Archive for May, 2011

N.T. Wright reflects on Rob Bell and Hell

Here is a recent interview of N.T. Wright about his thoughts on “Hell” and Rob Bell’s new book, “Love Wins“.

If you prefer viewing theology over reading theology or vice versa, you have the choice below. In this interview Tom Wright gives and interesting outsiders observation of “American” theology.

If you have read “Love Wins“, do you agree with Wright that it is a good thing to stir things up as Rob Bell has done so with his book? What do you think? Has Bell succeeded in getting you to re-evaluate and and thereby adjust/refine your view of “Hell” and eschatology in general? Even if you went away from Bell’s book not agreeing with a lot of his arguments, did the book act as a catalyst for your own re-evaluation of “heaven” and “hell”?

The Video

Wright on Hell & Bell from The Work Of The People on Vimeo.

The Interview

My usual counter question is: “Why are Americans so fixated on hell?” Far more Americans ask me about hell than ever happens in my own country. And I really want to know, why is it that the most prosperous affluent nation on earth is really determined to be sure that they know precisely who is going to be frying in hell and what the temperature will be and so on. There’s something quite disturbing about that, especially when your nation and mine has done quite a lot in the last decade or two to drop bombs on people elsewhere and to make a lot of other people’s lives hell. So, I think there are some quite serious issues about why people want to ask that question.

Having said that, I am not a universalist. I’ve never been universalist. Someone quoted a theologian saying, “I’m not a universalist, but maybe God is.” That’s kind of a neat way of saying, “OK, there’s stuff in Scripture which is a little puzzling about this, and we can’t be absolutely sure all down the line.” But it seems to me that the New Testament is very clear that there are people who do reject God and reject what would have been His best will for them, and God honors that decision. How that works and how you then deal with the questions which result I have written about at some length.


I don’t think myself that Rob Bell has quite taken the same line that I did in Surprised by Hope
. I haven’t actually had the conversation with Rob since his book was published. So, one of these days, we will and we’ll have that one out. I do think it’s good to stir things up because so many people, as I say, particularly in American culture, really want to know the last fine-tuned details of hell. And it seems to be part of their faith, often a central part of their faith that a certain number of people are simply going to go to hell and we know who these people are. I think Rob is saying, “Hey wait a minute! Start reading the Bible differently. God is not a horrible ogre who is just determined to fry as many people as He can forever. God is actually incredibly generous and gracious and wonderful and loving and caring. And if you paint a picture of God which is other than that, then you’re producing a monster and that has long-lasting effects in Christian lives and in the church.”


Rob Bell Love Wins

How to READ the BIBLE BOOK by BOOK

Have you ever just got finished readying something in the Bible and left feeling like you had no idea where that came from, why it is in the bible, and how it matters to you? Gordon Fee and Douglas Stuart did an excellent job in their book, “How to Read the Bible Book by Book: A Guided Tour“. In it they give a guided tour to each and every book of the bible.

I learned to study the bible using the Inductive bible study Method, as we called it, in YWAM Kona’s School of Biblical Studies. Many of the same methods I learned through S.B.S. are consistent with the overall pursuit of this book. They treat each book of the bible individually presenting an overall context, some background information and simple structural outline. This is followed up with a very short summary of the different sections of each book attempting to point out to the student the overall continuity of the Author’s message. I highly recommend this book as a bible reading aid to anybody wanting to understand the whole bible in its whole context.

If you want to learn more about the Inductive Bible Study Method, check out another book by the same authors, How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth
“. Of course if you have 9 months available, I strongly recommend just going through an S.B.S.

Bible Resource Blog

Bible resource Blog

May 21st, 2011 DoomsDay a Hoax?

I am sitting here on my laptop waiting for doomsday to arrive in 10 minutes Pacific Coast Time in the U.S. and then I suddenly realized, wait, it is already that time in New Zealand. Did it happen? Well I have on good authority from the Tall Skinny Kiwi that nothing happened and Jesus has let us down again. Harold Camping has misplaced a decimal again. It appears the 1st time Camping predicted the rapture was in 1994. He resolved that his math was wrong then. Lets wait and here what it the reason is this time. It is amazing that so many still follow him on Family Radio.

This is what is on there website right now.
Judgment Day Rapture Harold Camping

“About You” by Dick Staub

I recently finished Dick Staub’s excellent book About You: Fully Human, Fully Alive. When I came across this title I thought, “that sounds like self-focused spirituality”, but after reading a synopsis I quickly decided that I misread the title. Now having finished the book I am very happy I chose to read this book by an author I hadn’t ever heard of. The writing is very accessible and the topic is excellent. The premise of the book is that God has made you to be a human being with a desire for you to live up to your fully human potential. His starting point is that humans are “Imago Dei”, that humans are made in the “Image of God”. We are created to be reflections of God’s character within his Creation. This is his baseline throughout the book’s meanderings through all topics related to living to our fullest potential as God’s Image bearers.

