I’ve just finished Rob Bell’s newest Love Wins. I highly recommend it. The book has brought a large amount of controversy, including John Piper Tweeting “Farewell, Rob Bell.” What, did he die? Did he resign or get caught in a scandal? Did he retire? Oh, you mean farewell because you’re shaking off the dust and cutting him off from relationship with you. Right. What’s so offensive and threatening about a God who loves us beyond our ability to love back? Why is us choosing Jesus more effective than God choosing us? I’m afraid that we have sold our soul for eternal life and have given up or handed over the lives we actually have here and now.
I am thankful for the book and find he is articulating things I’ve thought and worked through for quite some time. I find he’s articulating (to a point) things we learned in seminary.
- Love talking about heaven on earth, here and now.
- Love talking about God reconciling the world to Godself in God’s own being with flesh on: Jesus.
- Love the deep exploration of the Prodigal Father with his two sons and how neither really gets it right.
- Love how close he stayed to the texts and the rich stories he told through and with the biblical text.
- Loved learning about Gehenna, one of the words for hell in the New Testament s a garbage dump (and then thinking about the Egyptian Christians who have claimed the garbage dump as their place–talk about redemption through incarnation, through holding a place).
- Loved the brief Luther quote about perhaps Christ being able to reach us beyond our death.
- Love the restoration, his picking up on Jesus the gardener being found outside of the tomb in John–that in Jesus God is reclaiming the world as Eden (though I can’t get Jurgen Moltmann’s or Kathryn Schifferdecker’s “Resurrection is not Reversal” out of my mind).
- Love the heart of the pastor who cares deeply and passionately for his people and that this book is a pastoral book more than it is theological or biblical (though it is certainly those things too). The impetus is not scandal for Bell, but so that people can love God again. If Luther’s Reformation was pushed by his fear and anxiety that he did not confess properly or enough and gave us grace alone, then perhaps we’re in for another Reformation where faith is not fear-driven but life-giving. Jesus is enough. Love wins. Life here matters. Nothing we do is wasted because it continues in God’s kingdom.
I am bumping up against Bell’s new and improved decision theology–you can choose to be in the kingdom of God by choosing grace and peace and love and light, etc. Love is freedom and freedom is choice, which isn’t as gracious as it sounds. And I don’t think it’s as easy as it sounds. I can’t quite shake Paul’s words in Romans 7–I know what I want to do but I can’t do it (my paraphrase). We are more bound than we realize.
Left to my own devices, I would say that if the Kingdom of God was what I wanted, I could just hang out all day and learn how to cook and never work, or I could eat Thin Mints all day and not gain weight. Well… (BTW, I’m sticking to 4 per day–that is, one serving). I want to see a connection between what I want (because God gives us what we want according to Bell) and what my neighbor needs. I want a grace that is deep enough to say that yes we do make our choices, but God continues to work life out of them (Gen 50:20), because our choices are often bound by a desire to acquire, or put ourselves first, or bent towards violence for our neighbor. I need a God who pulls me out of my navel and helps me see the world around me as a gift. This is perhaps one entree for the church, to be a place where we are forgiven of our sins and reminded of the meganarrative that is beyond us and better than we can make for ourselves.
Maybe that’s why Jesus taught us to pray in the Lord’s Prayer…
…thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. (And God’s will is better than my own. Maybe that’s the point of a sabbath and confession. My will is good and sometimes beautiful, and often faithful, but God’s is better and beyond and to sabbath, to rest and cease is to trust that God’s will is bigger and better than my own.)
I do find the discussion on what that means to be church missing in Bell’s book. Now what? Wherefore and whither the church? Yes, a fuller narrative where “only a full house is gonna have a prayer” (Josh Ritter, Thin Blue Flame) will open a way for people to embrace God’s meganarrative of grace and it will be meaningful for people who will experience a new life (such as the woman Bell writes beautifully about at the end of the book).
But what does that mean for us? How does it shape what we do? What does our purpose become? Does it strip the institutions and grand buildings in favor of church as the body of believers in the world? Will we encounter another reformation where the top heavy church (and I love my ELCA, its bishops, seminaries, etc) and put in the people’s hands? What would that look like? Would we slide into a navel gazing body of believers where we can’t see far and can’t go deep in our faith? We need brilliant professors who teach us the intricacies of faith and bible and theology and caring for one another. We need an organized body of Church that helps us to reach out to our brothers and sisters around this world that God has made. I don’t know.
For now, to end, a song and prayer from Taize. The Kingdom of God. The lyrics: The Kingdom of God is justice and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. Come Lord, and open in us the gates to your kingdom.