Sunday, 27 March 2011
LOVE WINS - Rob Bell
I know that I am well behind the furore that has hit the blogosphere over the last few weeks regarding Rob Bell's new book, Love Wins. But I just watched his promo video for it (featured above) and thought it was worth making some observations.
I have not read or purchased the book, and I was not privy to early release of selected chapters for review. Many are saying this is the final straw for Bell and that he has clearly outed himself as a heretic.
My aim is not to answer that question, but to observe a couple of things from the promo video itself which give me cause for concern even without reading the book.
It seems from the video that Bell is keen to distance himself and the Christian faith from a God who needs to save us from Himself. He makes it clear that if that is what God is like, then He can't be good, and that the news about Him can't be good news either.
He wants us to see that God is love, which is biblical, "God is love" (1 John 4).
But that chapter goes on to say that God is love and that "this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins."
And atoning sacrifice, or propitiation, or required precisely because a penalty must be paid, the offend party must be appeased.
So the question is, when it comes to sin, who is the offended party? Who do we need to be saved from?
It's not the devil, because he is quite happy that we sin. He is not God's equal opposite, whom God has to bribe or pander to in order to save our souls.
We are not ultimately the offended party. David is clear in Psalm 51 that in all that he did in the Bathsheba and Uriah saga, it is against God that he has sinned.
Precisely because God is pure, unadulterated and holy love, He must punish sin. The outworking of that love against evil is wrath. Wrath is not some kind of add on to God, it is love responding to sin, to evil. Romans 3 asks the question, how can a righteous, holy and just God remain just and have a relationship with imperfect, sinful, rebellious people? The answer is that he remains true to Himself and punishes sin, but He deals with the problem by punishing that sin in the person of Jesus.
This is not cosmic child abuse either. Jesus, the second person of the Trinity in human form, willingly dies an horrendous death out love for His Father and love for us, taking the punishment we deserve that we might be free.
God truly is love, Father, Son and Holy Spirit in perfectly loving relationship from eternity past (John 17). That love is so great and beyond our imagining.
If God does not save us from Himself then we have no way of being saved.
A God who does not act in wrath, a settled conviction and response to evil, is not a loving and just God. God cannot remain just and leave evil unpunished when it is ultimately lack of love for Him.
The God of the Christian faith is even more loving that Rob Bell wants us to see He is, because he does save us from Himself.
The final note, which I don't have time to expand on is the question Rob Bell raises about a select few being saved. 1 Peter 1 and Romans 9-11 and Ephesians 1 are some passages I would want to encourage you to look at and see what you make of them. Revelation makes it clear that those whose names are in the Lamb's book of life are the ones who will live in the new creation and that they are an innumerable number from every tribe, nation, people and language.
That does sound like a major rant, but let me end with some things that this current furore has been good for, and some ways I believe it should challenge us:
1. God is love. We can often be heard to say that Jesus is a "get out of hell free ticket", trust Jesus and you will go to heaven rather than hell when you die. That is true, but the Christian gospel is so much more than that. Jesus said He came to give life and life to the full. We are not just saved from something, we are saved for something. We are saved for a wonderful relationship with the Triune God of the universe. Surely we should be shouting that from the rooftops.
2. Some people, particularly the so-called New Atheists, see God as a bit like Lotso from Toy Story 3, warm and cuddly on the outside, but a real nasty tyrant on the inside. We need to be clear that this is not the image of God we present to people, because it is utterly not the God of the Bible. Rob Bell is right to want to present the God of the Christian faith as a God of love rather than a tyrannical rule giver who might lash out at any given moment.
3. This whole debate should challenge us to be really clear and really sharp on what we believe and why, because challenges to the gospel will come from inside and outside the church.
4. There is s real need for the gospel to be proclaimed week in and week out so that people can hear it and respond to it and be saved. But also so that Christian don't forget exactly what the gospel is!
Any comments would be warmly welcomed. For a long review of the book from the Gospel Coalition in America see this link.