Predestined to Hate Rob Bell

Weeks before Rob Bell’s newest book was released the claims of heresy started swirling.  People like Mark Driscoll, John Piper, and Justin Taylor had condemned him while only reading select excerpts or in some cases nothing at all.

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John Piper famously tweeted:  “Farewell, Rob Bell,” apparently insinuating that he was no longer considering him to be a fellow Christian.

And truly, I don’t blame him.  I don’t hold them responsible for this reckless criticism.  How could I?  They were predestined to do it.  It’s not as though they had a choice.  From the beginning of the world, they were fated to do this very thing.  It’s almost as if the words were typed into Twitter on their own.

Love Wins

I just finished reading “Love Wins” for myself yesterday.  And as I read it, I was struck by how orthodox it was.  Having watched the blog and twitter world for the last two weeks I expected to find the reincarnation of Buddha or the Wiccan “Rule of Three” being proclaimed by Rob Bell.

Turns out though, he still believes and follows Jesus.  He believes in His divinity.  And His humanity.  He thinks His sacrifice was the crucial point in human history that reconciled us to God, set us free from sin and defeats evil. He believes He died and came back to life.  He believes only through Christ can we experience true life, healing, salvation and wholeness, and that through him all things hold together.   He believes that what we do on this planet has real consequences, either for good or bad.  He states his belief in the “already-not yet” paradoxical components of heaven and hell.

And he believes in free-will.

Which is actually where I think the real problem lies.

Over and over in the book, Bell asserts that “real love” requires the capacity to deny or reject that love.  Love that is compelled is not truly love.

Much of his theology is based on the rules of this love.  Rules that God himself chooses to play by in order to allow our decisions the reality of significance.  And though he acknowledges our ability to deny it, Bell believes that God will never stop His divine attempts to woo, pursue, and offer us His incredible love.

Rob Bell, author of "Love Wins"

It is the topic of choice then that is on trial for many.  Does Rob Bell believe in hell?  Yes, both in the sense that it exists now and in the age to come.  But he believes God doesn’t SEND people there.  He believes people choose to live in hell now and presumably in the future as well.

What is on trial is not the existence of hell, but the parameters of human freedom and choice.

And by the way, this is not new.  Nor is it universalism.  And I’m sorry to ruin the hype, but it isn’t heresy by a long shot.

This book is controversial because there are many people who do not share the ‘free-will” or “open” view of the human condition.

We live in a time that is currently marked by a significant “resurgence” of the Reformed theology/Calvinists that believe that all things are determined in advance by God.  Or if you prefer to think of it in building terms, that God has a divine blueprint that shows every decision every person will make.  And not only does he know that decision, but that we are in fact created to make that decision.  It isn’t really a “decision” at all, just the appearance of one.

And if you read the reviews closely, I think you’ll find people coming down on this book mostly along those lines:  free-will or determinist.

Heretic! Heretic!

Though the “heretic” rhetoric is flying around more carelessly than radioactivity spewing out of a nuclear meltdown, this isn’t a new battle for these tribes.  This is an age-old disagreement clothed in different garments.

So don’t buy the hype.  Rob Bell isn’t tearing down Christianity or saying that any path you take will lead to eternal life.  He’s not a universalist or a heretic or a “wolf in sheep’s clothing”.  He’s just another guy contributing his voice to a long conversation of well intentioned followers of Jesus trying to make sense of the Divine.

And also, don’t be too hard on the Piper/Driscoll/Taylor clan.  It’s not their fault.  They were predestined to dislike Rob Bell.

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Magical Unicorns

I bought my friend, Jenna, a unicorn today.

She didn’t ask for it. I just saw it in the store and bought it for her. And in the end, i’m not sure she really noticed too much or even cared. It wasn’t a real unicorn, after all. It was just a helium balloon. But, I wish it was real.

I wish it was real (are there “real” unicorns?) because I think real unicorns are magic. And Jenna needs some magic right now. I wish it was real because I think real unicorns could fly away to imaginary land and leave the problems of this world behind. And Jenna has too many problems in this world. But, most of all, I wish it was a real unicorn because I imagine that real unicorns ride very fast and a girl deserves a pony ride on her 5th birthday. And instead, Jenna is lying in a hospital bed fighting cancer.

More than anything, I wish it was a real unicorn . . .

But, I don’t believe in unicorns.

And some days, like today, I find it hard to believe in God, too. Now, I know I’m a pastor or whatever and supposed to be rock solid on that conviction. But today, I wonder how a little innocent girl could experience such physical evil. I wonder why God would allow her to spend more of her birthdays in a hospital than out of it. I wonder why people pray (for years) for this girl and yet the doctor always has more bad news.

Five years old. Cancer for the third time. In a hospital bed again for another birthday. Treatment options limited. Hope weakening.

Now, I’ve got all sort of theological reasons for bad things happening to good people. You see, I obviously don’t think Jenna deserves cancer. And I don’t believe God gave Jenna cancer. I think someone is responsible, but it’s God’s enemy not God. I even believe that God wants Jenna to be healed and that He hurts seeing her there on her birthday too. I realize there is a war going on in this world and that what God wants isn’t always what happens, at least not yet (why else would Jesus have to pray that God’s will would be done here on earth as it is in heaven?”). I understand the consequences of free-will and of the devastating meddling of the enemy.

But as much logical sense as the theological reasons make, at this moment they make very little difference to Jenna or to her family or to me. All I know is Jenna is sick and five year-old girls shouldn’t live in hospitals.

I assume this is how Habakkuk felt when he yelled at God about the misery, violence and evil he saw in his day. In fact, rather than give God the silent treatment (which I’m tempted to do today), Habakkuk climbs the highest tower in the city–apparently to be as close to the face of God as possible–and expresses his displeasure in what I like to imagine as a very antagonistic tone.

And remarkably, God doesn’t strike Habukkuk dead for the protest. In fact, God responds and answers him. Habukkuk has asked “why” and “how long” and God replies with what some have said is the theme of the whole Bible. And yet, it isn’t what you’d expect.

The great answer of human suffering by God: “But the righteous will live by faith.” (Habakkuk 2:4)

He doesn’t answer why. He doesn’t give any idea about how long the suffering will last. He simply says three Hebrew words: righteous live faith.

And really, maybe that is all I need to hear today anyway. Even if I heard the rationale of why, I’m not sure it would help. Even if I knew the future of this little girl, I’m not sure what I’d do with that info. Maybe all I need to know is that even surrounded by evil, those who want to be right with God will experience real and full life if they just trust the deeper answers to God even when things don’t make sense. Maybe I don’t need to know why so much as I need to know what to do, how to be and how to live in the face of it.

Is that a perfect answer? No. Is it the magical unicorn that makes me feel ok and whisks a beautiful girl off to better times? No. It still comes with a lot of questions. I may still find myself at times on barely-speaking terms with God or yelling from a high tower. But, it’s practical. It tells me how to live, even when I don’t know what to think. And maybe that is what I need most. I need to know how to go on and live in the midst of what has gone so wrong.

Right now, I’m a conflicted, angry, cynical preacher. Following Christ hasn’t made everything nice and tidy for me. But as clueless and helpless as I feel on days like this, I will choose to trust God. Not because I’m naive, I don’t think, but because only He tells me how to act and live, regardless of why Jenna sits in a hospital. And that is what I really need to know.

In the end, I know there’s no magic unicorns. But, I’d like to think that bringing a balloon to a little girl this morning brought her a bit of magic anyway. And in that sense, maybe the way I live really does bring life into the midst of evil. Maybe the righteous really do live by faith.