savior’s blood. Died he for me, who caused his pain? For me, who him to death pursued?
Amazing love. How can it be? That Thou my God shouldst die for me?”
Good Friday Service 7pm
NewHope Community Church of the Nazarene
For those who aren’t yet sick of the Rob Bell-Love Wins controversy, I think I’ve found BOTH a good way to finally make sense of the LOST finale AND visualize one of the theories of heaven/hell/Kingdom in Bell’s book.
Using the metaphors of Luke 15 (Father w/2 sons parable) and the always-open gates of the heavenly city (Revelation), this view suggests that free will continues after death. There is only one true story of grace. The prodigal son chose to live a false story, but when it ran its course he traded it in for the true one. Result: enjoying the party forever! The elder son also chose to live a false slavery/obligation story, even just outside the party. His stubborn refusal to accept the grace story keeps him from enjoying the party. But the invitation is always there for him to relent and kick up his sandals inside. When he’s had enough of his good boy creepiness (=hell), he can come inside (=heaven). So, goes the theory, will it be in the fullness of the Kingdom. The gates are open. Whenever the LOST get ready to be FOUND, they leave the ultimately dissatisfying story-of-their-own-making and come on in to the ultimate reality.
The LOST finale features a doesn’t-quite-ring-true post-island storyline. One-by-one the survivors feel called to meet at a church. As they gather, they sense they’ll have to leave something behind. At least one decides, he’s not ready yet. The rest gather in the church. They’re told they’ve been living in a pseudo world they mutually created so they could still be together. But it wasn’t real. Their time together on the island was real and what’s next will be even more real. But they have to leave this intermediate world behind. They rise. The church doors open to the most glorious light imaginable. They follow their guide into the brightness of their intended, but resisted, destiny. The implication is, eventually, everyone will make this choice.
It’s not exact, but there’s enough inter-textuality here to shed some light. It’s interesting. Again, this is not my view (because too many other Scriptures aren’t accounted for-see my previous post.) I’m not even sure it’s Bell’s personal view. But some Christians have believed it. So…
Makes me wonder 2 things:
1. Did the LOST writing team use this view of universalism to guide their finale? (Regardless of their own faith convictions, it made for one innovative narrative)
2. Did Rob Bell get this book idea at an amazing LOST party last year?
So maybe Bell is LOST after all! He-he!
Grace and Peace
If you’re a Christian leader you probably heard about Rob Bell before 2 weeks ago. But if you don’t live under a rock you’ve heard of him since then! His new book—Love Wins: A Book About Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived created a firestorm when a promotional video was released. It questioned traditional views on hell.
If I had to choose a Facebook category for my relationship with Rob Bell’s ideas, “it’s complicated” would win. I’ve really enjoyed some of his sermons and Nooma videos. He definitely has a pastor’s heart. He’s studied the Bible in the original languages. He gets our culture. He’s not afraid to offend. He’s a gifted communicator. All things I respect. But he’s a whipping boy for conservatives (and some of my friends.) He’s a hero to others (and some of my friends). So if I really liked or disliked something he said or did, I had to think twice to avoid offending someone. He’s a guilty pleasure one day (like brownies at 11:30pm) and big bother the next (like a zit on your chin!)
But he made his boldest move yet with Love Wins. The video was brilliant to create buzz. Last night he frustrated me with a live web event. At midnight I downloaded the book and finished by mid-morning.
Let me begin by saying Rob Bell is not a heretic. His personal views are not totally revealed, but the options presented are consistent with some ancient Christian teachers. Let me also say I can’t embrace all he presents about salvation and the afterlife. But who else could have gotten us all talking about such important issues? The book is clearly not written to debate with people like me. It’s written to engage with people outside of church life. I think it can do this well. It attempts to explain how heaven and hell fit into the good news of Jesus. He starts with the deep reservations many outside the church have with a God who eternally punishes most of humanity. This point can be offensive to Christians, but not to his audience.
He’s as controversial as he can be in the first couple chapters. He messes with our tidy notions of the gospel by showing vastly different metaphors Jesus (and Paul) used. He says a woman wrote Hebrews (not sure this is an actual conviction of his) and that traditional views of the afterlife have been used to oppress the masses through the ages. He calls his gramma’s cross-bridge painting creepy! But eventually he settles into examining the relevant Scriptures. He creatively (somewhat ambiguously) lets his views come through over time. More than ever it’s hard to pin him down at times. As usual, no footnotes. He supports his views only with Scripture references and stories.
Heaven is the fullness of God’s Kingdom on a renewed earth. In an important sense for Bell’s Jesus, heaven is wherever God rules. The goal of salvation is to reunite earth and heaven. Heaven ultimately won’t be another “place” we go, it’s another reality that comes here. This part can be strongly supported by Scripture.
One genius of the book is in the case he makes that salvation, heaven and hell have a lot more to do with this life than we may realize. We should listen to Bell on this. We’ve all known people who’ve made a hell on earth by rejecting God’s vision for life. Many Christians have experienced eternal life as peace on earth now. Often Jesus’ talk of hell is a warning to religious people to change their behavior. It’s surprising that he often says sinners may be in the Kingdom and religious people may not. He spends a lot of time explaining the behaviors and attitudes of people who experience heaven. Rather than implying a magical character change for Christians at death, Jesus implies the importance of letting grace change you now. (a view Nazarenes have always embraced.)
