According to some Christian outlooks we were made for another world. Perhaps, rather, we were made for this world to recreate, reclaim, redeem, and renew unto God's future aspiration by the power of His Spirit. - R.E. Slater
Secularization theory has been massively falsified. We don't live in an age of secularity. We live in an age of explosive, pervasive religiosity... an age of religious pluralism. - Peter L. Berger
Exploring the edge of life and faith in a post-everything world. - Todd Littleton
I don't need another reason to believe, your love is all around for me to see. – anon
Thou art our need; and in giving us more of thyself thou givest us all. - Khalil Gibran, Prayer XXIII
Be careful what you pretend to be. You become what you pretend to be. - Kurt Vonnegut
Religious beliefs, far from being primary, are often shaped and adjusted by our social goals. - Jim Forest
People, even more than things, need to be restored, renewed, revived, reclaimed, and redeemed; never throw out anyone. – anon
Certainly God's love has made fools of us all. - R.E. Slater
An apocalyptic Christian faith doesn't wait for Jesus to come, but for Jesus to become in our midst. - R.E. Slater
Christian belief in God begins with the cross and resurrection of Jesus, not with rational apologetics. - Eberhard Jüngel, Jürgen Moltmann
Our knowledge of God is through the 'I-Thou' encounter, not in finding God at the end of a syllogism or argument. There is a grave danger in any Christian treatment of God as an object. The God of Jesus Christ and Scripture is irreducibly subject and never made as an object, a force, a power, or a principle that can be manipulated. - Emil Brunner
Ehyeh Asher Ehyeh means "I will be that who I have yet to become." - God (Ex 3.14)
Our job is to love others without stopping to inquire whether or not they are worthy. - Thomas Merton
The church is God's world-changing social experiment of bringing unlikes and differents to the Eucharist/Communion table to share life with one another as a new kind of family. When this happens we show to the world what love, justice, peace, reconciliation, and life together is designed by God to be. The church is God's show-and-tell for the world to see how God wants us to live as a blended, global, polypluralistic family united with one will, by one Lord, and baptized by one Spirit. – anon
The cross that is planted at the heart of the history of the world cannot be uprooted. - Jacques Ellul
The Unity in whose loving presence the universe unfolds is inside each person as a call to welcome the stranger, protect animals and the earth, respect the dignity of each person, think new thoughts, and help bring about ecological civilizations. - John Cobb & Farhan A. Shah
If you board the wrong train it is of no use running along the corridors of the train in the other direction. - Dietrich Bonhoeffer
God's justice is restorative rather than punitive; His discipline is merciful rather than punishing; His power is made perfect in weakness; and His grace is sufficient for all. – anon
Our little [biblical] systems have their day; they have their day and cease to be. They are but broken lights of Thee, and Thou, O God art more than they. - Alfred Lord Tennyson
We can’t control God; God is uncontrollable. God can’t control us; God’s love is uncontrolling! - Thomas Jay Oord
Life in perspective but always in process... as we are relational beings in process to one another so life events are in process in relation to each event... as God is to Self, is to world, is to us... like Father, like sons and daughters, like events... life in process yet always in perspective. - R.E. Slater

Friday, April 1, 2011

Why Rob Bell Wins

I picked several running commentaries from the HomeBrewed boys to give a flavor of what is currently running on the "other side" of evangelicalism. The stuff the major conservative Christian medias aren't talking as excitedly about in reviews of Rob Bell's Love Wins book. These guys take offence at Bell being called liberal and tell why they are willing to make a defence for moderation in place of crying "heresy".



Rob Bell Wins
By Deacon Bo
Mar 16th, 2011
Category: bible stuff, engaging, media, thinking
Tagged as: eschatology, Rob Bell, universalism

I watched the live- webcast of the Rob Bell interview about his new book “Love Wins” and blogged a couple of thoughts on it at an Everyday Theology. It got a good response so I thought I would post it here.

In case you had not seen the webcast, you can watch the video of the event here.

Here are my two quick thoughts on it:

1. We are not having this conversation in a vacuum
2. Rob Bell is up to something

We are not in a vacuum and the context of this conversation is post-enlightenment / post-christendom. That means a couple of things:

a) everyone has their own bible
b) most people can read it
c) evangelicals do not have Popes or councils to make decisions on this kind of stuff
d) for Reformed folks (Piper, Driscol, Keller, etc) the bible just doesn’t say what they need it to say
for this thing to be air tight.

SO – we have a couple of issues!

