Love Wins: Other Thoughts

What I think of what other people think of Love Wins

Honestly, I can’t see any good reason to get too upset about this book.  A pastor wrote a book on what he thinks about spirituality, salvation, heaven, and hell.  I’m sure Bell believes that he is right(why else would he believe it), but I don’t think Bell believes that his opinions are 100% correct.  But remember, this is just a collection of a man’s thoughts.  A man.  A human being affected by our depraved nature.  Something in there is screwed up somewhere.  So don’t get bent out of shape if you absolutely disagree with something in Love Wins, its normal to have different opinions on grey areas.

And why are there grey areas about theology?  Why shouldn’t we think that what we believe is 100% correct?  Because, if we know everything about God then we have God figured out.  If we have all the answers, what do we need God for?  One of the questions I get asked a lot by atheists or agnostics is “How can you hold onto your faith when you have so many questions about salvation, theology, and God himself?”  I do have many questions that I can’t answer.  There will always be questions and grey areas and, quite frankly, I think its worse to claim/believe/lie to yourself that you have them all figured out.  Some things we can know for sure(what is 1+1?), some other things we cannot know(If God is 100% loving then why is my friend dying from cancer?), or know if we ever will know.  So why pretend?  Why say “HEY I HAVE THE ANSWER AND YOU ARE WRONG IF YOU THINK DIFFERENTLY!”  Lets be real about it.  We can discuss what we think about it and get good conversations going.  We might even learn something new!

But there will always be questions.  Sometimes we can answer them, sometimes we can’t answer them yet, and sometimes we never will be able to answer them.  God is bigger than us.  He operates at a higher dimension and we cannot comprehend how He works.  Personally, this is one of my favorite attributes of God; Him being beyond me.  There is always ways to fall in love with Him again.  And you can’t love something, or someone, after you’ve figured it out; the appeal is gone.

One of the most beautiful things I have heard regarding this idea was from a thread on reddit.

I do not claim to hold the truth. I claim that the Truth has gotten ahold of me, and I am merely doing my best not to lose sight of it.

Anther thing, I covered this above but I want to stress this again just like Bell did, “nothing in this book hasn’t been taught, suggested, or celebrated by many before me  I haven’t come up with a radical new teaching that’s any kind of departure from what’s been said an untold number of times”(XXX).  This is true.  Everything in this book has been said, taught, and believed before.  Inclusivism?  CS Lewis.  Multiple chances for Salvation?  Origen Adamantius.  Heaven isn’t the end destination?  NT Wright.  God loves everyone?  The Bible.

That’s more or less my attitude towards what the majority of what other people think.

What most people who have a problem with Bell or Love Wins will say is, “Bell says that people don’t need to know Jesus to be saved”  Well…what Bell actually says is, “sometimes people who have never heard about Christ and then who hear about Christ say “That’s who we’ve been looking for. Or that’s who we’ve been worshiping. You gave us his name.” Missionaries experience these stories.  How common is this?  It’s probably pretty rare, but I believe the missionaries are right and that those people were and are experiencing the true Christ.  How can they know the true Christ before ever hearing about Him?  “What [Jesus] doesn’t say is how, or when, or in what manner the mechanism functions that gets people to God through him. He doesn’t even state that those coming to the Father through him will even know that they are coming exclusively through him. He simply claims that whatever God is doing in the world to know and redeem and love and and restore the world is happening through him” (154).  Many, many, many people have a problem with this.  I don’t really.  As I explained it in part one, I am an inclusivist.

The Big Question

The big question Bell asks, “Does God get what God wants in the end?”  Its kind of a loaded question really.  Does God get his entire creation redeemed from our corruption and back in harmony with Him?  If not, can you still consider Him God if he can’t get what he wants?  If God is all powerful why aren’t we all saved if that is His desire?  The better question, in my opinion, “Can God get what God wants in the end?”  Can it happen at all?  If God is all powerful it should be able to be possible, right?  Well…here inlies the title of the book I think, Love Wins.  In the end, we get what we want.  No we aren’t more powerful than God, but He did give us a little thing called free will.  He gave us an ability called love, which is a force that is at once more wonderful and more terrible than death, than human intelligence, than the forces of nature(I had to sneak in a Harry Potter quote in here somewhere).  Our ability to love or not to love God is our choice to choose or reject him.  And that is what ultimately wins, our choice.  Our love.

 

If you want to read some other thoughts on Love Wins then check out my friend’s take on it http://jobandthestorm.wordpress.com/2011/06/14/love-wins/

 

Check out my other thoughts on Love Wins

Love Wins: What I Didn’t Like

Second part of my thoughts on Love Wins.  Love Wins: Other Thoughts will come next week sometime.

