Wednesday, March 23, 2011

What We All Have in Common with Rob Bell

I've not read Rob Bell's latest "Love Wins" so I'm not picking a fight with a book I've not explored. I have however read some reviews, watched the video, and been a Christian for a lot of years in the religious South. I've grown accustomed to the results of losing the historic precision regarding words in the Bible like "hell," "wrath," "judgment," and intentional language like "only" and "all" and "never."

I'd like to admit that I have something in common with Rob Bell.

Not only am I born a sinner in desperate need of the grace of God for forgiveness and to be put in a right relationship with God through faith alone--I also struggle with the words of Scripture, the theology surrounding those words, and the difference it makes in my life.

If we're honest we should go ahead and more openly admit our own struggle with the idea of hell. For those who are new to the topic--hell is historically understood as the eternal wrath of God against sinners who reject Christ. It's everlasting (infinite), conscious (not a ceasing to exist), torment (agony). All the apostles warned against this wrath of God that all people deserve--and Jesus spoke the loudest of all in the gospels.

This doctrine is shocking. It wakes you up. You start to ask questions like, "okay, I get that I'm a sinner but is it that bad?"

The answer from the Bible?


It's that bad.

I once had a theology professor that said you get at understanding the love and grace of God two ways--both have to do with the gravity of what our sin deserves. You get at that gravity by either looking at the cross--or eternal hell. Both have to do with the wrath of God--both have to do with just consequence of sin. One involves a substitute. The other the absence of one.

But the truth is that we all struggle with the words of Scripture. I'm not talking about struggling in the sense of denying those truths--but the struggle that comes from not denying those truths. It's the difference between believing something and living out those implications.

For instance. I believe in the doctrine of hell. I believe in the wrath of God. I don't believe it ever ends--because I believe that all crimes against the purity of God are everlasting and infinite crimes worthy of nothing less than eternal punishment. I believe that only a love and life as pure as the only Son could take away the curse of sin--I believe he experienced the wrath of God for all who trust in him. I believe I've been rescued by this amazing love through the gift of faith.

I also believe that most people in my world don't believe in the consequence of sin, the wrath of God, the doctrine of hell, or the need for repentance and a following faith in Jesus alone.

This should break me. I mean really...really break me.

This--primarily for the magnitude of God's love in Jesus. I should be broken over my sin. Broken over my pride and stupid love for stuff God hates. Broken by his personal love to hang on nails to make me holy and cleanse me.

But also that others know this love. The sheer thought of what Rob Bell criticizes (i.e. "millions and millions") of people suffering in hell can move you two ways. On one extreme you can question the grace and love of God that such a horror exist--even denying Scripture--moving the direction of inclusivism or universalism. On the other hand, you can better understand the depth of his love and mercy--the power of the gospel and our need to proclaim it to the lost and make disciples.

Denying can happen in more than one way.