The biggest issue is that we take passages like Matthew 7 (which one of the white women in Rob’s audience asked about) where Jesus says “wide is the road that leads to destruction” and we THINK that it is about Hell. It is not. We have been taught to read the Bible wrong. We trade one word for another all the time. I wrote about that here.

Then – some one like Rob comes along and calls that into question (he is up to something) and people FREAK out.

Matthew 7 isn’t about hell. But we got so comfortable thinking that it was … now we are uncomfortable with how comfortable we were.

I’ll give you another example: Paul never mentions hell. In any of sermons (Acts) or letters. It is not there. I wrote about its absence here.

Here is another one: Revelation – which is not to be read literally – teaches (even to those who DO think it is literal) that hell is not eternal. Even in that scenario hell is temporary and is emptied into the lake of fire. They are not the same place or for the same purpose. read Revelation 20:14-15.

But since many don’t know that… we end up asking “wait! if there is no hell … then why are we even doing evangelism or missions“. The answer is that we were doing them for the wrong reason. Some of it was colonial … some of it was worse.

We should do evangelism and we should do mission – but not because of this understanding of hell.

So – I am not saying that Rob Bell is right. I am not saying that everyone will be saved. But the reality is that many have not taken these passage seriously. Passages such as:

Colossians 1:20 “and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.”

Romans 5:10 “For if, while we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life!”

2 Corinthians 5:18 “All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation”

That’s my 2 cents. What did you think?


Your First Steps into Biblical Universalism…
By Tripp Fuller • Mar 21st, 2011 • Category: books, engaging, media

So the number of permanent residents in hell is on your mind? I’m gonna guess it wasn’t a few weeks ago until Rob Bell solicited a few twitter-bombs from some conservative dogma police. Since then it has been really popular to blast Bell for being un-biblical, heterodox, and all other sorts of bad stuff. That’s cool if you are interested in getting into someone’s head, supplying their intentions, and making judgments on behalf of the truth (which these individuals apparently have undiluted access to!!).

BUT if the conversation has got you thinking…is ‘love wins’ really a dramatic deviation from the church’s tradition and just some sexy packaging for liberal theology I would like to introduce you to a few Early Church Fathers who could introduce you to a ‘love wins’ way to read the Bible: Clement of Alexandria (ca. 160-215 C.E.), Origen (ca. 185-ca. 251 C.E.), and Gregory of Nyssa (331/340-ca. 395 C.E.)

These fellas are not just minor voices who should be ignored but essential for the develop of the doctrine of the Trinity (ps…it’s a big deal doctrine). I will avoid a discussion of the Trinity and their brilliant philosophical modification of Platonism to simply say that the nature of divine love articulated in the Trinity led them toward affirming God’s universalism.

(1) But more than the Trinity it was the Bible that got’em! Don’t believe me? Then try it out! Remember these three things and read some Bible to see if Biblical universalism is jiving with you. Here are some of these three fellas favorite Bible passages…John 12:32; Acts 3:21; Romans 5:18-21, 11:25-26a, 32; 1 Corinthians 3:12-15; 15:22-28; 2 Corinthians 5:19; Ephesians 1:10; Philippians 2:9-11; Colossians 1:20; 1 Timothy 2:4; Titus 2:11; 2 Peter 3:9; 1 John 2:2. (For serious play-by-play through these Church Fathers’ readings of the Bible see Steve Harmon‘s book Every Knee Should Bow: Biblical Rationales for Universal Salvation in Early Christian Thought.)

(2) But before you read them check out these three features of Biblical Universalism and see if they help frame your Bible reading:

a) God is Love….this means that there is nothing about God, in God, or comes from God that is not love. Love is not something God occasionally does or engages in but is the very essence of God. To say ‘God is Love’ is to say that the great mystery of God is a mystery in which every depth that is yet to be understood or revealed is another depth of love. God is love. Love known and unknown by nothing but love.

b) Love requires freedom…..this means that God’s actual goal for creation, to bring it to fruition within the divine love (Paul’s ‘all-in-all’), requires creation to have genuine freedom. Even Calvinists pretend its true in their daily lives. For example, when two lovers consummate their marriage in a passionate act of sweet love making, freedom, vulnerability, and risk is what made the actual act – intercourse – making love and not rape. The freedom to give oneself to another and to receive the other as other is not a human contaminant to love but essential. Because the God who is Love desires to love the whole world and genuine love involves freedom, the creatures of the Creator have received the gift of freedom to love God as a result of God’s own free decision to create and love.

c) Love Wins….God’s love wins. Why? Because the God who is Love is the one and only true God. The infinite Creator of all the universe who is love, is infinitely committed to loving and living in love with the world. This finite world and every finite person within it will remain for all eternity an object of the pure divine love. So both the Creator and creature’s freedom can never be compromised for premature victory. This means a). No one can or ever will be forced into loving God for the very love God desires requires freedom & b) Nothing, including one’s death or present state of response, can force the infinite God of Love to quit pursuing any and every part of God’s creation.