What I didn’t like about Love Wins

While I touched briefly upon Bell’s talk regarding a personal relationship with God, he also makes the argument that a personal relationship with God isn’t even found in the Bible.  Well this is kind of awkward Bell, because it certainly is.  Maybe not the exact phrase personal relationship with Jesus is in the Bible, but the idea certainly is.  What did Adam and Even have with God?  What did Abraham have with God?  What about Moses, Joshua, Samuel, David, or Elijah?  What about the word covenant?  Doesn’t it mean something personal to both parties?  I don’t think Bell was insinuating that God isn’t personal since he tends to talk very much about this in his other books, but for the sake of his argument Bell kinda oversteps and implies this.  If Bell was trying to make the point that there is more to salvation than this idea of a personal relationship with God, I think there are better ways to do this rather than “the problem, however, is that the phrase ‘personal relationship’ is found nowhere in the Bible.”(10)

Bell takes many(if not all) of the verses he discusses at face value.  Prophets saying that everyone will be in Heaven(34, 99), Jesus giving water to Israelites in the desert(143), Jesus explaining that everyone will be saved through Him(155), and many many others.  Now, I’m not saying that some, or all, of these verses could, or even should, be interpreted as Bell does(I don’t know).  But from what I’ve heard from many different friends studying in seminary or comparative religions, ancient languages are always a challenge to translate.  Where it says ‘everyone’ could also mean ‘a lot of people’, or it could very well mean ‘everyone’.  On top of that, what if the author was writing metaphorically?  Then where it says ‘everyone’ could very well literally mean ‘everyone’ but the author meant ‘a lot of people’ instead.  I’m not asking for a thesis on each Bible verse and what its implications are, but I would love to hear more about the text especially when your book is under attack for being heretical.  It is also not only flippant but inaccurate to say Gehenna is merely the town dump — it is a metaphor for divine judgment.  Sure it was a metaphor for an undesirable place the Jews knew in their present day, but Jesus wasn’t just talking about the local trash pile…For this reason, I thought many of this arguments less then compelling.  What good is a Biblical argument that you back up with flimsy verses?

Not much elaboration in key statements.  Multiple places Bell states something and then carries on using it as a basis for the rest of the chapter or idea.  He does this in a couple different places, one in particular that struck me was talking about multiple(if not infinite) chances to repent to God.  In my head I was thinking, “Whoa, wait up.  Where did this come from?”  I’ve never really heard it discussed much in a Christian setting so I was interested in how Bell thought about it.  Too bad because you won’t get any elaboration about it in this book.

And connected to that last point, my one major problem with the book: What the heck do you believe Bell?!?  Maybe its just not in the spirit of the book, but the book contains absolutely zero arguments for any particular theological position.  I love Bell’s parade of ideas and questions, but give me some content to chew on please!

As you can see, much less things that I didn’t like than I did like; but my desire for content is pretty big so I saw that as quite a large problem…

 

Check out my other thoughts on Love Wins

Love Wins: What I Liked

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

An excerpt

“We love life. All life, but especially sentient life forms, like Homo sapiens. Your species. This is a very beautiful planet. A priceless work of art.”

Suddenly, without warning, the Ellimist did it again. He opened space.  We were no longer standing in the Yeerk pool. We were no longer underground at all. We were underwater. Deep underwater. But the water did not seem to touch my skin. And when I breathed, there was air. Still, I felt fear tingle the back of my neck.  Suspended in the water, but dry. The Ellimist could no longer be seen. We were floating above a coral reef. And everything was moving again.  All around us, fish swam by in swift-darting schools. Fish in every color and shape, reflecting the dappled sunlight from above. Sharks prowled. Stingrays seemed to fly. Squid pulsated. Crabs scuttled across fabulous extrusions of coral. Tuna as big as sheep drifted past. Swift, grinning dolphins raced by in pursuit of their next meal.

LOVELY.

The Ellimist’s voice once more seemed to grow from deep within my own heart.

LOVELY.

And then, as quickly as we had been plunged into the ocean, we were drifting above the waving golden grass of the African savannah. A pride of lions lazed in the sun below us, looking sleepily content. Wildebeest and gazelles and impalas grazed, then broke into wild, springing, bouncing races that forced you to smile at the sheer energy of it all.  There were hyenas, rhinos, elephants, giraffes, cheetahs, baboons, zebras. Hawks and eagles and buzzards wheeled overhead.

LOOK AT IT.

Then, in an instant, deep jungle. A lithe jaguar prowled while monkeys chattered in the tree canopy above. Snakes as long as a person slithered across tree branches. The air reeked of the heavy perfume of a million flowers. We heard the sounds of frogs, insects, monkeys, and wild, screaming birds.

IN ALL THE UNIVERSE, NO GREATER BEAUTY. IN A THOUSAND, THOUSAND WORLDS, NO GREATER ART THAN THIS.

Then the Ellimist showed us the human race. We flew, invisible, through the steel-and-glass canyons of New York City.  We drifted above villages at the edges of jungle rivers. We watched a rock concert in Rio de Janeiro, and a political meeting in Seoul, and a soccer game in Durban, and an open-air market in the Philippines.

HUMANS. CRUDE. PRIMITIVE. BUT CAPABLE OF UNDERSTANDING.

Suddenly, all the movement stopped. We were staring at a picture. A painting. I’d seen the painting somewhere before.

It was a wild swirl of color. A painting of purple flowers. Irises, I think, although I’m no big expert on flowers. The artist had seen the beauty of those flowers and captured some small bit of it on canvas.

CAPABLE OF UNDERSTANDING.

The beauty of our world amazes me.  From Rock Habor’s sermon last night, to reading a book today, it never ceases to amaze me just how wonderful it all was created.  Even more amazing I think, and so does the Ellimist it seems, is that we have been endowed with the ability to understand the beauty/glory of it all.

Bonus points if you know what book it came from; though the Ellimist kind of gives it away.