So I read Love Wins, I figured I’d post my thoughts on the book. I really don’t know where to begin. I have thoughts on what I liked, on what I didn’t like, and on what other people thought of the book. So, I guess it’s best to just go in that order. First part is now.
What I liked about Love Wins
I really liked a big focus on the fact that the age to come(the Kingdom of God) is starting NOW. This isn’t something we have to wait to be swept up into. We can partake and initiate it here on earth today. God is yearning for a complete restoration of his creation, and we get to participate in that. The other age starts NOW! Along with this mindset, an important biblical truth is brought up–heaven isn’t our final destination. Bell briefly goes over the difference between what Jesus talks about as heaven, or paradise, and the new creation. A new heaven and a new earth. You can read about this in more depth in other books, but the idea is that we will stay in a temporary location before God’s Kingdom is renewed on earth. While we greatly anticipate that day, we can help change things today! Get involved in a community outreach program! Go buy a povertee! Help fund a well in Uganda. You can further God’s Kingdom right now. On the flip side, the opposite of the Kingdom of God can be present here today as well. Rape, murder, abuse. I’m fairly sure we all know these things aren’t from God or His Kingdom. Both of these realities need to be seen as present and future states that we need to address. I love the emphasis on this way of thinking because Jesus came down to help the sick, not the healthy. We are to help destroy the hells on earth, and in their places bring about the Kingdom of God.
One excerpt that I really liked was about our craving for justice and judgement. I’m just going to quote right from the book because I thought it was perfectly laid out there.(37)
God says no to injustice. God says, “Never again” to the oppressors who prey on the weak and vulnerable. God declares a ban on weapons.
It’s important to remember this the next time we hear people say they can’t believe in a “God of judgement.”
Yes, they can. Often, we can think of little else. Every oil spill, every report of another woman sexually assaulted, every news report that another political leader has silenced the opposition through torture, imprisonment, and execution, every time we see someone stepped on by an institution or corporation more interested in profit than people, every time we stumble upon one more instance of the human heart gone wrong, we shake our fist and cry out, “Will somebody please do something about this?”
We crave judgement, we long for it, we thirst for it. Bring it, unleash it, as the prophet Amos says, “Let justice roll on like a river” (chap 5).
Same with the word “anger.” When we hear people saying they can’t believe in a God who gets angry–yes, they can. How should God react to a child being forced into prostitution?
A lot of thoughts and questions were shared about salvation in general:
A really early point Bell brought up is a thought that while many Christians claim that no action earns you salvation, accepting Jesus into your life does; the personal relationship with Jesus. Bell points out that accepting Jesus is also an action. This, I think, was really brought up a to support that we cannot really know what entails salvation, possibly nudging at inclusivism. Another point was even the demons believe, will they get salvation? This easily explained away before it gets too out of hand. Simply believing is not enough. Yes, even the demons believe that God exists, but do they believe in what God stands for? Apparently not since they continue to defy Him. Same for people, believing in who God is and what He is about is the real deal here. “I will show you my faith by my works.”(James 2:18)
What Bell is saying that there is a danger in thinking of salvation as transactional; it could be simplified down to that transaction, that action, that work. We cannot get into a mindset where salvation happens, it is done, we own it. What salvation is usually thought of is transactional then transformative because there needs to be that point in time when it all starts. When someone says that prayer, when someone is baptized, when someone decides to throw their life away and give it all to Christ. That is our transaction and everything afterwards is our transformation. I would say that we think of it in this way(as a transactional, having a definite start) because that is how we work. In the same way that we cannot imagine God without beginning or end, we try to nail down t=0 for our salvation. Maybe it is easier to think we trade belief for salvation from Jesus. I don’t think Bell is saying that there isn’t a start to it, just that there is a danger if we really care that there is. Bell is saying that this gift isn’t transactional in nature(or else it would be pointless) but transformative in nature! When you deny your own idea of what happiness is and embrace God’s love, that isn’t a transaction but transformation! When you take that leap of faith, you are already being transformed. What is this gift of salvation? Its God’s love, correct? And love isn’t transactional in the same way that buying milk from Trader Joes is. I don’t decide to trade x for love.
