Mar 25, 2011

Does Love Win?: A Review of Rob Bell's book Love Wins

There has been a lot of discussion around the internet about Rob Bell's new book Love Wins. Before this, I have been a supporter of Rob Bell. I have read all of his books (except drops like stars), seen most of the nooma videos, and watched two of his longer videos. And while I have not always agreed with him, I think that he's a great communicator and has brought some great insights to the table. That being said, while I try not involve myself in internet debates, but I felt that it was appropriate to share with the few people who read my blog about Love Wins and what Bell actually says in the book (You should check out my friend David's blog post about this as well).

There were a lot of people crying heresy and accusing Rob Bell of universalism. Those claims were based mostly off of the title and a book trailer. After actually reading the book, I believe that claims of Bell's flee from Orthodox Christianity have been greatly exaggerated.

So what does he say?
First, he plainly says that there is a heaven, a hell, a final judgment, a bodily resurrection and that there will be a new heaven and new earth. Is this Biblical? Yes. Second, he says that Jesus is the only one through which people receive salvation. Is this Biblical? Yes.

So far, so good.

He begins to stray from the pack in his discussion of who gets spend eternity with God and the permanency of hell.

He believes that because God is love, he would never be so exclusive as to make salvation dependent on human effort to spread the gospel. God works in ways that we don't know to save people who would never receive the gospel. It would be unloving for God to never give some people the chance to receive the grace that he so freely gives to all people if they will choose to follow.

Is this Biblical? Bell would say yes. I would say only God knows. God tells us to make disciples of all peoples and we should leave the rest up to God.

He also argues that the gates of New Jerusalem will not be shut and that there will still be opportunity for people to turn to Jesus after the final trumpet sounds

Is this Biblical? Sort of. The gates of New Jerusalem never shut, but I don't agree with Bell's interpretation. The verse says that the gates never shut because there is no night. My interpretation: God is in the city, he has banished the darkness (symbolic of evil) there is no more night (symbolic of evil), therefore there is no need to lock the gates, there is no need for security measures. New Jerusalem is safe because God has defeated evil once and for all.

So Heretic? Probably not. Stretching the interpretation of some scriptures? Yes. His interpretation, however, do not negate the saving power of Jesus and Jesus alone. Therefore, he's not a universalist either. If you need a label, he's an inclusivist. In his opinion there are people who will be saved (through Jesus) that we wouldn't expect.

Honestly, this is nothing new. There have been many Christians through the centuries to hold this. One of whom is C. S. Lewis. Although he never wrote a book specifically about this area of theology, one example is found in the Last Battle Lewis shows a Calormean entering Aslan's country who never followed Aslan. Aslan tells him that all the good he did for Tash, he actually did for Aslan. Another, although it's more like a parable than theology, is the story of the Great Divorce. A group of deceased ride a bus from Hell to Heaven and are given a chance to follow God even though they have already died and gone to Hell. These are both similar to Love Wins, but it should be remembered that these are both stories and not theological explanations.

Why did Bell write this book? Because he is so convicted by the fact that God is love, that he believes should show that love to all people. I think that most of us can get behind that. Christians should be known as a people of love because God is love. God loves people and in the end God's love rules the day. In other words, Love Wins.

Mar 7, 2011

One of my favorite books

A little over a year ago, I read Don Miller's A Million Miles in a Thousand Years. It is one of my favorites from one of my favorite authors. It's in paperback now, which means it's cheaper. So if you haven't read it, go get it and read it. It's a fantastic and challenging read that will challenge you to ask yourself how you have been living the story of your life. Still not interested, watch the video. Then go read it.

Are you living a great story with your life? from Donald Miller on Vimeo.

