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.
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.
LOVE HAS ALREADY WON:
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?
WATERS DOWN THE CROSS?
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.
- 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