Bell says this change is what would allow us to enjoy heaven (the fullness of the Kingdom). But, bravely for a man in Grand Rapids, he emphasizes free will. It’s our choice. God’s love let’s us choose. Hell is essentially refusing to accept/trust God’s version of our story. We bring destruction on ourselves whenever we reject God’s love & forgiveness. 2 images dominate.
1. Luke 15’s parable of the father with 2 sons shows our options. Finally give up living a faulty story and come home to the party (prodigal son) or stubbornly refuse to enjoy it (elder brother).
2. Revelation 21:25 (describing the heavenly city coming down for God to finally make his dwelling among humanity.) “On no day will its gates ever be shut, for there will be no night there.”
Bell says “And then there are others who ask, if you get another chance after you die, why limit that chance to one-off immediately after death? And so they expand the possibilities, trusting that there will be endless opportunities in an endless amount of time for people to say yes to God.
As long as it takes, in other words.” (p.55)
This is a form of universalism, but Bell doesn’t exactly say it’s his view. He rightfully demonstrates that a minority of Christians in every age have believed this way. His motive is evangelism. He spends the rest of the book attempting to make a compelling case for accepting/trusting in God’s story now. Why miss a moment of eternal life? His goal is to reach those for whom one and done eternal punishment is the one barrier to accepting the Christian story. “You don’t have to believe this to be a Christian,” Bell says.
He hasn’t convinced me that this “eventually view” is the most biblical view. But neither would I be upset if this turned out to be true. I don’t want anyone to suffer the torment of hell. I want everyone to experience eternal life. (In the tradition of Wesley, Inclusivism is closer to my view, as in Wesley’s “On Heaven” sermon.) I have concerns that some could put this choice off, not feeling motivated to choose now. But Bell makes clear the destructive consequences of delay.
I reread portions of the book this afternoon and gained a less defensive perspective. I can’t embrace the book fully. But because he rooted this presentation in the Scriptures, demonstrated the centrality of Christ, and has a clearly evangelistic motive I’m glad he wrote this book.
I hope it creates an opportunity for more people to accept/trust God’s version of the story. Even if this “eventually” view is mistaken, once people are walking with Christ in the reality of the Kingdom, he can correct any errors. (Not that we should offer bait and switch if we don’t believe something has validity.)
Doctrine matters. Truth has boundaries. I’m more traditional than Bell. But at least we’re talking about heaven/hell. I hope more people find peace with God. I plan to engage people in conversation about the book. I pray this conversation gets us all in touch with eternal realities (saving/sanctifying grace) surrounding us every moment, offering to transform us in preparation for enjoying heaven forever. The Gospel really is good news and I can’t wait to experience it in fullness! It’s time we celebrated it. Easter’s right around the bend!
Twenty-nine. That’s number of students who just completed Sharing Our Faith, a 1 credit-hour course I just taught at Olivet Nazarene University. The twenty-nine and I studied to learn more about our faith so we could be ready to help someone else who may have spiritual questions. We also learned together about being a good friend and co-worker. Sometimes believers are better at pushing a message than living one. One interesting idea from the book Workplace Grace: The most important way to earn the right to be heard is to be good at your job. If care about reaching out to others who need faith, then get good at what you do everyday. Integrity speaks louder than words. On page 29 it lists Daniel, David, Nehemiah and others as heroes of the faith who worked secular jobs with integrity and changed the world.
Just Walk Across the Room is another great collection of resources that emphasizes how to show love in the simplest ways to others. On page 29 it says, “It’s as though Jesus is saying to his followers, “What I did as I walked across the cosmos all those years ago, I now want you to do. Every day, try to point every person you meet to me…” Most people get a little terrified to be asked challenging questions of faith, but anyone can say hello and introduce themselves to a neighbor, co-worker, or person standing alone at an event. This kind of simple hospitality is another important way to show love. Who knows where some of these conversations might lead? But it can actually save a life to say hello to someone who looks discouraged. Just knowing one other person might care, can keep a person going. The goal is not to convert someone. The goal is to love them like Jesus. And to be willing to listen to their story and share your own if the opportunity arises. Knowing them changes us for the better as well.
I was impressed with how much they cared and how hard they worked. We prayed for friends, we laughed about stories. We even threw a party at the end because it’s one of the best expressions of the Kingdom!
If they all make a difference in one life each, that doubles the impact. If the chain goes on from there it gets exciting pretty fast. I guess that’s how the faith made it all the way from Jerusalem to Chicagoland 2,000 years later.
On the Second to last day of class I told everyone that I was looking forward to seeing them all one day when we stand before God. I told them the goal is hear Jesus say, “Well done, you good and faithful servant.” I told them how great it will be to stand and hear these words because their faith in Christ opened the door to God’s grace that made us whole. But then I said I hope we get a chance to hang out together while that’s still going on. I can’t wait to see all the people who experience heaven because these students cared. I think all 29 will be fist-bumping each other as they overhear their friends, co-workers, family, and neighbors being told “Well done, you good and faithful servant.” I can’t imagine a greater feeling in the world! Knowing that you had some small part in helping someone experience saving-faith in God. It’s a vision to live toward with our whole lives. We can bring heaven to earth now and experience the fullness of the Kingdom, then. 29=pure joy forever for who knows how many others! Can’t wait. 29
When was the last time God opened a door for you to share your faith with someone else? When was the last time God nudged you to start a new friendship just to show love and care? What could God help you do today to show compassion to someone else?