After You Read “Love Wins”…

Transient

This week I finished reading Rob Bell’s controversial new book, Love Wins.  

Having spent the last ten years wrestling through some tough questions related to faith, heaven, hell, and salvation, I really appreciate the personal way in which Bell frames the conversation, asking the very questions I was so afraid to ask all those years and proclaiming the same hope I only dared believe—that God doesn’t give up on people, that he is ever-loving, ever-redeeming, ever pursuing. 

There’s nothing radical or unorthodox in this book, which is profoundly Christ-centered and packed with biblical references.  (It’s basically a remix of C.S. Lewis, NT Wright, and Richard Rohr.) Bell does exactly what a good pastor should do. He takes complex theological concepts and makes them simple, personal, and practical. He gives faces and names to the people we often dismiss as “unsaved.”He provides tangible examples of how we can choose to engage in heaven or hell right now, this very minute.  He reintroduces us to Bible stories we thought we knew. 

And although Bell’s writings style

drives

me 

absolutely 

crazy

sometimes, 

I applaud him for saying some old things in a new way, and for introducing these ideas to a larger audience. 

My biggest objection to Love Wins is that, in addition to abandoning the use of the paragraph, Bell seems unconcerned with citing his source material and has therefore left us with some homework to do. 

Call me a nerd, but I like footnotes.  An author can’t just say that “in Jesus’s day, one of the ways people got around actually saying the name of God was to substitute the word ‘heaven’”  without telling me how he knows that to be true! By leaving out this important information and by failing to seriously explore those biblical passages that, at least at first glance, don’t seem to support his thesis, Bell has left his readers ill-equipped to deal with challenges from those who don’t agree with these ideas. 

In other words, Love Wins serves as a good starting point for engaging in better conversations about heaven and hell, but a poor ending point. I would heartily recommend this book, but not without these seven suggestions: 

1. If you loved the book, read through some negative reviews. If you hated the book, read through some positive reviews. It’s always good to get a second opinion from a reader who might have noticed some things that you didn’t.  Exposing yourself to a variety of opinions will help you develop your own with more clarity, integrity, and charity. 

2. Follow up on your questions. As I read, I like to mark up my books with underlines, notes, and question marks and then return to them later. For example, I scribbled a question mark next to this sentence on page 177 of Love Wins: “God has no desire to inflict pain or agony on anyone.”  As much as I long for this to be true, it seems incompatible with the God who instructed Joshua to kill every man, woman, and child in Jericho. Rather than ignoring this or using it to dismiss the rest of Bell’s points, I plan to explore it further, maybe finally get around to reading Is God a Moral Monster?

3. Read more.  Check out Bell’s “Further Reading” (page 201) as well as our list of resources on heaven and hell.  

4. Talk things through with friends. Consider starting a book club or hosting a dinner party in which you can discuss the ideas in Love Wins with a variety of people coming from a variety of different perspectives. 

5. Avoid slapping a “Love Wins” bumper sticker on your car or wearing a “Team John” T-shirt to church…(says the girl with an unrelated  “love wins” bumper sticker on her car—more on that later!) When we reduce this complex and important conversation to two “sides,” as though it were some kind of college football rivalry, we do such an injustice to the Bible, to Christian history, and to the millions upon millions of real people whose lives and whose futures we are discussing.  This is not about taking sides. It’s not about shouting each other down. It’s not about black vs. white, right vs. wrong, good vs. bad. There’s too much at stake to try and force Christianity’s cacophony of voices into two competing tones. We must embrace the complexity—within the Bible, within Christianity, and within one another—and avoid the temptation of turning this conversation into “my team” vs. “your team.” 

6. Let love win in you. I can’t imagine that anyone could read Love Wins and take issue with Bell’s conclusion that as Christians we should busy ourselves with providing clean water, championing human rights, participating in microfinance, pursuing peace, practicing forgiveness, and celebrating beauty and art.  There is common ground to be found here, and the best “apologetic” for a God of unconditional love is a person of unconditional love.  

7. Leave a brief review/response here! Sometimes it helps just to write out your thoughts. Feel free to share them in the comments or link to your own review.  Also, if there’s a quote or a topic that you would like to discuss further, let me know. 

So, what did you think of Love Wins?

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When I Became a Christian...

For the next few weeks I’ll be pulling quotes from Evolving in Monkey Town to discuss here on the blog. Today’s excerpts come from Chapter 1, entitled “The Best Christian Attitude Award.”

People sometimes ask me when I became a Christian, and that’s a hard question to answer because I’m pretty sure that by the time I asked Jesus into my heart, he’d already been living there for a while. I was just five years old at the time, a compact little person with pigtails sticking out of my head like corn tassels, and I remember thinking it strange that someone as important as Jesus would need an invitation. Strange now is the fact that before I lost my first tooth or learned to ride a bike or graduated from kindergarten, I committed my life to a man who asked his followers to love their enemies, to give without expecting anything in return, and to face public execution if necessary. It is perhaps an unfair thing to ask of a child, but few who decide to follow Jesus know from the beginning what they’re getting themselves into.

