Monday, February 28

Rob Bell, Universalist?

There are so many different opinions being thrown around about the Rob Bell twitter-controversy, and seeing that they are mostly negative, I thought I might as well throw my two cents in.  So, for those of you who don't know, Rob Bell's new book, Love Wins: Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived drops at the end of March.  From reading excerpts and watching the promotion video, many different people- a la John Piper- are calling Rob a universalist. I won't go into it too much, but if you want to read the blog post Piper tweeted (it was written by Justin Taylor), you can see it here.

Here are my thoughts on the whole controversy:

1.  Give Rob a bit of a break.  None of us have read the book yet, and after we have, we can judge his comments, but all of this heretic talk is a bit too early.  Let's practice some Christian love and give the man the benefit of the doubt until we read it for ourselves.  Innocent until proven guilty.

2.  From watching the video, I think Rob may be trying to stir the pot a little.  He doesn't really come out and make any specific claims, just hints that he is going to challenge us to re-think some of our theology, specifically what we think about hell and salvation.  I personally don't expect him to come out and say that he is a universalist, but that he will show us a broader view of salvation than what many Christians are used to.  Maybe it's just a marketing ploy.  Maybe he is a universalist.  Who knows.

3.  Speaking of broader views of hell and salvation, a few of the things Rob hints at in the video are actually things I have some concerns with anyway, one of which is the traditional view of hell as a specific place.  I think of it as more of a state of non-being.  Hell is one of those vague Biblical concepts that is talked about, but not in detail.  The more traditional idea that it is a literal place comes more from the idea in Revelation about a lake of fire for Satan.  The Greek word, Gehenna is the only one of three words translated as hell that has any allusion to fire and brimstone (as I understand it... I am not a Greek scholar).  It actually refers to a real historical place, which is a  burning pit outside of Jerusalem.  So the word in the Bible could just be referring to this with no further allusion to a place of unending torture.  For me, it makes more sense to think of the gift of God as eternal life (which is repeated often in the Bible) and the rejection of that gift as not eternal life, or non-being.

4.  The idea of salvation that Rob alludes to is actually one that is a bit too narrow.  As Christians, it is easy to think that God is this god of justice and holiness and wrath that needs to punish humans for their sin.  However, superhero Jesus swoopes in and takes the punishment instead, thereby saving humanity and allowing us to connect with God again.  And that has some truth to it.  God is holy and humans do deserve death.  Jesus dies on a cross to repair the relationship between God and humans that is broken by sin.  This view is a bit too narrow, however.  If you believe in the trinitarian theology of orthodox Christianity, then God and Jesus are separate YET they are one.  So, God is Jesus and Jesus is God, while still being separate entities.  (btw I feel bad for the Holy Spirit right now, but what I'm going to say doesn't really apply to him at the moment.  Sorry Holy Spirit).  So, when we say that Jesus died on a cross, we are also saying that God sacrificed HIMSELF for humankind on a cross.  This is a bit different than looking at God as some giant, scary judge in the sky.

5.  Rob also talks a little about salvation being God saving humans from death.  Yes, as a Christian, if I believe I am saved, then I also believe that I am an heir to eternal life with God.  But, this is not the specific reason we were saved by Jesus 2,000 years ago.  From the garden of Eden, God recognized that the whole world was tainted by sin and was in desperate need of repair.  This includes everything: nature, weather, culture, music, art, business, relationships, humans, on and on and on.  God stepped into a broken world in order to renew and remake that world the way it was intended to be.  Jesus dies on a cross and overcomes death by coming back to life, but we have not yet seen the whole effects of this salvation.  The world is still groaning in anticipation, as the Bible puts it.  This, too, is just a broadening of the traditional view of God-saved-me-and-now-I'm-going-to-heaven.

I know I didn't flesh any of these out completely and if you'd like to talk about any of them, I'd be glad to grab coffee, but this is just a general idea of my immediate thoughts.  Theology is a sticky matter.  It is so easy to think that OUR interpretation of Scripture is complete and absolute, when the God we worship is so much bigger than that.

Again, I could be completely wrong about what Rob believes and discusses in his book, but I can't wait to get my hands on it and see for myself!  Here are links to a few blogs I found worth reading:

Gungor's Blog

What do you think?