Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Love has already won! The Great Arc of the Imperative of Love

Rob Bell - pastor of Mars Hill Bible Church, prolific author, and popular speaker - is currently under fire regarding the content of his new book, "Love Wins: Heaven, Hell, and the fate of every person who ever lived".

Once again I am flabbergasted (that's a great word, by the way - and not one I get to use often in routine conversation!) at the backlash against Bell from the so-called Evangelical Right.

The reaction so far seems to be characterized by knee-jerk defensiveness, carte-blanche judgments and a ferocious narrow-mindedness. The "My way or the Highway" crowd are jumping in line to take a swing at the ultra-hip Bell, employing criticisms such as "Teaching a false gospel," "Evil posing as an angel of light," "Heresy", and "Trying to make a Bible he doesn't believe in more palatable to modern culture."

Right out of the gate I'm going to suggest something hugely controversial. I suspect that a lot of what is reported as "What the Bible teaches" is in point of fact not what the Bible teaches so much as it is what we've been told the Bible teaches.
  • Much of what passes for "Bible truth" in the fundamentalist world is a potent amalgam of tradition, cultural norm, personal slant, mid 20th-Century North American values, institutionalized denominational preference, King James English, the content of popular books, and ideas embedded in hymns that were written decades ago by people who may or may not have been Bible scholars.
The Bible is so much more complete and beautiful and open and inspirational and life-transformational than the way it is represented by the more strident voices who insist that they have a corner on the truth.

To my understanding - albeit limited and constantly reforming and most definitely a work in progress - the Bible is best understood as The Greatest Story Ever Told. It is the story of God's reaching out to human beings and it is the story of how - for good or for ill - that reaching has played out over time. Every narrative tale in the Bible can be best understood in the context of this overarching theme, The Great Arc of the Imperative of Love.

In John Chapter Three and verse 17, Jesus tells his friend Nicodemus the following, "God did not send his son into the world to condemn its people. He sent him to save them!" So I'm left wondering why it is so important to so many of us that we can be the ones to declare that God has closed the door on other people?

God literally moves heaven and earth to reach people with God's love. Is God now limited in the scope of God's mercy and the application of God's grace... because the Rev So-and-So from some exclusive Midwestern Righteous Club believes every soul in the universe must conform to his (and, yes, it pretty-much always is "his") specific religious formula?

I often talk about my friend Mustafa Ahmed. "Moose" - a devout Muslim - lived in my dorm at Stetson University. He loved God with a genuine spirit, and he was much more faithful than any of the speak-it-don't-live-it "Christians" around him. He never did meet Jesus, so far as we know, and I'm confident that his spiritual journey was anything but beneficially inspired by the clamoring, judgmental and - often -fraudulent voices around him.

Is Moose condemned to "Hell" because of this? Or is it possible that God may reach him - either before death or on some other occasion - because God's love, God's mercy, God's grace, and God's belief in my friend Mustafa Ahmed, refuses to ever close the door on such a beautiful soul?

At the heart of these objections to Bell's thesis is the notion that Bell's declaration that "Love Wins" waters down the work of The Cross. But, listen, the monumental achievement of Jesus on The Cross at Calvary was to open the door for human beings to move back into relationship with God.
  • Jesus did that for me. 
  • Jesus did that for you. 
  • Jesus did that for people who never ever heard the Gospel. 
  • Jesus did that for people who never will hear the Gospel in their lifetime.
  • Jesus did that for people who live next door to huge church communities, yet still never hear the Gospel. 
  • Jesus did that because God wants to be in an ongoing relationship with every soul God ever created.
The work of the cross is not diminished if God's love reaches a few people who some fundamentalist preacher believes do not qualify under the terms of the agreement as he understands it.

- Good grief...
- God grief...
- Love already won. But the question remains, "Are we going to live in the power of the truth of it?"

In that kind of love - DEREK


Ray said...

Amen and amen. Great piece!
One of the biggest things that irks me about fundamentalists is their devotion to the KJV Bible. It's the 'gospel' and anything else, i.e. the NIV, NRV, The Message, etc. is NOT God's Word. My response to that is, what does is say on the title page of the KJV? It says, 'King James' Version' of the Bible. Yes, you heard right, 'King James' version...'his' authorized version. So we take the authority of an English King to be the 'absolute authority'. This whole thing with Bell is nothing new. They've been after him ever since the NOOMA series came out. So, it was not surprising to read about how the Internet blewup last week when his video book promo came online. I look forward to reading the book. LOVE HAS ALREADY WON! ABSOLUTELY! What's so hard for people to understand about that?

Anonymous said...

Derek - Amen again - God's Love is so Great and Vast - I thank Him everyday for His Love for me - It's wonderful to know of His Love and not be dependent on some 'preacher' that thinks they understand the salvation story.

Maggie said...

It was silly for such criticism to come out from not having even read the book but more so that, having read posts from those who HAVE read the book, it sounds as though Bell has little more controversial to say than C.S. Lewis had to say in The Great Divorce or the Chronicles of Narnia.

Jim said...

Great piece Derek. As always we as homo sapiens look for points of disagreement to prove the axiom, it's my way or the highway. Christ's example of using his life on earth and his teachings as the way to a closer relationship with him is as far as we need to look to reinforce our personal relationship with him.

Alisia said...

Thank you for writing this! The topic of his new book has been a cry in my heart for the past few years... I can't wait to read his book!

Nathan said...

great post. i'm a little late to the party, but i have to say how much more amazing would it be for us to get past our own notions of what God can and cannot do, and for us to realize the amazing possibility of God's love reaching people even in death? nothing is impossible...