Mar 4, 2011

Review of The Sacred Journey by Charles Foster

The practice of pilgrimage has almost disappeared from the western Christian culture. Charles Foster in The Sacred Journey is inviting us to remember the practice of pilgrimage and to embark on them once more. Pilgrimages died out around the time of the Reformation because they were being condemned as fruitless and not commanded by the Bible. Foster argues that we lost a lot when we stopped going on pilgrimages. He  believes that the practice of pilgrimage helps remember that we are constantly on a journey and the actual act of traveling somewhere helps us understand that better. While he acknowledges that we are all on a metaphorical Christian pilgrimage in this life, going somewhere helps us to see things in new ways and connect to God in ways that staying at home cannot bring us closer to God. Pilgrimage changes the pilgrims and can open their eyes to see God, life, and their faith in a deeper more real way.

This book was helpful in many ways, and in others I am not sure what to think. Foster rightly brings us back to a practices that, while not commanded in the Bible, is something that has benefitted Christians for centuries. His arguments for Christian pilgrimage are compelling, but he also reaches into the writings and traditions of other religions to discuss what a pilgrimage is and why we should practice it. This is probably the one thing that will keep most readers from reading it. I personally was not offended by it, since other religions practice and write about pilgrimage far more that Christians do, but I did not think that it was alway necessary to delve into other religions' practices. Foster makes a compelling argument for Christian pilgrimage, but at times seems to turn too much to the writings of other religions. It's worth a read if you are interested in pilgrimage as a practice, but be warned that you will encounter references and quotes from people and scripture outside of Christianity.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from Thomas Nelson Publishers as part of their book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Mar 1, 2011

What Charlie Sheen could learn from John Cassian

Normally, I am not one to comment on current events. And really, this is not a commentary about what Charlie Sheen has done. Instead, this morning in my reading of John Cassian's Conferences, I was struck by the stunning opposition of what Abbot Moses says and what Charlie Sheen is saying on the Today Show. We all know who Charlie Sheen is, but in case you are wondering, John Cassian was a monk in the fourth and fifth centuries, and his conferences are his transcription of what he learned straight from the Desert Fathers. Ironically, the Orthodox church celebrates Cassian on February 29th, which would be today if this were a leap year.

The Cassian's first two conferences are with Abbot Moses. In the first conference, Moses discussion how the goal of the monk is purity of heart. This goal is achieved by living a love filled life. For Moses, the greatest virtue, and the one from which all other virtues come. The second conference, is about discernment or discretion, depending on the translation. Discretion teaches us how to live a virtuous life. Love is the chief virtue and discretion teaches us when and how to be loving. This morning I read out of the tenth chapter of this conference. Moses said, "True discretion, said he, is only secured by true humility. And of this humility the first proof is given by reserving everything (not only what you do but also what you think), for the scrutiny of the elders, so as not to trust at all in your own judgment but to acquiesce in their decisions in all points, and to acknowledge what ought to be considered good or bad by their traditions."

If you've watched morning news you've probably seen Charlie Sheen. He speaks of how he, by the powers of his mind, has beat drugs and alcohol. He speaks of how awesome he is and that Chuck Lorre, his producer, doesn't realize it. Throughout everything he's said, the theme is look at how great I am and how I can do it all myself. He even said this morning that he did not want the help of his father or family.

It struck me how the wisdom from Abbot Moses is directly opposed to this. Moses teaches us to be humble and not even listen to our own thoughts, and instead to listen to the thoughts of elders. Listening to the thoughts of those who have gone before will teach us how to discerning of how to think and act in our life. Sheen lacks humility and refuses to listen to others. He has "fixed" all of his problems on his own. If I could speak to him, I would urge him to listen to what Abbot Moses said to Cassian. The road to virtue begins with discretion. True discretion has its root in humility and turning to the wisdom of elders who can tell you what is good or bad.

A very similar event took place in 1 Kings 12. Rehoboam, the son of King Solomon, rejected the advice of Solomon's advisors (the people who advised the wisest man on earth) and went to his friends. Rehoboam ending up splintering the Kingdom of Israel, which his father and grandfather made great, into two.

The moral of this this story is that we need to listen to the wisdom of our elders and not the wisdom of our selves. Discretion and discernment does not come from inexperience, but humility and the experience and wisdom of those who has lived a virtuous life.