Ok, here we go. Cover me, I’m going in! I am reading through Rob Bell’s new book “Love Wins”. I read it just after it came out but never blogged on it as I thought others did a great job (http://adrianwarnock.com/category/series/heaven-hell-and-rob-bell/). However, now some of the furore has died down and I am being asked about it I thought I would post my notes.
Rob asks a lot of questions in the book like “Is Gandhi in hell?”. Most of the questions are asked or framed in such as way as to have the implicit answer “No way!”. Here is another one:
“Has God created millions of people over tens of thousands of years who are going to spend eternity in anguish?
Can God do this, or even allow this, and still claim to be a loving God?”
That was basically one of Christopher Hitchin’s arguments. It’s power is in:
1) minimising our sin and therefore God’s goodness
2) assuming that if God created us he is morally responsible for all our actions and their consequences.
Rob asks another question:
“How does a person end up being one of the few? Chance? Luck? Random selection? Being born in the right place, family, or country? Having a youth pastor who “relates better to the kids?”. God choosing you instead of the others… what Kind of God is that?”. page3
Richard Dawkins also makes a lot of the “it’s all down to where you were born” argument to which one might say:
1) A lot of things, including atheism, are influenced by birth place.
2) The bible describes a God who is sovereign and works out his purposes through the events of history. Nothing is random (https://marcustutt.wordpress.com/2010/07/15/chance-would-be-a-fine-thing/). Just because we can see a cause for something does not mean that God is not working out his plans through it. Science and historical enquiry do not squeeze God out as the gaps get smaller. They describe and document the means by which God achieves his goal. Basically, he works in and through all things.
“Is there really no hope beyond the grave?
What about children?
What about people who have said the sinners prayer once but it means nothing to them now?
What about non-Christians who live better than Christians?”
“one way to respond to these questions is with the clear helpful answer: All that matters is how you respond to Jesus. And that answer totally resonates with me; it is about how you respond to Jesus. But it raises another important question: Which Jesus?”
and “If our salvation is dependent on others bringing the message to us, teaching us, showing us – what happens if they don’t do their part? What is the missionary gets a flat tyre? …Is your future in someone else’s hands… Is someone else’s eternity in your hands?”
To me all these questions touch on the sovereignty of God. We have genuine responsibility, but God is completely sovereign and in control of history. Judas did what he was destined to do but he was still genuinely responsible for it. The issue is not where someone is born but whether God, by his grace, saves them. It’s not down to an accident of birth but the foreknowledge and predestination of God, that will work itself out through all the billion, billion butterfly effects of nature and “free” choices of people.
Rob Bell questions that a personal relationship with God (through Jesus by the Spirit) is at the heart of the Christian faith as the term “personal relationship” isn’t even in the bible. The term trinity, however, is not in the bible but the truth of it is there and the term provides a helpful handle or summary of the doctrine. Same goes for “personal relationship”. We are adopted, God’s spirit cries “Abba father” with our Spirit, Jesus teaches us to pray “our Father”, Paul prays that we know God’s love for us, we are sons of God, the story of the prodigal Son, we speak to God and he speaks to us, etc etc. It’s a personal relationship.
It does not seem helpful to me to wobble the idea of a “personal relationship” and simply to move on. Or to wobble the ideas of repentance and faith (believing). Yes they are, as he says, doing words, but that does not mean the gospel is not one of grace, that it is not a gift, and that it is not good news. He asks, if salvation is free then why all the verbs “accept, confess and believe”? If I have to do those things then “how is any of that grace?”.
My understanding of how these things (our response and God’s grace) go together is that it’s God’s grace that allows us to respond in repentance and faith to the gospel. There is surely a qualitative meaningful difference between being given a present and receiving a present. Grace is not that we do nothing, it’s that we are given everything. If someone gives me a present of a book I don’t say “it’s not really a gift because I have to take it from you and open the pages”. That said, again I understand these things in light of the sovereignty of God who works out even my choices and actions according to his purposes. This God hardens hearts (Pharaoh) and open hearts (Lydia). Plus, if there is going to some means by which we appropriate God’s grace in our lives it makes a great deal of sense that we do it by faith. Faith is basically a big arrow pointing away from us, and any merit in us, to God.
Rob continues with another barrage of questions:
“do we have to forgive others (Mat 6), do the will of the Father (Mat 7) or stand firm (Mat 10) to be accepted?”
Then what about the paralytic “his sins are forgiven because of their faith”.
Is Paul saved because he asked Jesus a question in return to his question?
He makes the point that demons believe so it can’t just be about belief.
So is it about washing Jesus’ feet with your tears (Luke 7)
Then he says:
“But this isn’t a book of questions. It’s a book of responses to these questions.”
As I read on though I found it was mainly asking questions. Many of them good, but I would have preferred more of an emphasis on answering them clearly rather than asking them in order to make space for possible answers. I also get the feeling that the questions are being asked in order to take the reader down a particular theological path. It reminds me of that game where you roll a ball and then frantically polish the floor in front of it to effect the ball’s course. There is a lot of frantic questioning going on and one can’t help wondering if we are being stirred to a particular, (all be it unarticulated), conclusion. Actually thinking about it, though the book is full of questions, the cover is a big statement. “Love Wins”. That then must be where all these questions are aiming at.