Dick Staub

Theology Book Review Dick Staub About You

“The Humanizing Jesus” is the title of one chapter where he starts out with a quote by Hans RookMaaker, “Jesus didn’t come to make us Christian; Jesus came to make us fully human.” A provocative statement, yet true indeed. This quote is the main motif throughout the book. Staubs argues that,

becoming authentically and fully human is the evidence of being a true follower of Jesus. It means that the question we should ask is not, ‘Are you a Christian?’ Instead, the more important question is, ‘Are you becoming more fully human?’ The question is not, ‘Are you going to heaven when you die?’ Instead, the question is, ‘Are you living a fully human life now?’ The question is not, “How successful are you are avoiding the world?’ The question is, ‘How effective are you as a loving, transforming presence in the world?‘”




“Love Wins” -Rob Bell


In this post I will be giving my Review of the book “Love Wins”, but first, a preamble is probably needed for context and clarity.



Preamble

On March 15th 2011 Rob Bell’s book, “Love Wins: A Book About Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived” was released to the public.  Of course at this point the Christian Blogosphere had already been buzzing about the short and provocative Love Wins video released a couple weeks earlier where in the very short clip Bell gives an anecdote about an art show at his Church followed by a lot of questions related to “heaven and hell”.  Based on this short clip many started writing and blogging about Bell being a Universalist, and most of  their writings were done without actually having read the book. One prominent pastor even tweeted, “Farewell Rob Bell” again without even having read the book.  : (

It was at that point I decided I should take a step back, read the book, read it twice, listen to some interviews and videos of Bell about his book. Having done so, I am now prepared to give my review.

Review

Rob Bell’s Book “Love Wins..” has 8 short chapters. He starts out his book talking about the importance and place of questions in following Jesus, of whom Bell says, “(Jesus) responds to almost every question he is asked with …a question.” This essentially, is also Rob’s way of exploring faith. He is often re-evaluating old formulas of faith with fresh expressions and understanding.

He then follows up with many questions asking how many people think they know who by name is literally burning in hell right now. Bell tells a story about how his Church had an art show and one of the pieces of art had a quote from Gandhi. Many people were inspired by the quote, but one person decided to stick a note on the art saying, “Sorry, Gandhi is in Hell“. Bell wonders how someone can know this with such certainty about Gandhi.

Now the following two chapters are about Heaven and Hell. I believe these two chapters are Bell’s strongest chapters within the book. Bell critiques the common interpretation of Jesus’ ” kingdom of heaven” message,  often understood as  a reality which is arrived at somewhere else, beginning after this earthly life ceases. He points out that Jesus’ central teaching about “the Kingdom of heaven” was one that spoke of a reality that one is to participate in right here and right now. Heaven isn’t a reality we hope to escape to someday , but rather one we pray for and work for on earth. Bell says:


..Jesus doesn’t tell people how to ‘go to heaven’. It wasn’t what Jesus came to do..”
“Heaven is that realm where things are as God intends them to be..”“A proper view of heaven leads not to escape from the world, but to full engagement with it, all with the anticipation of a coming day when things are on earth as they currently are in heaven.”

First heaven, now hell.
In this chapter bell explores all the different words that often get interpreted by many folks as the singular concept of Hell. This has to be done because if your happen to still be reading from the highly influential King James Version of the bible you would read the English word “Hell” across the board in the place of four different words. Bell begins explaining the context of these different words along with their different meanings. While Bell begins articulating how these words had varying and different intentions of meanings, you begin to wonder how the many translators justified rendering all these as one word -Hell.

The old testament Hebrew word for the place of the dead is Sheol, and its new testament Greek equivalent  is Hades.  Bell then points out that the word Jesus most often used to talk about “hell” is “Gehenna“. Ge means “valley,” and Henna means “Hinnom“. Gehenna is the Valley of Hinnom. This was an actual valley on the south and west side of the city of Jerusalem. Gehenna, in Jesus’s day, was the city dump.. I won’t explain it all here, but he has some striking points which again, this chapter alone would be worth the read.