I hope you can see how this is NOT universalism of the blank check variety. The only thing universal here is the scope and reservoir of God’s love. The eschatological optimism is not about anyone, anything, or any action other than the God revealed in the life, ministry, death, and resurrection of Jesus. It is precisely that very particular vision of God that can lead one to be optimistic, hopeful, and excited about the future. Why? because the world’s future is God.

Select Comments

1. Tripp Fuller on March 22nd, 2011 at 1:45 am:
Rob Bell’s eschatological optimism is NOT liberalism. Why?

- it still affirms Hell’s existence (liberals tend to demythologize all ‘other-worldly’ talk)

- only God’s redemptive work in Christ redeems (a liberal would call this a subtle & gentle form of Christian exclusivity)

- Love wins (this one is more for postmodern liberals…..A winner brings a loser! Love winning clearly creates a binary between Love and hate\evil\? and we all know that binaries are the one great Evil!)

2. Deacon Hall on March 22nd, 2011 at 9:34 am:
You got it, buddy. The affirmation of Love and the fact that it wins is an affirmation of the Triune God’s grace and freedom. Universal salvation is no demand we can make of God, but one that I’m willing to posit God freely makes for us.

3. Tripp Fuller on March 22nd, 2011 at 9:44 am:
Deacon Hall comes out of his dissertation? I believe this is one topic we actually agree on!

5. Bill on March 22nd, 2011 at 11:04 am:
Really good post and comments – another good book is “The Evangelical Universalist” by pseudo-Gregory MacDonald (borrowing the names from Gregory of Nyssa and George MacDonald). And the point about Rob Bell differing from Liberalism can’t be emphasized enough (he has a high christology, affirms miracles, the Trinity, etc. – all unnecessary for liberals). It’s amazing how much you’ll see that accusation floating around without any basis (see Mohler’s blog or Christianity Today, unfortunately). But if you want a solidly plausible defense of Protestant Liberalism, as Tripp shared yesterday, see McLaren’s latest post about all this.

6. xxxx xxxxxx on March 22nd, 2011 at 12:44 pm:
Thank you for reminding us that the material in Love Wins is nothing new; it is only repackaged.


Romans 10 in the Spirit of Universalism (not Exclusivism)
By Bill • Mar 29th, 2011 • Category: bible stuff, thinking

It’s worth reiterating the importance of what was said in Deacon Hall’s post about not making demands on God. Only a universalism with this conditioning could be ”biblical.” Indeed, concerning these things, “Do not be arrogant, but tremble” (Rom 11:20).

And to stress God’s absolute freedom, doesn’t Paul warn that God could have made us, like clay in the potter’s hands, “objects for his wrath” (Rom 9:22)? But as recipients of “the good news that’s better than that,”[i] we choose to believe and humbly confess: this isn’t the last word. The love and character of God revealed in Christ says otherwise.

The voices of condemnation and heresy hunting have been too loud lately. They leave their traces everywhere on the blogosphere. Normally, we can ignore them, or at least drown them out with a more generous orthodoxy, not laying claim to any one interpretation absolutely. But instead of running for the hills when we hear red flag phrases like “biblical Christianity” thrown around, it might be better to answer this time.

In light of this, after Tripp and Deacon Hall’s posts, and in the spirit of “continuing the conversation” Rob Bell has started into the “next inning” (McLaren), I thought it might be constructive to look at a common exclusivist proof text from Romans 10:14-15 (see recent examples here and here), by which certain sects try to justify the belief that the vast majority of humanity in history must be consigned to hell – whatever hell is exactly (see a great post by Ben Witherington at Patheos about this here). I think that challenging this narrow and restrictive viewpoint, successfully or not, was Rob Bell’s chief concern in Love Wins.

14 How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? 15 And how can anyone preach unless they are sent? As it is written: “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!”

Roman 9-11 as a whole is concerned with the tension between Israel’s disobedience and election.

