Over the past two weeks, I’ve been surprised again by Christian people’s hateful words directed at Rob Bell, after his publisher released a video of him that was a preview for his new book, Love Wins. Because Rob apparently asks certain questions about hell, heaven, God, and the final judgment; he is called a heretic and false teacher.
My first thought is that it was also Jesus’ style to ask provocative questions and tell stories that could offend. It’s pretty clear that the leaders that started the furor over Rob’s video were offended. There’s a saying that when your mind is offended, it reveals your heart. Is Christianity a love movement or a belief system? Imagine if Jesus had said to Nicodemas, “For God so much wanted to teach the world and have them receive knowledge that he sent his only Son.” He didn’t say that, but said that it was all about God’s love. What about that song, “They’ll know we are Christians by our love”? What about unity, what about dialogue? Why do you call someone a false teacher and say he’s a wolf in sheep’s clothing when he suggests a different view than you, based on God’s love?
My second thought is that it’s pretty clear that many of the pharisees, who were people of doctrinal purity, hated Jesus. My understanding is that many of these guys had the whole Old Testament memorized and had given their lives to this task, and yet Jesus had some pretty negative things to say about them. It’s pretty clear that one can pursue Bible study and doctrine, while completely missing God.
My third thought is that the religious rulers were jealous of Jesus and for this reason wanted him dead (Mark 15:10). There’s something called “professional jealousy”, which is when you are jealous of someone else’s success in your profession. It’s a common sin that shows up even in Christians. The human default nature is to be jealous or envious of others. I think that, at this time, it is very common among Christian leaders to have this problem.
My fourth thought is that there are various doctrinal and theological positions on things like the atonement, heaven, and hell, including positions on universalism, that reasonable people believe and where in there has been ongoing theological debate. Just picking up Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology reminded me of this. The thousands of people who wrote harshly judgmental comments on Bell seem to not know this, nor have any tolerance for differing opinions.
My fifth thought is that we may be finding ourselves in the West with a generation of younger Christians and pre-Christians that embrace universalism of one sort or another, and this needs to be discussed and sorted out, rather than dismissed and cut off.
I think I get where Rob Bell is coming from and what he’s saying. I’ve always wondered about people like Ghandi. I care about those who don’t know Christ. I’m taken aback when I encounter Christians that don’t seem to care or take a hyper-Calvinist position, believing that huge groups of people were always destined to eternal punishment. It makes no sense, but that’s what it seems like to me.
In the end, I think that we’ll find out that Rob Bell’s book is about the love of God. Is Jesus’ message that his people are to carry a message of love? What’s the good news? How can we preach or share hell in humility and without taking on the role reserved for the true judge? How can we who believe we are saved from hell share the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ with those who don’t believe? It’s about love. Love wins.
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