Thursday, March 17, 2011

Love Wins

When I read the scriptures I am reminded of the fact that "God is Love". It is out of His great love for us that while we were sinners, with our backs turned toward Him, He stepped out of His world into ours to pay the price for our sin.

That is love.

God then invites us into a relationship where love is exchanged. He extends His love to us and asks us to love Him in return. We are also commanded to love those around us. When this exchange of love takes place in a person's life, it changes everything. It not only affects them, but the rest of the world as well. When God's love is displayed through His people it is a beautiful thing.

In this sense, I believe that love wins.

Recently there has been a firestorm of debate over Rob Bell's new book with this title (Love Wins). From John Piper tweeting "farewell Rob Bell" to Joshua Harris saying that Bell is "teaching a false gospel", everyone seems to have an opinion. With that being the case, I figured I would add my two cents to the mix.

Let me begin by saying that over the past 5 years I have been challenged and encouraged by the teachings of Rob Bell. I also had the opportunity to meet him and interview him a few years back when I was going through a transitional time in life and ministry. God used Rob in a significant way to help me during that time and for that I will be forever grateful. Over the years, Rob's ministry has been challenged and criticized by a number of people, so when I heard the latest I wasn't too surprised. I believe that it is always important to go to the source, rather than taking what other people are saying at face value. With that, I decided to read "Love Wins".

I finished reading the book this morning and I have to say that I was more than a little disappointed. While Rob is masterful at asking questions, I don't think he does a very good job of supporting some of his conclusions with solid scriptural evidence. I was surprised by the number of single verses used to support his viewpoint as well as his willingness to make speculations based on these verses. Rarely does he go into the context of the verses cited, rather they are often used as proof texts to support his views. Also, there are verses and whole passages that would challenge his conclusions, which are completely ignored.

It is not my goal to go through and point out everything I disagree with in the book. I simply don't have the desire, nor the time or energy to give to such an endeavor. A simple google search will give you a slew of opposing viewpoints, if you desire. However, I do want to make it clear that Rob has come to some conclusions that not only leave me uncomfortable, but that I would stand in direct opposition of. For instance, I can find no solid biblical support for the idea that people will have the opportunity to turn to Christ after they die, and Rob certainly implies this in the book.

Is he a heretic and does this discredit his previous body of work?

The bottom line is that Rob does a pretty good job of covering his bases. He would unequivocally say that he is not a universalist and that he believes that Jesus is the only way to the Father. He would also say that he believes in heaven and hell. However, his definition of what these things mean may be a little sketchy.

Personally, I have a hard time with labels, particularly when they are selectively used by individuals. Heresy is a strong word and I would hesitate to apply it to what I have read in Bell's latest book. Are his views any more heretical than John Calvin's view regarding infant baptism, Luther's view of baptismal regeneration or the way catholics view the eucharist? I would say no. Do I find some of his views troubling, as I do these others? Absolutely. So before we start a witch hunt or burn anyone at the stake I think we must be willing to extend grace and love. That being said, there is always room for correction based on biblical truth.

I would also say that although Love Wins would not be a book that I would personally recommend to people, I don't think that nullifies his previous body of work to this point. God has used Rob and his ministry to reach countless people and I believe that He will continue to do so. All of us in the evangelical stream of Christianity have gained much of our heritage from the likes of Luther, Calvin, Wesley and others. We would do well to remember that there are things that each of these men taught that would not sit well with many of us and in fact would probably make most of us cringe.

With that, let us always extend grace and mercy. And when we feel there is need for rebuke and or correction, may it all be done in the Spirit of Christ and for the cause of His Kingdom.

For what it's worth, that's my two cents,