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06 November 2011

*Love Wins* but Evangelicals May Lose

I read Rob Bell's Love Wins today, and I was shocked but not for the reason that most people have been. I knew what the books was about and knew that I essentially agreed with its larger argument. In fact, I have written about it previously. What I wasn't prepared for is just how much I would agree with Bell, an "Evangelical." Bell, however, sounds decidedly like a Catholic or a Mainline Protestant, anything but a traditional Evangelical, and that, I believe, is what has gotten people so up in arms. Sociologically, part of what has made Evangelicalism so successful is that it requires adherence to some challenging teachings (e.g. Gandhi is in hell) that distinguish its adherents from those outside of the subculture, thus allowing them to generate a great deal of solidarity. Bell's argument in Love Wins, that Jesus did not teach that the only way to "heaven" was exclusively through a specific belief about who exactly he was, unravels one mechanism for this solidarity generation. The same process happened with Mainline Protestants last century. I fear that the Evangelicals are in trouble.

Here are some quotes from the book. (Any emphasis is from the original.)

…[P]lease understand that 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 that’s any kind of departure from what’s been said an untold number of times. That’s the beauty of the historic, orthodox Christian faith. It’s a wide, diverse stream that’s been flowing for thousands of years, carrying a staggering variety of voices, perspectives, and experiences. (x-xi)

Some Jesuses should be rejected. (9)

The problem, however, is that the phrase “personal relationship” is found nowhere in the Bible. (10)

God acts.
On behalf of everybody
who’s ever been stepped on by the machine,
or mistreated.
God puts an end to it.
God says, “Enough.” (38-9)

They [people in the first century Jewish world] did not talk about a future life somewhere else, because they anticipated a coming day when the world would be restored, renewed, and redeemed and there would be peace on earth. (40)

…[W]hat Jesus lived in anticipation of, was…[t]he day when earth and heaven will be the same place. (42-3)

That’s why wealth is so dangerous: If you’re not careful you can easily end up with a garage full of nouns. (44)

Taking heaven seriously, then, means taking suffering seriously, now. (45)

Heaven comforts, but it also confronts. (48)

Heaven for Jesus wasn’t just “someday”; it was a present reality. (59)

The gospel Jesus spread in the book of Luke has as one of its main themes that Jesus brings a social revolution, in which the previous systems and hierarchies of clean and unclean, sinner and saved, and up and down don’t mean what they used to. God is doing a new work through Jesus, calling all people to human solidarity. Everybody is a brother, a sister. Equals, children of the God who shows no favoritism.
To reject this new social order was to reject Jesus, the very movement of God in flesh and blood. (75-6)

But in reading all of the passages in which Jesus uses the word “hell,” what is so striking is that people believing the right or wrong things isn’t his point…. He’s talking…about how they conducted themselves, how they interact with their neighbors, about the kind of effect they have on the world. (82)

…[I]t’s possible to treat something so literally that it becomes less true in the process. (114-5)

Individuals are then invited to see their story in the context of a far larger story, one that includes all of creation. (134)

…Jesus is bigger than any one religion
He didn’t come to start a new religion, and he continually disrupted whatever conventions or systems or establishments that existed in his day. He will always transcend whatever cages and labels are created to contain and name him, especially the once called “Christianity.” (150)

John remembers Jesus saying, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (chap. 14)…. What he doesn’t say is how, or when, or in what manner the mechanism functions that gets people to God through him. He doesn’t even state that those coming to the Father through him will even know that they are coming exclusively through him. (154)

When people use the word “Jesus,” then, it’s important for us to ask who they’re talking about.
Are they referring to a token of tribal membership, a tamed, domesticated Jesus who waves the flag and promotes whatever values they have decided their nation, needs to return to?
Are they referring to the supposed source of the imperial impulse of their group, which wants to conquer other groups “in the name of Jesus”?
Are they referring to the logo or slogan of their political, economic, or military system through which they sanctify their greed and lust for power? (156)

Sometimes people use his [Jesus’] name;
Other times they don’t. (159)

…[H]eaven and hell are within each other, intertwined, interwoven, bumping up against each other. (170)

We shape our God,
and then our God shapes us. (184)

1 comment:

  1. Great post. Thanks for sharing your honest opinions on such a controversial subject.