Chapter 10 in particular addresses the gospel – the “Word of or about Christ/messiah/God” – as that which Israel indeed has “heard” before and should know. Paul references Isaiah 53:1, and the aorist (past) tense of the Greek word for “obey” in this case clearly makes reference to an announcement already received, having prepared the way as a condition for the present preaching of Christ by “missionaries.”[ii] Paul is saying that the Hebrews should have recognized Jesus as a “suffering servant” like the figure depicted in Isaiah’s song.

The correlations between the latter part of Isaiah and Romans are striking:

Isaiah 49:18 (see Rom 14:11), 50:8 (see Rom 8:33), 51:1 (see Rom 9:31), 51:8 (see Rom 1:17), 52:5 (see Rom 2:24), 52:7 (see Rom 10:15), 54:16 (see Rom 9:22), 59:7 (see Rom 3:15-17), 59:20 (see Rom 11:26)

But concerning v. 14 most explicitly, which is where the attention must be focused:

“To explain ou ouk ekousan as meaning ‘about whom they have not heard’ is not really feasible; for the use of akouein with the simple genitive of the person meaning ‘to hear about (someone)’ would be very unusual.”[iii] In other words, Paul is not condemning those who have not heard yet. Calvin’s commentary, which is otherwise still useful, awkwardly takes these questions to be referencing the Gentiles, but this makes little sense in view of Paul’s on-going mission, seeking of funds, and intention to travel all the way to Spain. He’s clearly just talking about Israel here (10.1) since he answers his own question in the affirmative (10.18 – “did they not hear? Of course they did”).

Furthermore, the “beautiful feet” of v. 15 would be merely “decoration” if this verse were meant to exclude those who haven’t heard a priori, but instead it forms the next step in the argument and draws our attention to Isaiah 52:7, showing that that prophetic message had indeed been fulfilled, and the apostolic proclamation commissioned. This runs quite contrary to interpretations by those like Thomas Schreiner who insist on an exclusivist reading, as he even laments the inclusivist leanings of C.S. Lewis and Billy Graham![iv]

So what about the Gentiles? When referenced (which is not as often here), the context is quite optimistic, and meant to contrast their acceptance of the Gospel with the rejection on the part of the Jews. Then comes the Deuteronomy quote:

“I will make you jealous of one that is not a nation, and with a foolish nation I will provoke you” – v. 19.

And even Isaiah anticipates this. Israel’s rejection of the prophets had been seen before:

“All day long, I stretched out my hands to a disobedient and contrary people” (Isaiah 65:2).

Jesus echoes this in Luke 13:34:

“Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing.”

Ok, great, so God loves the Gentiles . . .But does God abandon Israel? No, God remains faithful to the covenant – something Paul has in mind throughout the letter, just as was promised to Abraham:[v]

“I ask then: Did God reject his people? By no means!” (Rom 11:1)

There is some harsh language in this passage, so we must be careful and not take our “inclusion” for granted, but before the closing doxology, “Paul’s [final] emphasis is on the positive rather than the negative: this remnant people is being formed on the basis of God’s gift in Christ Jesus (5:16; 6:23).”[vi]

30Just as you who [Gentiles] were at one time disobedient to God have now received mercy as a result of their disobedience, 31 so they [Israel] too have now become disobedient in order that they too may now receive mercy as a result of God’s mercy to you. For God has bound everyone over to disobedience so that he may have mercy on them all (Rom 11:30-32).

Sounds like a good promise! Is Paul contradicting himself? No, for the people of Israel are still representative of God’s chosen people whom he is saving, and this judgment at present is penultimate,[vii] but the justification of the ungodly by faith on account of God’s righteousness (perhaps the major theme of Romans), which is also the resurrection from the dead, is the only hope both of the world in general and also of Israel.[viii]

Let us be awed by the depths of the riches and the mercies and purposes of God! (11:33-36)


[i] See Rob Bell, Love Wins: A Book About Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived (HarperOne, 2011).

[ii] Luke Timothy Johnson, Reading Romans: a literary and theological commentary (Smyth & Helwys Publishing, Inc., 2008), 173.

[iii] C. E. B. Cranfield, Romans (T&T Clark Int’l, 2004), 534.

[iv] See Thomas R. Schreiner, Romans (Baker Books, 1998).

[v] Johnson, Reading Romans, 177.

[vi] N. T. Wright, Justification: God’s Plan & Paul’s Vision (IVP Academic, 2009), 180.

[vii] Richard B. Hays, The Moral Vision of the New Testament: Community, Cross, New Creation, A Contemporary Introduction to New Testament Ethics, 1st ed. (HarperOne, 1996), 415.

[viii] Ernst Kasemann, New Testament Questions of Today (SCM Press, 1969), 187.

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