Saturday, 23 April 2011
Love Wins By Rob Bell
When the religious movers and shakers, the guys with the power and the influence, are vigorously driving people away from God with messages about how hateful and judgemental He is, what can you do about it? If you're Jesus, you walk around Galilee and Judea, teaching and healing in the name of God. If you're Rob Bell you write a book. Either way, the intent is to show that God really is a God of love and faithfulness. But in doing so, they also show up the haters as being far, far from God, and they will want their revenge.
The religious right in the US were out even before Love Wins was published - they didn't care what it said, they just wanted to attack Rob Bell. Here in the UK they're not so blatant, but I was interested to read in this month's Christianity magazine an article arguing that without Hell in the message churchgoers wouldn't be able to witness to Jesus. Curiously Greg Downes, the article's author, goes on to say that universalism - the idea that everybody will eventually be saved - only works if certain sections of Scripture are distorted or disregarded. The irony of this line is that Love Wins gives a lot of examples of Bible passages which Downes has to ignore or distort to dismiss the universalist position. Actually, I think Love Wins is probably the most overtly Scripture-based book that Bell has written.
Once you read the book, it is clear that Rob Bell is not proposing universalism anyway. What he is doing is pointing out that the Christian faith, the historical sweep of mainstream orthodox Christian thinking, is much broader than the bigots would have you think. Variants of universalism have been around a long time and are not necessarily anti-Biblical. The tension between salvation of a remnant and salvation of the whole world is a Scriptural tension: the range of passages is there and we have to accept that we are not God and we don't know everything. In the meantime we are called to be grace-full and loving in our differing interpretations.
For Bell it is God's love which has the last word, yet God's love allows the freedom to say 'no'. So he is not a universalist, but he does believe that God will give every chance He can for every person to respond by choosing life.
Bell's genius is that he writes very well and very clearly, in a modern open style which avoids the jargon and religious nonsense. He writes for anyone interested in living life better, free-er, deeper; for anyone who recognises a spiritual side to life, but needs more than the Pharisees with their blaring megaphones can offer.
This is very readable and interesting book: I don't agree with everything Bell says, but I do suggest you read it for yourself. I strongly recommend it.