In the chapter, “Dying to Live”, bell explores what happened when Jesus died on the cross (Atonement Theology). He talks about how there are many different metaphors utilized within the New Testament which give explanation to the meaning of the atoning work of Jesus. He sums up this part here:

“So, back to the question: What happened on the cross?Is the cross about the end of the sacrificial system
or a broken relationship that’s been reconciled
or a guilty defendant who’s been set free
or a battle that’s been won
or the redeeming of something that was lost?Which is It?

Which perspectie is the right one? Which metaphor is correct? Which explanation is true?

The answer, of course, is yes.

..The point, then isn’t to narrow it to one particular metaphor, image, explanation, or mechanism. To elevate one over the others, to insist that there’s a “correct” or “right” one, is to miss the brilliant, creative work these first Christians were doing when they used these images and metaphors. They were reading their world, looking for ways to communicate this epic event in ways their listeners could grasp.

The Point then, as it is now, is Jesus. The divine in flesh and blood. He’s where the life is.”

The remaining chapters of the book have very interesting observations and questions that are worth pondering about the ultimate fate of everyone who has ever lived. Along with Bell’s great skill at observing and asking excellent questions, he begins some attempts at constructing some answers. Now, it has often been rightly said that Bell is great at questions and weak on answers.  On questions of ultimate salvation for all people he seems to suggest that this is a strong possibility.

Some times you think he is saying that in the end all people will ultimately choose the gift of life offered in Jesus.  And in the following sentence he will then say that love demands freedom, love is not coerced. He really sets a tension up here and never gives a definitive conclusion whether or not he resolutely has planted his feet in this belief. In fact, he says we can’t resolve this tension.

Bell asks, “Will everybody be saved, or will some perish apart from God forever because of their choices?” He follows with, “Those are questions, or more accurately, those tensions we are free to leave fully intact. We dont’ need to resolve them or answer them because we can’t..” There in lies the answer to many people’s question, “Is Rob Bell a universalist?”. He wants to be but never definitively states that is his absolute belief.

Now I think Bell’s arguments loose steam in his chapter, “There are Rocks Everywhere.” It is here where he begins making some arguments that are not all together very convincing to me. Especially his use of these passages: John 10 and 14, and Colossians1. He seems to be meandering through some ideas that I think are just not articulated well or very persuasive. And his scripture references don’t seem to hold up his argument as tightly as he is trying to make them do so.

After all is said, I do think much good can come from this book. Bell has brought much needed critique to the current formulations and understandings of heaven and hell. His book serves as a kind of catalyst, a conversation starter. By no means should his book be considered comprehensive or the last word on these subjects. Much of the strong critical reviews that I have come across on the blogosphere at many times were assuming that Bell was giving a version of his own Summa Theologica. Rather, I suggest quite the opposite; that Bell’s intention was not to be the last word, simply just an initiatory word in hopes to re-liven the conversation about long unchallenged beliefs concerning “the end”. He does not come out decidedly on the question of Universalism, he merely invites you to enter into a tension with him. This book should be read as a starting point only. In fact, once one reads any of Bell’s books, it is soon realized that Bell is having a conversation, he is pointing things out that have often been overlooked. He is asking questions, giving some answers, but by no means is he saying this is the last word. Even more so, in this book, I believe that is true. Thank you Rob.

The following excerpt is from a very recent interview with Relevant Magazine and Rob Bell:

Based on your understanding of universalism, do you consider yourself a universalist?
No, I don’t.And you see the difference being what?
My observation would be that people mean lots of different things with that word. I think for some people, apparently the word means nothing matters. It doesn’t matter what you believe, it doesn’t matter how you live—nothing matters. And I simply don’t believe that. Certain paths are destructive. Certain paths are wrong. Certain paths cause all kinds of toxic harm to other people and it’s not loving your neighbor. So if by “universalism,” people mean it doesn’t matter—it doesn’t matter what you believe, it doesn’t matter what you do—that’s just complete rubbish. So, no.Secondly, sometimes when people say the word “universalism,” I think they mean that at some point God just swoops everybody up into heaven. Like, “Come on, everybody—everybody is in.” And the problem with that is, I believe love wins, and the very nature of love is freedom. So if at any point God co-opts your ability to choose, we no longer are dealing with a loving God. And if there are people who are in heaven who don’t want to be there, then it’s not heaven. Like God is saying, “It’s a party—and you’re going to like it!”

The question that I do think is terribly interesting, and which as a Christian we must wrestle with, it is written in a letter to Timothy, “God wants everybody to be saved.” Now this is fascinating. God wants everybody to be saved, so perhaps the important question is, is God a universalist? And I do think as a Christian it is our duty to long for the things that God longs for, and to want the things that God wants.

Here is a link to an interview with Eugene Peterson.