So, when did you become a Christian? What was your conversion experience like? Did you know what you were getting into?

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Sunday Superlatives 3/27/11

Farewell, C.S. Lewis?

Around the blogosphere…

Best critique:
Carson Clark with “A Cordial Response to Rachel Held Evans’ Post “The Future of Evangelicalism”
While  I don’t agree with every part of Carson’s analysis, I really learned a lot from this insightful critique and would love your thoughts on it.
“It seems that she, like so many writers, doesn’t get that blogs suggest a distorted reality…Blogs are like political primaries. The radicals come out in force, thus making the whole party look insane. I suspect it’s the same for the Neo-Reformed Movement. The civil, silent majority don’t show up in the traffic stats she referred to.

Biggest Idea:
Shane Claiborne with “Give to Uncle Sam What is Uncle Sam’s”
“Imagine what would happen if a massive popular movement of ordinary Americans decided to voice their concern about military spending – by withholding $10.40 from their 1040 tax forms this year? A simple, small, symbolic, but concrete gesture of protest to the $200,000 dollars a minute being spent on militarism while programs that support life go bankrupt.”

Most Insightful:
Jeff Cook (at Jesus Creed) with “Rob Bell and C.S. Lewis"
"There’s not one controversial idea in Love Wins that is not clearly voiced as a real possibility by the most popular evangelical writer of the last century, CS Lewis.”

 Most Relatable:
Emerging Mummy with “In which God uses the ‘foolish’ things to confound the ‘wise’"
"There was this TV preacher that I sort of hated. Like, I would see his face on the TV or grinning from yet-another-bestseller on the rack at the Barnes and Noble and want to shriek words like "heresy!" and "false teacher!" and "step away from the teeth whitener and the self tanner, for the love of all that is holy!"… And then one day, a friend called."

Most Relevant to Recent Discussions:
Bob Hyatt (at Out of Ur) with “Our Journey Toward Women in Leadership: I Timothy 2:11-12"
“It’s necessary to place the passage within the larger context of 1 Timothy 2. It seems that the end of chapter 2 which states that 'women will be saved through childbearing' was correcting a heresy in the early church. As it is translated in English—and without a cultural understanding of the times in which it was written—it sounds as if women are saved by means of having children. But Paul was, in fact, correcting some proto-Gnostic heretics that claimed women were the cause of humanity’s fall and that God was very, very displeased with them. To be saved, then, women needed to give up their sexuality and become more like what really pleases God, namely men..”

Best Headline: 
Alise Wright (guest posting at Friendly Atheist) with “How an Atheist Made Me a Better Christian”
“..What I’ve found in the past year and a half is that getting to know some atheists has made me more like the Christian that I want to be.”

 Best Question: 
Food Blogga with “What’s the difference between red cabbage and radicchio?"
(So it's not exactly theologically or philosophically profound...but I've ALWAYS wondered!)

Best Church Story:
Dan Kimball with “Celebrating Purim as a Church”

Creepiest Photo:
Matthew Paul Turner with “How Not to Say Jesus Loves You”

And if you’re a blogger, you should know that the Blog Rocket has launched!  Congrats to my friend Bryan Allain for getting it off the ground.

On the Blog…

Most Popular Post: 
The Future of Evangelicalism: A Twenty-Something’s Perspective

Most Popular Comment (with 14 “likes”)
In response to “Rachel, The Very Worst Pacifist,” Scot Miller wrote:
“Maybe the problem is how we think about pacifism. Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr., were nonviolent, but they aggressively resisted evil. Nonviolent resistance is still resistance. Maybe pacifism means seeking peace, but using nonviolent resistance to confront evil.”

IRL…

This morning I had the pleasure of worshipping alongside some amazing people at RISE Church. Thanks especially to Brent Levy for rocking an Avett Brothers song in my honor! Love this group. 

***

I think I need to update my Google Reader. So....

Who are some of your favorite bloggers? What Web sites do you visit regularly? 

And as always, feel free to share interesting links from your own blog or someone else's.

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Comment Policy: Please stay positive with your comments. If your comment is rude, it gets deleted. If it is critical, please make it constructive. If you are constantly negative or a general ass, troll, or hater, you will get banned. The definition of terms is left solely up to us.

Spring, in a Word

sprungphoto © 2009 Robert S. Donovan | more info (via: Wylio)

I'll start...

SONGBIRDS!! 

(Note: If you're a blogger and you love Wylio as much as I do, check out all the new features of the updated version! Wylio saves me at least 15 minutes per blog post, which is why Dan and his friends created it.) 

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Comment Policy: Please stay positive with your comments. If your comment is rude, it gets deleted. If it is critical, please make it constructive. If you are constantly negative or a general ass, troll, or hater, you will get banned. The definition of terms is left solely up to us.