The age of accountability, a belief that young children won’t get judged on what they can’t understand as per their age and will receive salvation. I’ve always had trouble in this belief. What, at 12 years old the child suddenly becomes responsible for knowing who God is, what He wants for mankind, and if not they lucked out because their parents took care of them? If this was true, wouldn’t the humane thing be to kill your children before they reach this age? What about an atheist who turned 12 a week ago, was that seven day window all the time they had to get salvation? What would they have to do in those seven days? Can people be saved without explicitly knowing Jesus’ name? Inclusivism is a popular view of salvation where salvation can extend to other “neighbor beliefs”. How far this “inclusivist” gap is is up for debate and quite scary to give a definite answer about. Can someone brought up in Islam who gets all the finer points of a merciful god wanting to redeem his creation through sacrifice and calling mankind to something greater catch salvation? No because they call God by Allah? No because they don’t know who Jesus is? No because they weren’t baptized? No because they find truth in the Quran? On the other side of the coin, “Imagine a high-school student whose family is part of a Christian church. She belongs to a Christian youth group, has only Christian friends, reads only Christian books and has to attend Christian chapel service, because it’s mandatory at the Christian high school she attends.” While being SO CLOSE to good teaching, doctrine, community, and intentions she just doesn’t get Christ at all, yet she “believes”. Will she catch salvation? Yes because she knows Jesus is God? Yes because she knows Jesus died on a cross? Yes because she was baptized? Yes because she finds truth in the Bible?
Some similar thoughts from another of my favorite authors, CS Lewis. “There are people who do not accept the full Christian doctrine about Christ but who are so strongly attracted by Him that they are His in a much deeper sense than they themselves understand. There are people in other religions who are being led by God’s secret influence to concentrate on those parts of their religion which are in agreement with Christianity, and who thus belong to Christ without knowing it. For example, a Buddhist of good will may be led to concentrate more and more on the Buddhist teaching about mercy and to leave in the background (though he might still say he believed) the Buddhist teaching on certain other points.”(Lewis) Can people belong to God without knowing it?
I’ll admit it, I’m an inclusivist. I’m on board with CS Lewis. I believe God cares more about you then what you know about Him, to an extent. If you have ever read The Last Battle in the Chronicles of Narnia, I think it paints a beautiful picture. Another metaphor could be like a kid observing the effects of gravity. He notices objects fall down from higher to lower places. He gets it, to an extent. Maybe he doesn’t know the equations surrounding gravitational pull or that larger masses generate stronger gravitational forces. Maybe he doesn’t even know its called gravity. But he gets it, to an extent. Would it be beneficial to learn more about it? Yes. Would he gain more insight if he knew everything about gravity? Duh. But he still gets it, to an extent. Yes, it is a metaphor. It breaks down in the same way that the story at the end of The Last Battle breaks down, because it is a metaphor. But in some ways it is very similar. Do I think I know how far this extent can go? No. Like I said before, it is quite dangerous to make presumptions about it. But I, personally, can’t see Jesus being strictly exclusive. If there is anything I’ve read in scripture, it is that Jesus is very much inclusive. To an extent.
Bell revisits the parable of the lost son with a different take at the ending party scene involving the two brothers. Bell states that the two brothers, while both at the party, represent the broken finding mercy and heaven while the proud find themselves in hell. The key point here is that they are both at the party. You have the option to join in, to recognize that what God wants is perfection, but you don’t have to. “To reject God’s grace, to turn from God’s love, to resist God’s telling, will lead to misery. It is a form of punishment, all on its own.”(176) I don’t think Bell is suggesting that both heaven and hell are in the same location, or similar except our attitudes, but that you can be “at God’s party” without really partaking in God. You can have done everything “right” in your life, but then not really understand who God is. Similarly, a lost son who has squandered his dad’s wealth can return home to be a VIP at the party. Hell is being at the party and refusing God in his face.
Two last things I really liked about the book:
- If something is wrong with your God, nothing can save you.
- This is closely related to the idea of God being unfair. Many people will say that they can’t believe in a God that is unfair and mean. Now the real question in this case I think is whether their reason is truly “unfair” or not, but if it is then I would agree with them. Why should I believe in a God who is out to get me? Or others? I don’t want any part in that. I rejoice in the fact that my Jesus is the opposite, unfair and nice. Jesus is here for you, wants to help you, and loves you. He will actually go further than what is required of Him to try and ensure your salvation. That is a God that I can and want to know, not someone who is waiting for others to mess up so He can punish them or send them to hell.
- Some people will bring up the point that “we cannot say what is fair, only God can”. To that I say, if we as humans are unable to comprehend or recognize simple things such as fairness and/or justice then we have no room to discuss or point things out about it. I believe God didn’t create us completely out of His loop, we can grasp Him but never entirely understand Him. Otherwise, what is the point of anything?
- God’s Kingdom isn’t about ‘getting in’
- I love this. I think Rock Harbor said it very well in a sermon a couple weeks ago: the reward for following Jesus isn’t heaven, riches, or a wife. The reward for following Jesus is…following Jesus. What you learn about Him(your creator), and a great way to go about life. You get Jesus.
- God’s Kingdom isn’t a lot of hard work and a reward at the end. You don’t earn it. And it is not “unfair” or “pointless” if other people can get in.
Check out my other thoughts on Love Wins